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Israel's shadow conflict with drones and cyber-attacks with Iran

By John Solomou | Updated: Mar 21, 2022 08:26 IST


Nicosia [Cyprus] March 21 (ANI): A shadow conflict, a sort of "war between wars" has been going on for years between Israel and Iran, as well as between Israel and Iran's proxies in Lebanon and Syria. This shadow conflict has escalated since the beginning of the year.
The main weapons used in this shadow conflict are drones and cyberwarfare and both sides try to keep a lid on this war because, as a rule, they maintain secrecy about their clandestine operations, wishing to invoke plausible deniability.
Both sides engaging in this secret war try through their military censors to prevent the publication of news or the journalistic investigation of the drone attacks or the cyber warfare waged and prohibit open discussion of these operations.
However, on some occasions, one side admits that a strike was made in retaliation for a hostile action of the other side.
One such occasion occurred on 13 March, when Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) issued a statement taking responsibility for firing ballistic missiles against Israeli strategic centers in the Iraqi city of Erbil.
Initial press reports spoke about an attack on the US consulate in Erbil but, as the consulate was new and unoccupied, it was later reported that the missiles hit neighboring residential areas. There was no casualty, and no damage was done to the US consulate.
The Revolutionary Guards later clarified that it carried out the attacks on Israeli strategic targets in Iraqi Kurdistan and added that Israeli attacks would be met with a harsher and more destructive response.
Al Mayadeen, a Lebanese television station close to Hezbollah and Iran, has reported that the target of the attack was the headquarters of Mossad, the Israeli national security agency, in Erbil and that four Israeli officers were killed and seven wounded.
The tv station added that the strike was carried out in retaliation for the air attack last February when Israeli drones launched from Iraqi Kurdistan hit a base in Kermanshah in western Iran and caused substantial damage.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that a strike with drones in mid-February launched from Iraqi Kurdistan caused heavy damage to Tehran's drone network, destroying, according to some estimations, hundreds of drones.
The New York Times quoted an unnamed senior official who said that six suicide drones had crashed into the side destroying dozens of Iran's drones.
According to its established practice, the Israeli government has not admitted responsibility for the attack.
It should be noted that the secret war between Israel and Iran is mainly waged in cyberspace, with tit-for-tat cyber-attacks, which are often carried out by proxy groups that are very hard to identify and usually it is extremely difficult to prove who is responsible.
In most cases, cyber warfare basically aims at the infrastructure of the "enemy" causing serious problems to water supply, ports, hospitals, databases and government websites.
On March 14 one of the largest cyberattacks ever was launched against Israeli government websites. It was in the form of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) and denied service for some hours to several websites, including those of the office of the Israeli Prime Minister and the Ministries of Health, Interior, Justice and Welfare.
In DDoS, attackers overwhelm their victims' servers with a flood of data requests to paralyze them.
The government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declared a state of emergency to investigate the extent of damage caused and check whether critical infrastructure services were affected.
Israeli government officials made no announcement as to who was behind the attack, but various media reports were quick to point the finger at Iran.
This DDoS attack could be Iran's retaliation for Israel's cyber-attack last October when Iran's 4,400 petrol stations were blocked from accepting state-subsidy smartcards, which for 12 days caused a serious disruption in the country.
The world became aware of the dangers posed by cyber warfare back in 2010 when a malicious computer worm called Stuxnet caused substantial damage to Iran's nuclear program.
It caused the fast-spinning of more than one-fifth of Iran's centrifuges (machines used for separating nuclear material) to tear apart the machines.
The Stuxnet is widely considered to be a "game-changer" in the industry because it was the first targeted, weaponized cyber-attack against an industrial control system.
As a rule, some of the cyber-attacks exchanged between hostile countries pass without the general public taking any notice - because the governments of the countries attacked wish to avoid embarrassment. In other cases, the attacks become known after many months.
In practice, Israel and Iran have stepped up their involvement in cyber warfare in the past five years.
Iran's nuclear facilities are believed to be one of Israel's main targets in this secret cyber warfare. A big explosion in Iran's nuclear facility in Natanz in April 2012 is attributed to a cyber-attack.
As Israeli military installations are very well protected, Iranians in recent years have focused their attention on civilian targets, which are much more vulnerable to hackers.
One such cyber-attack was made on 24 April last year when Israel's Water Authority Systems were hacked to increase chlorine levels. In one station water pumps malfunctioned but the supply was not contaminated.
According to a report in Haaretz, "Iranian hackers working on behalf of the cybertechnology command of the Revolutionary Guards attacked computer systems at an Israeli hospital (Hillel Yaffeh Medical Center), the Shirbit insurance firm and the LGBT dating site Atraf, and there were other unreported attempts that failed to cause damage."
The fact that drone and cyber attacks are becoming increasingly frequent shows that the secret conflict between Israel and Iran is escalating and there is a real risk that a misstep could spark a real war. (ANI)

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