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U.S. Annual Threat Assessment of Iran

(February 5, 2024)

Regional and Global Activities

Iran will continue to threaten U.S. interests, allies, and influence in the Middle East and intends to entrench its emergent status as a regional power while minimizing threats to the regime and the risk of direct military conflict. Tehran will try to leverage recent military successes through its emboldened threat network, diplomatic gains, its expanded nuclear program, and its military sales to advance its ambitions, including by trying to further bolster ties with Moscow. Iran will seek to use the Gaza conflict to denounce Israel, decry its role in the region, and try to dissuade other Middle Eastern states from warming ties with Israel, while trumpeting Iran’s own role as the champion of the

Palestinian cause. However, Iran’s position on the conflict is unlikely to mask the challenges that it

faces internally, where economic underperformance and societal grievances still test the regime.

  • Decades of cultivating ties, providing support, funding, weapons, and training to its partners and proxies around the Middle East, including Lebanese Hizballah, the Huthis, and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, will enable Tehran to continue to demonstrate the efficacy of leveraging these members of the “Axis of Resistance”, a loose consortium of like-minded terrorist and militant actors. Tehran was able to flex the network’s military capabilities in the aftermath of HAMAS’ attack on 7 October, orchestrating anti-Israel and anti-U.S. attacks from Lebanon to the Bab al-Mandeb Strait while shielding Iranian leaders from significant consequences.
  • During 2023, Iran expanded its diplomatic influence through improved ties with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Iran stipulated a readiness to re-implement the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to gain sanctions relief, but Tehran’s continued support to terrorist proxies and threats to former U.S. officials have not favored a deal.
  • The economic, political, and societal seeds of popular discontent are still present in Iran and could threaten further domestic strife such as was seen in the wide-scale and prolonged protests inside of Iran during late 2022 and early 2023.
  • Iran also will continue to directly threaten U.S. persons in the Middle East and remains committed to its decade-long effort to develop surrogate networks inside the United States. Iran seeks to target former and current U.S. officials as retaliation for the killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Qods Force Commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020, and previously has attempted to conduct lethal operations in the United States.
  • The conflict in Gaza and Iran’s support to HAMAS could further weaken Iran’s attempts to improve its international stature and entice foreign investment.

Iran will remain a threat to Israel and U.S. allies and interests in the region well after the Gaza conflict, and probably will continue arming and aiding its allies to threaten the United States as well as backing HAMAS and others who seek to block a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. While Iran will remain careful to avoid a direct conflict with either Israel or the United States, it nonetheless enabled scores of militia rocket, missile, and UAV attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria; Hizballah exchanges of fire with Israel on the north border with Lebanon; and Huthi missile and UAV attacks, both on Israel directly and on international commercial shipping transiting the Red Sea.


Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities necessary to produce a testable nuclear device. Since 2020, however, Tehran has stated that it is no longer constrained by any JCPOA limits, and Iran has greatly expanded its nuclear program, reduced IAEA monitoring, and undertaken activities that better position it to produce a nuclear device, if it chooses to do so.

  • Iran uses its nuclear program to build negotiating leverage and respond to perceived international pressure. Tehran said it would restore JCPOA limits if the United States fulfilled its JCPOA commitments and the IAEA closed its outstanding safeguards investigations. Tehran down blended a small quantity of 60 percent enriched uranium and significantly lowered its rate of production from June to November 2023.
  • Iran continues to increase the size and enrichment level of its uranium stockpile, and develop, manufacture, and operate advanced centrifuges. Tehran has the infrastructure and experience to quickly produce weapons-grade uranium, if it chooses to do so.
  • Iran probably will consider installing more advanced centrifuges, further increasing its enriched uranium stockpile, or enriching uranium up to 90 percent in response to additional sanctions, attacks, or censure against its nuclear program.

Iran probably aims to continue research and development of chemical and biological agents for offensive purposes. Iranian military scientists have researched chemicals, toxins, and bioregulators, all of which have a wide range of sedation, dissociation, and amnestic incapacitating effects.


Iran’s hybrid approach to warfare—using both conventional and unconventional capabilities—will pose a threat to U.S. interests in the region for the foreseeable future. Iran’s unconventional warfare operations and network of militant partners and proxies enable Tehran to pursue its interests and maintain strategic depth with a modicum of deniability.

  • Iran has started taking delivery of advanced trainer aircraft and probably will seek to acquire new conventional weapon systems, such as advanced fighter aircraft, helicopters, and main battle tanks. However, budgetary constraints will slow the pace and scale of acquisitions.
  • Iran’s missile, UAV, air defense, and naval capabilities will continue to threaten U.S. and partner commercial and military assets in the Middle East.

Iran’s ballistic missile programs have the largest inventory in the region and Tehran is emphasizing improving the accuracy, lethality, and reliability of its missiles. Meanwhile, Iran’s work on space launch vehicles (SLVs)—including its Simorgh—would shorten the timeline to produce an ICBM, if it decided to develop one, because the systems use similar technologies.

Cyber and Malign Influence Operations

Iran’s growing expertise and willingness to conduct aggressive cyber operations make it a major threat to the security of U.S. and allied and partner networks and data. Tehran’s opportunistic approach to cyber attacks puts U.S. infrastructure at risk for being targeted, particularly as its previous attacks against Israeli targets show that Iran is willing to target countries with stronger cyber capabilities than itself. Iran will continue to conduct malign influence operations in the Middle East and in other regions, including trying to undermine U.S. political processes and amplify discord.

Ahead of the U.S. election in 2024, Iran may attempt to conduct influence operations aimed at U.S. interests, including targeting U.S. elections, having demonstrated a willingness and capability to do so in the past.

  • During the U.S. election cycle in 2020, Iranian cyber actors obtained or attempted to obtain U.S. voter information, sent threatening emails to voters, and disseminated disinformation about the election. The same Iranian actors have evolved their activities and developed a new set of techniques, combining cyber and influence capabilities, that Iran could deploy during the U.S. election cycle in 2024.


Despite weathering protests in late 2022 and early 2023, Iran continues to face domestic challenges that constrain the regime’s ability to achieve its goals. Mismanagement and international sanctions are brakes on the economy that limit the regime’s ability to buy domestic support and legitimacy.

  • Iran’s economy continues to struggle amidst high inflation—likely to top 40 percent for 2023, sanctions pressure, and a depreciating currency. Most wages are unable to keep pace with the higher prices, leading to declines in households’ spending power. During the coming years, Iran also will be increasingly challenged by climate change as water becomes scarcer.
  • Iran’s dependency on oil export revenues and slowing economic growth in China—Iran’s largest buyer of oil—portend weaker revenues for Tehran and potentially higher budget deficits, probably forcing lower government spending on infrastructure, including for power and water.
  • Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has been serving in the position since 1989 and is in his mid-80s. His eventual passing could challenge a system characterized by elite factionalism that has only undergone a single supreme leader transition. >

Source: “Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community,” Office of the Director of National Intelligence, (February 5, 2024).