Professor Stephen Blank
Strategic Studies Institute
US Army War College
The views expressed here do not represent those of the U.S. Army, Defense Department, or U.S. government.
What Is Cyber Security?
Please see the glossary for an explanation of terms used in this document.
In this section, IranTracker goes beyond the information provided in other areas of the site to present a selection of in-depth, analytical pieces that examine the most relevant issues about the Islamic Republic to present a clearer picture of what is Iran, how it works, and where it is going.
In this section
Iran is reshaping its military command structure to enhance its ability to deploy and use conventional military power throughout the Middle East.
A recent interview with Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, a senior military advisor to the Supreme Leader, provides valuable insight into the regime’s perceptions of its soft and hard power efforts.
Kurdish militants have escalated attacks against Iranian security forces in the past six months. An escalation of the conflict would divert military resources that Iran might otherwise have deployed to Syria and elsewhere.
AEI’s Critical Threats Project has been tracking Iranian presidential election developments closely. This page will be continually revised as the election progresses.
Russia’s use of Iran’s Hamedan airfield may have “ended for now,” but Russo-Iranian military cooperation is far from over.
The deployment of S-300 components to Iran is a strategic game changer in the region, and a challenge to which international attention should now turn.
Iran is likely to revise its electoral system in the near future. A proposal by Guardian Council spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodaei would reduce the council’s overt involvement in the candidate vetting process but still maintain its ability to disproportionately disqualify reformist candidates.
Here’s the inescapable bottom line: Iran Air is violating sanctions.
Tehran appears to have developed an expansive network of repurposed commercial aircraft to supply its expanding war effort in Syria.
The IRGC suffered its first significant setback in the Aleppo campaign when al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra and allied groups in the Jaish al Fatah coalition overran Iranian positions in the town of Khan Tuman south of Aleppo city on May 6.
The Supreme Leader and Iran’s military leaders appear to have decided to re-purpose elements from the Artesh to support the IRGC actively in its mission of defending and expanding the Islamic Revolution abroad.
Rhetoric from Artesh leadership in the weeks following the deployment to Syria hints at a fundamental transformation in the orientation of Iran’s conventional military.
Reports are swirling that Russia is finally delivering an advanced S-300 air defense system to Iran, although they may be premature again. The implications of that and the other items on Iran’s military shopping list need our attention fast.
Soldiers from Iran’s conventional military service, the Artesh, are fighting and dying in Syria. At least three members of the Artesh Special Forces were reported killed on April 11, marking the first time the Artesh has sustained casualties abroad since the Iran-Iraq War.
IRGC Commander General Jafari delivered a stern warning to President Rouhani on April 5: Stop opening up to the West. It seems that the Guards’ tepid support for Rouhani’s policies over the last 18 months is coming to an end.
Iran is rotating forces in and out of Syria, bolstering pro-Assad militia units and likely beefing up Tehran’s ability to project military force abroad. These developments deserve close scrutiny rather than optimistic misinterpretation if we hope to keep a very bad situation in the Middle East from getting worse.
The Justice Department’s indictment of seven Iranian hackers for a “coordinated cyber assault” against 46 major financial institutions and a New York dam on March 24 was a good symbolic gesture, even though there is no measurable chance that any real action against the Iranian attackers will result.
Iranian officials have labored to conceal the extent of their involvement in the Syrian conflict, repeatedly insisting that they are only training, advising, and assisting Syrian forces. The announcements of Iranian casualties reported by Iranian media and social media tell another story.
Some in the West have pointed to the losses of hardliners in recent elections as indications that Iran’s foreign policy will begin to change. An open letter President Hassan Rouhani wrote to Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan on December 31, 2015 shows that this assumption is tenuous at best regarding the missile program.
AEI’s Critical Threats Project has been tracking election developments closely in Iran. This page will be continually updated with analyses of the results and their significance as the elections progress.
The composition of the political body charged with selecting Iran’s next supreme leader is already tilting away from the moderates. This slide deck sheds light on the nine candidates who are currently running unopposed in their districts and their political leanings.
The contours of the next Assembly of Experts are thus becoming clear weeks in advance of the polling—and those contours are shaping for a conservative body likely to select a new supreme leader in a similar ideological mold as the incumbent. A reforming wave is not about to engulf the Islamic Republic.
The hardliners in the Iranian regime have set the stage for the upcoming elections to Parliament and the Assembly of Experts to prevent moderates and reformists from gaining influence, particularly over the selection of the Supreme Leader’s successor.
One of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s greatest victories, the implementation of the nuclear deal, overlapped this weekend with a significant defeat: the mass disqualification of many of his supporters seeking to run in parliamentary elections.
IRGC Brigadier General Second Class Behrouz Esbati’s interview offers a unique window into the regime’s evolving perceptions of cyberspace and suggest what to expect as Iran seeks to achieve its goals in the post-deal environment.
Iran’s parliament has been fighting with President Hassan Rouhani about its right to approve the nuclear agreement, allowing Rouhani’s conservative opponents to disrupt the victory lap he began following the agreement. It has also given them an issue around which to try to unify in advance of upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
The Iranian regime and military appear united in a determination to use the easing of sanctions to expand the Islamic Republic’s conventional and unconventional military power, including its ballistic missile program.
If there is one thing the Iranian leadership wants you to know, it is that the recently signedJoint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will not in any way compromise Iran’s ability to defend itself from military coercion or attack.
While Washington debates whether the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will mean a long-term shift in relations with Tehran, Iran is staking its claim for leadership in the Middle East.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is still holding back from fully endorsing last week’s announced Iran deal: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). His reticence is smart and to be expected.
In the latest snag in the P5+1 talks, Russia is pushing for lifting the conventional arms embargo on Iran as part of the nuclear agreement. The United Nations imposed this embargoin March 2007 as part of Security Council Resolution 1747, which tightened the council’s nuclear sanctions on Tehran.
As the world is focusing on the yet-again extended nuclear talks, Iranian leaders are expressing ever greater concerns about the perceived threats from ISIS and Saudi Arabia. How Tehran may respond, including deploying ground forces in Iraq, should give everyone pause.
Iran is perhaps facing its most ominous security environment since the Iran-Iraq War, yet Iranian leaders are being surprisingly open and frank about the severe challenges they face and their need to find better strategies in response. Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said on June 10 that the war against terrorists was “more difficult” than the war against Israel.
The regime’s internal angst has been on full display, with a nuclear deal nearing completion and sectarian contests with regional Sunni rivals and extremists escalating. The past week was like watching a morality play to restore faith in the system, in four acts.
The weeks leading up to the June 30 deadline for Iran’s negotiations with the P5+1 have been—and will continue to be—a flurry of leaks, accusations, and counter-accusations as the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani try to sell the potential deal to skeptics within their own leadership.
The Deputy Commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force, Brigadier General Esmail Ghani, finally admitted on May 23 that Tehran has been training the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Former Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander Major General Mohsen Rezaei appears to have officially returned to active duty. His return to uniform likely signifies the end of his political activities, but it is less clear what else it signifies.
It has been all smiles from the Obama administration since the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit concluded last week. The summit was ostensibly convened to reassure our Arab allies that the United States would continue to back their security after a potential nuclear agreement with Iran.
The United States and other regional powers have long suspected the IRGC uses legitimate humanitarian operations as a cover to smuggle weapons and munitions.
In a flashback to US operations against Iran from 1987-1988 during the Tanker War, the Navy has begun accompanying US-flagged commercial ships as they pass the through the Strait of Hormuz. The administration has realized the encirclement of the Maersk Kensington on April 24 and the detention of the Maersk Tigris on April 28 were not anomalies.
Pistachio Harvest is a collaborative project between Norse Corporation and the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute to describe Iran's footprint in cyberspace and identify important trends in Iranian cyberattacks. As part of this project, the Norse Intelligence Network has exposed cyberattacks and IT systems linked to Imam Hossein University.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy fired at and then later detained the Marshall-Islands-flagged M/V Maersk Tigris on April 28 as it entered the Strait of Hormuz. The US Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain dispatched a destroyer, the USS Farragut, in response to the Maersk Tigris’ distress call. Official Iranian explanations for these actions conflict so far, and the IRGC’s next moves remain uncertain.
Pistachio Harvest is a collaborative project between Norse Corporation and the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute to describe Iran's footprint in cyberspace and identify important trends in Iranian cyberattacks. As part of this project, the Norse Intelligence Network has exposed cyberattacks and IT systems linked to Bank Sepah.
Last week’s approval by the US Senate Foreign Relation Committee of the Corker-Menendez bill to review any nuclear agreement with Iran did not bother Tehran much. Iran’s leaders understood the bill would have minimal impact on reaching a final deal and reacted accordingly.
Iran is emerging as a significant cyberthreat to the US and its allies. The size and sophistication of the nation’s hacking capabilities have grown markedly over the last few years, and Iran has already penetrated well-defended networks in the US and Saudi Arabia and seized and destroyed sensitive data.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and other senior leaders loudly condemned Riyadh’s ongoing Operation Decisive Storm against the al Houthi rebels last week, and the shape of Iran’s counter-narrative is now emerging. Today Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced a peace plan calling for a ceasefire and dialogue. But what does Iran really want?
Iran’s Great Prophet 9 military exercises were held February 25-27 throughout the Persian Gulf and showcased the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)’s latest weapons and capabilities.
Iran shows no signs of giving in to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) demands to disclose its alleged nuclear weapons research activities.
The protracted negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program have distracted attention from other aspects of the threat Iran poses to the security of the United States and its allies in the region and around the world. The global Iranian threat—independent of the status of its nuclear program—is greater today than it has ever been.
The effect of Iran’s Fajr satellite launch last week on the talks is uncertain, but it should bring Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its potential capability to deliver a nuclear payload back on the agenda for the P5+1 negotiators.
Lebanese Hezbollah does not want to escalate its confrontation with Israel while the group focuses on its main fight in Syria. The bigger question may be whether Iran does.
Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah’s desire for additional retaliation against Israel for the airstrike that killed IRGC Quds Force Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Allah Dadi and several Lebanese Hezbollah senior officers puts Hezbollah in a difficult position.
This blog series analyzes the most important Iran news events of the past week and provides an outlook of the regime's strategic calculus.
IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Allah Dadi’s death, along with that of several Lebanese Hezbollah officers, following an alleged Israeli gunship strike on January 18 in Syria will test Iran and Lebanon’s willingness to escalate their current confrontation with Tel Aviv.
President Rouhani and Supreme Leader Khamenei’s recent rhetoric portrays an Iranian regime weighing significant shifts in its foreign and economic policies, including its negotiating position at the nuclear talks.
President Rouhani's proposal for a referendum on the nuclear negotiations during a January 4 speech is unlikely to succeed, despite the majority of Iranians supporting the approach.
Tehran announced a major multi-service military exercise in late December focused on defending against an attack from the Gulf of Oman. The expansive propaganda around the exercise corresponds with efforts to promote Iran’s military strength following the extension of the nuclear negotiations on November 24.
The Iranian regime expressed doubts that President Obama can deliver on any deal he commits to, but remains committed to negotiations narrowly restricted to the nuclear program and lifting of sanctions. The regime continued efforts to ensure its stability in advance of possible public discontent should sanctions remain in place.
This blog series analyzes the most important Iran news events of the past week and provides an outlook of the regime's strategic calculus.
Economic sanctions have not changed Iran’s nuclear policy, although they have pressured Tehran to engage in negotiations.The Resistance Economy doctrine is intended to make the Iranian economy resistant to all external economic shocks in the long term, including Western sanctions and global financial crises.
The Critical Threats Project has been tracking activities and announcements in Iran, with a focus on political, military, economic, and nuclear developments, as well as Iran's response to regional crises.
Recent events in Iraq, Syria, and Gaza are increasing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s determination to expand the anti-American and anti-Israeli strategy he calls “resistance.” The tide of that resistance strategy will increase hostility and tension over the coming months, regardless of US policy.
A look at Iran's regional activity from July 23 to August 7, 2014.
Between June 13 and July 23, 2014, deployed IRGC forces and advisers, led by Quds Force Commander Qassem Suleimani continued their efforts to shore up ISF, protect Shi’a shrines, and coordinate activities throughout central Iraq against IS.
This daily publication provides an update on activities in Iran, especially in reference to the Iraq crisis.
The feasibility of cooperation with Iran in Iraq depends in part on how the IRGC sees the problem. This post is the first in a series that will look at the Iraq crisis from the perspective of the IRGC.
This report examines the formal structures that comprise the IRGC’s senior leadership and the informal influence networks that dominate these structures in order to identify and describe the networks that actually control Iran’s most powerful organization.
Iran has conducted an extensive, expensive, and integrated effort to keep President Bashar al Assad in power as long as possible while setting conditions to retain its ability to use Syrian territory and assets to pursue its regional interests should Assad fall.
This assessment examines messaging from senior IRGC officials on issues of critical importance to U.S. national security, including: IRGC response to an attack on Iranian territory; Iran’s involvement in Syria, and; Iran’s nuclear program.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is first and foremost concerned with regime preservation, and its strategic calculus and behavior are deeply influenced by this concern. It is therefore essential that Iran’s global terror campaign is considered within this context.
On February 13, 2013, IRGC Quds Force Brigadier General Hassan Shateri was assassinated in Syria. His death is a serious blow to the Quds Force, and his very presence in northern Syria shows the depth of Iran’s involvement in that conflict.
Iran has been deploying training teams to Syria, drawn from some of its elite regular combat formations, similar in some respects to the advisory units the U.S. has sent to help train Iraqi and Afghan forces.
As Iran's presidential election draws near, it appears there is an effort underway to rekindle a national debate about the regime’s legitimacy, prompting a series of harsh reactions from regime officials.
Understanding the IRGC's formal rank system is an important component of understanding the Iranian regime's power structure and its key players. This slide deck explains the rank structure of the IRGC and the relative degree of formal military authority granted to guardsmen at each rank.
Understanding the IRGC is essential to understanding Iran. Whether it is Iran’s nuclear program, conflict in Syria, international terrorism, or domestic security, the IRGC is a key decision maker. This video and accompanying slide deck assess the IRGC Command Network, its structure, and cohesion.
Since 2008, the Islamic Republic of Iran has continued to pursue a coordinated soft-power strategy throughout its sphere of influence, using political, economic, and military tools to promote its agenda, although not always with success.
American strategies that rely on severe tensions within Iran’s senior leadership or that imagine that Rouhani is somehow seriously at odds with the Supreme Leader and the IRGC on foreign, defense, or nuclear policy are likely to fail. We must reckon, at least for now, with an Iran firmly under the control of the Supreme Leader whose commanders and president are pulling in the same direction—a direction inimical to U.S. interests in the region and the world.
It has been congratulations all around in Tehran since Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif returned home with a framework for a comprehensive nuclear agreement with the P5+1.
A likely partial agreement and extension of the nuclear talks comes as no surprise. Iran recognized the March 31 deadline for a political agreement did not really matter and behaved accordingly
Those hoping that successful nuclear negotiations will be a harbinger of a less confrontational or even cooperative Iran received a rude awaking March 10.
Last week there was widespread optimism that a deal on Iran’s nuclear program was close. Now a less enthusiastic tone has emerged, especially from Western negotiators, and a key problem appears to be how much and how fast sanctions relief will come.
The IRGC and Iran just suffered a big blow in the death of Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani on October 8 in Syria. His death may disrupt Iranian efforts in Syria and possibly throughout the region. It could also create opportunities that the U.S. and our allies could exploit.
The development of an Iranian nuclear program continues apace. While Iran's true intentions are a mystery, the Bush administration's posture has been inconsistent and lackluster. The administration made little serious effort to upgrade facilities in the region or rally our allies. The absence of a clear strategy to deter Iran will give that nation a free hand in the region to pursue conventional aggression and, what is worse, a nuclear attack.
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