Iran Summary – July 2021
About the Iran Update: The Jewish Institute for National Security of America’s (JINSA) Gemunder Center has started a monthly tracker providing timely information and graphics illustrating Iran’s aggressive and destabilizing activities.
July 2021 Summary: Ahead of the inauguration of hardliner president Ebrahim Raisi on August 5, Iran continued its pattern of aggression against U.S. troops in Iraq—despite the Biden administration launching airstrikes meant to deter such attacks—while ramping up its nuclear pressure tactics with alarming, but likely exaggerated claims. Meanwhile, the regime used deadly force to crack down on the largest protests since November 2019.
Nuclear: On June 15, Iran claimed that its 20% enriched uranium stockpile had reached 108 kg, putting it ostensibly on pace to cross the threshold of nuclear weapons capability in mid-July (Chart 3). However, a JINSA analysis casts doubt on Tehran’s claim, given its current inability to enrich uranium at such rates (Chart 4).
- Tehran is likely exaggerating its stockpile to pressure Washington into sanctions relief and test the new Israeli coalition government.
- Iran’s July 6 announcement that it would begin producing enriched uranium metal, thereby drawing down its 20% stockpile, may have been Tehran’s attempt to signal it was backing away from the provocative June claim without losing face.
- Despite no nuclear negotiations occurring since June, the Biden administration says it is ready to discuss a return to the JCPOA whenever Iran is willing to meet.
- During a meeting with outgoing Iranian president Hassan Rouhani on July 28, Supreme Leader Ali Khameini criticized his term as “uneven” and argued that “with this administration it became clear that trusting the West does not yield results and that [the West] will not help and will inflict harm wherever they can.”
Regional Aggression: In July, Iranian proxies launched approximately 31 rockets and drones against U.S. positions, partners, and interests in the Middle East (Chart 1), shortly after President Biden ordered airstrikes in June against these groups in Iraq and Syria.
- Escalating Iranian-linked attacks are on pace to far surpass previous years’ totals and increasingly involve drones (Chart 2).
- As a JINSA memo recently documented, Biden’s calibrated use of force has been too limited and inconsistent to deter Iranian proxies, especially since the administration has drawn down even more air defense and other military assets from the Middle East.
- On July 29, a reported suicide drone attack likely launched by Iran or a proxy group killed 2 crew members aboard a Liberian flagged oil tanker operated by the Israeli company Zodiac Maritime.
- The attack was Iran’s most dangerous escalation of violence against international shipping since 2019.
- On July 3, a ship previously owned by Zodiac Maritime was attacked while traveling to the United Arab Emirates.
- The U.S. Justice Department indicted 4 alleged Iranian intelligence agents for attempting to kidnap Masih Alinejad, a New York-based, Iranian-American journalist and human rights activist.
- In mid-July, the largest antigovernment protests in eighteen months began in Khuzestan province over water shortages with demonstrations spreading to Tehran at the end of the month. Iranian-state TV claimed 4 people have been killed with the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) claiming 10 deaths and at least 102 arrests.
Recent JINSA Resources on Iran:
July 1: Iran’s Projectile Threat to U.S. Interests and Partners, Blaise Misztal, Charles Perkins, Jonathan Ruhe, Ari Cicurel, and Yoni Weiner-Tobin, JINSA National Security Brief
July 8: Bombings in Iraq Despite Biden Retaliation, Ari Cicurel, JINSA National Security Brief
July 14: Iran’s Latest Ploy for New Nuclear Deal Is Doomed, Stephen Rademaker, Real Clear Defense
July 15: Biden Needs to Prepare for Iran’s Escalating Projectile Threat, Ari Cicurel, Defense News
July 19: Iran’s Provocative 20% Enriched Uranium Claims, Blaise Misztal and Jonathan Ruhe, JINSA National Security Brief
July 28: Is Iran Bluffing About Its Enriched Uranium Stockpile?, Blaise Misztal and Jonathan Ruhe, Foreign Policy