MS Risk Blog

Strategic intentions behind the Iranian 2015 JCPOA

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Islamic Republic of Iran test-fires ballistic missiles for two consecutive days. In the Alborz Mountains in the northern area of Tehran, on Tuesday 08th March, a medium range missile was successfully tested covering a range of 750km. The following day at the same lunching site a further test was performed to establish the nation’s longer range capabilities; covering over 1400km, landing in the south-east part of the country. We assess that such range and proved capabilities poses a plausible threat to neighbor’s countries. Missiles are capable of reaching Iran’s archenemy Israel in the event of a potential direct attack. This is causing friction and tensions within the international arena raising questions over the violation of UNSC resolutions and the current nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers.

Since January 2016, Tehran met the demands for implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Despite these developments, Iran presents an enduring threat due to its support to regional terrorist and militant groups and the Assad regime. A key agenda item within the Iranian regime is the development of advanced military capabilities. Tehran views itself as leading the “axis of resistance” which includes the Assad regime and subnational militia groups aligned with Iran, especially Lebanese Hezbollah (considered an international terrorist organization by the U.S.) and Iraqi Shia militants; all antagonist of Israel.

Iran support to the Shia group Hezbollah is of particular interest considering the hardening of the Lebanese current scenario. There are indications arising from recent events of an alleged Hezbollah plan to take over Beirut by purposely bombing the organization’s own munition factories as well as military positions of the Lebanese army. It is believed that Hezbollah in cooperation with forces in the Lebanese army may plan to initiate a wave of attacks against its own facilities in Lebanon which will give it legitimacy to cease Beirut. A clear indicator of the unfolding of this events is the current fighting between opposition and government supporters; on the 9th of March after a series of armed attacks Hezbollah ceased most of western Beirut.

Iranian long standing position is to undermine Israel; the supreme leader expressed his belief in several occasions by clearly stating that Israel as a country will not exist within the next 25 years. The country wishes Israel to cease existing but there is no gathered evidence of any intentions in engaging into a direct conflict, at least in the medium term.

The JCPOA played the important role of enhancing the transparency of Iran’s nuclear activities. A broader access has been granted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other investigative authorities under the Additional Protocol in line with the Comprehensive Safeguard Agreement. As a result, the international community is well postured to promptly detect changes to Iran’s declared nuclear facilities designed to shorten the time Iran would need to produce fissile material. Iran’s implementation of the JCPOA has extended the amount of time Iran would need to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon from a few months to about a year. Furthermore the JCPOA also provides tools for the IAEA to investigate possible breaches of prohibitions on specific unauthorized R&D.

Iran most likely views the JCPOA as a mean to uplift sanctions while preserving some of its nuclear capabilities and a safe option to eventually expand its nuclear infrastructure. However, it is unclear wheatear or not Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.

We assess with a moderate degree of confidence that the strategic objectives of implementing and enhancing regional influence, prestige, security, financial and economic ties with several players both domestically and internationally will lead to pursue the required capabilities in the research and development of nuclear energy and technological industry. This will indivertibly confer the ability to build deliverable RCBNs in the event that such political choice will be made. The lack of foreseeable technical barriers within the production process makes Iran’s political will the central issue. The pursuit of this strategy will define its level of adherence to the JCPOA over time.

We judge that, in the event of deploying RCBNs, Tehran would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred delivering system. Tests run in the last days are indicators or proven capabilities in terms of delivery system. The U.S. intelligence community assessed that Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East and they are inherently capable of delivering WMD.

The country’s desire to deter the United States and its allies provides Tehran with the means and motivation to develop longer-range missiles, including ICBMs. A supplementary area of concern for the global security industry is the Iran’s progress on space launch vehicles. It has been reported to cooperate with Russia and China both technologically and financially in gaining ground in the ongoing outer space race.


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