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Nuclear Deal Impasse Intensifies

What’s happening?

Recent developments have illuminated concerns in a weeks-long stalemate between the US and Iran in reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA):

  • According to the US, Iran’s nuclear breakout time went from one year (when the JCPOA was enacted) to a few weeks or less. A breakout period covers the time needed to gather enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.
  • This week, Israel and the US continued discussions on the Iran confrontation. The Biden administration has reportedly started planning for a no-deal scenario and Israeli officials have stated that a new deal is unlikely.
  • Former ranking officials from 15 European countries published an open letter warning the US and Iran of the risks of a continued standoff.

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What is the JCPOA and what sparked the gridlock?

The JCPOA, also called the Iran Nuclear Deal, was established in 2015 to give Iran sanctions relief in exchange for tighter restrictions on its nuclear program. 

Regardless of the agreement, Iran has continued expanding its regional goals and terrorism sponsorships in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and other countries through its Quds force. The Quds force is part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the US designated as a foreign terrorist organization. Iran has also continued developing ballistic missiles.

In 2018, then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal, citing the need for more comprehensive restrictions on Iran’s regional activities and ballistic missile program.

Since Trump’s withdrawal, Iran has breached the original deal, growing its uranium stockpile beyond the deal’s limitations. In 2021, Iran’s uranium enrichment level reached 60%, its highest level to date.

The Vienna talks, which aimed to renegotiate the nuclear deal, started in April 2021. The talks stalled in March 2022 after Russia demanded guarantees that Western sanctions in response to its invasion of Ukraine would not affect Russia-Iran trade and military cooperation. 

The stalemate is also tied to Iran’s demand that the US remove its terrorist designation for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as part of the new agreement—a request that the US reportedly has no plans to fulfill.

What’s the impact?

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, a conflict escalation “would have significant economic, political, and security implications for the United States.” A military conflict could initiate a blockage of the Straight of Hormuz—which carries 30% of the world’s oil supplies—causing a global spike in oil prices. 

The Council also cites jeopardized relationships with US allies, including NATO, should the confrontation escalate into an armed conflict.

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has acknowledged that although a nuclear deal doesn’t address ballistic missile development and other adverse Iranian activities, no deal would only exacerbate these issues. In other words, a more advanced Iranian nuclear program would pose an even greater threat to the US and its allies in the Middle East.

In the aforementioned open letter, signatories also warn that a stalemate “…risks devolving into a cycle of increased nuclear tension, inevitably countered by the further application of coercive tools.” According to the letter, a maximum pressure strategy—like that implemented since Trump’s withdrawal—only incites nuclear escalation, regional sparring, and economic hardship for Iranians.

How Can OSINT Help?

Intelligence leaders and governments must generate timely, accurate insights as the stalemate continues. NATO is prioritizing information environment assessment capabilities to monitor global areas of interest, and open sources like social media are valuable for supporting strategic decision-making in the region. 

For example, in the US-Iran confrontation, these sources have several applications:

  • Content from social media and local defense forums can reveal on-the-ground events and military hardware insights in real-time. This is valuable for assessing technology and military activities in the Middle East, as well as providing early warning indicators for violence.
  • Regionally-relevant sources help analysts understand local insights, public opinion, and sentiment within the Iranian population.
  • Hard-to-access sites on the deep and dark web are useful for gathering cybersecurity risk intelligence related to Iran.

In addition to mainstream sites used globally—like Twitter and YouTube—regionally-relevant sources help intelligence professionals develop more accurate, nuanced information environment assessments in target regions. 

To find out which social data sources are relevant in Iran and other areas of the Middle East, contact Echosec Systems today.