Are Iranian Proxies Mobilizing?

Digital realm erupts over possibility of regional confrontation.

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For a month, the United States has ratcheted up the pressure on Iran. At the end of April it ended waivers to sanctions for nations that imported Iranian oil. After Tehran announced it would stop abiding by certain aspects of the agreement that curbed its nuclear program, which the Trump Administration withdrew from last year, the United States sent a carrier strike group and other military hardware to the Persian Gulf.

As tensions intensify, so has activity in the digital realm. Signals show rising expectations that potential conflict may play out through indirect proxies, rather than a direct confrontation between Washington and Tehran. American officials suspect an unconfirmed attack on four oil vessels, two of them Saudi, near the UAE port of Fujairah may have had Iranian involvement, though neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE have assigned blame.

Predata’s signal that captures online activity related to the Iran-Saudi Arabia regional power struggle has risen to its highest level in a year. This signal tends to rise at times when online observers are concerned about escalations between Riyadh and Tehran, often over neighboring states, such as in Syria and Yemen.

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Moreover, digital interest in Hezbollah, Tehran’s militant group proxy in Lebanon, hit a remarkable high. Since the United States began putting the screws to Iran, the signal has climbed steadily to reach its highest level in nearly eight years.

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Specifically, activity on Arabic-language web pages related to different aspects of Hezbollah’s fighting capability has increased dramatically in May. Apparently, Middle East observers -- especially Arabic speaking ones -- may be anticipating increased activity from the group. Should Iran lash out in response to US confrontation, Hezbollah is a likely proxy.

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