MY TAKE: Why we should all now focus on restoring stability to US-Iran relations

By Byron V. Acohido

As tensions escalate between the U.S. and Iran it’s vital not to lose sight of how we arrived at this point.

Related: We’re in the golden age of cyber spying

Mainstream news outlets are hyper focused on the events of the past six days. A Dec. 27 rocket attack on a military base in northern Iraq killed an American contractor and a number of service members. Protesters attacked the US embassy in Baghdad. President Trump then retaliated by ordering a drone strike that killed a top Iranian military leader,  Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

The open assassination of a top Middle East official has ignited a social media frenzy about how we very well may be on the brink of World War III. I very much hope cooler heads prevail.

Iran accord scuttled

A starting point for cooling things off would be for news pundits — as well as anyone who considers himself or herself a social media influencer, i.e, someone who fosters community discussions — to recall the hostile shove Trump gave Iran last May.

That’s when Trump scuttled the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – which was the result of 10 years of negotiation between Iran and the United Nations Security Council. The 2015 Iran accord, agreed to by President Obama, set limits on Iran’s nuclear programs in exchange for the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions.

For his own reasons, Trump declared the 2015 Iran accord the “worst deal ever,” and has spent the past several months proactively escalating tensions with Iran, for instance, by unilaterally imposing multiple rounds of fresh sanctions.

This, of course, pushed Iran into a corner, and, no surprise, Iran has pushed back. It’s important to keep in mind that Iran, as well as Europe and the U.S., were meeting the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, prior to Trump scuttling the deal.

Achievable stability

Soleimani

Please, everyone, let’s not forget that a  hard-won stability was in place, prior to Trump choosing to stir the pot. Trump has been impeached and may be voted out of office, soon. Although the future is unclear, one of the going-forward scenarios is a return to stability. So let’s include that scenario in our discussions.

Yes, it’s very complicated. Trump has maneuvered Iran into a position in which it must scramble for support from whatever quarter it can get it. It’s moves, wise or unwise, quite clearly are calculated to compel European nations to weigh in on its behalf.

However, many of Iran’s chess moves have also translated into fodder for Trump to stir animosity against Iran.

Last June, for instance, the U.S. accused Iran of the bombing of two oil tankers, as well as the  shooting down of an unmanned U.S. drone.

Meanwhile, Iran has also been connected to offensive cyber strikes against the U.S. Reports from U.S. cybersecurity vendors CrowdStrike and FireEye point to Iran-backed hacking collectives targeting US government agencies, as well as finance and energy companies with spear-phishing emails.

Cyber flexing

In late June, Trump took an unprecedented step by publicly flexing American cyber ops muscle out in the open. An offensive cyber strike by the U.S. reportedly knocked out computing systems controlling Iranian rocket and missile launchers, thus arresting global attention for several news cycles.

The  Department of Homeland Security next alerted U.S. companies about increased cyber-activity from Iranian hackers, and urged them to take proactive steps to detect and deter data-wiping malware, credential stuffing attacks, password spraying and spear-phishing.

Again, keep in mind this all comes after Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015  Iran deal — and began imposing fresh sanctions on Iran. Lost in this ramp up to an all-out world war is the fact that Iran’s relationship with Europe and the US had achieved stability, thanks to a 10-year negotiation process under the United Nations Security Council — one that Trump  summarily reversed.

Stranger than fiction

Of course, nation-state backed cyber ops has been intensively carried out by all of the major superpowers for several decades. Cyber spying and cyber disruptions for strategic advantage is nothing new. With respect to Trump’s handling of Iran, we’ve now progressed to rocket attacks and drone strikes.

We’ve seen this pattern before – as Hollywood entertainment. What Trump is now doing follows a plot line familiar to us because we’ve seen it unfold in Barry Levinson’s “Wag the Dog” and in  Peter Sellers’ Dr. Strangelove.”

Now, it seems, we’ve arrived at a point where real life is on the verge of surpassing satirical fiction. One important step toward de-escalation is for everyone to keep the factual record in mind. Please do whatever you can to keep that context in the mix, and help shift the narrative to a return to stability, at least in your communities.

Acohido

Pulitzer Prize-winning business journalist Byron V. Acohido is dedicated to fostering public awareness about how to make the Internet as private and secure as it ought to be.


 

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