November 25, 2019

Iran Threat Update


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Street protests followed Iran’s decision to raise gasoline prices by 50%. Due to tough economic sanctions from the U.S., Iranian inflation is above 30% for two years in a row.
  • The U.S. intelligence community stated Iran is responsible for a September 14 attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure. The United States deployed ground troops to Saudi Arabia to assist with air and missile defense.
  • Iran continues to enrich uranium above the levels required for peaceful nuclear purposes. Despite crippling sanctions, Iran also continues to support terror groups in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon.

Iran has taken a number of aggressive and belligerent actions this year. Intelligence reports have concluded that Iran is responsible for a cruise missile and drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities in September. Iran continues to enrich uranium to levels unnecessary for its peaceful nuclear power needs. It funds terrorist groups in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also shot down a U.S. intelligence drone and both seized and attempted to seize commercial shipping vessels.

Inflation Spikes in Iran after Sanctions

(percent change in consumer prices)

 Iran

street protests in iran and crackdown by regime

Iranians have violently protested against fuel price increases by the government and poor economic conditions and depreciation of their currency. According to media reports, Iranian officials admit to multiple deaths related to the protests, including deaths of protestors and security forces. Much of the Iranian internet was cut off for at least four days and is only now slowly starting to be restored. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran is warning protesters it will take decisive action to stop the unrest. Protests are occurring outside of Tehran and possibly in as many as 100 Iranian cities.

Earlier this month, the Iranian regime decided to raise the price of gasoline for consumers. Gasoline in Iran is heavily subsidized and the prices are extremely low compared to the rest of the world. The price of a gallon of gas after the price increase is about 50 cents. Each car is limited to roughly 15 gallons per month, with steep increases in fuel purchases above that amount.

attack on saudi oil facilities

On September 14, Saudi Arabia’s Aramco Abqaiq oil processing facility was attacked by multiple drones and cruise missiles. The attacks did enough damage to reduce Saudi Arabia’s oil output by more than five million barrels per day, about half the country’s output and around 5% of world output. Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are supported by Iran, claimed responsibility for the attack in retaliation for Saudi Arabia’s support of the government in Yemen.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated that “this was an Iranian attack,” an assertion that is supported by the governments of the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. Saudi Arabia presented evidence of the wreckage from the drones and cruise missiles and said that they were not fired from Yemen. In response, United States military deployed approximately 3,000 ground troops and additional personnel to assist Saudi Arabia with air and missile defense capabilities. This support includes air defense units and fighter squadrons.

The USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier is currently near the Persian Gulf and has extended its deployment past its usual rotation due to escalating tensions in the region. The Lincoln was deployed earlier this year, before the September attack on Saudi oil facilities and before Iran shot down a U.S. intelligence drone, in response to Iranian aggression.

Iran

President Trump condemned the attack at the United Nations General Assembly on September 24. He announced new sanctions on Iran, beyond sanctions already imposed for earlier hostile actions.

U.S. Sanctions and Iran’s continuing aggression

President Trump reimposed sanctions against Iran in August 2018, beginning a “maximum pressure” campaign on the country. He also declared Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in April 2019. In April, the president also announced the administration would stop issuing waivers for countries to buy Iranian petroleum products to avoid U.S. sanctions. The waivers expired on May 2. Inflation in Iran has been soaring because of sanctions, and the International Monetary Fund predicts the country’s economy will contract by 3.6% this year.

On June 19, Iran shot down a U.S. intelligence drone in international airspace near the Strait of Hormuz. U.S. Air Force officials provided flight paths of the Global Hawk intelligence drone to show it was not in Iranian airspace. On June 21, President Trump tweeted that the military was planning to execute an attack on Iranian facilities but that he ordered it canceled at the last minute:

On Monday they shot down an unmanned drone flying in International Waters. We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not.......proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!

One month later, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps captured a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran said that this action was done in response to Great Britain seizing an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar. Despite Iran’s actions, the world oil market has been stable. Prices of oil lower than they had been most of the year and more than 15% lower than 2018 prices.

nuclear threats from iran

In July, Iran announced it would violate limits on nuclear enrichment it had agreed to as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015. Iran is producing uranium that is enriched above the purity levels allowed in the agreement. It is also producing more nuclear material than allowed under the agreement’s limits. The International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that Iranian enrichment has reached as high as 4.5%, well above the 3.67% allowed under the JCPOA.

Even before the latest measures by President Trump, Iran was pushing for Europe to provide relief and compensation from U.S. sanctions. If Europe does not do so, Iran has said it will take additional provocative action regarding its nuclear stockpile and capability every 60 days. This threat appeared to have an effect on European leaders. In early September French President Emmanuel Macron was reportedly negotiating to provide a $15 billion line of credit to compensate Iran for lost oil sales if Iran complied with the JCPOA. Most of the discussion of such a financial bailout stopped since the attacks on Saudi Arabia.

Addressing reporters at the U.N. General Assembly, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani stated his country’s willingness to consider changes or amendments to the 2015 JCPOA if the U.S. sanctions are removed. The Iranian president seemed to be contradicted later by the Iranian foreign minister who later said there would be “no changes to the JCPOA.”

iranian support of terrorists across the region

In addition to Iran’s support of terrorist organizations in Yemen by providing advanced weaponry to the Houthi rebels, it also continues to support terrorists in Syria and Lebanon. Iran’s Quds Force, a unit of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, is in Syria and provides the Assad regime with additional military forces and arms depots. Israel recently conducted successful attacks against an Iranian military logistics facility in Syria. Iran’s presence in Syria also ensures delivery of Iranian support to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The United States has increased its financial sanctions on Hezbollah and financial institutions that have ties to Iran.

Issue Tag: National Security