In a recent report to the Senate, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence claims that the Iranian calculus may be changing. Clapper is referring to an increased risk that the Iranian government may pursue attacks on American soil. He claims that Iran feels it is already under attack, and given the recent deaths of Iranian nuclear scientists as well as the severe economic sanctions leveled against it, this feeling is understandable. However, does a cornered and isolated Iran pose a serious threat to the United States?
Certainly there is a precedent for countries under severe economic pressure from the United States to lash out via an attack on American soil. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was largely a response to a US imposed oil embargo. Also Iranian activity abroad is on the rise. Recently the Azeri government claimed to have thwarted an Iranian attempt to assassinate the Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan. Also Clapper officially implicated Iranian intelligence in the 2011 assassination attempt on the Saudi ambassador to the US.
Clapper’s report will definitely lead to increased efforts by the US intelligence community, but in no way should it lead to a lessening of US pressure on Iran. First, the fact that Iranian plots have been uncovered in the US, Azerbaijan, and Thailand suggests that the Islamic Republic’s ability to pursue low intensity, covert warfare lacks the required skill. Second, other than through proxy organizations such as Hezbollah, Iran doesn’t have the military capacity to launch a major attack on US soil. Finally, Iran’s inability to make good on its blockade of the Strait of Hormuz shows that Iran is a paper tiger, making toothless threats out of desperation. This posturing by the Islamic Republic demonstrates the effectiveness of current US policy towards the rogue nation and it would be a mistake to let fears of desperate acts lead to appeasement.