While Israel, conservative members of the US legislature, and other critics of the Obama administration have taken issue with the US president’s permissiveness and conciliatory attitudes toward Iran, other forces both inside and outside of the United States government continue to make efforts to exhibit their own pressures upon Tehran.
On Tuesday, Computer World reported some details of the tactics of one such effort, while leaving questions open as to its source. A cyberespionage group known as Equation has reportedly carried out extremely sophisticated attacks on computer systems in Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and China in recent years.
The Kaspersky computer security company has looked into the success of some of these attacks at reprogramming the firmware that negotiates between a computer’s hardware and software, and has commented on the uniqueness of this “incredibly advanced capability.” The company stopped short of directly linking the attacks to the US National Security Agency, but the similarity of the NSA and Equation toolkits, as well as the restriction of attacks to notably high value targets does imply such a connection.
If Equation is indeed an NSA affiliate, it could be indicative of some of the tools that have been actively utilized by the intelligence community in confronting the Iranian threat. However, Computer World notes that Equation seems to have changed its tactics in 2013, and it may stand to reason that this change came in response to the advent of President Obama’s softer approach to dealing with the regime.
But some other government elements have specifically continued to push for action to confront Iran directly in what might be construed as efforts to compensate for diminished enforcement on the part of the federal executive. This can certainly be said of the US Congress, which recently passed a new Iran sanctions bill through the Senate Banking Committee, although Senate Democrats made a last minute agreement to delay a floor vote on the measure until after the March deadline for a framework nuclear agreement.
On a smaller scale, the Mississippi State Senate recently considered legislation to bar the state from entering into contracts with companies that do business with Iran. The push for such legislation presumably reflects skepticism about the wisdom of the 700 million dollars per month of sanctions relief that Iran has enjoyed during the current negotiating process.
The Mississippi bill was declared dead on Monday, reportedly because of the effect that it would have had on jobs with local Toyota plants, in light of the car company’s business with Iran. While the bill’s sponsors acknowledge the concerns over this economic complication, they are still intent on making some statement in opposition to Iraq, according to Mississippi Business Blog. Thus, state Senator Nancy Collins has plans to introduce an alternative version of the bill that allows existing contracts but prevents state funds from being invested with any person involved in investments in Iran.
Of course this is a relatively modest gesture. In absence of federal leadership, it appears that truly significant opposition to Iranian growth and expansion will continue to come from sources outside of the United States. But those sources may be growing increasingly motivated and coordinated as Iran extends its reach into other countries in the region, reportedly endeavoring to strategically encircle both Israel and Saudi Arabia.
An editorial published Tuesday in Asharq al-Awsat suggests that although Iran has made considerable headway with its support of the Houthi coup in Yemen, that coup is now facing pronounced opposition from Gulf States, the local population, and the international community, so that Iran now faces as uphill battle in its efforts to truly secure that sphere of influence while also keeping up the fight in Iraq and Syria.
In fact, Iran’s involvement in Syria is reportedly growing even stronger in the midst of a major offensive in the south of the country by a coalition of its national army, the Iranian Quds Force, and Lebanese Hezbollah. While this offensive may dislodge some Sunni militant influence, The Tower notes that it stands only to replace that influence with Shiite militancy.
The major Iranian Shiite role in the conflict means that a victory for Damascus likely won’t result in the same disregard of Israel that had formerly characterized the status quo. And this in turn suggests that Israel may find even more incentive to act against Iran as its forces take up residence in the Golan Heights direct across the border from Israel.