Concerns over Iran's nuclear program, proven support for Shi'a groups in Lebanon and Iraq, support for the Assad regime in Syria and alleged support for just about every other opposition group in the region will ensure that, just as in 2012, Iran will continue to feature as the main security focus in the Middle East in 2013.
The Iranian Government prides itself and in some respects depends on being seen as the one institution dedicated to resistance against what some have called 'westoxification'. The consequent fear among some analysts is that any military strike against Iran will feed that narrative and build support for the Government. Which is why Iran's opponents have chosen a largely 'non-kinetic' form of attack to dislocate its nuclear program.
If the region and the West is engaged in a modern day Cold War with Iran, it is one in which cyberspace is becoming the battlespace of choice. The Iranian nuclear program has been the target of a successful cyber attack by the Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to have been developed by the US and Israel. An attack by a data mining program called Flame also targeted Iranian government computers, while other attacks indicate the intensity of the cyber fighting underway.
But like all adaptive adversaries, Iran has learnt from these attacks and, if reports are to be believed, Tehran may have decided to fight terabytes with terabytes.
There are claims Tehran has targeted the US banking system (an accusation Iran denies), as well as Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil giant ARAMCO and a Qatari natural gas joint venture. There were also suggestions that Tehran was targeting Israeli systems.
The US has acknowledged that Tehran is rapidly building up an offensive cyber capability, although it is still somewhat behind countries such as China and Russia.
These alleged Iranian attacks are mere skirmishes in the cyber Cold War that Iran and its enemies are engaged in. But the message is clear; Tehran has learnt the power of cyber warfare and is adapting quickly. If there is a military strike against Iran, Tehran understands that its most effective retaliation could come from a Persian computer nerd willing to write code rather than from a committed IRGC foot soldier willing to give his life.
Photo by Flickr user delbz.