INSS 10 july 2019 – One facet of the recent American-Iranian escalation is the cyber realm. Moving the conflict into cyberspace enables one side to commit retaliatory acts while reducing the impact that requires the other side to respond and escalate: this is how the cyberattack by the United States in response to Iran’s downing of the American drone should be understood. Yet considering the rapid development of knowledge and technology in all that is related to cyberspace, integration of the cyber dimension into the sphere of international conflicts poses a real danger to countries that lag in the technological race. In this context, Saudi Arabia is particularly vulnerable. At the same time, the United States decision not to retaliate against Iran for the downing of the UAV with a kinetic attack, and its choice instead of a standalone cyberattack, i.e., absent synergy with complementary kinetic steps, further entrenches the US posturing as an actor deterred by risks and costs. In this sense, it may well be that the downside of the cyberattack outweighs it benefits. While it does illustrate capabilities, it also helps cement the United States positioning – in Iran’s eyes and its own – as a risk-averse actor.


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