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Leading academics comment on situation in Iran and possible cyberattack

January 2020 by Experts

Commenting on the current situation in Iran, Dr Anicée Van Engeland, Senior Lecturer in International Security at Cranfield University, said: “Iranians haven’t been this unified in a long time with moderate, reformist Iranians falling behind conservatives in their condemnation of the US actions. The killing of General Solemani has given the two sides within Iran a common enemy and has become a rallying point for Iranians.

The nuclear deal with the EU

Dr Van Engeland continues: “There has been much talk of Iran leaving the nuclear deal (JCPOA) with the EU but this is a trajectory it has been on since the US announced renewed sanctions against it. Rather than leaving, it is a further scaling back of its commitments under Article 26 of the agreement. We have seen previously Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation announce that they could scale up uranium enrichment for domestic nuclear energy supply and there could be a political decision to do this. There is now tremendous pressure on the UK and other EU countries, who want to make the nuclear deal work while maintaining allied relations with the US.”

What happens next?

Dr Van Engeland continues: “Both international law and Islamic law allows for retaliation and self-defence in the event of an attack such as this, so the legal path for Iran to respond looks clear. The issue Iran now faces is both a political and security one. Iranians will insist on a response and there seems little doubt that some form of retaliation will happen through possibly a cyber or hybrid attack. The question will become will the response satisfy the population who are unified in their outrage and condemnation of the US actions?"

The threat of a cyber attack

Dr Duncan Hodges, Senior Lecturer in Cyberspace Operations at Cranfield University, said: “Iran is a credible offensive actor in cyberspace having moved in recent years to boost their military capability in this area - in the past, they relied on third party groups and supportive hackers to carry out attacks. “Iran’s history of cyberattacks has been more destructive rather than manipulative. They have looked to destroy and degrade infrastructure and hardware, most notably in their recent large-scale attack on a Saudi oil refinery. They have also not traditionally been too worried about being identified after the event, using detection as a way to demonstrate their strength in this area. “Offensive cyber activity has been used in the past to de-escalate tensions and avoid physical military engagement, such as in the US/Iran conflict in the Gulf of Oman last year. With the present conflict we could, for the first time, see cyber attacks used to escalate conflict.”




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