Iran toughens cyber challenge to US, claims superior drones

Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi Monday, Dec. 26, replied to Sunday's debkafile report which revealed Tehran's plan to use its big 10-day naval drill east of the Strait of Hormuz to test its vaunted cyber intelligence prowess against US warships. He said Iran has great capabilities in "all fields of national defense, including the use of intelligence drones as well as decoding of such aircraft and countering electronic and covert warfare." The Islamic Republic, he said, could employ aerial drones to counter any potential US-led covert war.
Vahidi's words implied two key points: That Tehran did not expect the US to carry out a lone strike against its nuclear facilities but in conjunction with fellow NATO member and Israel. And two, that the Islamic Republic has convinced itself that by downing the US stealth drone RQ-170, it has acquired all the technology necessary for repelling penetrations and attacks by drones and warplanes with stealth capabilities.
While boasting of its ability to overcome a "US-led covert war" by means of electronic and intelligence means, Iran's defense minister avoided making the same boast about a full-scale war offensive.

This, say debkafile's military sources, is because Tehran has reason to believe that Washington too in another strategic turnaround has stopped thinking in terms of a full-scale war against Iran and switched to a selective approach, as disclosed in an article by Matthew Kroenig he published in the latest issue of the authoritative Foreign Affairs.

According to this approach, the US could disable and demolish Iran's known nuclear facilities by targeting select facilities, such as "the UF6 plant at Isfahan which converts yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride gas; the heavy-water reactor at Arak and various centrifuge-manufacturing sites near Natanz and Tehran, all of which are located above ground and are highly vulnerable to air strikes."

Gen. Vahidi's remarks aimed at warning the United States that Iran is also capable of trouncing covert strikes on those sites. He said that Iran has great capabilities in all fields of defense and will develop and maintain its accomplishments which have been achieved during the most difficult circumstances and under full, comprehensive sanctions."

Sunday, Dec. 24, debkafile reported:  Iran launched its 10-day naval drill "Velayati (Supremacy) 90" east of the strategic Strait of Hormuz Saturday, Dec. 24, to show its muscle – first of all to Washington in view of the Obama administration radically changed stance in favor of an attack to destroy the Islamic Republic's nuclear weapons program.

It is a message that, notwithstanding the proximity of US warships in the area, Tehran can close the Persian Gulf's Strait of Hormuz to the passage of one third of the world's oil consumption; and if attacked, it will not just hit back at  US targets in the region and Israel; Saudi Arabia and Jordan are additionally in its sights.

Israel was informed of the US policy reversal on Iran in the one-on-one talk President Barak Obama held with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak at Gaylord Hotel, Maryland on Dec. 16.

For Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Barak, the tightening of military coordination on Iran between the US and their government is a signal achievement for which neither has won kudos at home, where a sustained campaign is afoot to end their rule by raising one prickly domestic issue after another.

So far, their political foes have made no headway. The Netanyahu administration is supported by a comfortable parliamentary majority and can safely focus on pressing military and strategic decision-making.

The Iranian war game covers a 2,000-kilometer stretch of sea off the Hormuz Strait, in the northern Indian Ocean and in the Gulf of Aden up to the entrance to the Red Sea. 
debkafile's military sources are waiting to see how the Iranian exercise develops in relation to the two US aircraft carriers patrolling the same waters with their strike groups, USS John C. Stennis and USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group.

Since capturing the American RQ-170 stealth drone on Dec. 4, the Iranians appear to be spoiling to show off their cyber and intelligence feats. They claim that with the drone, they have won control of secret US cyber technology and are now capable of overpowering the advanced military and intelligence systems aboard US aircraft carriers, warships and fighter-bomber jets.

Tehran is going all out to demonstrate that the drone was downed by superior intelligence and technology, not as a result of a malfunction, as US officials have claimed. This putative prowess is expected to be tested against a US naval vessel or Air Force plane to show the Americans they are in no condition for attacking Iran's nuclear sites.
For Tehran therefore, it is more important for Velayati 90 to test its intelligence ability against US systems than to conduct operation naval exercises, because without the former, the latter has no chance against US capabilities.

The US high command is certainly well prepared for the challenge, debkafile's military and intelligence sources report. Anyway, Iranian bragging is hard to miss.
On Dec. 19, Iranian intelligence chief Gen. Seyed Hessam Hashemi boasted: "Iran will bring down all aggressive spy drones and aircraft if the US continues espionage operations over Iran."

Iran is playing for very high stakes: A failed performance in the face of US forces in the region will tell the West and its Arab Gulf neighbors that the Islamic extremists of Tehran talk big but can't deliver on their threats.   

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