Iran’s Cyber, Missile Threats Loom as Russia Begins Arms Shipments

Russia has begun its transfers of S-300 missile systems to Iran according to a report published in the Washington Post.  These missile systems are considered by defense experts to be capable of taking down up to fourth generation fighter aircraft, to include American F-15s, F-16s, and F-18s, which jointly make up the major bulk of America’s fighter fleet (71% as of 2012, with an additional 15% being A-10 attack aircraft).  It would also encompass the entire fighter fleet of Israel’s air force.

Fighter aircraft are often deployed first before bombers in a ground-attack role to clear surface to air missiles for the larger, slower bombers.  However, they can also carry the weight of larger missions.  During Operation Opera, 8 Israeli F-16s destroyed the Osirak reactor in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, an operation often considered as a possible precedent for a last ditch effort aimed at ending Iran’s nuclear weapons program.  The deployment of S-300 missiles in Iran would seem to close that possibility at a time when Israel’s former head of intelligence has declared that Iran is far more dangerous than ISIS to Israel’s survival as a nation.

The deployment also limits American options, although not as severely.  The United States has a number of fifth generation fighters that are thought to be operational against the S-300’s capabilities.  These include the F-22 Raptor, and the small number of F-35s that are beginning to come on-line.  Of these, the Raptor is clearly the more capable at the moment.  Unfortunately, the Raptor fleet is quite small, with only about 120 aircraft operational in a combat capacity.  In addition, the United States has stealth bombers, especially the B-2, that are thought to be survivable against S-300 missiles.  These can field the largest weapons in the US Air Force’s inventory, including massive ground penetrating bombs modified for use against hardened structures like those at Iran’s Fordow facility.  Nevertheless, the deployment of the Russian anti-aircraft missiles limits the American tool-set at the same time that it limits (likely to just the United States) the number of nations with the capacity to perform an airstrike on Iran in an emergency.

Under the cover of its newfound missiles and the political legitimacy associated with the expected lifting of sanctions, Iran is pushing ahead with far more aggressive cyber warfare attacks on the United States.

[Iranian] attacks appear less restrained and more intent on causing harm to US institutions [than Russian or Chinese attacks], rather than merely targeting them for cyber espionage purposes. And as the Syrian conflict expands it is creating more opportunities for confrontation with Iran….

The Wall Street Journal reports that Iranian hacking is being led by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).  US officials detected a “surge” of such activity linked to the arrest of Siamak Namazi.  As explained here at IranTruth by former CIA officer Clare Lopez, Namazi’s arrest shows the degree of paranoia in Iran about Western infiltration in the wake of the dropping of sanctions.

Namazi, a Dubai-based close associate of key Iran Lobby figure, Trita Parsi and his National Iranian American Council (NIAC), and Zakka, an IT executive with Beirut connections (and a checkered past involving Canadian accusations of running an illegal immigration racket), would appear to have all the right connections and credentials to stay out of this kind of trouble.

And yet, Namazi today sits in Evin Prison and Zakka was detained after being lured to a mid-September 2015 conference to promote entrepreneurship in Iran.

The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, has recently endorsed the IRGC campaign against what he paints as Western infiltration and subversion.  The cyber campaign is an important part of this attempt to control Western influence, as the internet’s distribution of Western culture is of great concern to Iran.  For example, a group of Iranian young men and women were each sentenced to 91 lashes after a video appeared on the internet of them singing and dancing to a Western pop song.

While Iran is made more physically secure by these military arms shipments from Russia, it remains to be seen if this physical security will do anything to calm its psychological insecurity over the possibility of Western “infiltration” and “subversion.”  If not, the increased physical security will only give Iranian officials a greater sense of freedom to attack the West.  Just as the ending of sanctions has given Iran greater prosperity but only increased their paranoia, the addition of S-300 missiles to their arsenal is likely to increase their physical security at the cost of giving them increased freedom to lash out at those they fear and hate.