President Donald Trump is expected to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear agreement on May 12. Tehran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, with China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain, and the United States in 2015.
Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions. But the withdrawal of the United States will probably sink the deal. If that happens, Iran could retaliate by undermining the interests of Washington and its allies in the Middle East.
Here are some possible scenarios:
When Islamic State seized much of Iraq in 2014, Iran was quick to support Baghdad. Iran has since helped arm and train thousands of Shi’ite fighters in Iraq. These Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) are also a significant political force.
If the deal falls through, Iran could encourage PMF factions who want the U.S. to leave Iraq to step up rhetorical, and maybe military, attacks against American forces.
These could be rocket, mortar and roadside bomb attacks not directly linked to a specific Shi’ite militia, which would allow Iran to deny it had changed its position of avoiding direct conflict with U.S. forces in Iraq.
Iran and paramilitary allies such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah have been involved in Syria’s war since 2012. Iran has armed and trained thousands of Shi’ite paramilitary fighters to shore up the government. Israel says Iran has recruited at least 80,000 Shi’ite fighters.
Iran’s presence in Syria has brought Tehran into direct conflict with Israel for the first time, with a series of high-profile clashes in recent months. Israeli officials say they will never let Tehran or Hezbollah establish a permanent military presence in neighboring Syria.
If the nuclear deal falls through, Iran will have little incentive to stop its Shi’ite militia allies in Syria from carrying out attacks against Israel.