The Religious Foundation of the Homicide Bombings
Jihad, as physical warfare, features prominently in the earliest Islamic writings. This term is universally understood as war on behalf of Islam against all infidels, and the merits of engaging in such jihad are described plentifully in the most-respected Islamic religious works.
Western and Arabic dictionaries stress that Jihad means a holy war. Bernard Lewis finds that “the overwhelming majority of classical theologians, jurists and traditionalists…understood the obligation of Jihad in a military sense.” S.K. Malik, in his The Qur`anic Concept of War, points out that the Qur’anic injunctions cover the causes and the object of war; its nature and characteristics, its limits and extents, dimensions and restraints. The Qur’an even goes into strategy and tactical matters. Therefore, the elevation of Allah’s word cannot be achieved without Jihad.
It is declared that Muslims have recognized two kinds of Jihad: the small Jihad (al-Jihād al-Saghīr) and the greater Jihad (al-Jihād al-Akbar). This differentiation is mostly used by contemporary Muslim propagators as if Jihad is only spiritual, the devotion of the Muslim believer to Allah and his worship. But a subtle analysis of the Scriptures and most respected exegetes clearly reveal that al-Jihād al-Saghīr is the holy war of Islam against the infidels, and only when infidelity disappears from the world and Islam controls the entire world, the Muslims will turn to al-Jihād al-Akbar as the spiritual elevation of Allah.
Islamic jurisprudence has also distinguished four different ways in which the believer may fulfill Jihad obligations: a) by his heart (faith: combating evil and the temptation of sin and abiding by the true religion); b) by his tongue (preaching for Allah’s religion, bringing it to the attention of all human beings, and convincing to join Allah’s way); c) by his hands (good deeds: supporting the right and fighting the wrong); and d) by the sword (fighting the infidels, the enemies of Allah).
In practice, the first three are part of the Da’wah, the propagation to Islam, and should be considered as assisting the wars of Jihad against the infidels. This means that Da’wah has become the right-hand instrument, the chief organ for executing and promoting Jihad. The Islamic incitement by the religious leaders; the cry-out of Muslim leaders to be good Muslim by fixing new criteria how to achieve this goal – these are an integral part of the Jihad campaign to occupy the world.
As a doctrine, Jihad is aimed at establishing Allah’s rule on earth through military efforts against all non-Muslims – until either they embrace Islam (as a result of Da’wah), or agree to pay the tax poll (Jizyah), or they end up being killed on the battleground (as a result of Jihad war). This was applied by Muhammad, and constituted one of the main ideological bases of the caliphate dynasties. This is the reason why some Muslim scholars regard Jihad as the sixth pillar of Islam, like the Shī’ah. Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj call it “the neglected duty”,’ and important contemporary exegetes, like Abu al-A’la al-Mawdudi, Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb and have dealt with it very thoroughly.
Jihad against Polytheism (Shirq), Hypocrisy (Nifāq) and Apostasy (Irtidād)
The Muslim legal theory states that Islam cannot exist together with idolatry, asserted by almost all Islamic jurists, since the first article of the faith is the denial of associationism: la ilah illa-llah (there is no god but Allah). This is Shirq or Ishrāq, meaning association other gods and idols with Allah, which is the worst form of infidelity. The Mushrikûn are Kuffār and must be eliminated, since they commit the worst and gravest sin possible. The world would be reserved only for the Muslim believers (Wayakûn al-Dīn li-llāh), by the power of Jihad.
Muslims are under the obligation to slay the idolaters, until sedition and opposition come to an end, and the religion of Allah prevails and be the only legitimate (Sûrat al-Baqarah, 2:193; Sûrat al-Anfāl, 8:39; Sûrat al-Hajj, 22:39). This is a war against evil, and the infidels will be burned in the fire of hell: infidels will be
“fitted out with garments of flames. Boiling waters will be poured down over their heads, which will dissolve everything within their bellies and their skins…as often as they try to escape from its anguish, they will be put back into the fire and taste the torment of burning” (Sûrat al-Hajj, 22:19-22).
…the infidels (Alladhī Kafarû) subsist like beasts, and hell will be their residence (Sûrat Muhammad, 47:12).
Surely the infidels (Kāfirûn) among the people of the book and the idolaters will abide in the fire of hell.
Jihad is a means of establishing the religion of Allah. Believers should kill the idolaters even if they are their nearest relatives. This is Muhammad’s way to eradicate blood and social ties to be replaced by religious ties of the Ummah:
O you, who believe, do not hold your father and brothers as friends if they hold disbelief dearer than faith; and those of you who do so are iniquitous (Sûrat al-Baqarah, 9:23).
You will not find those who believe in Allah and the Day of Resurrection, loving those who oppose Allah and his Messenger, even though they be their father, sons or brothers or their kin… (Sûrat al-Mujādilah, 58:22).
Yet, the old Arabian kinship ties did not die out, since they are deeply rooted in the Arabian traditions, and even survived in the community of believers with great vigor and gave rise to the science of genealogy.
Apostasy, Irtidād, refers to the forsaking or turning away from Islam by expressing infidelity, or by refusing to accept the articles of Islamic faith, even without joining Dār al-Harb, or rejection of Islam either by action or by word. Islam tolerates absolutely no secession from it, for there is no freedom of religion in Islam or rejection in conscience in the faith. Such an act is a grave sin and deserves death. This punishment has been also unanimously agreed upon by all four schools of Islamic jurisprudence.
How can Allah show the way to those who, having come to the faith, turned away, even though they had borne witness that the Messenger was true…for such the requital is the curse of Allah and the angels and of men (Sûrat al-‘Imrān, 3:86-7).
The same is with the hypocrites (Munāfiqûn). They are viewed as apostates, since they are clearly dissenters from the Ummah. Along with the idolaters (Kuffār), they will never be forgiven and will be punished by eternal hell-fire. Since hypocrisy is viewed as equivalent to blasphemy and treason, Jihad is to be waged against hypocrites. They are vehemently condemned in the Qur’an and Hadīth, because they proclaim that they are believers and arein fact with the devil. They are like the infidels. This is the reason why the believers are commanded to seize them whenever they are found and to do away with them. They will abide in the fire of hell forever.
Khadduri states that “in early Meccan revelations the emphasis was on persuasion (Da’wah), but in the Medinan revelations, Jihad is expressed in terms of strife and there is no doubt that in certain verses the conceptions of Jihad is synonymous with war and fighting.” As regard to Medinan period, the words are considered to have an entirely new meaning, a religious war of aggression against the infidels wherever they are.
Sanctioning Jihad and Its Rewards
The reward of Jihād fī-sabīlīllāh, by sacrificing in wealth and soul is the salvation of the believers and a direct way to paradise without any further reckoning of their doings in their worldly life and it wipes out all their sins. They are the best beings ever created, and deserve by their sacrifice to obtain all the pleasures of paradise. The supreme achievement of Jihad has been mentioned to include the spiritually and the material: the gardens of eternity in Eden with the close presence of Allah:
Believe in Allah and his messenger and fight (wa-Tujāhidun) in the cause of Allah, wealth and soul…he will forgive your sins and place you in paradise…paradise of Eden (Sûrat al-Saff, 61:11-13).
Allah has promised men and women who believe gardens with streams of running waters, where they will abide forever…and the blessings of Allah above all (Sûrat al-Taubah, 9:72).
…he will not allow the deeds of those who are killed in the way of Allah to go waste. He will show them the way…and will admit them into gardens…the semblance of paradise promised pious and devout…and rivers of milk…and rivers of wine…streams of purified honey, and fruits of every kind and forgiveness of Allah (Sûrat Muhammad, 47:4-6, 15).
Who fought and were killed (Qatalû wa-Qutilû) I shall blot out their sins and admit them into gardens with rippling streams, a recompense from almighty Allah (Sûrat al-‘Imrān, 3:195).
The best proof and reward to encourage the believers to fight the infidels with Allah’s way, to join and act in Jihad war, to become Mujāhidīn, Muhammad promised them the black-eyed virgins in paradise, as the total reward, being Shûhadā’:
In the Gardens of Paradise… And with them will be chaste females, restraining their glances, with wide and beautiful eyes (Sûrat al-Sāffāt, 37:40-4).
…a place of peace and security, in the midst of gardens and springs… we shall pair them with virgins with large black eyes (Sûrat al-Dukhkhān, 44:51-54).
Those who fear Allah and follow the straight path will surely be in gardens and in bliss, rejoicing at what Allah has given them…with virgins bright of eyes (Sûrat al-Tûr, 52:17-20).
There will be two gardens…with two springs of water flowing…every kind of fruits in pairs…in them maidens with averted glances…houries cloistered in pavilions… (Sûrat al-Rahmān, 55:47, 50, 52, 56, 70, 72)
…and virgins with big beautiful eyes, like pearls within their shell, as a recompense for all they had done (Sûrat al-Hadīd, 56:22-24).
…We created the houris and made them virgins, loving companions for those on the right hand… (Sûrat al-Hadīd, 56:37-40).
As for the righteous, they shall surely triumph… gardens and vineyards, and high-bosomed virgins for companions (Sûrat al-Nabā, 78:31-34).
There are also young boys in Paradise, to serve the Shûhadā’ and all their needs”
And there will go round boy-servants of theirs, to serve them as if they were preserved pearls (Sûrat al-Tûr, 52:24).
They will be served by immortal young boys (Sûrat al-Hadīd, 56:17).
And round about them will serve boys of everlasting youth. If you see them, you would think them scattered pearls (Sûrat al-Dahr, 76:19).
The Muslims should not fear any loss, for those who had been killed in the way of Allah, are not dead. They are living with Allah. This is the most important issue to understand for Western policymakers and public opinion; the homicide bombers do not see themselves as dead. They are transported into a parallel and a perfect world, living with Allah, seeing and feeling everything on earth. The Mujāhidīn not only rejoice at the bliss they have themselves attained. Their families and the dear ones they left behind are in their thoughts. It is part of their glory that they have saved them from fear, sorrow, humiliation and grief, even before they come to share in the glories of paradise. The last important note is that they are the symbol, the torch that leads the way, the model for imitation for all the others who will follow their act of Jihad.
Do not think that those who are killed in the way of Allah are dead, for indeed they are alive (Ahyā’), even though you are not aware (Sûrat al-Baqarah, 2:154).
Never think that those who are killed (Qutilu) in the way of Allah are dead. They are alive (Ahyā’) with Allah…rejoicing at what Allah has given them of his grace, and happy for those who are trying to overtake them. (Sûrat al-‘Imrān, 3:169).
If you are killed in the cause of Allah or you die, the forgiveness and mercy of Allah are better than all that you amass. And if you die or are killed, even so, it is to Allah that you will return (Sûrat al-‘Imrān, 157-8).
There they will not know any death, apart from the first death, and will be kept safe from the torment of hell (Sûrat al-Dukhkhān, 44:56).
It is Jihad that divides the world into two irreconcilable groups: the Dār al-Islām region, subject to Islamic law, and Dār al-Harb region, destined to come under Islamic rule and jurisdiction, as a universal mission. Jihad is the link between the two, the Islamic permanent state of war instrument: Every community has its form of monasticism, and the monasticism of the Islamic community is jihad in the way of Allah.
Jihad in the Hadīth
The Hadīth collections, the second important source of the Sharī’ah after the Qur’an, devote considerable material to Jihad. Bernard Lewis put it loud and clear, in the Hadīth, Jihad is used to mean armed military action against the infidels, and most Islamic theologians and jurists understood and practiced this obligation to be in a military sense. Bukhari’s nine volume collection is the most respected of all collections of Hadīth, and it has been unanimously agreed that his work is the most authentic in Hadīth literature. In almost one-third of his fourth volume, Bukhari focuses on Jihad as physical holy war against the infidels. It is a genre known in the Hadīth to be “the merits of the holy war” (Fadā’il al-Jihād), which serve a diversity of political, social, and ideological goals.
The main motif of Jihad in the Hadīth is death on the battleground in the way of Allah, which leads to paradise, and intends to cause a “sacred wedding” to black-eyed virgins (Huris al-‘Ayn) as heavenly reward for the believer upon his heroic death. From among 262 traditions that are mentioned in Ibn al-Mubarak’s book, 13 share a common motive, that of paradise virgins as heavenly reward for the Shuhadā’.
The Shahīd is one who is killed and achieved martyrdom in the battle in Jihad. This is very different from the Jewish and Christian notion of martyrs, as those who voluntarily endure torture and death rather than renounce their belief. According to Islamic exegetes, the Shahīd is granted seven gifts: a) he is forgiven at the first drop of his blood; b) he is dressed in the clothes of an Imām and sees his status in paradise; c) he is protected from the punishment of the grave; d) he will be safe from the great fear of the Day of Judgment; e) a crown of glory will be placed on his head; f) he will intercede on behalf of 70 members of his family; g) he will be married to 72 houris.
Those who have fallen in the battle (Shuhadā’ al-Ma’rakah) have special burial rites. They should not be washed and they are left with their blood-stained clothes as a proof of their status on the Day of Judgment. The spirits of the Shuhadā’ reside in the claws of green birds near Allah’s throne, and during the resurrection they will be returned to the earthly bodies of the Shuhadā’.
Bukhari brings a Hadith that there are one hundred stages in paradise for those who fight for in the way of Allah. Only those who participate in Jihad deserve paradise without any checks and reservations. Taking part in Jihad with body and soul is recommended as the utmost action for the Muslim believer. The Mujāhid’s best prize is paradise, a supreme reward:
Muhammad said: Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the Shahīd who, on seeing the superiority of Jihad, would like to come back to the world and get killed again.
Mohammad said: Nobody who enters paradise likes to go back to the world even if he got everything on the earth, except the Mujāhid who wishes to return to the world so that he may be martyred ten times because of the dignity he receives of his actions.
Muhammad said: No doubt I wish I could fight in the way of Allah and be a Shahīd and come to life again to be Shahīd and come to life once more.
Jihad is the best option for the believer. Whenever they are called upon, they must be ready to wage a Jihad war at any time. They must prepare to fight against the enemies of Islam with all their force and means. Whatever they spend in their commitment to Allah, will be paid back fully. Jihad is the monasticism of Islam and an act of pure devotion.
Apostasy is considered as much abhorred and loathed and is as deserving of annihilation as infidelity (Kufr). There is a saying related to Muhammad, that he said to kill he who changes his religion. Muslim jurists in all four schools of Jurisdiction have agreed that the apostate (Murtadd) was given three days to repent, and if he did not, he was to be killed by a Jihad war.
Muslims are also commanded to kill anyone who leaves Islam. Whoever leaves the Islamic religion must be killed. Their punishment is execution, or crucifixion, or cutting off of hands and feet from the opposite sides, or exile from the land. Muhammad also burned out eyes with hot irons, and deprived people of water until they died.
Narrated Ikrima: ‘The statement of Allah’s messenger: ‘whoever changes his Islamic religion, then kill him.’
Narrated Abu Musa: ‘A man embraced Islam and then reverted back to Judaism. Mu`azz said: ‘I will not sit down unless you kill him, as the verdict of Allah and his messenger.’
Narrated Ali: ‘I heard the Prophet saying… whenever you find the Murtaddûn, kill them, for there will be a reward on the Day of Resurrection.”
Narrated Anas bin Malik: ‘The Prophet ordered (the Murtaddûn) to have their hands and feet cut off. Then he ordered nails, which were heated and passed over their eyes, and they were left in the rocky land in Medina, till they died.’
These quotations from the Qur’an and Hadīth are only a small portion of the huge amount of references concerning the issue of Jihad and the motivation to fight the infidels with all sorts of violence and terrorism. Indeed, Jihad as a holy war against the infidels and as one of three arms to occupy the world and to subdue humanity, together with Da’wah and Hijrah, constitutes the Islamic grand strategy.
The Failures of Russian Intelligence in the Ukraine War and the Perils of Confirmation Bias
The Russian invasion of Ukraine defied many expectations, not least the Kremlin’s. Prior to the ‘special military operation’ launched by President Vladimir Putin last February, the Russian government expected minimal organised military resistance from the Ukrainians. A quick victory was assured, much like the 2014 annexation of Crimea but on a grander scale, with the decapitation of the Ukrainian government as a likely result. Yet, more than one year later, Ukraine remains very much in the fight, in defiance of Russian expectations. Evidently, the Russian military and political elite launched the invasion based on flawed assumptions. The question now, is what role did Russia’s intelligence services play in forming these false assumptions and why did they go unchallenged?
Much of the blame may rest on Putin himself according to a paper published in The British Journal of Politics and International Relations in December last year. Before the invasion, it was widely assumed that the Russian President’s ability to use strategic intelligence was virtually unrivalled on the world stage. Unlike other world leaders, Putin possesses a professional background in intelligence, having been both an officer in the KGB and director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), between 1998 and 1999. Russia’s swift and surprising annexation of Crimea and ability to disrupt targets with hybrid warfare was further evidence of Putin’s strategic acumen. However, the events leading up to and during the war in Ukraine cast the Russian President in a different light, as a deeply flawed intelligence manager and consumer.
One issue highlighted by the paper’s authors is that intelligence agencies within authoritarian regimes are blindsided by ‘a frequent inability to accept dissenting judgements as being offered in good faith.’ This appears to have been true of the Russian intelligence agencies prior to the invasion of Ukraine. Instead of offering their primary intelligence customer an intellectually honest assessment of the situation in Ukraine, the intelligence services appear to have disseminated intelligence that merely confirmed his biases. As explained by a group of experts in May last year, ‘Putin believes Ukraine is or ought to be Russian and whatever passed for intelligence preparation for the invasion may have confirmed this in his mind… We can infer that Russian intelligence services supported Putin’s view of Ukraine as a state ready to be absorbed.’
Ultimately, the officers of Russia’s intelligence agencies, be it the FSB, Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), or Main Intelligence Directorate (GU), are dependent on Putin for their advancement, prosperity, and survival. This encourages a culture whereby the intelligence services compete for his approval, which is far from useful in terms of generating dispassionate and unbiased intelligence products. Years before the invasion, in 2017, Professor Brian D. Taylor argued that independent thinkers had largely left the Russian intelligence services, the implication being that they were now staffed by individuals who were content to conform with the dominant viewpoint. This has led to the formation of an institutional culture compromised by groupthink.
A very public example of the Russian intelligence community’s hesitancy to speak truth to power came in February 2022, when Director of the SVR Sergey Naryshkin was humiliated by Putin during a televised meeting of the Security Council. When questioned whether Russia should recognise the two self-proclaimed republics of Luhansk and Donetsk, Naryshkin suggested giving the West one final chance to return to the Minsk agreements. This was evidently not what Putin wanted to hear and he pressed a now visibly nervous and stuttering Naryshkin until the latter agreed that it would be the right course of action for Russia to recognise the two breakaway republics. Of course, this was a clear example of political theatre, but it does not bode well that Putin was willing to publicly humiliate one of his intelligence chiefs. Whilst it is not known what goes on behind close doors, there has been increasing scrutiny of Putin’s behaviour which suggests that the Russian leader has put an unhealthy amount of distance between himself and his top officials.
This is not to say that Putin micromanages the intelligence services or that he predetermines every decision without any recourse to their advice. Indeed, the intelligence services wield a tremendous amount of influence over high-level decision making. The problem is more so that the intelligence services are institutionally incentivised to say what they think Putin wants to hear. His views on Ukraine were well-publicised before the invasion, and no doubt senior intelligence officials would have been familiar with his frame of mind. His dismissal of there being a legitimate sense of Ukrainian nationalism and a belief that Ukrainians would be willing to join Russia and reject Western moral decadence and degradation were hardly secrets. For the intelligence services competing to win approval, there would have been few incentives to contradict this official narrative. Russian intelligence preparation for the invasion therefore likely served to confirm the Russian President’s biases.
There is some evidence to the contrary. According to US intelligence documents leaked in April, the FSB accused Russia’s Ministry of Defence of underreporting Russian casualties in Ukraine. Allegedly, the FSB was critical of the Ministry of Defence for failing to record the losses suffered by the Russian National Guard, the Wagner Group, or fighters under the command of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. The FSB’s casualty estimates were reportedly roughly double those given by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in December. This does indicate a willingness to break bad news and contradict the official narrative. However, in this particular case, the FSB stands to enhance its own standing with Putin by undermining the Russian Ministry of Defence, thus fitting the broader pattern of institutional rivalry.
Naturally, much remains unknown about the activities and procedures of the Russian intelligence services prior to and after the invasion of Ukraine. What the available evidence does suggest however, is that Russia’s intelligence services are burdened by political considerations and biases which interfere with their ability to plan, direct, collect, process, analyse, and disseminate valid and useful intelligence. The Russian President bears much of the blame for the creation of a professional culture which does nor prioritise the truth as the highest good. Consequently, Russia initiated its invasion of Ukraine based on faulty assumptions and was unable to forecast the Ukrainian reaction with much accuracy.
Iran Threat to National Security 2023
The annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community for 2023, identified Iran as the third greatest national security threat to the United States, after China and Russia. As those two countries have been covered in other reports, this paper will focus on the Iran threat, evaluating it within the framework of a PMESII analysis. PMESII is an acronym used in military and intelligence services which analyses threat countries across six dimensions: Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure, and Information.
1. Political: This dimension examines political systems, governance structures, institutions, and decision-making within a country, as well as the effectiveness of these systems and institutions. It also considers the stability or instability of the government.
The Islamic Republic of Iran (Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran), formerly known as Persia, has a population of around 88 million, and is located in Western Asia, bordering on Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia, the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and by the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. The country is a theocratic republic, with a Shia Islamic legal framework.
Iran regularly holds elections, but the quality of democracy is limited because of the influence of the Guardian Council, an unelected body with the power to disqualify candidates on religious grounds. Iran has a president who is elected by the people, but the president is only the head of government, not the head of state. As head of government, the president oversees the operations and implementation of government. True executive power rests in the head of state, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Supreme Leader controls numerous unelected institutions, including the security forces and the judiciary, which are used to suppress dissent and to restrict civil liberties.
Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the Supreme Leader has always been an Ayatollah. The founder of the Islamic Republic was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who maintained the title of Supreme Leader until his death in 1989. He was succeeded by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader.
The Supreme Leader presides over the Guardian Council, which interprets legislation and elections to determine if they are consistent with the principles of Islam and the Iranian Constitution. The Guardian Council has twelve members, six of whom are appointed by the Supreme Leader. The remaining six are nominated by the Judiciary and approved by the Parliament (Majlis).
In terms of political rights, Freedom House assigns Iran a score of 4 out of 40 and civil liberties 10 out of 60. Citizens have the right to form political parties, but those parties must be loyal to the current government. Change is unlikely to come within the existing governmental framework because of the influence of the unelected bodies. In 2021, for example, the former vice president Jahangiri, was disqualified from running for president because he was determined to be a reformist.
The government is largely dominated by men from the Shiite Muslim majority. Women hold some appointed positions, but generally not powerful ones. In the parliament, five seats are reserved for recognized non-Muslim minority groups: Jews, Armenian Christians, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, and Zoroastrians. However, members of these groups would generally not be appointed to high-level government posts.
Corruption is rife in Iran. Transparency International assigns Iran a score of 25/100 for corruption, whereby a lower score denotes higher levels of corruption. Iran ranks 147th out of 180 nations. Much of this corruption is attributable to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which is above scrutiny in practice, and is protected from criticism by the media and civil society.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is a military/paramilitary organization with vast political and economic power. The IRGC was formed immediately after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, tasked with safeguarding the principles of the Islamic Republic and protecting the country’s sovereignty. Under the direct control of the Supreme Leader, the IRGC controls large sectors of the economy helping fund Tehran’s activities. The IRGC also provides military assistance to entities beyond Iran’s borders, as it has done for various groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen.
The group’s mandate includes defending the nation against external threats and maintaining internal security. The IRGC is also assigned the duty of preserving the Islamic Republic’s revolutionary ideals and ensuring compliance with Islamic principles. Additionally, it has significant influence on Iran’s foreign policy, including supporting regional proxies and paramilitary groups, by providing training, weapons, and logistics. On the economic front, the IRGC is involved in a broad array of businesses, including construction, infrastructure development, energy, telecommunications, and others. It owns and operates numerous conglomerates and companies which augment the groups financing and influence.
2. Military: The military dimension of PMESII assess a country’s military strength. It is not comprehensive, however, as it mostly considers personnel and hardware. It does not consider alliances, overseas bases, or the quality of equipment or quality and experience of personnel. All of this will be covered in greater detail in a separate report.
The U.S. ranks first in global firepower. Iran ranks 17th. The U.S. population is 337 million, compared to Iran’s 88 million. The U.S. is the world’s number-two nuclear power. While it is widely suspected that Iran is working on a nuclear weapons program, to date, it seems they do not possess any nuclear weapons.
The number of active-duty troops is1.39 million for the U.S. and 575,000 for Iran. Additionally, Iran has about 90,000 paramilitary personnel. Comparing the defense budgets, the U.S. spends $762 billion and Iran $25 billion.
Aircraft – US 13,300 to Iran’s 541
fighter aircraft -1,914 to 196
Transports – 962 to 86
Helicopters – 5,584 to 126
Attack helicopters – 983 to 12
Tanks – 5,500 to 4,071
Armored vehicles – 303,553 to 69,685
Self-propelled artillery – 1,000 to 580
Towed artillery – 1,339 to 2050
Ships – 484 to Iran’s 101
Aircraft carriers – 11 to 0
Helicopter carriers – 9 to 0
Submarines – 68 to 19
Destroyers – 82 to 0
Frigates 0 to 7
3. Economic: Wars are costly to wage. Existing assets have to be deployed, possibly overseas, which is expensive. Factories need to begin churning out exhaustible resources, such as ammunition and artillery shells, as well as replacement vehicles, planes and ships. Uniforms and weapons for new recruits must also be produced en masse. Wars are generally funded by debt, with governments issuing war bonds. The ability to sell those bonds and the interest rate the government has to pay is determined by the nation’s creditworthiness, its economic condition before the war, and whether or not the country is under sanctions. The Ukraine War has underscored the power of sanctions and their ability to prevent dollars from flowing into a country deemed the aggressor. Iran would be incapable of levying meaningful sanctions against the U.S. The U.S., by contrast would be able to bring sanctions against Iran. China would most likely help Iran bypass sanctions, but in the end, the U.S. would be able to reduce the amount of money flowing into Iran, while Iran would not be able to do the same to the U.S.
The size of the potential pool of soldiers is important, as is the number of workers available to produce war materials. The U.S. labor force consists of 163 million workers, while Iran’s comprises only 28 million.
Iran holds foreign currency reserves valued at $21.4 billion, while the U.S. holds about $37.5 billion. Roughly 60% of foreign currency reserves around the world are held in U.S. dollars. The U.S. does not hold as much foreign reserves as countries such as China and Japan, but this is because the U.S. government has access to more-or-less unlimited quantities of U.S. dollars.
Basic Indicators for Iran
GDP = $352.2
GDP Per capita = $5344.96
Inflation rate = 43.3%
Unemployment = 9.7%
Corruption and mismanagement, including price controls and subsidies, weigh heavily on the Iran’s economy. The reliance on oil as well as government domination of numerous industrial sectors further inhibit Iran’s development. There is also a significant brain drain as many of the most qualified people flee the country, in search of a better life abroad.
The Heritage Foundation assigns Iran an overall economic freedom score of 42.2 out of 100, making it the 169th freest country in the world. For business freedom Iran scored 38.9 out of 100, labor freedom of 50.7, monetary freedom of 40.6 and financial freedom of 10.
Investment in new businesses, as well as economic development in general, are directly correlated with the protection of property rights and enforcement of contracts. For property rights, Iran scored 25/100, judicial effectiveness 26/100, and for government integrity 20/100.
4. Social: The social dimension looks at societal and demographic elements, including social unrest, ethnic or religious tensions, and social cohesion which might weaken a country’s ability to fight a war.
Ethnicities: Persians 61% of the population, Kurds (10%), Lurs (6%), and Balochs (2%), Azerbaijanis (16%), Arabs (2%), Turkmens and Turkic tribes (2%), followed by a small number each of Armenians, Assyrians, and Georgians.
Religion: Islam is the official religion, accounting for roughly 99.4% of the population. Shi’a Muslim (89%) and Sunni (10%). The remaining 1% is composed of Christian, Zoroastrian, Baha’i and Jewish. Christians are the largest minority religion with 250,000 to 370,000 followers, mostly of Armenian origin.
The government punishes Shi’a Muslims who they believe have failed to uphold Islamic values, while Sunnis, Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims have all been victims of repression. Some religious minorities are effectively banned, such as Baha’i and unrecognized Christian groups. Baha’i members have been persecuted, jailed, and banned from attending university.
The Iranian constitution allows freedom of assembly, as long as gatherings are not “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.” Given the state’s interpretation of detrimental, there is effectively no freedom of assembly in Iran. Protests and unauthorized gatherings are generally met with brutal force. In 2022, the government used lethal force to suppress protests against water shortages and poor living conditions in several provinces. Human rights leaders and labor rights advocates have been arrested or punished on an arbitrary basis. Activists can even be arrested without a warrant. The lawyers who defend them can also face jail time.
5. Infrastructure: an analysis of critical systems, such as transportation networks, energy systems, telecommunications, and industrial facilities can help to determine a county’s vulnerabilities, resilience, and potential risks.
The United States has 13,513 airports while Iran has 319. The U.S. has 35 ports, but Iran only 4. In oil production, the U.S. also leads with 18,000,000bbl, compared to Iran’s 3,450,000bbl.
Proven oil reserves – U.S. 50,000,000,000bbl, Iran 210,000,000,000bbl
Natural Gas Production – US 967,144,362,000bbl, Iran 237,561,415,000bbl
Coal Production – 495,130,000bbl, Iran 2,783,000bbl
6. Information: The information dimension analyzes the flow of information, as well as the communication systems, and media within a country. This analysis helps to understand how public opinion is formed and how propaganda and disinformation are disseminated.
In Iran, there is little media freedom either on or off line. Newspapers and other media are heavily censored, and the government directs journalists as to which stories to cover and which to avoid. Critics and opponents of the government are never given a platform. Many foreign websites, including news sites and social media, are blocked. Satellite dishes are illegal, and the police have actually raided homes, confiscating dishes. Persian language journalists working abroad have had their families threatened if the state did not approve of their reporting.
Reporters without Borders Ranks Iran as 177th least free country out of 180. Television is controlled by the state, and Persian language TV broadcasts from outside of the country are jammed. State television often airs confessions extracted from political prisoners by way of torture. Over the past two years, there has been a particular crackdown on journalists with an increased number of arrests and imprisonments. In one case a journalist was sentences to 90 lashes for allegedly making false news reports. The Islamic Republic has been known to target for kidnapping Iranian journalists operating abroad, as nearly happened to journalist Masih Alinejad in July 2021.
Academia is also not free and contains a great deal of indoctrination. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei warned that universities should not become centers for political activities. Students and professors have been jailed for speaking out against the regime or studying or teaching material which the state disapproved of.
Digital communication is monitored by state intelligence agencies. At the same time, the Iranian government utilizes online platforms and social media to disseminate propaganda and to influence the public. To this end, troll farms have been utilized, creating fake accounts and manipulating online discourse to support Tehran’s narratives. State sponsored cyber hacking is another way that Tehran controls the information space. And while the government has access to the most modern technology, the country suffers from a massive urban/rural divide, with much of the rural population unable to access the internet.
Online activism is illegal. And, the government is looking for ways to make accessing forbidden content even more difficult. In July of last year, the parliament began considering criminalizing the use and distribution of virtual private networks (VPNs) and requiring internet users to verify their legal identities. In January, 2023, it was announced that the unauthorized sale of VPNS would be banned.
International Information Security in US-Russian Bilateral Relations
There have been periods of convergence and cooldown in U.S.-Russian relations on issues pertaining to international information security (IIS), the latter being witnessed by us today.
Moscow remains open to dialogue, advocating the rules of responsible conduct for governments, with a view to boosting peaceful development of the ICT environment, both globally and bilaterally. However, Washington is betting on maintaining its leadership and deterrence of Russia in cyberspace, so reaching agreements in the near future seems rather unlikely.
Amid a complex geopolitical environment, communication between the two countries needs to be maintained for managing contradictions and reducing the risk of escalation in cyberspace. Today, bilateral interaction takes place on the platform of the UN Open-ended Working Group on the Safe Use of ICTs (OEWG), which was established at the initiative of Russia. Informal diplomacy of the expert community, business representatives and NGOs can play an important role in determining possible areas of cooperation between the two nations in the long term.
Cybersecurity as a foreign policy priority for Russia and the U.S.
In 1998, Russia turned to the United States with a proposal to sign a bilateral agreement focused on preventing the militarization of the information space. Washington did not endorse Moscow’s peacemaking initiative, willing to keep a free hand in the military use of ICT. In the same year, Russia proposed this issue to the UNGA, which became the starting point of the UN negotiation process on IIS. Since then, at the initiative of the Russian side, a resolution on “Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security” has been annually adopted at the UNGA. Six groups of government experts were convened to discuss this problem, and four of them managed to pass the final reports.
The most important result of Russia’s diplomatic efforts was the adoption of 13 rules of responsible behavior of states in the global ICT environment, which were outlined in the 2018 UNGA resolution. These include: non-use of force or threat of force in the ICT environment, respect for state sovereignty, peaceful resolution of disputes, inadmissibility of unproven accusations of cyberattacks, etc.
In the early 2000s, this topic, largely due to the efforts of Russian diplomats, entered the agenda of most global and regional forums, including the SCO, CSTO, BRICS and others. IIS is currently one of the key topics.
According to complex expert ratings, Russia and the U.S. (along with China) are the leading cyber powers as of today. Therefore, their relations in the field of cyber security bear critical importance for the whole international community. Russia supports digital multipolarity and peaceful development of the ICT environment, while the United States seeks to preserve its leadership and sees Russia and China among its main strategic rivals in information and real geopolitics. The U.S. National Security Strategy of October 2022 considers deterring Russia and China, including in cyberspace, as one of the national security priorities.
The priority nature of international information security for Russia is enshrined in a number of strategic planning documents, such as the Fundamentals of Russia’s National Policy in International Information Security 2021, National Security Strategy 2021, and others. According to these documents, Russia pursues a policy towards shaping a peaceful and stable ICT environment and an inauguration of the IIS regime.
The U.S. has long been wary of Russia’s proposals, seeing them as an attempt to limit the development of ICT and challenge American leadership. In April 2022, the United States issued a Declaration for the Future of the Internet, proposing to fight for freedom of information transfer, and naming authoritarian states Russia and China as antagonists of the free Internet.
However, vulnerability to cyber threats has repeatedly prompted the U.S. to seek bilateral agreements with Russia.
In 2013, on the sidelines of the G8 Summit in Lough Erne, a Joint Statement of the Presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States of America on a New Field of Cooperation in Confidence Building. It included three documents stipulating the establishment of direct lines of communication between Moscow and Washington to prevent any escalation of cyber incidents, to promote the exchange of information between national security supervisors, as well as to establish incident and emergency response teams. A special working group was supposed to foster such cooperation. However, as a result of the general chill in the relations between Russia and the Collective West after Russia’s reunification with Crimea in 2014, Washington suspended its participation. A direct line of communication was used in October 2016, when President Obama contacted Moscow in view of hacking attacks on U.S. political institutions on the eve of the U.S. presidential election. The conflict was frozen, but it was an important precedent that attested to the importance of responding to various incidents or emergencies and the importance of communication channels between the two countries.
It was much more difficult for Donald Trump to collaborate in this area due to allegations of his ties to “Russian hackers,” which is why discussions on this issue did not result in practical agreements. In July 2017, during a meeting with Trump in Hamburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to step up engagement in cyberspace. Initially, the head of the White House publicly expressed support for the initiative, backtracking later due to the pressure from the U.S. Congress. During the 2018 meeting between the two leaders in Helsinki, Russia offered cooperation in preventing cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, but Washington rejected that initiative as well.
Collaboration between Russia and the United States to promote information security in historical perspective
The dynamics of negotiations changed under Joe Biden. On September 25, 2020, President Vladimir Putin proposed a project called to normalize U.S.-Russian relations in cyberspace, which included an exchange of “guarantees of non-interference in domestic affairs, such as election campaigns, using the ICT leverage.” The initiative followed a growing number of accusations by various U.S. political forces that Russia had deliberately interfered in the U.S. elections. Moscow has always denied and still denies the very possibility of such interference. The U.S. did not support the proposal, but Russia’s efforts bore fruit later. During the meeting of Putin and Biden on June 16, 2021, the two leaders reached an agreement on cooperation in fighting cybercrime. Besides, a joint U.S.-Russian resolution on international information security was proposed and subsequently adopted as a follow-up to the agreements at the UNGA level.
In 2022, the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from cyber agreements reached in 2021 under the pretext of Russia’s special military operation (SSO) in Ukraine, embarking upon the path of aggressive unilateral action. As Oleg Syromolotov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, points out, Washington is supporting Ukraine’s IT army, including for attacks on critical information infrastructure. At present, the largest number of cyberattacks on Russian territory comes from the United States, NATO member states and Ukraine.
Thus, in the short term, the U.S. is not willing to engage in dialogue with Russia as an equal partner, while Moscow will not accept any interactions imposed on it from a position of power. Moreover, as was noted by Andrey Krutskikh, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for International Cooperation in the Field of Information Security, “statements about the need to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia sidetrack any opportunity for dialogue.”
Problems of reconciling the approaches of the two nations to IIS
This situation in bilateral relations is far from new. We can draw parallels with the crises of the Cold War, when the parties saw the need for dialogue in the face of acute mutual contradictions. Today, interaction on cyber issues is carried out on the OEWG platform. During the Cold War, the UN performed the same functions in the area of strategic stability as the OEWG does today in cyber policy and IIS.
In addition to the OEWG, the UN Special Committee on Combating the Criminal Use of ICTs, also established at Russia’s initiative, successfully follows through with its effort.
Despite the fact that Western states have repeatedly tried to divert the OEWG’s discussions—away from the mandated issues of designing rules of responsible conduct for state actors in the ICT environment to the discussion of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine—the platform has maintained its importance, with Western nations, along with Russia and its partners, actively participating in the proceedings of the platform.
Moreover, there has been a shift in the U.S. position on the regulation of the global ICT environment. The U.S. officially declares the need to develop rules for the behavior of state actors in the information space. Thus, the State Department’s Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy defined the development of rules of responsible conduct for states in cyberspace as one of its goals in 2022. U.S. support for the UN dialogue is related to the fact that the U.S. is becoming more vulnerable in the midst of multipolar digital world order.
Thus, Moscow’s and Washington’s approaches to a potential cybersecurity dialogue at the UN level may seem to be complementary on many issues. No reconciling is to be expected, however. The U.S. and its allies seek to “hijack the agenda” in global forums, orienting the global community towards their own initiatives. As for the rules of responsible conduct for state actors—the area of cooperation traditionally supported by Russia—the U.S. took a stand in favor of the French draft resolution of the UNGA “Program of action to advance responsible State behavior in the use of information and communications technologies in the context of international security” in 2022. This program, as conceived by its authors, should become a permanent UN institutional mechanism for discussing issues related to countering global threats in the field of ICT. It is suggested that the French project should be launched once the OEWG mandate expires in 2025.
The document presents a number of propositions that coincide with Russia’s stance on IIS and that our country has been proactively promoting over the past 20 years. In particular, there is an emphasis on the priority role of the UN in the process of negotiations on those issues. It is also recognized that, taking the specifics of ICT into account, new binding norms might be adopted in the future, and the significance of the results already achieved within the framework of the UN GGE on IIS is also pointed out. The discrepancy has to do with the longer-term prospects of cooperation. In the long run, Russia advocates for an international convention on IIS under the auspices of the UN, while the West insists on non-binding voluntary norms, conditioning the rapid obsolescence of any document on the speed of technological advancement. Non-binding norms are insufficient to deal with the increasing intensity and danger of threats to IIS, and this explains why the Russian vision is backed by many states. In 2023, Russia submitted its draft resolution “Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security” to the UNGA, which was backed at the General Assembly.
Besides, there are contradictions in the area of combating the criminal use of ICTs. The United States supports the 2001 Budapest Convention, which makes it possible to combat cybercrime without regard for state sovereignty and, in fact, assumes extraterritorial extension of the right of the strongest in this area. Russia, for its part, supports the adoption of a UN Convention, stemming from the principle of inviolability of state sovereignty in combating the criminal use of ICT. At the same time, successful discussions on the draft convention proposed by Russia show support for the Russian vision of IIS, focused on the respect for state sovereignty, equal partnership and formation of international regimes on the basis of legally-binding agreements.
Meanwhile, U.S. initiatives have, for the most part, a limited number of supporters. For example, about 60 states have joined the Declaration for the Future of the Internet. As was noted in the report Confronting Reality in Cyberspace: Foreign Policy for a Fragmented Internet co-authored by Nathaniel Fick, Head of the State Department’s Bureau of Digital Policy and Cyberspace, norms are better used for rallying allies than for managing the behavior of competitors. Washington’s approach is not widely supported around the world, and only its closest allies are willing to sign on to it. Many nations support Russian initiatives, or back both Russian and Western approaches, as they try to avoid politicization in this area.
At the same time, the U.S. expert community, traditionally having a serious influence on foreign policy, is getting tired of anti-Russian rhetoric. In particular, the authoritative political scientist John Mearsheimer argues in his article published by Foreign Affairs in 2022 in favor of dialogue between Washington and Moscow as it could prevent further escalation between the nuclear superpowers. Another prominent realist, Stephen Waltz, published an article following a similar logic. Cyberspace experts pay more attention to the need for dialogue and parity with China, than with Russia, although some publications are devoted to the necessity of dialogue between superpowers in order to prevent global “cyber disorder.” Similar ideas are expressed in the European expert community, including among SIPRI experts. Russian experts and politicians have repeatedly stated that Russia is ready to cooperate on the condition of equal partnership.
Yet, given the modern-day circumstances, no political force in Washington can support cyber negotiations with Russia as anti-Russian sentiments are very strong in the American society. Be that as it may, from practical perspectives, the U.S. is still interested in cooperation to de-escalate incidents and combat cybercrime, as Biden’s representatives have repeatedly stated before. Thus, one should not expect deeper cooperation and new documents adopted, but the U.S. will probably seek to preserve the existing channels of communication instead of tearing relations completely. Drawing an analogy with the Cold War, one can argue that cybersecurity is becoming part of a new strategic stability equation in bilateral relations, despite Washington’s unwillingness to openly admit it, as it insists on maintaining its leadership in this area.
With bilateral ties severed through Washington’s fault, the UN’s OEWG still serves as a channel of communication, which is especially important in promoting information security, where misattribution of a cyber incident can lead to escalation. The prospect of new bilateral agreements on information security signed looks rather unlikely in the foreseeable future; and the most important task is to maintain the level of ties and relations that have been achieved so far.
Despite growing tensions in the international arena, there have been no major cyber clashes between cyber powers. This suggests that states view the use of cyber weapons as one of the “red lines”, being well aware that crossing them could lead to an unwanted escalation. Thus, the IIS in bilateral relations confirms is the best evidence that it belongs to a larger network of strategic stability relationships.
Even the crisis in U.S.-Russian relations, following the launch of Russia’s operation in Ukraine, did not see any changes in the activities of the UN platforms—the dialogue remained intact. The OEWG, as a negotiating platform on international information security, has passed the test in a rough environment, having proven the relevance of such platforms as well as Russia’s global initiatives. In the long run, informal channels of communication will be important, including expert, academic and business meetings, where the search for ways to develop bilateral relations in the cyber space will be possible.
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