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Preventing Crisis with Iran

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action): Understanding the rise and fall of the Iranian Nuclear deal

Iran has been a threat for the West and Middle East stability since 1979 but never as much as today. The complexity of dealing with Iran and understanding its objectives over the next 12 months is essential in developing a strategy that will bring stability to the Middle East. With Iran destabilizing operations in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Palestinian territory and other areas, this problem continues to grow. To establish stability today, we must first understand both the historic and current factors that contribute to its persistent instability. I have reviewed the current state of affairs in Iran, examined the critical issues germane to the conflict, and explored a timeline for predictive analysis.

A brief review of the relevant factors:

  • The JCPOA agreement was reached in 2015 between Iran, the US, UK, EU, Russia, China, Germany and France to go into effect in January of 2016. Wikipedia: Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

  • Iran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions. This deal was not inclusive and had many gaps. The failure to sign the original agreement with the proper enforcement and restrictions allowed Iran to continue nefarious activities throughout the Middle East.

  • In May of 2018, the US pulled out of the agreement as the Trump Administration felt JCPOA fell short in preventing Iran from working on advanced missile technology, using dual use items in research (i.e., space ventures that are parallel to nuclear tests) and the lack of any promise of Iran to prevent destabilizing activities in the region.

  • Since the US withdrew from the JCPOA, tensions have steadily risen and reached a boiling point in the early days of 2020, sparking fears of war. On January 5, 2020, Iran announced it would no longer adhere to the deal enriching Uranium past levels and quantities outlined in the directive; this just days after Trump ordered a strike that killed its top military leader, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

  • Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated in November 2020. Iran has not made public the name of the lead nuclear scientist replacement at this time.

  • Arab countries and Israel are working together for a unified action plan against Iran. This defense plan has been further enhanced by the Abraham accords of 2020.

  • The new Biden administration says that if Iran resumes compliance, it will work to strengthen (add additional measures the original agreement left out) and re-sign JCPOA.

  • Iran will likely elect a member of the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) or hardliner in their upcoming presidential election; hardliners were mostly critical against the original JCPOA.

  • Iran will likely use Iranian backed militia forces to carry out attacks or threats against US forces in Syrian and Iraq. Iran will also use these forces in Yemen (Houthi's) to apply pressure against Saudi Arabia interest and UAE. Iran believes by using Militias they will not be held directly accountable for their actions and that retaliatory attacks (if any) will not be against Iranian “proper” targets. This allows for proxy warfare using plausible deniability.

  • At 81, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s health is on the decline and a transition plan is part of the Iranian inner circle discussions.

  • Ali al-Sistani, a 91-year-old moderate who has led the Shia globally and the highest-level cleric in Shia Islam, will soon need a replacement. Should Iran influence Ali al-Sistani’s replacement, this will have impacts on the Shia world and Iraq for decades to come.

  • China may step in to make an agreement with JCPOA more difficult. China has the ability to offer strategic partnerships and thwart US sanctions and military restrictions. Iran will use this possible relationship as leverage that prevents strengthening the previous JCPOA agreement.

  • On February 4, 2021, President Biden gave his first foreign diplomacy speech and in it, he mentions halting support of the KSA’s action in Yemen. The Arab world and Israel feel there is a shift in support from the US against strong defense against Iran and the US protection against attacks. Overall, Israel will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon and Arab countries would quickly start developing their own Nuclear capability if Iran were to move further with their program without some type of insurance from the US and international community.

This landmark accord attempts to thwart an arms race in exchange for sanction relief – how successful the deal was depends on perspective.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, was the last significant foreign diplomacy action taken by the Obama administration. This deal, signed by P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the European Union (EU), and Iran, called for Iran to dismantle much of its nuclear program and open its facilities to more extensive international inspections in exchange for billions of dollars in energy, trade, technology and financial sanctions relief.

Under the JCPOA, Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98%, and reduce by about two-thirds the number of its gas centrifuges for 13 years. For the next 15 years Iran will only enrich uranium up to 3.67%. Iran also agreed not to build any new heavy-water facilities for the same period of time. Uranium-enrichment activities will be limited to a single facility using first-generation centrifuges for 10 years. Other facilities will be converted to avoid proliferation risks. To monitor and verify Iran's compliance with the agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have regular access to all Iranian nuclear facilities. The agreement provides that in return for verifiably abiding by its commitments, Iran will receive relief from the US, European Union, and United Nations Security Council nuclear-related sanctions. After 15 years, many provisions of the JCPOA expire.

This plan has been divisive since its start, with as many detractors as it has advocates within the National Security realm. Those that back the agreement say that if successfully implemented, the agreement is a win-win solution as it serves US national security interests, the global community, as well as the Middle East. It would block all of Iran's paths to a nuclear weapon by limiting its ability to produce weapons-grade plutonium and uranium, constrain R&D, and increase access for inspections.

Those opposed to JCPOA base their assessment on what was not included in the agreement. Not only did the agreement release $152B to Iran with no limits on how they can use that money (most was used for foreign conflicts in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq), JCPOA did not limit Iranian destabilization of the greater Middle East through proxies and finally did not include dual use technologies such as advanced missile technologies. Iranian Militia activity increased and so did the its use by Iran throughout the Middle East while JCPOA was in place.

In 2018, President Trump pulled out of the JCPOA agreement with Iran because he thought that delaying Iran’s nuclear ambition by a few years did not consider the potential of nefarious activities in the region or alter missile testing. The Trump strategy was to apply maximum pressure using sanctions to cause Iran to re-enter negations with the US and sign a new agreement that is more inclusive. One variable that was not seen was Iran’s decision to wait until the 2020 election to see if the US will change strategy.

Mounting diplomatic tensions have made negotiations tricky; new leadership may derail the whole process.

The incidents and actions over the last year have brought this situation to a crisis point. This has become our most pressing national security and diplomatic priority. We need to act urgently, but with surgical precision to ensure best possible outcomes. The timeline chart below is a small example of the events and actions that need to be taken in a short timeframe by our national security professionals.

This blog post is truncated and is meant to spark interest and provoke thought. To receive the full version of Crisis with Iran: A Predictive Analysis of the Next 12 Months, please email me at

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J. Scott Nelson
J. Scott Nelson
Mar 25, 2021

Good to see this launched Tony... great forum - have it book marked now.

Replying to

Thanks Scott, glad to have someone with your credentials on board

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