Prospects for the 2015 nuclear deal’s survival are dimming, as Washington tightens its sanctions, Tehran loosens its compliance, U.S.-Iranian clashes pick up in intensity and European powers crack down on agreement breaches. Third-party mediation is likely required to stave off the accord’s demise.
Crisis Group's Interactive Iran-U.S. Trigger List
Iran-U.S. tensions rose as U.S. responded to series of attacks on U.S. assets in Iraq with strikes on Iran-backed militia there; tensions could spiral further in Jan, especially around Iran’s planned further violation of nuclear deal 6 Jan. In Iraq, attacks on U.S. assets intensified: unidentified assailants 3, 5, 9 and 11 Dec launched rockets at military bases housing U.S. troops; rocket attack on base outside Kirkuk 27 Dec killed U.S. contractor. U.S. Sec State Pompeo blamed “Iran’s proxies”. U.S. airstrikes 29 Dec hit bases in Iraq and Syria of Iran-backed Kataib Hizbollah militia, part of paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Units, killing at least 25 fighters. In response, supporters and members of Kataib Hizbollah protested outside U.S. embassy, 31 Dec broke into compound. Chair of joint commission of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) during meeting in Austria 6 Dec noted “serious concern” in relation to Iran’s incremental violations of nuclear deal. Russia’s State Nuclear Energy Corporation Rosatom 5 Dec announced suspension of work ostensibly for technical reasons at Fordow nuclear facility, where in Nov Iran restarted uranium enrichment. U.S. 15 Dec withdrew sanctions waiver for international civil nuclear cooperation at Fordow. Iran and U.S. exchanged prisoners in Switzerland 7 Dec; Iran released Princeton University doctoral student Xiyue Wang in exchange for release of Iranian scientist Masoud Soleimani held since 2018 for sanctions violations. U.S. 11 Dec announced new sanctions against Iranian shipping and aviation industries. NGO Amnesty International 16 Dec reported that nationwide protests over fuel prices in Nov had led to violent clashes between protesters and security forces that left 304 demonstrators dead. Govt 11 Dec said it had foiled “state sponsored” cyberattack on national banking system; 15 Dec said it had foiled another cyberattack.
Should U.S.-Iranian tensions escalate to a shooting war, Iraq would likely be the first battleground. Washington and Tehran should stop trying to drag Baghdad into their fight. The Iraqi government should redouble its efforts to remain neutral and safeguard the country’s post-ISIS recovery.
Today’s standoff between the U.S. and Iran is reminiscent of tensions on the eve of World War I. A small incident could blow up into region-spanning conflict. Third-party mediation is urgently needed to begin de-escalation that could lead to renewing broader talks.
Remarkably, the Iran nuclear deal has survived the Trump administration’s withdrawal. Now it must weather 2019, its year of greatest peril, as mounting U.S. pressure tests Iranian patience. With Europe’s help, Tehran must keep sticking to the agreement in anticipation of sunnier times ahead.
The Trump administration believes that ratcheting up economic pressure on Iran will compel the Islamic Republic to curtail its disruptive Middle East policies. History suggests otherwise. Both Washington and Tehran should step off their current escalatory path.
Saudi Arabia has been forging links to Iraq since reopening its Baghdad embassy in 2016. Its adversary Iran has strong Iraqi ties. If Riyadh avoids antagonising Tehran, invests wisely and quiets anti-Shiite rhetoric, Iraq can be a bridge between the rival powers - not a battleground.
The outpouring of grief for Qassim Suleimani is the country’s first act of retaliation.
[The assassination of Iranian General Suleimani] is precisely the sort of deus ex machina the organization [ISIS] needed, to give it room to operate and to allow it to break out of its current marginality.
Netanyahu fears this incident lacks a broader U.S. strategy and would either merely escalate dynamics without restraining Iran’s nuclear program and regional activities.
A strike that the [U.S] administration claims was intended to deter Iranian attacks is almost certain to trigger far more of them.
[Iraqi] people make a direct connection between the failure and the corruption of the Shia political establishment, both politicians and some clerics, and the Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.
It has been politically more convenient to lay the blame for Houthis at Iran’s door than to say that the Houthis’ rise was the product of a series of internal political miscalculations and misplaced international priorities.
November’s protests show that the Islamic Republic is not as secure as it thinks. But neither, as their swift suppression demonstrates, is it as vulnerable as its foes hope. Iran should halt crackdowns and start serious reform, and Tehran and Washington should de-escalate tensions.
Eighteen months after Washington quit the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, Tehran is proceeding with staggered steps away from its own compliance. The deal is unravelling against the backdrop of high regional tensions. A de-escalation along the lines developed by France provides an off-ramp.
Crisis Group's hand-illustrated video draws out the story of rising tensions between Iran and the U.S.
Iran Briefing Notes, of which this is the last of a series of 15 that began on 20 June 2019, highlight and provide context for major events featured on International Crisis Group’s Iran-U.S. Trigger List. This infographic resource tracks key flashpoints between Iran, the U.S. and their respective allies in the Middle East.
On 14 September, strikes of uncertain provenance hit Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facilities, taking some 50 per cent of the kingdom’s oil production temporarily offline. Crisis Group offers a 360-degree view of the attacks and their implications for Middle Eastern and international peace and security.