By Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin. ( Originally published May 17, 2016 on GatestoneInstitute.org. Re-printed with permission)
Iran is waging a “soft war” offensive — media, social media, charm — against the United States. Tehran believes it is scoring significant victories in this war, and it clearly has, as can be seen by the so-called “Iran deal” — technically no “deal” at all: one side, Iran, got everything.
Iran’s sophisticated employment of asymmetrical tactics, such as “soft war” — which relies on the other side’s wishes, conscious or not, to be taken in — is apparently part of Tehran’s strategy to level the playing field against the U.S., despite America’s overwhelming military superiority.
Tehran seems to think, with justification, that it has successfully exploited the Obama administration’s uncorseted desire for better bilateral relations into granting Iran concessions that are not part of the original Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA).
One of these concessions is granting Iran access to the U.S financial system; U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent last week trawling through Europe, imploring bankers to do business with Iran, despite that minor detail that America will not.
Another concession is the U.S. offer to buy Iran’s heavy water, a product of its planned plutonium bomb-making reactor in Arak.
Still another concession is the U.S. administration’s failure to increase sanctions on Iran for repeatedly launching potentially nuclear-capable ballistic missiles — in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231.
The Iranian regime may well attribute these American concessions to its employment of the “jang-e-narm” (soft war) tactic of “smile diplomacy”: the media-friendly demeanor of President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
|The Iranian regime may well attribute recent American concessions to its employment of the soft war tactic of “smile diplomacy”: the media-friendly demeanor of President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Pictured: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during talks in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2014. (Image source: U.S. State Department)|
Not surprisingly, those are the same tactics that Iran is accusing Washington of using against Iran. Iran has been alleging that the U.S. has been waging soft war attacks against it, via Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, supposedly — according to Iran — to develop sympathies within Iran’s elites for Western culture, policies, and ideals. Presumably the next concession is that the U.S. be quiet and let Iran keep expanding as far as it likes. The other day, Iran threatened to block the transport of oil by closing the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
This is the problem: Iran is now being treated by most of the world as a normal nation-state rather than the revolutionary, terror-supporting, totalitarian regime that in reality it is.
Iran also is using this narrative of an American-led soft war against Iran to institute tighter controls on Iranian citizens. Iran recently dispatched Basij paramilitary teams to elementary schools to instill revolutionary Islamic values in the students. Iran has also established “Atlas,” a new, government-controlled press agency modeled upon Qatar’s Al-Jazeera network. Iranian authorities most likely hope that this news service will counteract any untoward thoughts of liberalization that the “Arab Spring” might have conjured up to question the regime’s “stability.” Iran has also stepped up internet censorship as well as efforts by the government’s plainclothes police to sever contacts between Western NGO personnel and Iran’s civil society activists.
Evidence of how seriously Iran views the potential of America’s supposed soft war tactics was its establishing a National Data Center to filter messages coming into Iran from Western media, in addition to Tehran’s sponsorship of its first National Forum on Soft War, in the autumn of 2015.
Meanwhile, pursuing both its hard war and soft war offensives, Iran continues to trumpet its ability to produce new weapons systems, including novel and illegal ballistic missiles.
The regime also boasts about its acquisition of weapons from outside the country, such as Russia’s S-300 air defense system.
Not surprisingly, this soft war saber-rattling by Shi’ite Iran has been increasing the security concerns of its neighboring Sunni Arab States. These concerns, in turn, cause the Gulf countries and others to demand that their American ally demonstrate that it is serious about halting Iranian expansion in the region. Recent visits to the Sunni states by high-level American political leaders (President Obama), ranking diplomats (Secretary of State John Kerry), and senior military figures (Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dunford) have sought to allay these fears; it is still not clear with what.
Meanwhile, Iran’s aggressive involvement in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq is clearly creating the impression among Gulf states and others that regional leadership is passing from Sunni Saudi Arabia onto a toxic Shi’ite Iran.
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, where he was a Military Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Israel.