The Trump Administration has struggled to find a preferred solution to rising tensions with Iran. President Donald Trump has oscillated between military strikes, cyber attacks, and tighter sanctions—all in the last week.
President Trump first ordered, and then called off, a missile strike against Iran last Thursday after a US unmanned drone was shot down near (according to US officials)—or over (according to Iranian officials)—Iranian territory.
Trump called the plan “not proportionate” because an estimated 150 Iranians would likely be killed. Critics have pointed out that it was highly unlikely the president would have learned of this estimate only after ordering the strike.
Trump then gave the green-light to US Cyber Command to carry out cyber attacks against missile command systems operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or groups supported by IRGC.
Iran claims the attack was ineffective.
“The media are asking about the veracity of the alleged cyberattack against Iran,” Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iranian Telecommunications Minister said on Twitter.
“No successful attack has been carried out by them, although they are making a lot of effort,” Jahrromi added.
The U.S. Cyber Command has not provided any proof that the attack was a success. It was intended to disrupt the abilities of a secret intelligence organization tied to IRGC that US intelligence believes was responsible for the two attacks on petrochemical tankers in the Strait of Hormuz last week.
Cyber attacks against Iran are nothing new. During the Obama administration, a malware program called Stuxnet was discovered that impacted the ability of Iranian centrifuges to function. Among other medical purposes, centrifuges are essential in extracting radioactive isotopes. The Stuxnet worm program was likely a joint US-Israeli cyberattack.
Iranian officials have said that much of the Third of Khordad air defense system is not networked and would not be impacted by a cyber attack, though some guidance systems likely would not function. The missile used to down the US drone was fired from a truck-mounted mobile platform.
The Trump Administration enacted its latest solution to the Iranian problem Monday morning—when Trump signed and announced a new slate of sanctions against Iran. Trump insisted the “hard-hitting” sanctions are not directly the result of the downed drone. Reports indicate the new sanctions will further restrict Iranian access to key financial resources and support.
Liberal-leaning media is speculating that Trump’s kitchen sink approach represents a struggle to find a popular solution with the voting public among increased reports of poor polling against several Democratic contenders.
The US strictly controls the Iranian government’s ability to export products and is attempting to drive exports of oil to zero. The US has also targeted sanctions against industrial metal production and various aspects of petrochemical production.
Trump’s advisers hope the sanctions will force Iran to the negotiating table where the US can achieve a permanently nuclear weapons-free Iran and force the Islamic Republic to abandon global terrorism efforts.
The Trump administration’s plan is in stark contrast to the efforts of his predecessor, Barack Obama. The Obama administration created an internationally supported agreement in which Iran would restrict its development of weapons-grade nuclear materials and technology in exchange for reduced sanctions and access to international markets.
Trump unilaterally removed the U.S. from the agreement, citing evidence Iran was using its financial access to fund global terrorism and continued efforts to obstruct nuclear investigators.
Most legislators on both sides of the aisle have stated they do not want to see a war with Iran. Trump himself has expressed that his goal is to avoid conflict. Nonetheless, a carrier group has been moved into the region along with a Patriot missile battery system.