US Intel Chief: Iran protests ‘not imminent threat' to regime, but portend ‘greater risk of unrest and instability over time’
Top US & Israeli intel analysts see Iran regime facing prospect of unrest and instability over time for not addressing the underlying reasons spurring the protests.
“We’re not seeing the regime perceive this as an imminent threat to their stability,” US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said Dec. 3 on the Iran protests.
“On the other hand, when we look at how this is developing…combined with…extraordinary challenges [to the Iranian economy]…that’s one of those things that will lead to a greater risk of unrest and instability over time.”
“Depending on how it develops,…I think we have yet to see how this ultimately evolves,” Haines said.
"The repressive Iranian regime will, it seems, manage to survive these protests,” top IDF intel analyst Brigadier General Amit Saar said Dec. 5.
“But I think that even if these protests wane, the reasons (for them) will remain, and thus the Iranian regime has a problem for years to come,” Saar said.
“We don't have information that suggests that they've made a decision to move towards a nuclear weapon,” Haines said of Iran.
Top US and Israeli intelligence officials said in recent days that while they do not see the Iranian regime at near-term risk of losing its grip on power amid almost three months of protests spurred by the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s so-called morality police in September, the conditions that have given rise to the protests, including economic challenges and a generational divide, means the Iranian regime will likely face unrest and instability for years to come.
“We’re not seeing the regime perceive this as an imminent threat to their stability,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Reagan National Defense Forum on December 3. “They are cracking down on what’s happening.”
“On the other hand, when we look at how this is developing, when we look at it combined with the [Iranian] economy…which is really having extraordinary challenges right now…that’s one of those things that will lead to a greater risk of unrest and instability over time,” Haines said in conversation at the Reagan forum with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
“Depending on how it develops, and when you combine it with the generational divide that we’re seeing that are represented in the protests,” Haines said, “I think we have yet to see how this ultimately evolves.”
“But it is not something that we see right now as being…an imminent threat to the regime,” Haines said. “And we see the regime continuing to crack down on this…quite violently, and that they’re poised to do more. Even as we see some kind of controversies…about exactly how to respond within the government.”
IDF analyst: Iran regime will likely “survive these protests,” but “has a problem for years to come”
A top Israeli military intelligence analyst offered a similar assessment at a think tank Monday.
"The repressive Iranian regime will, it seems, manage to survive these protests,” Brigadier General Amit Saar, head of the Research Division of the Israel Defense Force’s Intelligence Division, told the Gazit Institute think tank today (Dec. 5), Reuters reported.
The Iranian regime “has constructed very, very strong tools for dealing with such protests," Saar said.
“But I think that even if these protests wane, the reasons (for them) will remain, and thus the Iranian regime has a problem for years to come,” he said.
If US and Israeli intelligence assessments don’t see the Iranian regime at near-term risk of being destabilized by the protests, American and European policymakers describe them and the subsequent Iranian brutal crackdown on protesters, women, youth and civil society, which is estimated to have killed over 470 people; combined with Iran’s military support to Russia in its war on Ukraine, as further poisoning the climate for any revived diplomacy to address Iran’s nuclear expansion in the near term.
“The more Iran represses, the more there will be sanctions,” US Iran envoy Rob Malley told the Mediterranean Dialogue conference in Rome Dec. 3, the Guardian reported.
“The more isolated they feel, the more they turn to Russia,” Malley continued. “The more they turn to Russia, the more sanctions there will be, the more the climate deteriorates, the less likely there will be nuclear diplomacy. So it is true right now the vicious cycles are all self-reinforcing.”
Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator and Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani held meetings in Moscow on Dec. 2 with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, to “discuss the prospects of full-scale implementation of the JCPOA,” Russia’s envoy to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted. The engagement was just the latest sign of a deepening Iranian-Russian strategic partnership that seems increasingly at odds with the US and European parties to the deal.
A lengthy joint statement issued after the meeting of US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House last week notably made no mention of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, at all. Its Iran section led off with outreach to the Iranian people.
“The Presidents also express their respect for the Iranian people, in particular women and youth, who are bravely protesting to gain the freedom to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, which Iran itself has subscribed to and is violating,” the Biden/Macron joint statement issued Dec. 1 said.
“They remain determined to ensure that Iran can never develop or acquire a nuclear weapon,” it continued.
“We’re not spending our time now focused on the deal,” Malley told a Foreign Policy Live event Dec. 1. “Our focus is on what’s happening in Iran and Iran’s support for Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine.”
“Our priority is diplomacy.” On military options, “we’re not there.”
Asked how the US plans to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, if the JCPOA cannot be revived, US officials said they still prefer diplomacy.
“We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Secretary of State Blinken told the J Street annual conference meeting in Washington, D.C. Sunday. “But should the Iranian regime reject that path, its leaders should make no mistake that all options are on the table to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.”
“Our priority is diplomacy,” Malley told FP Live. “It’s the most sustainable way to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And that remains our preference.”
“That said, we have the sanctions, we have pressure, we have diplomacy,” he continued. “If none of that works, the president has said, as a last resort, he will agree to a military option. But we’re not there. We’re still hopeful that we will find other means and that Iran will change its current path because it will be best for everyone.”
Meantime, the United States and Europeans will seek this month to have Iran removed from the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
“Removing Iran from the Commission on the Status of Women is the right thing to do,” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield tweeted Sunday.
DNI: Do not have information Iran decided to move towards a nuclear weapon
DNI Haines said the US intelligence community still does not see evidence that Iran has decided to produce a nuclear weapon, even while it announced this month that it will start enriching uranium to 60% purity at the underground Fordo facility, just short of the 90% needed for weapons grade fissile material.
“We don't have information that suggests that they've made a decision to move towards a nuclear weapon,” Haines said. “But we continue to see them take moves, obviously.”
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