The US and Iran have moved into a new phase of conflict, one about which an essay in the Atlantic breathlessly but unambiguously says, "This doesn’t mean war, it will not lead to war, and it doesn’t risk war. None of that. It is war." Iran has promised retaliation in response to a US airstrike in Iraq early Friday Baghdad time that killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, an intelligence and unconventional warfare organization that reports directly to Iran's Supreme Leader. The Quds Force has been particularly active in the Arab world, and one of Soleimani's principal collaborators, Iraqi Shi'ite militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, also died in the strike.
Reuters cites US sources as saying the strike was intended to disrupt further plans by militia aligned with Iran to attack US targets, including the US embassy in Iraq. Iranian operations against US assets and interests have long been asymmetric and, despite recent rocket and mob attacks, are likely to remain so.
“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Defense Department statement quoted at length by the Atlantic said. The US holds General Soleimani responsible for recent attacks on U.S.-led coalition bases, including one in late December that killed an American contractor. “We know that the intent of this last attack was, in fact, to kill,” General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday. “Thirty-one rockets aren’t designed as a warning shot,” the General observed.
An increase in cyber conflict is widely expected, and the Telegraph offers a look at the current state of Tehran’s capabilities. Tehran's claims for cyber operations have often been considerably exaggerated, but Iran’s capabilities in cyberspace are far from negligible. Most of their attacks in recent years have been directed against regional rivals, especially the threat group OilRig’s campaigns against Saudi targets, but Iranian outfits have hit US targets in the past, as 2018 US Federal indictments of Iranian nationals associated with the Mabna Institute allege.
Reuters also says that Israel has placed its own forces on high alert in the aftermath of the US strike.
The Indian Express reports that Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) is actively recruiting young Pakistanis as interns to help fight what ISPR calls "narrative warfare" against India. (We read "narrative warfare" as "information or influence operations.") How governments respond to hostile influence operations varies, and the Wall Street Journal notes that Taiwan's approach to Chinese attempts to meddle with the island republic's elections may offer some useful lessons for other countries facing similar problems.
The funding Congress just passed for the US State Department includes measures intended to restrict the proliferation of offensive cyber and surveillance tools (and Reuters takes credit for an investigation it says inspired the legislation).