Analysis: What is Iran up to?

Tehran is busy undermining the United States on almost all fronts since signing of accord.

A MILITARY truck carrying a missile and a picture of Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei drives in a parade marking the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war in Tehran (photo credit: REUTERS)
A MILITARY truck carrying a missile and a picture of Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei drives in a parade marking the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war in Tehran
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It sounds like a Persian fairy tale in which a Janus-like leader smiles and glowers at once, depending on the angle of viewing. This is the world inhabited by Iran observers since the signing of The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on July 14, 2015.
The deal, signed between Iran and six world powers, exists to prevent Iran from obtaining weapons-grade nuclear material at least for the next 15 years On the one hand, Iranian leaders are smiling on the America that facilitated the agreement, whereby the West has lifted crippling economic sanctions that paralyzed the economy of the Islamic Republic.
On the other hand, Iranian leaders are engaged in vituperative ad hominem attacks against the United Sates and have intensified their efforts at a cyber war against Washington institutions. Tehran always shows two sides, affirms Ali Ansari, a professor of Iranian Studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland. One side: President Rouhani’s moderate approach, where the country appears open to negotiations. The other side: Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s “more contentious” rhetoric.
The question is, he added, “Which one is the real face?” Late last month, Khamenei took to Iranian national television to accuse the United States—“the enemy”—of “setting up a network within a nation and inside a country mainly through the two means: money and sexual attractions, to change ideals, beliefs and consequently the lifestyle.”
This was, he expounded, in comments subsequently posted on his website, the manner in which the US was influencing hearts and minds in Iraq, and thus fueling the Islamic State (ISIS.)
Also last month, the Obama administration announced that it was the target of a concerted cyberattack launched by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Iran, and that email and social-media accounts of senior officials had been hacked.The emails and social media accounts of employees of the US Office of Iranian Affairs and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs were compromised, and, according to a White House source speaking with The Wall Street Journal, journalists and academics were also among those targeted.
The IRGC has engaged in cyberwarfare against US agencies before, but the frequency has increased significantly since the arrest of Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi in late October, and the confiscation of his computer.
The power struggle between Rouhani, Iran’s elected president, and Khamenei, the Supreme Leader elected and supervised by the Assembly of Experts, has intensified since the adoption of the nuclear deal, resulting, some observers say, in a crackdown against pro-Western writers.
The JCPOA also seems to have emboldened Iran to act on the international stage. Yoel Guzansky, a research fellow with the Institute for National Security Studies, told The Media Line that agreement has bolstered Iran’s non-nuclear foreign policy agenda in the Middle East, without regard for American interests. “The agreement gave Iran more confidence,” he said, while at the same time “feeling less vulnerable, more immune to criticism.”
“On the opposite side, the West is less capable of criticizing Iran on its behavior because Iran is seen to be reaching for the nuclear agreement.”
The JCPOA obliges Iran to reduce its stockpiles of nuclear material and the number of functional centrifuges it possesses. These represent the basic building blocks of the nuclear program Iran always claimed had a solely civilian purpose, which the West believed was aimed at paving the path towards nuclear weapons.
In exchange for the curtailment of this plan, the governments negotiating on behalf of the West – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany, known as the P5+1 nations - lifted economic sanctions.
Analysts as august as the former Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, believe Iran’s proxy actors in the region will benefit from increased cash flow in the months following adoption of the JCPOA.
In his last visit to Israel before retiring three months ago, Dempsey said he anticipated the Iranians would, “invest in their surrogates; I think they will invest in additional military capability.”
Speaking to Israeli government officials, who vehemently opposed the adoption of the pact, Dempsey added it was his expectation that, “sanctions relief, which results in more economic power and more purchasing power for the Iranian regime… it's not all going to flow into the economy to improve the lot of the average Iranian citizen.”
While not brazenly attacking US interests in the chaotic Syrian war theater, Iran’s policy is undermining American positions. “The fact that Shi’ite militias, Hezbollah, Russia, and Iran are attacking the moderate opposition forces, and less ISIS, this is direct interference with US interests,” Yoel Guzansky pointed out.
While JCPOA were ongoing, National Security Agency Director Admiral Michael Rogers told a House Intelligence Committee hearing in September, the number of Iranian cyber-attacks against the US fell.
As of November, however, there has been a surge of attacks, including direct attacks on the State Department website via social media platforms. “One of the pluses with this tactic is the possibility of denial – Iran doesn’t have to dirty its hands,” Guzansky said.
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