This article encapsulates the Iranian government’s perspective that a soft war poses the most serious threat to the Islamic Republic. By defining “soft war” in such a broad manner—encompassing political, cultural, and social dimensions—the government can easily label peaceful domestic opposition activity as part of an international effort to overthrow the Islamic system. Thus, even individuals providing interviews to Voice of America and the BBC have been charged with threatening national security as foreign media outlets, according to those who fear a soft war, are a prime means of cultural invasion.
The points laid out in the article represent the ideological foundation underpinning the numerous measures hardliners are now taking to crush their enemies amidst the continued fallout of the June 2009 presidential election. In its latest move, on April 20, the government banned Iran’s two remaining reformist parties: the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Mujaheddin of the Islamic Revolution Organization. Both groups played a prominent role during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami in pressing for political and societal reforms. Even after Ahmadinejad’s election to the presidency in 2005, such reformist political parties were tolerated to a large extent as an official avenue of dissent. The Iranian government has also gone on the offensive to combat “soft threats” in cyberspace. In addition to filtering and blocking access to “objectionable” sites (mainly for political reasons), the government is establishing a national data center and domestic e-mail system to both limit and monitor Iranians’ internet use. Additionally, security forces have actively targeted many individuals it accuses of cyber war
The civil disturbances following the June 2009 presidential election—specifically the significant role internet-based news outlets and social media tools played in the course of those events—made hardline officials very aware of the internet’s power. Thus, high ranking Iranian officials, including political and military figures, have categorized soft war as the most significant threat to the Islamic Republic. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has called cyberspace the new front in what he sees as the West’s aggression against Iran. And Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has declared that his ministry will be proactive in confronting the soft war. Even on the military front, the General Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Mohammad Ali Jaffari, has designated “soft threats” as the IRGC’s and the Basij’s highest priority.