Tehran has been actively escalating tensions in the Gulf. The recent seizure of the UK-flagged Stena Impero by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) appears to be part of a wider effort to blackmail the US and the EU into keeping funds flowing, as US sanctions continue to bite. Pictured: The Stena Impero and one of the Iranian gunboats that seized it. (Image source: Fars News/CC BY 4.0 [cropped])
Do not underestimate the power of the Iranian government to influence public opinion in the US, interfere in elections, and sway the 2020 presidential elections in its favor.
Iran began its post-Islamic-Revolution era by taking 52 American diplomats and citizens from the US Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 and holding them as hostages for 444 days.
The newly established theocratic government evidently wanted to project the new power it possessed to manipulate its new enemy, which it called the "Great Satan." Minutes after President Ronald Reagan's inauguration, however, on January 20, 1981, Iran released the hostages. It was obvious that Iran's move to create the hostage crisis and the inability of President Jimmy Carter to bring the American citizens home was doubtless one of the reasons for his defeat in the presidential election of 1980.
Similarly, with recent developments in President Donald J. Trump's administration, the ruling mullahs of Iran are taking concrete steps to try to make him just a one-term president.
Iran's first initiative is by cyber attacks. According to a recent statement by the tech company Microsoft, hackers that are linked to the Iranian regime have targeted the 2020 Trump re-election campaign in the last two months with multiple hacking attempts:
"Today we're sharing that we've recently seen significant cyber activity by a threat group we call Phosphorus, which we believe originates from Iran and is linked to the Iranian government...
"In a 30-day period between August and September, the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) observed Phosphorus making more than 2,700 attempts to identify consumer email accounts belonging to specific Microsoft customers and then attack 241 of those accounts. The targeted accounts are associated with a U.S. presidential campaign, current and former U.S. government officials, journalists covering global politics and prominent Iranians living outside Iran...
"This effort suggests Phosphorus is highly motivated and willing to invest significant time and resources engaging in research and other means of information gathering...."
The Iranian government is also engaged in a widespread disinformation campaign against the Trump administration. Recently, Facebook, one of the most dominant media platforms, stated that it had removed "652 pages, groups and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Iran and targeted people across multiple internet services."
Twitter also found thousands of accounts linked to the Iranian government, and which are engaged in creating fake news and headlines. Twitter further released posts by "3,841 accounts affiliated with the IRA [Islamic Republic of Iran], originating in Russia, and 770 other accounts, potentially originating in Iran."
The second initiative in which the Iranian government is engaged is to increase tensions in the region, destabilize the region, target the global energy market, cause oil and gas prices to increase, and then blame all these problems on the Trump administration.
We have, for instance, witnessed Iranian-backed Houthis launch missiles at civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, as well as the deployment of thousands of Iranian-backed Hezbollah foot-soldiers in Syria, and the constant bombardment of southern Israel from Gaza by Iranian-funded Hamas rockets.
Tehran has also been actively escalating tensions in the Gulf. The recent seizure of the UK-flagged Stena Impero by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) appears to be part of a wider effort to blackmail the US and the EU into keeping funds flowing, as US sanctions continue to bite.
In the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's busiest shipping corridors, commercial ships now need to be escorted by Western naval vessels. Iran's latest actions against maritime passage and attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil fields seem the desperate acts of a nation attempting to oust President Trump from office to rid themselves of his sanctions.
The threat Iran poses to US presidential elections is real and urgent -- for Iran to be stopped, it should finally be held accountable.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US foreign policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu