The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Covert War with Iran Knows No Boundaries

As we’ve said in the past, The U.S. and Iran are already involved in a very real, if covert, war. But Iran is also waging secret wars with other countries, most notably with Israel. We’ve covered many of these clandestine battles individually as they have come to light, but it’s worth taking a step back to get a clearer picture of these shadow wars. As Reuters reports, the war waged by the U.S., Israel, Iran, and others is quite complex:

“In many ways, it’s reminiscent of the Cold War, particularly the proxy conflicts,” says Hayat Alvi, lecturer in Middle Eastern politics at the US Naval War College. “But unlike in the Cold War, there are now a much larger number of asymmetrical warfare techniques. Most of this is happening behind the scenes, but in the modern world we are finding it difficult to keep them secret for that long.”

The cyber war is relatively easy to track, even though none of the attacks are ever officially admitted to. Iran’s cyber attacks on U.S. banks and on Saudi oil operations caused some inconvenience in the former case, and damage to hundreds of computers in the latter. The U.S. and Israel are also said to have used the Stuxnet virus to slow Iran’s nuclear development.

But proxy confrontations in the “material world” are notable as well, though they can paradoxically be more difficult to track. Israel has allegedly attacked arms factories in Sudan (Israeli aircraft were identified by Sudanese police) to inhibit Iran’s practice of sending arms to Gaza through Northeast Africa. Israel also recently shot down in its own territory a drone apparently controlled by Hezbollah, an important ally of Iran. There were no weapons in the drone, but that could easily change.

Other Middle Eastern powers are afraid that Iran is secretly waging a war against them as well. Sunni states suspect Iran of drumming up internal Shiite discontent within their borders in an attempt to shake the authority of rival states. And it’s impossible to ignore the conflict in Syria, where powers such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar are arming the rebels in hope that a new Sunni government with no ties to Iran will succeed Assad.

Modern war is more convoluted than many believe. Not only are cyber tactics further eroding the boundaries between civilian and military targets, but the increasing use of proxies as a substitute for direct attacks means that nobody in the region is safe from the fallout of war.

Read the whole thing.

Published on November 9, 2012 12:00 pm