American Thinker | By Peymaneh Shafi | 11-14-2021
The regime in Iran has been steadily raising the stakes on its nuclear program and further distancing itself from the 2015 deal signed with the P5+1. Tehran is gambling on an initiative aimed at forcing the European partners of the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, to stand by its side against the United States’ maximum-pressure policy. Of course, this is clearly a long shot, but it is the only hope that Tehran’s mullahs have.
Iranian regime officials are boasting about being capable of enriching uranium at 5, 20, and even 60 percent, just shy of the 90 percent enrichment needed for weapons-grade material. Their chest-thumping and threats include the public relaunching of enrichment at the highly suspicious Fordow plant that is buried deep inside the heart of mountains in central Iran.
Under the JCPOA, Iran is committed to transform the Fordow site to a center for nuclear research and no longer carry out any enrichment activities there. In addition to Tehran’s nuclear defiance, the regime is now operating 60 IR-6 centrifuges that are capable of enriching uranium 10 times faster than the first-generation IR-1. A newly installed IR-9 prototype is said to enrich uranium almost 50 times faster than the IR-1 model permitted under the JCPOA.
There is no longer any question that Tehran is in clear violation of the JCPOA. The mullahs agreed to halt uranium enrichment at Fordow for 15 years. The question now is, why is Tehran in such blatant violation? Why risk global condemnations, especially from Europe? Even Russia expressed concerns over Iran’s fourth step in violation of the JCPOA.
The answer is simple: Tehran is cornered, facing a damning decision between succumbing to demands or escalating tensions against all adversaries.
Parallel to its increase in regional bellicosity — bombing oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, shooting down a U.S. intelligence drone in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, and targeting the Aramco oil facility in Saudi Arabia — Tehran is desperate to find breathing room in the face of numerous domestic, regional, and international crises.
Ever since the U.S. pulled out of the JCPOA and reimposed sanctions in May 2018, Iran’s economy and especially its oil exports have witnessed a drastic and humiliating nose dive. The regime’s currency has lost 70 percent of its value, inflation is officially at 50 percent, and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said recently very little of the $60 billion in oil revenue is now available.
Regionally, Tehran’s proxies in Syria and Lebanon are suffering major money shortages and resorting to domestic measures to provide for the major deficit. And to add insult to injury, the massive demonstrations we are currently witnessing in Iraq and Lebanon are further threatening the regime by specifically targeting its “strategic depth.”
Iran knows very well that losing Iraq would be the prelude of these protests and this crisis both spilling over into its own soil with the possibility of igniting a new nationwide uprising even more powerful than the December 2017–January 2018 episode that swept across over 140 cities. Containing Iraq and Lebanon is a must for Iran, through violent quelling of protests, if necessary. However, keep in mind that the mullahs do not enjoy in Iraq the crackdown leverage they have inside Iran. Therefore, the next few weeks and months will be quite interesting, with Iran’s rulers holding their breath.
Tehran’s ultimate concern is the situation inside Iran. The mullahs simply have no tolerance for the slightest protest in any part of the country, even if the purpose is nonpolitical, and people are simply asking for their paychecks. The mullahs understand very well that a weak position before the international community in regard to the JCPOA and protesters delivering a significant blow to its influence in Iraq and Lebanon will ultimately reveal a feeble regime in the eyes of the Iranian people.
This is the mullahs’ nightmare, and the reason they see no choice but to up the ante in the face of all challenges, hoping their adversaries will not call their bluff.