The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, released a statement this week urging university students to “refine your souls and to approach God,” but also to prepare for “cyber-war.” According to Iran’s Mehr News Agency, the Ayatollah released a message urging students to “ready for such war wholeheartedly.”
The Mehr report includes a number of disjointed messages about self-improvement and the future of the nation, telling students that they should strive for achievement but never forget their duty to the nation. “You are the cyber-war agents and such a war requires Ammar-like insight and Malik Ashtar-like (two Prophet’s Companions in early Islamic history) resistance,” the Ayatollah’s message reads, “get yourselves ready for such war wholeheartedly.”
Israeli newspaper Haaretz describes Mehr as a “semi-official” news source in Iran, and adds that the message was accompanied by other official statements regarding cyber warfare. Iran’s Chief of Staff, General Hassan Firouzabadi, specifically targeted the United States and Israel, suggesting that his country was ready for a “decisive battle” with both. He added that Iran had been “staging different war games” to practice, in a statement eerily reminiscent of war statements out of Pyongyang.
Iran has a longer history with cyber war than many nations, being the victim of the single most destructive cyber attack known in history–Stuxnet, a virus jointly created by the United States and Israel, wiped out a major nuclear development plant in the country. It has since spent years developing a cyber wing of their military with mixed success. Last October, the head of Iran’s cyber warfare program was found shot dead, a report the country initially denied.
The Ayatollah’s call to cyber warfare and generally jingoistic disposition in the message significantly contrast with the image of Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani as a “moderate” compared to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rouhani’s official twitter account yielded a Rosh Hashanah greeting last year that the Iranian government denied existed and is said to believe that the Holocaust happened, putting him somewhere in the middle of the Iranian political spectrum. But in absolute terms, the aggression from the Supreme Leader folds nicely into Rouhani’s open boasting about lying about Iran’s nuclear program and rejecting invitations from President Obama to bilateral talks. The number of executions in Tehran has also skyrocketed under Rouhani, for infractions ranging from adultery to homosexuality to blasphemy.
Last month, the White House suggested that sanctions might be in order for Iran should they continue to develop their nuclear program, but by this year’s State of the Union Address, President Obama clearly stated that he would veto any attempt to impose sanctions on Iran coming from Congress.