Iran is nearing the completion of a largescale air defence exercise in the southern provinces of the country that has involved simulations of cyber and electronic warfare capabilities by units from the regular Iranian armed forces, the Artesh, air, naval, and land elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). intelligence services, and the Basij militia.
The purpose of the exercise, named Defenders of Velayat Skies VII, is believed to be the improvement of coordination and joint warfighting capabilities among the disparate organizations and units in air defence operations and ancillary cyber and electronic warfare operations.
The Defenders of Velayat 7 exercise saw the rapid tactical deployment of air defence forces, to include radars, communication systems, and electronic warfare capabilities to the southern Iranian provinces of Hormuzgan, Bushehr, and Khuzestan.
Prior to the air defence exercise, the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces (also known as the Artesh), Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, told a gathering in Tehran that Iran was ready to conduct a full-range of cyber operations.
“Cyber battles can cause extensive damages, and thus, have a paramount place in the contemporary world, and we have the necessary expertise in this field,” said Major General Baqeri.
Baqeri’s comments follow the remarks made by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini, in June 2016. Ayatollah Khameini, addressing senior officials, warned of Western and Arab efforts to undermine the Iranian regime’s authority and sovereignty through cyber attacks and Internet content deemed inappropriate to the ideals of the Iranian Revolution – a concept Iranian officials call ‘Soft War’. Ayatollah Khameini warned of Western “engineering of data,” and the “West’s dominance on the nations’ culture.”
“Of course these [cyber] tools could prove helpful. But they must be devoid of the enemy’s dominance and we must act so as the cyberspace would not serve as an environment for the infiltration and cultural dominance of the enemy,” said Ayatollah Khameini, likely providing justification for Iran’s own offensive cyber and information operations.