History, Politics And Current Affairs

Iran attacks, cyber edition
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Author:  Eric [ Thu Nov 05, 2015 6:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Iran attacks, cyber edition

Iran attacks, cyber edition

Jay Solomon reports in today’s Wall Street Journal: “U.S. Detects Flurry of Iranian Hacking” (accessible via Google here). The Israel Project’s Omri Ceren takes note and comments in an email message (with the usual footnotes!) that I thought readers would find of interest:

The WSJ revealed last night that there has been a “surge” in Iranian cyberattacks against U.S. officials, journalists, and activists who work on Iran. At least some of the attacks have been successful.

The attacks were launched using the laptop of American-Iranian businessman Siamak Namazi, who was arrested and imprisoned in mid-October. It appears the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized Namazi’s computer, made him log into Outlook or Gmail or whatever program he uses, and then sent malware-infected emails to people in his contact list, who then opened up those emails. The Journal had previously published hints of the story: last week the outlet reported “Iranian intelligence agents ransacked [Namazi’s] family home in Tehran and confiscated his computer, and have since been launching cyberattacks on some of his email contacts” [a]. Journalist Robin Wright subsequently revealed she and State Department officials were among those targeted from the confiscated computer . This new Journal story reveals that the cyber-offensive is widespread and that “Obama administration personnel… have had their computer systems hacked.”

The full article…runs almost 1,500 words. Background on some of the angles:

U.S. politics (sanctions) — “Lawmakers have called for the White House to ramp up sanctions on the IRGC… ‘Iran’s threatening behavior will worsen if the administration does not work with Congress to enact stronger measures to push back, including… targeted pressure against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard,’ Sen. Mark Kirk… said Friday” — Lawmakers are talking about a policy menu that has three tiers of potential targets: (1) Just the IRGC personnel involved in Namazi’s arrest, e.g. by having the Treasury Dept. tag them as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) (2) the entire IRGC, e.g. by having the State Dept. designate the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) [c] (3) Iran’s non-nuclear infrastructure (ballistic missile development, human rights violations, terror promotion, regional expansionism, etc), e.g. by supporting Congress in renewing the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) of 1996.

Middle East geopolitics (U.S.-Iran entente) — “President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have voiced hopes that the Iran nuclear agreement reached in July could spur greater cooperation between Washington and Tehran on regional issues… Iran for the first time took part in international talks aimed at ending the multisided war in Syria” — Foreign Policy revealed last night that Obama personally intervened with the Saudis to allow Iran to take part in those talks [d]. The Associated Press had already assessed over the summer that “coziness” between the Iranians and Obama administration officials was “the new normal” [e]. The Iranian cyber-offensive – plus the arrest of Namazi, plus Iran’s arrest last month of U.S. resident Nizar Zakka, plus the new joint Iranian-Russian military offensive in Syria, plus Iran’s recent launch of a ballistic missile in violation of UNSC resolution 1929, plus this week’s widespread Death to America celebrations throughout Iran [f] – risks making the administration look naive.

U.S. National security (cyber) — “The IRGC has used cyberwarfare against other Iranian-Americans and people tied to them detained in recent years… Computer experts have noted that by hacking a target’s contacts… the number of people associated with that target can grow exponentially” — The Iranians have been spear phishing US government targets for years. In May 2014 a computer security firm revealed the existence of a three year Iranian cyber-campaign – the “most elaborate social-engineering campaign” the researchers had ever seen – targeting U.S. military officials, Congressional staffers, diplomats, lobbyists, journalists, and so on [g]. Last spring the American Enterprise Institute published a report assessing that the then-impending nuclear deal would “dramatically increase the resources Iran can put toward expanding its cyberattack infrastructure” [h].

The WSJ story will get wrapped into the broader debate about the wisdom of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). When the article went live last night Reuters took it to the White House for a response, and got a “no comment” on background . As today rolls along, administration spokespeople will shift more explicitly to the usual line about Iranian aggression: they’ll say that of course they have concerns about Iranian behavior, but the nuclear deal was never premised on Iranian moderation, and they’ll add that they can still respond to Iran with options in theory. They’ll refuse to identify any specific pushback they intend to implement in practice.

That move has been a staple of administration messaging for months, but may not satisfy journalists or lawmakers in the aftermath of the Namazi arrest and cyberattacks. The policy menu outlined by the Kirk letter provides a range of options – SDNs, FTO, ISA – and should allow the White House to work with Congress on a calibrated pushback. At the bottom level it suggests sanctions against the specific IRGC officials in the specific intelligence unit who seized Namazi and used his laptop to hack American officials. Imposing sanctions at that individual level is quite literally the least the White House can do in response.

[a] wsj.com
[c] thehill.com
[d] foreignpolicy.com
[e] bigstory.ap.org
[f] bigstory.ap.org
[g] defenseone.com
[h] thedailybeast.com

Author:  Eric [ Thu Nov 05, 2015 6:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Iran attacks, cyber edition

Showdown at the OK Corral

http://www.jpost.com/landedpages/printa ... ?id=431839
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with US President Barack Obama next week is likely to look less like a rapprochement than a showdown at the OK Corral.

The flurry of spy stories spinning around in recent weeks makes clear that US-Israel relations remain in crisis.

Two weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal published a fairly detailed account of the US’s massive spying operations against Israel between 2010 and 2012.

Their purpose was to prevent Israel from attacking Iran’s nuclear installations. The Journal report, which was based on US sources, also detailed the evasion tactics the Obama administration employed to try to hide its covert nuclear talks with Iran from Israel. According to the report, the administration was infuriated that through its spy operations against Iran, Israel discovered the talks and the government asked the White House to tell it what was going on.

Over the past several days, the Israeli media have reported the Israeli side of the US spying story.

Friday Makor Rishon’s military commentator Amir Rapaport detailed how the US assiduously wooed IDF senior brass on the one hand and harassed more junior Israeli security officials on the other hand.

Former IDF chiefs of General Staff Lt.-Gens. Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz were given the red carpet treatment in a bid to convince them to oppose Israeli strikes on Iran’s nuclear installations. More junior officials, including officers posted officially to the US were denied visas and subjected to lengthy interrogations at US embassies and airports in a bid to convince them to divulge information about potential Israeli strikes against Iran.

Sunday, Channel 2 reported that the IDF’s Intelligence Directorate’s information security department just issued guidance to all IDF soldiers and officers warning them about efforts by the CIA to recruit them as US agents.

These stories have been interpreted in various ways. Regardless of how they are interpreted, what they show is that on the one hand, the Obama administration has used US intelligence agencies to weaken Israel’s capacity to harm Iran and to actively protect Iran from Israel. And on the other hand, Israel is wary of the administration’s efforts to weaken it while strengthening its greatest foe.

These stories form the backdrop of next week’s meeting between Netanyahu and Obama – the first they will have held in more than a year. They indicate that Obama remains committed to his policy of weakening Israel and downgrading America’s alliance with the Jewish state while advancing US ties with Iran. Israel, for its part, remains deeply distrustful of the American leader.

This Israeli distrust of Obama’s intentions extends far past Iran. Recent statements by Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have convinced Israel that during his last 15 months in office, Obama intends to abandon US support for Israel at the UN Security Council, and to ratchet up pressure and coercive measures to force Israel to make irreversible concessions to the Palestinians.

From Netanyahu’s perspective, then, the main strategic question is how to prevent Obama from succeeding in his goal of weakening the country.

The implementation of Obama’s deal with Iran deal will form a central plank of whatever strategy the government adopts.

As far as Obama and his allies see things, the nuclear accord with Iran is a done deal. On October 21, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi hosted a reception for Democratic congressmen attended by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to celebrate its official adoption.

Unfortunately for Pelosi and her colleagues, Iran is a far more formidable obstacle to implementing the deal than congressional Republicans. As Yigal Carmon, president of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), explained in a report published on his organization’s website last week, at no point has any Iranian governing body approved the nuclear deal. Iran’s parliament, the Majlis, and its Guardians’ Council have used their discussions of the agreement to highlight their refusal to implement it. More importantly, as Carmon explains, contrary to US media reports, in his October 21 letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei did not give his conditional approval to the deal. He rejected it.

Carmon explained that the nine conditions Khamenei placed on his acceptance of the nuclear deal render it null and void. Among other things, Khamenei insisted that all sanctions against Iran must be permanently canceled. Obama couldn’t abide by this condition even if he wanted to because he cannot cancel sanctions laws passed by Congress.

He can only suspend them.

Khamenei also placed new conditions on Iran’s agreement to disable its centrifuges and remove large quantities of enriched uranium from its stockpiles.

He rejected inspections of Iran’s military nuclear installations. He insisted that Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor must remain capable of producing heavy water in contravention of the deal. And he insisted that at the end of the 15-year lifetime of the deal Iran must have sufficient uranium enrichment capability to enable it to develop bombs at will.

As Carmon noted, the US and EU have announced that they will suspend their nuclear sanctions against Iran on December 15 provided that by that date, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Commission certifies that Iran has upheld its part of the bargain.

By that date, in conformance with their interpretation of the nuclear deal, the US and the EU expect for Iran to have reduced the number of centrifuges operating at the Natanz facility from 16,000 to 5,060 and lower enrichment levels to 3.67%; reduce the number of centrifuges at Fordow to a thousand; remove nearly all its advanced centrifuges from use; permit the IAEA to store and seal its dismantled centrifuges; reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium to 300kg.; remove the core from the Arak reactor and disable it; and submit to agreed monitoring mechanisms of its nuclear sites.

Carmon noted that Iran has taken no steps to fulfill any of these conditions.

With Khamenei’s rejection of the nuclear deal and Iran’s refusal to implement it, there are two possible ways the US and the EU can proceed.

First, as Carmon suggests, Obama and the EU may renew nuclear talks with Iran based on Khamenei’s new position. These talks can drag out past Obama’s departure from office. When they inevitably fail, Obama’s successor can be blamed.

The other possibility is that Iran will implement some component of the deal and so allow Obama and the EU to pretend that it is implementing the entire deal. Given the US media’s failure to report that Khamenei rejected the nuclear pact, it is a fair bet that Obama will be able to maintain the fiction that Iran is implementing the deal in good faith until the day he leaves office.

So what is Israel to do? And how can Netanyahu use his meeting with Obama next week to Israel’s advantage? Israel has two policy options going forward. First, it can highlight the fact that Iran is not implementing the deal, just as Israel took the lead in highlighting the dangers of the nuclear accord with Iran over the past year. This policy can potentially force Obama onto the defensive and so make it harder for him to go on the offensive against Israel at the UN and other venues in relation to the Palestinians.

But then, it is far from clear that Obama will be deterred from adopting anti-Israel positions at the UN even if Israel succeeds making an issue of Iranian noncompliance with the nuclear deal.

Moreover, if Netanyahu leads the discussion of the Iran’s bad faith, as he drove the discussion of the nuclear deal itself, he will reinforce the already prevalent false assessment in the US that a nuclear Iran threatens Israel but is not dangerous for the US.

This incorrect assessment has made a lot of Americans believe that by seeking to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Israel is advancing is own interests at America’s expense.

The other policy option is the one that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon indicated Israel is pursuing in his meeting last week with his counterpart Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. At the Pentagon Ya’alon declared, “The Iran deal is a given. Our disputes are over.”

The downside of this position is that it indicates that Israel accepts the legitimacy of a deal that Iran is not implementing and that would imperil Israel’s national security even if Iran were implementing it.

Its upside is that it takes Israel out of the US debate regarding the nuclear deal. To the extent that opponents of Obama’s Iran policy are willing to lead the fight against the deal themselves, Israel could do worse than to take a step back and plot its own course on Iran, independent of the US policy discussion.

It is hard to know which line of action makes more sense. But as the spy stories demonstrated, one thing is clear enough. Whatever he says before the cameras next week when he meets with Netanyahu, Obama has no intention of letting bygones be bygones.

Author:  Eric [ Thu Nov 05, 2015 6:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Iran attacks, cyber edition

Saudi Adventurism
In Yemen, the Worst May Be Yet to Come
http://www.the-american-interest.com/20 ... t-to-come/

Saudi Arabia may be headed into even more trouble in Yemen. Reuters reports:

Even in retaking areas where local people supported the coalition, inexperience has shown: security lapses allowed jihadist suicide bombers to hit three major coalition targets in Aden, and billeting troops too close together led to high casualties when a missile hit a base near Marib.

At that airbase, the floor of a large white tent, used as a field hospital after the missile strike killed more than 60 Gulf soldiers, was still littered with medical debris including latex gloves and blood-stained plasma bags weeks after the blast.[..]

The coalition has not pushed far into highland areas where the Houthis enjoy greatest support, and where the terrain favors those holding it.

Artillery fire could be heard in Marib from the hills to the west, areas vital to the recapture of the capital Sanaa. Yemen’s rugged highland terrain still provides cover for constant Houthi attacks on Saudi frontier positions and distant blasts were also audible to Reuters on separate trips to the border.
As we have noted since this summer, when and if the Saudis move into Houthi territory, the bloodbath will be enormous. Most of these casualties will be Yemeni civilians, but many may be Saudis, if they can’t close on the truce they keep promising is right around the corner—but never seems to come. And with a small population, high standard of living, and historically conservative foreign policy, the Saudi public may not be willing to take much. Even—or perhaps especially—in a totalitarian monarchy, that can spell trouble.

The Saudis have only undertaken this risky course because of the retreat of American leadership in the region—we need to keep a careful eye on Yemen, and Riyadh, to make sure the follow-on effects of our pull-back do not grow even worse.
Posted: Nov 04, 2015 - 5:00 pm
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