This is the age of untraceable attacks. Right now, both Iran and the United States are just two of many countries worldwide that make use of ruthless proxy entities to not only spread chaos everywhere their resources allow, but to also inflict violence and destroy vital infrastructure.
Of course, as in any war, cyberwarfare also has its own share of miscalculations.
If Iran does go to war with the U.S., the following conflict may result in enough casualties to dwarf that of Iraq.
Potentially, it could lead to the worst conflict in the history of the world.
In a targeted drone strike on January 3, 2020, the U.S. killed Iran Major General Qasem Soleimani who, as mentioned in our other coverage of this subject, was considered one of the most important senior leaders in Iran’s military system. Soleimani served as the leader of the covert operations responsible for wreaking havoc within most of the Middle East.
This brought Tehran and Washington D.C. ever so closer to officially announcing a full-fledged war. Iran will inevitably retaliate, as it has plenty of incentives to do so.
Most political experts agree that Iran will likely avoid a conventional war with the U.S. and instead take the help of proxy entities that will target U.S. commercial interests in the region. Targets could include American allies along with diplomats and troops that have established themselves in the country’s regional embassies and bases.
Last year, one respected international consulting firm, the Eurasia Group, put the chances of a major or limited war between the U.S. and Iran at 40%.
Of course, the airstrike alone did not raise the chances of a conflict between the two nations.
Tehran and Washington have never hidden their tensions. The current situation is a continuation of a months-long standoff that only escalated with the latest strike.
The U.S. and Iran did strike a nuclear deal back in 2015 to maintain peace in the region. But in 2018, the U.S. withdrew from the treaty after discovering that Iran had failed to abide by the terms of the deal.
Over the last couple of weeks, the crisis has only become more acute. Militias backed by the Iranian government killed a contractor working with the U.S. and wounded other military personnel with the use of rocket attacks.
This led U.S. President Donald Trump to officially launch retaliatory strikes. Initially, the U.S. targeted five outfits in Syria and Iraq, killing around 25 fighters in the process. Iran struck back by holding a rally just outside the U.S. embassy in Iraq with the help of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia.
Some members of the group even managed to get inside the embassy and set portions of the compound of it on fire. It is reported that as a result of that action, the U.S. ultimately decided to assassinate Soleimani.
Perhaps this is a good time to mention that neither country apparently desires a major conflict.
President Trump has come out and said that he always prefers peace over violence when it comes to dealing with Iran.
However, one cannot simply discount the possibility of a cyber war breaking out over the next few months. The leadership in Iran has sworn to take revenge for Soleimani’s killing. Last Friday, Iran President Hassan Rouhani tweeted that the country would take revenge for assassinating Soleimani.
The flag of General Soleimani in defense of the country's territorial integrity and the fight against terrorism and extremism in the region will be raised, and the path of resistance to US excesses will continue. The great nation of Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime.
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) January 3, 2020
So, what does that mean for the people in both countries? Ultimately, citizens and observers will have to come to terms with the fact that Iran and U.S. relations will teeter on pretty much a knife’s edge for a long time now.
Moreover, from a reasonable standpoint, it would not take a lot of effort to knock those relations off the edge. Put simply, the situation can get a lot worse.
Cyberwarfare Tactics Could Be Deployed in U.S. & Iran
The U.S. is the most powerful nation on earth, militarily speaking. The sanctions that the U.S. has imposed on Iran will, sooner or later, tank the country’s economy far from easy repair. That’s just one reason why Iran is close to being desperate to get them lifted soon.
But since the Trump administration does not have a lot of reason to change its course, the leadership in Iran may have to choose a different area of action. A more violent one. This is highly likely since the U.S. has now assassinated Soleimani as well.
To start things off, Iran could strike another American oil tanker as it is leaving the Strait of Hormuz.
This is important:For the uninitiated, the Strait of Hormuz is currently the most important waterway for any country since it handles the majority of global energy trade. Iran patrols the area rather aggressively with its own forces. To put it another way, Iran does not have to spend a lot of resources to cause a major oil spill or loss of human life.
Iran has also shown that it has formidable cyberwarfare skills in the form of human resource and state sponsorship. But so does America.
If Iran tries to attack America through pure cyberwarfare, then it stands to reason that U.S. agencies would launch their own retaliatory attacks.
Iran could launch the same attacks on the U.S. as well. If not that, Iran will certainly try to get one up on some of the U.S. allies in the region, such as the Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
If Iran does go ahead with any of its offensive or defensive plans, there is no doubt about the fact that President Trump would have little choice other than to respond in kind.
As far as the extent of the attacks goes, it is reasonable that the U.S. would correspond to Iranian actions in equal measure.
To take an example, if Tehran decides to attack a given U.S. oil tanker while causing a huge oil spill and in the process, killing some people, then the U.S. may also destroy multiple Iran-owned ships in retaliation.
Whatever happens, there is no way to be precise about an imminent war scenario. After all, we’re still talking about a more or less hypothetical war between the U.S. and Iran.
Of course, if it does reach that point then the situation would follow the usual series of moves and counter moves. War is always confusing and it is always messy. Most of all, it is deadly.
One security expert in the U.S. recently said that when it came to war, one did not simply try to poke the beehive. Instead, a better strategy would be to try and take the whole beehive down as quickly as possible.
Apart from conventional actions such as bombing Iranian warplanes, nuclear facilities and ships along with training grounds, the U.S. could launch deadly cyberattacks to disrupt the country’s military infrastructure.
And this is where things will start to get interesting. Cyberwarfare isn’t just about hacking into enemy vehicles and shutting them down.
It involves a lot of shoulder actions such as disinformation and dismantling of civilian infrastructure in order to bring more chaos to the defending country.
Iranians would probably have to deal with a lot of fake news or propaganda in their newspapers, news websites, TV channels and radio stations. Apart from that, they might also see their internet access shut off.
And if the U.S. is able to destroy much of the energy infrastructure of Iran via cyberattacks (since more and more of our everyday life is going online or is at least getting affected by the internet), this might also disrupt the flow of electricity to residents, businesses, organizations and infrastructure across the country.
That would lead to further chaos. Of course, the ultimate goal of the U.S. military would be to find the quickest way possible to degrade the conventional forces of Iran within a couple of days or weeks.
People living in Iran can also expect a lot of disruption to all means of communication, from news channels and radio stations getting knocked off their air to their internet connection being suspended and websites being blocked.
We have to keep in mind that not only is the U.S. the most powerful country in terms of military strength, it is also the most advanced. There is little doubt that the U.S. would try to leverage its skills in the cyberwarfare department to damage Iran, even without using its conventional weapons.
That isn’t to say that Iran would just sit back and let the U.S. do whatever it wants.
Some security analysts, such as retired Marine Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart believes that Iran would employ a strategy to make it possible to avoid any direct conventional one-on-one force operations.
Iran, in an ideal situation, would try to impose global-scale costs on the U.S. More precisely, it would try to target U.S. interests via proxy terrorism and cyber operations which, it would hope, expand the intent of the conflict.
All the while, Iran would want the international community to step in and try and reign in U.S. war actions.
Needless to say, there is no way Iran can match the firepower that the U.S. can bring to the table, so it will try to use cyberwarfare as its primary line of attack to spread chaos not only in the Middle East but also in many other countries around the world. And since Iran knows that the broader U.S. public has grown war-weary, it would not take a lot from the international community and the U.S. intervention-skeptical leader to stand down.
On paper, all of this sounds like a bit too much for a country like Iran or even the U.S. But readers have to keep in mind that modern wars are moving away from being fought with tanks and/or aircrafts. In fact, many countries start their preparations for war well in advance with the help of cyberattacks.
Note:Iranian citizens will not only have to deal with fake news, disrupted internet access, blocked content and more surveillance but also loss of critical infrastructures such as power plants and medical supplies. We should also mention here that Iran has a fairly established network of proxy entities along with elite units.
The Iranian generals could leverage those resources and activate them to kill American citizens, diplomats and troops across the whole of the Middle East. Media reports have already mentioned that U.S. troops in these areas don’t have proper protection. If that is indeed the case, then the U.S. may suffer even more casualties.
Additionally, a U.S.-initiated cyberwar could seriously disrupt Iran’s financial facilities, Banking services may not be operating as normal, or they could even get shut down altogether. Such an action could wreak havoc on the regular lives of Iranian citizens.
Modern hackers are very adept at causing chaos in the cyber realm.
Government officials and cybersecurity experts have started to monitor a slight uptick in the number of malicious activities on the part of professional hackers in Iran. These experts also believe that Iran has planted social media users who may act as harbingers of further disinformation campaigns and more cyberattacks on part of Iran.
And if Iran is not going to back down, the U.S. will likely retaliate back by attacking Iranian government databases to disrupt access to information on the internet.
The U.S., just like Iran, could possibly deface government websites and spread divisive information on various social media platforms. The U.S. government may also access government and private-sector machines to further attack Iran.
Ultimately though, it’s impossible to predict what will happen. Time will tell how events will unfold.