Iran’s campaign of extortion against the world | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack | #education | #technology | #infosec

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Iran’s campaign of extortion against the world

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during his swearing-in ceremony at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, Aug. 5, 2021. (Reuters)

Extorting the international community has been one of the core pillars of the Islamic Republic since its establishment in 1979.

The Iranian regime has never shown a genuine desire to play by the rules and laws of the global community. This is partially due to the fact that the theocratic establishment is a revolutionary regime that was founded on the ruling clerics’ revolutionary ideals, not according to the modern framework of the nation state, which is based on the principle of international law.

Since the regime does not play by the rules, it looks for ways in which it can force the international community into submitting to its demands. The initial strategy for extortion was anchored in the taking of hostages. Upon its establishment, the regime detained 52 Americans and did not release them for 444 days — the longest hostage-taking incident in modern history. Later, Tehran also utilized its nuclear program, militia groups and cyberattacks as additional powerful extortion strategies.

The hostage-taking trend has continued to this day. The Islamic Republic takes foreign hostages as pawns to extract economic concessions and obtain geopolitical and financial gain. It also uses hostages as a tool to silence the opposition, as well as to pressure the West into ignoring its military adventurism, violations of international law and the advancements of its ballistic missile program. The Obama administration, for example, transferred $1.7 billion in cash to Iran in exchange for the release of several Iranian-American citizens.

The Iranian regime even boasts about its hostage-taking strategy. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in 2016 pointed out: “We should wait and see, the US will offer… many billions of dollars to release” two particular Iranian-American citizens, Siamak Namazi and his father Baquer. Iran still holds several foreign citizens as hostages in its prisons. Among them are the British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and American citizens including the Namazis, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Sharghi.

The second pillar of extortion is Iran’s nuclear program. Even if the Iranian regime does not go on to acquire nuclear weapons, it is extorting the international community and significantly benefiting from the threat of its nuclear program, along with its continuing defiance and violations. It is worth noting that it was due to Iran’s nuclear program that Tehran received many concessions in 2015, when the P5+1 world powers agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal.

The JCPOA set an expiration date for the lifting of an arms embargo that should never have been part of the nuclear deal. This arms embargo was unfortunately lifted in 2020 even though Iran was violating all the terms of the nuclear deal. The 2015 deal also saw the UN Security Council lift all four rounds of crippling sanctions that took decades to impose on the Islamic Republic. The rest of the Western world followed suit, with the EU removing all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions against Tehran and returning to doing business with the theocratic establishment.

Iran’s military adventurism and human rights violations were ignored and Tehran was able to gain global legitimacy, reenter the global financial system and trade many commodities that were previously banned.

The third pillar of extortion relies on founding, financing and arming militia and terror groups. Through these groups, the Iranian regime indirectly destabilizes other nations, creating chaos, violence and wars. After inflicting such shocks on foreign societies and political entities, Iran pushes for its militias to take over or have a significant say in any new political establishments. These efforts by the Iranian leaders are most evident in Sunni Arab nations, where Tehran attempts to tip the balance of power in its favor, grow its influence and undermine those nations.

The Islamic Republic takes foreign hostages as pawns to extract economic concessions and obtain geopolitical and financial gain.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Iran’s fourth pillar of extortion is its cyberattacks. The Iranian regime has a history of launching cyberattacks against foreign countries and organizations that it views as rivals. For example, several intelligence agencies and officials in 2017 revealed that a group of Iranian hackers, known as “Cadelle and Chafer,” carried out damaging cyberattacks against Saudi Arabia. In addition, two people based in Iran were accused of being behind a series of cyberattacks on US targets in November 2018, which included crippling the city of Atlanta’s government by targeting its hospitals, schools, state agencies and other institutions. Data from these major institutions was held hostage in exchange for ransom payments. Brian Benczkowski, the former head of the criminal division of the Justice Department, stated that the individuals “deliberately engaged in an extreme form of 21st-century digital blackmail, attacking and extorting vulnerable victims like hospitals and schools — victims they knew would be willing and able to pay.”

In summary, extortion is a core pillar of the Iranian regime’s foreign policy and it uses these four critical methods to pressure other governments and the international community.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

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