The U.S. intelligence community published its Annual Threat Assessment focusing on China, Russia, North Korea, health security, climate change, and transnational issues. The section on Iran highlights threats to the United States and Israel.
Iran will continue to threaten U.S. interests as it tries to erode U.S. influence in the Middle East, entrench its influence and project power in neighboring states, and minimize threats to regime stability. Tehran will try to leverage its expanding nuclear program, proxy and partner forces, diplomacy, and military sales and acquisitions to advance its goals. The Iranian regime sees itself as locked in an existential struggle with the United States and its regional allies, while it pursues its longstanding ambitions for regional leadership.
The election of President Ebrahim Raisi in 2021 has invigorated Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to try to make progress toward his long-term vision of molding Iran into a pan-Islamic power capable of defending global Muslim causes while tightening its theocratic rule at home.
- The regime is reluctant to directly engage diplomatically with the United States on a renewal of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), even though it still aspires to secure sanctions relief. Iran’s hardline officials deeply distrust Washington and do not believe the United States can deliver or sustain any benefits a renewed JCPOA might offer.
We assess that Iran will threaten U.S. persons directly and via proxy attacks, particularly in the Middle East. Iran also remains committed to developing networks inside the United States—an objective it has pursued for more than a decade. Iranian-supported proxies will launch attacks against U.S. forces and persons in Iraq and Syria, and perhaps on other countries and regions. Iran has threatened to retaliate against former and current U.S. officials for the killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) Commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020, and has previously attempted to conduct lethal operations in the United States.
- Iran remains a threat to Israel, both directly through its missile forces and indirectly through its support of Lebanese Hizballah and other terrorist groups.
- Iran will remain a problematic actor across the region with its backing of Iraqi Shia militias, which is the primary threat to U.S. personnel in Iraq. Iran’s economically and militarily propping up of a rogue Syrian regime, and spreading instability across Yemen through its support to the Huthis—including a range of advanced military systems—also pose a threat to U.S. partners and interests, including Saudi Arabia.
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. The IRGC-QF and its proxies will remain central to Iran’s military power.
- Despite Iran’s economic challenges, Tehran will seek to improve and acquire new conventional weaponry.
- Iran’s unconventional warfare operations and network of militant partners and proxies enable Tehran to advance its interests in the region and maintain strategic depth.
Iran’s ballistic missile programs, which include the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the region, continue to pose a threat to countries across the Middle East. Iran’s work on a space launch vehicle (SLV)—including its Simorgh—shortens the timeline to an ICBM because SLVs and ICBMs use similar technologies, if it decided to develop one.
We continue to assess that Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities that we judge would be necessary to produce a nuclear device. In July 2019, following the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018, Iran began resuming some activities that exceed JCPOA limits. If Tehran does not receive sanctions relief, Iranian officials probably will consider further enriching uranium up to 90 percent.
- Iran has consistently cast its resumption of nuclear activities as a reversible response to the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA and messaged that it would return to full compliance if the United States lifted sanctions and also fulfilled its JCPOA commitments.
- Iran continues to increase the size and enrichment level of its uranium stockpile beyond JCPOA limits. Iran continues to ignore restrictions on advanced centrifuge research and development and continues uranium enrichment operations at the deeply buried Fordow facility. Iran has been enriching uranium hexafluoride (UF6) up to 60 percent U-235 since April 2021, and continues to accumulate UF6 enriched up to 20 percent. The IAEA has verified that Iran is conducting uranium metal research and development, including producing laboratory-scale quantities of uranium metal enriched up to 20 percent U-235.
CYBER AND MALIGN INFLUENCE
Iran’s growing expertise and willingness to conduct aggressive cyber operations make it a major threat to the security of U.S. and allied networks and data. Iran’s opportunistic approach to cyber attacks makes critical infrastructure owners in the United States susceptible to being targeted by Tehran, especially when Tehran believes it must demonstrate that it can push back against the United States in other domains. Recent attacks on Israeli and U.S. targets show that Iran is more willing than before to target countries with stronger capabilities.
- Iran was responsible for multiple cyber attacks between April and July 2020 against Israeli water facilities. Iran’s successful disruption of critical infrastructure in Israel—also a superior cyber power compared with Iran—reflects its growing willingness to take risks when it believes retaliation is justified.