Sepah Pasdaran, revolutionary guard hackers, cyber, cyberwar. (Supplied)

August 8, 2020

An Iranian social-media Threat Network (ITN) is winning over Sunnis and supporters in Asia, Africa and Europe, a new think tank report obtained first by The Jerusalem Post reveals.

In the report by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) of IDC Herzliya and by Cobweb Technologies, the findings indicate that the scope of Iran’s network “is far more global than previously known.”

The network has expanded significantly in the last decade and goes far beyond the usual suspects of proxies associated with Iran, such as Hezbollah, Shi’ites in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen.

Co-authored by ICT research director Dr. Eitan Azani and deputy director Lorena Atiyas-lvovsky and staff, the report said the ITN is a mix of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry, social-justice Iranian groups and other NGOs.

According to the report, the ITN is highly active to shape world opinion surrounding major developments, such as following the US targeted killing of IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani.

There was a concerted effort at the time to raise support for pushing the US out of Iraq.

“The ITN invests efforts in drafting targeted sectors, focused first on Shi’ites in the Middle East and throughout the world, but also regarding sectors and organizations linked to the Sunni stream of Islam,” said the report.

There is both an operational side to the ITN, to coordinate potential violent actions, as well as a softer side, signifying more general identification with Shi’ite Dawa economic, religious, sociological and cultural needs, said the ICT researchers.

The Zahra Center in France, which the government there closed in 2019, is cited as one example of many groups promoting Iranian revolutionary ideology using a slightly lighter tone to bring in new initiates who might later be radicalized.

“The Shi’ite rhetoric on social media sometimes encourages violent actions and presses forward radicalization processes and could lead to mobilizing violence,” the report said.

It notes arrests of Hezbollah-affiliated persons in the US in 2017 and again in 2019, with evidence that they were surveilling New York, Boston and Washington, DC, for potential targets to attack.

Similar arrests have taken place in recent years in Cyprus, Thailand, Paris, Peru and in Europe, some affiliated with Iran and some Hezbollah, said the report.

“Currently, the main focus of actions against Iran and its proxies is regarding its physical networks, funding and weapons,” the report said. “However, we believe there is a need to combat Iran on the ideological field of ideas which it is trying to espouse.”

“Other than Germany… Europe continues to allow activist cells and networks within its borders to support the actions of Iran and Hezbollah,” it added.

Combating Iran’s social-media networks could help reduce mobilization and support among Shi’ites, Sunnis and other potential supporters globally, the report said.

The Jerusalem Post

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.