What have Washington and Tehran been engaged in the last couple of weeks? Particularly following the assault on the Saudi Arabian Oil Company and the targeting of US and international air-vehicles and ships?
Iran is certainly looking for ways to turn the severe imbalance of power between itself and the US into a tactical advantage. Even though the US has the clear upper hand when it comes to sheer military might, the White House is currently occupied by a man reluctant to enter into a war or a military conflict with Tehran. Maybe it’s because US President Donald Trump is about to campaign for a second term that may witness other scenarios put into play should he manage to secure reelection.
That said, Uncle Sam possesses the instruments and the know-how to execute covert modern operations that can be as effective and hurtful as overt military operations. These include cyber warfare, a system of electronic attacks that can radically change the world without one bullet fired.
Rand Corporation, which offers research and analysis to the United States Armed Forces, has recently urged US decision-making centers to elevate “electronic warfare in cyberspace” to the level of a theory and a military concept that require unique assessments and specialized experts and personnel.
Rand advised NATO to be ready to deal with electronic threats that may emanate from anywhere in the world and to educate its members on launching operations in outer space, designing electronic warfare operations, and experimenting to create an intuitive “muscle memory”.
Have the last few weeks witnessed a US cyber warfare experiment against Iran’s armed forces in retaliation for Tehran’s reckless aggression? If that was the case, was Iran helpless or did it attempt to exact revenge? And is Tehran planning future operations against the US and its regional and international allies?
When the world was shocked by Trump’s last-minute ‘call-off’ from military action against Iran out of concerns over civilians' safety, he was calmly orchestrating a powerful attack as part of overt warfare operations, which can take up to months to yield results.
Several high ranking US officials have said that America’s retaliation came in the form of a secret electronic operation that took place in September and targeted the capability of Iranian weapons and equipment. It was a limited operation but the Pentagon refused to comment on it with its Spokeswoman Elissa Smith saying: “As a matter of policy and for operational security, we do not discuss cyberspace operations, intelligence, or planning”.
The Americans have targeted the databases of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), rendering their computer systems non-operational and impeding Iran’s ability to launch cyber counterattacks against the US. The operation harkens back to the Stuxnet attack on Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010.
The New York Times quoted Norman T. Roule, a former national intelligence manager for Iran and a C.I.A. Middle East expert, as saying: “Iran needs to know that the U.S. — supported by the international community — will not tolerate its behavior.”
The use of cyber warfare compliments claims by former US State Secretary Henry Kissinger and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski on the US possessing unimaginable forms and types of weapons. It was claims like these that opened the door for the propagation of the idea that the US was cooperating with aliens at Area 51 in Nevada, which civilians are banned from nearing.
A group of Americans had attempted to storm the facility a couple of weeks ago but were barred from reaching it.
All things considered, it stands clear, at least according to the American media, that Iran was badly and dangerously hurt and is still trying to recover from the attack and repair its damaged systems. But has Tehran retaliated yet?
Amy Zegart, who serves as the co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, says the US is both the strongest and the weakest player when it comes to cyber warfare. She warns that enemies can target the cars Americans drive and the planes they board, they can also cause power cuts and water shortages in virtually any US city or target the US military and turn its weapons against Americans.
Iran, unlike Russia and China, cannot achieve this level of damage through attacks, however, Tehran has indeed tried to interfere in US politics.
Last week, Iranian hackers targeted American citizens with divisive messages aiming at influencing the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election. Tehran is biding its time while betting on Trump failing to secure re-election so that an Obama-like Democratic President, who will be friendly to Iran, is in power.
The fact of the matter is we are now in a new phase of the US-Iranian cyber warfare, an escalation could be imminent. The battles between the two archenemies are not limited to the classic fire and gunpowder anymore.
Cyber warfare could be the weapon to bring Tehran’s Mullahs to their knees very soon.
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