Journalists and analysts have been watching Iran’s expansionist policy in the Greater Middle East, for extended periods of time.
However, the Iranian expansion is active not only in the offline sphere but also in the online cyberspace arena. The Iranian intelligence services (inspired by their Russian counterparts) actively set up and develop their online media, through which they spread Iranian propaganda and misinformation.
For example, the investigation of Reuters revealed 70 websites on 16 languages, covering 15 countries. All these “independent media outlets” are developed and controlled by Iran.
Most of these websites started to operate in 2012. I, on several occasions, have written that information and ideological wars, as well as psychological operations (during which the Iranians use a network of fake media outlets), are a part of Iran’s global strategy of Hybrid War.
Using their fake news websites, the Iranians wage information war and propaganda against the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Individuals and separate organizations sometimes become their targets as well. Moreover, these websites are used to promote the “Iranian Shiism” and glorify the Iranian Mullocracy.
The Iranian propagandist media network works actively in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. Alongside with the Iranian recruits and IRGC members, the Iranian websites try to influence the population and public opinion in these countries.
However, the Iranian propagandists focus not only on Southern and Western directions; their Northern neighbors are also of particular interest, for example, Azerbaijan, which is situated on the Northern borders of Iran. Taking into account 30 million Azerbaijanis living in Iran (the second largest ethnic group after Persians), deprived of their fundamental rights, secular independent Azerbaijan at the borders is seen as a threat for the Iranian regime.
Since the 1990s, Iran has been trying to create a caste of religious people in Azerbaijan, loyal to the regime. It is nearly impossible to create such a caste without pro-Iranian media outlets.
For almost 25 years, Azerbaijan’s intelligence services have been confronting the Iranian efforts to create the Fifth Column in the country. Many Iranian agents, including a group of terrorists, intending to organize a terrorist attack against the Embassy of Israel in Baku (2006), or another group, planning terrorist attacks during Eurovision in Baku (2012), have been located and arrested, during this time. Azerbaijan and its secular state organization are often subjected to harassment by the Iranian propaganda and Mullocracy.
During the last 5-7 years, the Iranian propaganda has created a number of websites in Azerbaijani language; most of them are blocked in Azerbaijan. However, some of them were working inside the country. On June 12, Polad Aslanov, an Azerbaijani citizen, was detained by the State Security Service of Azerbaijan, while attempting to cross the border with Iran. He is suspected of collaborating with the Iranian intelligence services, receiving money from them and inducing several Azerbaijani journalists to cooperate with the Iranian intelligence services. It is noteworthy that Aslanov is a chief-editor of two little-known information websites, standing out for their sympathy for Iran.
On his Facebook account, there are photos from his multiple visits to Iran, even photos from meetings with Iranian religious figures. So Aslanov did not hide his particular relevance to Iran. Ironically, the name of his father is Israil, but it seems irony went right over his head since their motto is Death to Israel. I assume, we and other countries that are of interest for Iran, have many other arrests and revelations ahead.