Analysis

Iran: The Virtual War That’s Already Begun
An Iranian Internet cafe in central Tehran. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
March 16, 2012
| Security
| Middle East and North Africa
Summary
As the possibility of armed conflict with Iran looms over the Middle East, a different war is already in full gear — a war of words and images waged over the Internet, with the West using social media to undercut the Iranian government from within. Tehran has responded with a barrage of restrictions on Internet use and by launching its own internet — a ‘halal’ network that bans all "immoral" content. It’s a novel idea. But can it work? And can Tehran really win this virtual war?

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei announced the creation of an Internet regulatory agency on March 7 called the Supreme Council of Cyberspace. The Council will be headed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and will have binding authority on Internet restrictions. Tehran has accused the West of using the Internet as a tool for espionage in the country and recently announced plans to establish its own domestic intranet in order to better control web content. Reza Taqipour, Iran’s minister of communication and technology, said this new “halal” network would prevent “immoral” web content from being available in Iran, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. Iran has also taken more aggressive actions against the websites of foreign news services. On March 15, the BBC accused Tehran of launching a cyber attack that disabled its Iranian subsidiary, BBC Persian.

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