OpinionMiddle East

The US intelligence community’s assessment of the Iranian threat

The multifaceted nature of Iran’s aggression demands a comprehensive response strategy.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines. Source: Office of the Director of National Intelligence
U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines. Source: Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Erfan Fard
Erfan Fard is a counter-terrorism analyst and Middle East Studies researcher based in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. intelligence community’s latest Annual Threat Assessment provides a comprehensive analysis of the multifaceted threats to U.S. interests, allies and influence in the Middle East posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The report underscores Iran’s continued efforts to assert its regional power, using military, diplomatic, nuclear and economic means to advance its ambitions.

The assessment shows that Iran is using a variety of methods to undermine U.S. influence while minimizing threats to its regime and the risk of direct military conflict. Its primary tactic is to employ its “Axis of Resistance” network, comprised of various terrorist proxies and partners.

Iran’s tactical leverage, gained from recent military successes, diplomatic gains and the expansion of its nuclear program is outlined in the assessment. It also describes Iran’s efforts to bolster ties with key allies, such as Russia, and use conflicts like the Israel-Hamas war to position itself as a champion of the Palestinian cause.

On the nuclear front, Iran’s post-2020 activities show a significant move beyond the constraints of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the Iran nuclear deal. By expanding its nuclear program and reducing International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) oversight, Iran has positioned itself to rapidly advance towards the development of a nuclear weapon should it choose to do so. This not only challenges non-proliferation norms but heightens the risk of nuclear escalation in an already volatile region.

The proliferation of ballistic missile technology and advancements in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) also demonstrate Tehran’s commitment to enhancing its military capabilities.

Iran is increasingly willing to conduct aggressive cyberwarfare against U.S. and allied networks to undermine American political processes and amplify internal discord, demonstrating a sophisticated understanding of asymmetric warfare tactics.

Nonetheless, the regime faces significant internal challenges, including economic underperformance and social unrest. The persistence of domestic discontent, exacerbated by international sanctions and government mismanagement, shows the underlying vulnerabilities that could impact the regime’s stability and decision-making processes.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines’s testimony before the Senate demonstrated that the U.S. intelligence community believes Iran does not necessarily exert direct control over its proxies but effectively coordinates their activities to serve its strategic objectives.

Iran’s support for these terrorist groups through the provision of weapons, training and financial resources is a destabilizing force in the Middle East, but despite the potential for escalation—notably in Gaza—the intelligence community assesses that Iran wants to avoid a full-scale war.

Moreover, the relationships between Iran and other state actors such as Russia, North Korea and China are characterized by a pragmatic understanding of the mutual benefits but constrained by the inherent instability each party brings to the table. China, Russia and Iran are using advanced technologies to influence the upcoming U.S. presidential election, showing their determination to undermine democratic processes in the West.

The multifaceted nature of the threat posed by Iran demands a comprehensive and nuanced response strategy that addresses the conventional, nuclear, cyber and geopolitical aspects of Iran’s aggression. As Tehran continues to assert its influence across the Middle East and beyond, understanding and countering its strategic ambitions are essential to safeguarding U.S. national security interests and promoting regional stability.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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