US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley Jr. said in an interview that Iran is likely at an “inflection point” now and that the recent downing of US spy drone and the attacks on tankers – which the US blames on Iran – might be a part of an effort to change the “status quo,” Fox News reported Sunday.
"I'd say that they're probably at an inflection point right now," Ashley said, according to Fox.
He shared his opinion that officials in Tehran might make an impression of being in a “favourable” position, considering its influence on the Iraqi government and that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a long-time Iran ally, has remained in power.
However, he assesses that the US 2018 withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the sanctions that followed have made a major impact on the Islamic republic. Therefore, the attacks are Iran’s attempt to change the situation, Ashley opines.
"As you look at the developments of JCPOA [the Iran deal], the lack of an economic outcome for them, and then, really, the sanctions which have put a lot of pressure on the Iranian government [...] I think this uptick that you’ve seen is a reflection of them trying to kind of change the status quo in the path that they’re on," Ashley said.
Ashley’s assessment is that US President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy is working. However, Ashely’s criterion for “working” appears to be economical “hardship,” instead of, for example, Tehran’s willingness to come to negotiation table, which Trump has repeatedly called for. Tehran has as yet indicated no interest in conducting negotiations with Washington.
“I would say the pressure campaign is working and there is hardship,” he said. “It has an impact on the entire nation when you look at their economy, because the economy’s moving into a recession and they are struggling."
According to the Defence Intelligence chief, Iran’s ultimatum to once again begin uranium enrichment past 3.6 percent – which the US views as a process aimed at obtaining nuclear weapons – was in fact designed to pressure other nations to “rein in” the US, according to Fox News.
"I think one of the things that Iranians and we assess is, they want to figure out how they can also leverage the European nations to come back in and bring the dialogue back to the floor and to have those discussions”.
In its ultimatum, Iran demanded that EU signatories of the nuclear deal provide Tehran with an effective mechanism of trade to bypass US sanctions. The European signatories repeatedly stated their willingness to adhere to the nuclear deal, despite Washington’s withdrawal.
In 2018, Trump abandoned the 2015 deal reached under US President Barack Obama and re-imposed previously existing sanctions. Under the deal, Iran agreed to stop enriching uranium past the 3.6 percent threshold and stockpiling uranium and heavy water.
This year, bilateral tensions between the two nations escalated rapidly, as Trump sent military forces to Persian Gulf region. On 13 June, two tankers were damaged in Persian Gulf, and the attack was blamed on Iran. Iran repeatedly denied allegations of involvement, saying it has no intention of going to war.
On Thursday, Iran downed a US spy drone, saying it violated Iran airspace. In response, Trump claimed he imposed additional sanctions, and media reports indicated that a cyberattack on Iranian military was underway. Trump also claimed he stopped a military strike on Iran. US officials would not comment on the alleged cyberattack.