Archive for June 24, 2019

Iran calls US cyber attack unsuccessful, warns it could repeat drone downing

June 24, 2019

Source: Iran calls US cyber attack unsuccessful, warns it could repeat drone downing | The Times of Israel

Meanwhile White House said drafting plans for possible further cyber action: targeting Iranian navy and seeking to foment unrest elsewhere in the nation

Iran's communications minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi speaks in a TV interview on August 13, 2017. (screen capture: YouTube)

Iran’s communications minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi speaks in a TV interview on August 13, 2017. (screen capture: YouTube)

An Iranian minister said Monday that the US was unsuccessful in its cyber attacks against Iran this week after Tehran downed an American surveillance drone.

“They try hard, but have not carried out a successful attack,” said Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s minister for information and communications technology, according to the Reuters news agency.

“Media asked if the claimed cyber attacks against Iran are true,” he said. “Last year we neutralized 33 million attacks with the [national] firewall.”

On Sunday the New York Times reported US military and intelligence officials are drafting plans for additional cyber attacks against Iranian targets.

Current and former officials told the Times the White House is drafting a wide range of covert operations that include disabling Iranian boats used to conduct shipping attacks in and around the Strait of Hormuz, as well as unspecified efforts to stoke unrest inside the Islamic Republic. The White House may also be exploring ways weaken Iranian proxy groups in the region, the officials said.

A former US military commander told the Times that if the Pentagon or Central Intelligence Agency pursued one of the options, there would not be “crystal-clear attribution” the US was responsible.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have flared since Iran on Thursday shot down the US drone. Iran said the drone violated its airspace — a claim the US denies — near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Iranian Navy chief Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi on Monday warned the country could carry out similar actions in the future. “This firm response can be repeated, and the enemy knows it,” he said, according to a report in the Tasnim news agency translated by Reuters.

Head of the Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh looks at debris from what the division describes as the US drone which was shot down by Iran, seen here in Tehran, Iran, June 21, 2019 (Meghdad Madadi/Tasnim News Agency/via AP)

In response to the drone’s destruction, the US was ready to carry out a military strike against Iran but US President Donald Trump said he called it off at the last minute after being told some 150 people could die.

The aborted attack was the closest the US has come to a direct military strike on Iran in the year since the administration pulled out of the 2015 international agreement intended to curb the Iranian nuclear program and launched a campaign of increasing economic pressure against the Islamic Republic.

But after the drone’s downing, Trump secretly authorized US Cyber Command to carry out a retaliatory cyber attack on Iran, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

The attack crippled computers used to control rocket and missile launches, according to the Post, which cited people familiar with the matter.

Yahoo cited two former intelligence officials as saying the US targeted a spying group responsible for tracking ships in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, where Washington has blamed Iran for two recent mine attacks on oil tankers.

An oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman, June 13, 2019. (AP Photo/ISNA)

The Post said the cyber strikes, which caused no casualties, had been planned for weeks and were first proposed as a response to the tanker attacks. US defense officials refused to confirm the reports.

Azari Jahromi said the attacks on Iranian computer networks over the weekend were “cyber-terrorism, like Stuxnet,” referring to a virus discovered in 2010 which is believed to have been engineered by Israel and the US to damage nuclear facilities in Iran.

Iranian technicians work at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in 2010 (photo credit: AP/IIPA, Ebrahim Norouzi)

Iranian technicians work at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in 2010 (photo credit: AP/IIPA, Ebrahim Norouzi)

Tehran is believed to have stepped up its own cyber capabilities in the face of US efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic.

Trump last year left a multinational accord curbing Iran’s nuclear ambition. His administration has instead imposed a robust slate of punitive economic sanctions designed to choke off Iranian oil sales and cripple its economy.

On Saturday, Trump said the US would put “major” new sanctions on Iran on Monday.

Meanwhile, Iran has denied responsibility for attacks on tankers in Gulf waters, and a top military official on Saturday pledged to “set fire to the interests of America and its allies” if the US attacks.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday said the international community must react to the “intrusion” of the US drone, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused allies and advisers of the US president, including US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, of being “moments away from trapping Donald Trump into a war.”


Hezbollah is now giving orders to Syria’s army – and using it to spy on Israel 

June 24, 2019

Source: Hezbollah is now giving orders to Syria’s army – and using it to spy on Israel | The Times of Israel

In a reality once unthinkable, Assad’s troops along Golan border are heeding commanders of the Iran-backed terror group, and helping it prepare for conflict with the Jewish state

An Israeli military outpost in the Golan Heights is pictured from the Syrian town of Quneitra on March 26, 2019. (Louai Beshara/AFP)

An Israeli military outpost in the Golan Heights is pictured from the Syrian town of Quneitra on March 26, 2019. (Louai Beshara/AFP)

Earlier this month, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based watchdog group, reported that Israeli fighter jets struck Hezbollah positions on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. There was no Israeli comment on the claim.

The report said one of the targets was a post on Tel al-Harra, a mountain that is considered a strategic point that overlooks the Golan Heights, while the other was in Quneitra, near the UN-monitored border crossing with Israel, where Arab media reports a Syrian air-defense position and a Hezbollah intelligence center are located.

The Iran-backed Lebanese terror group had been trying to set up a front on the Syrian Golan for years, but had previously been unable to gain a sufficient foothold in the area. However, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s conquest of the border area last summer provided the regime-allied organization with an opportunity to once again attempt to establish the necessary infrastructure with which it could threaten Israel near the border.

The alleged Israeli strikes near the border were a rare occurrence. In the past Israel has targeted villages and towns along the Golan Heights frontier after identifying Iranian and Hezbollah attempts to establish cells and infrastructure in the area.

But the incident also highlighted a reality once unthinkable in Syria: With Hezbollah one of the chief powers setting the tone in the country after years of civil war, Syrian army forces are now in some cases taking their orders from the organization — and helping it spy on Israel.

Hezbollah’s presence in Syrian territory opposite the Israeli border is a natural continuation of the group’s expanding activity in the Middle East (in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, among others), and the civil war that has been raging in Syria for approximately eight years.

Its increased clout is particularly noticeable in the region of southern Syria that the Syrians call Hauran. In the same area that gave rise to the protests against Assad in March 2011 in the city of Daraa, a situation has now formed in which Syrian soldiers receive “recommendations” — which are in effect orders — from Hezbollah commanders.

A segment of the Syrian army that controls the southern part of the country works closely with many consultants from Hezbollah, which use it for purposes such as intelligence-gathering, and is also helping the Lebanon-based group prepare for an expected future war with Israel (as well as assisting it in dealing with local opposition).

Illustrative: Syrian troops flash the victory sign next to the Syrian flag in Tel al-Haara, the highest hill in the southwestern Daraa province, Syria, July 17, 2018. (SANA via AP)

To put it in the simplest terms, these Syrian troops are now serving Hezbollah’s Shiite army in Lebanon. Bashar’s deceased father, Hafez Assad, would be rolling in his grave: During his time the elder Assad waged war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, and killed hundreds of its members.

How did the tables so turn? The civil war was, without a doubt, the key event, with the Syrian army now dependent on assistance from Hezbollah and Iran in order to survive.

Earlier in the war, when Assad’s regime appeared to be on its last legs, Hezbollah sent numerous advisers to the region whose stated purpose was simply to aid the fighting against the opposition groups in Hauran. A great deal has happened since then, and about a year ago — with Assad buoyed also by Iranian and particularly Russian forces — it became clear that the battle for Syria had been decided: the regime had won. But Hezbollah didn’t stop at that point — it began to establish its forces permanently throughout Syria, particularly in its southern sector.

This process took place with quite a bit of hesitation by Hezbollah’s leaders, especially regarding the financial implications of leaving troops on Syrian soil. In the end, the strategic thinking that troops should be positioned against Israel on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights won out.

This had to be done clandestinely though: Following the understandings that Israel reached with Russia, Iranian and Hezbollah presence is prohibited at a distance of approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the Syrian border with Israel.

And thus a “Southern Headquarters” operated by Hezbollah is currently operating in secret in the territory known as Hauran. It is a military organization in every sense, which operates with several dozen Lebanese and hundreds of Syrians, most of them from Hauran: Thanks to financial difficulties brought on by the war, Hezbollah has had little trouble recruiting quite a few locals to serve its purposes.

The force, led by Lebanese commander Munir Ali Naim Shaiti (better known by the alias Hajj Hashem), is now focusing less and less upon threats at home and much more on the old threat: Israel.

The Southern Headquarters is armed with weapons that include antitank missiles and particularly powerful short-range rockets with a minimum weight of approximately 250 kilograms and effectiveness at a range of approximately four kilometers. Their original purpose was to strike opposition targets, but they are now being repurposed with the aim of destroying Israeli villages on the Golan Heights or the upper Galilee.

Illustrative: A picture taken from the Israeli Golan Heights shows a smoke plume rising during airstrikes backing a Syrian-government-led offensive in the southwestern province of Daraa, July 23, 2018. (JALAA MAREY/AFP)

The purpose of the Southern Headquarters is to collect high-quality intelligence about the Israeli side of the border. The headquarters works under the radar of international forces and does its best to hide its tracks. Seeking to avoid Israeli attacks on its forces, Hezbollah has done its best to camouflage its activity. Its people do not act openly, and it has recruited troops from Syria Army’s 1st Corps to assist its operations.

It is believed the group has set up approximately 20 lookout positions on the Syrian Golan Heights facing Israeli territory. Each such outpost is manned by Syrian soldiers, often accompanied by Hezbollah members but sometimes on their own. These soldiers gather intelligence according to the orders of Hezbollah: training exercises on the Israeli side, the day-to-day security routine, activity in villages and more. The information is sent to several Hezbollah operations rooms in the Syrian Golan Heights, and from there it is relayed to headquarters in Lebanon and/or to the Iranians.

In addition, the Southern Headquarters makes use of technology to attempt to listen in on the Israeli side, via communications networks or other means.

Simultaneously Hezbollah continues to build its offensive capabilities in the Golan Heights. These efforts are led by veteran terrorist Ali Musa Daqduq, also known as Abu Hussein Sajed, a Lebanese man who is wanted in the United States for attacks against American forces in Iraq, including planning an attack in Karbala in 2007 that resulted in the deaths of five US soldiers.

Hezbollah leader Ali Musa Daqduq, suspected of forming a terror cell for the organization in the Syrian Golan Heights. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to the US Treasury Department, Daqduq has served “as commander of a Hezbollah special forces unit and chief of a protective detail for Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah.” Daqduq was arrested in 2007 and imprisoned in Iraq, but was released five years later and sent to Lebanon.

Daqduq leads an operational unit in every sense, whose purpose is to act mainly in situations of large-scale escalation and carry out high-quality terror attacks. In March, the IDF said it had exposed a nascent Hezbollah terror cell led by Daqduq and established in a border village on the Syrian Golan Heights.

While the commanding officers of this unit are Lebanese, most of its troops — which number approximately two hundred — are Syrian, who were recruited from, among other places, Druze communities such as Khadar and Arnah on the Syrian Golan Heights.

The concern now is that the intelligence and operational arms will join forces: If Hezbollah commanders decide to use Daqduq’s troops to carry out an attack on Israel from the Syrian Golan Heights, they will likely do so with intelligence provided by Hajj Hashem’s Southern Headquarters.


Iranians say their ‘bones breaking’ under US sanctions

June 24, 2019

Source: Iranians say their ‘bones breaking’ under US sanctions | The Times of Israel

With climbing unemployment and inflation nearing 40%, ordinary Iranians are feeling the pinch of Trump’s foreign policy, but many also blame government corruption

A carpet seller sits at his shop in the old main bazaar in Tehran, Iran, on June 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

A carpet seller sits at his shop in the old main bazaar in Tehran, Iran, on June 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — As the US piles sanction after sanction on Iran, it’s the average person who feels it the most.

From a subway performer’s battered leather hat devoid of tips, to a bride-to-be’s empty purse, the lack of cash from the economic pressure facing Iran’s 80 million people can be seen everywhere.

Many blame US President Donald Trump and his maximalist policy on Iran, which has seen him pull out of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and levy punishing US sanctions on the country.

In recent weeks, Iran has threatened to break out of the deal unless European powers mitigate what it calls Trump’s “economic warfare.” Iran also appeared ready to push back against the buildup of US forces in the region, after shooting down an American drone it says violated its airspace last week.

In response, US officials have vowed to pile on more sanctions.

But alongside Trump, many Iranians blame their own government, which has careened from one economic disaster to another since its Islamic Revolution 40 years ago.

“The economic war is a reality and people are under extreme pressure,” said Shiva Keshavarz, a 22-year-old accountant soon to be married.

She said government leaders “keep telling us to be strong and endure the pressures, but we can already hear the sound of our bones breaking.”

Motorbike taxi divers carry goods at the old main bazaar in Tehran, Iran on June 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Walking by any money exchange shop is a dramatic reminder of the hardships most people are facing. At the time of the nuclear deal, Iran’s currency traded at 32,000 rials to $1. Today, the numbers listed in exchange shop windows have skyrocketed — it costs over 130,000 rials for one US dollar.

Inflation is over 37%, according to government statistics. More than 3 million people, or 12% of working-age citizens, are unemployed. That rate doubles for educated youth.

Depreciation and inflation make everything more expensive — from fruits and vegetables to tires and oil, all the way to the big-ticket items, like mobile phones. A simple cell phone is about two months’ salary for the average government worker, while a single iPhone costs a 10 months’ salary.

“When importing mobile phones into the country is blocked, dealers have to smuggle them in with black market dollar rates and sell them for expensive prices,” said Pouria Hassani, a mobile phone salesman in Tehran. “You can’t expect us to buy expensive and sell cheap to customers. We don’t want to make a loss either.”

Hossein Rostami, a 33-year-old motorbike taxi driver and deliveryman, said the price of brake pads alone had jumped fivefold.

“The cause of our problems is the officials’ incompetence,” he told The Associated Press as fellow motorbike drivers called out for passengers in Tehran. “Our country is full of wealth and riches.”

The riches part is true — Iran is home to the world’s fourth-largest proven reserve of crude oil and holds the world’s second-largest proven reserve of natural gas, after Russia.

But under Trump’s maximum-pressure campaign, the US has cut off Iran’s ability to sell crude on the global market, and threatened to sanction any nation that purchases it. Oil covers a third of the $80 billion a year the government spends in Iran, meaning that a fall in oil revenues cuts into its social welfare programs, as well as its military expenditures.

The rest of the country’s budget comes from taxes and non-oil exports, among them oil-based petrochemical products that provide up to 50% of Iran’s $45 billion in non-oil export.

In this photo from August 8, 2018, a man exchanges Iranian Rials for US Dollars at an exchange shop in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

In Tehran’s Laleh park, retired school teacher Zahra Ghasemi criticized the government for blaming “every problem” on US sanctions.

She says she has trouble paying for her basic livelihood. The price of a bottle of milk has doubled, along with that of vegetables and fruit.

“We are dying under these pressures and a lack of solutions from officials,” Ghasemi said.

Years of popular frustration with failed economic policies triggered protests in late 2017, which early the following year spiraled into anti-government demonstrations across dozens of cities and towns.

The current problems take root in Iran’s faltering efforts to privatize its state-planned economy after the devastating war with Iraq in the 1980s, which saw 1 million people killed.

But Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said earlier this month that the crunch on oil exports was hitting harder today than during the 1980s war, when Saddam Hussein’s forces targeted Iran’s oil trade.

“Our situation is worse than during the war,” Zanganeh said. “We did not have such an export problem when Saddam was targeting our industrial units. Now, we cannot export oil labeled Iran.”

Still, many Iranians pin the economic crisis on corruption as much as anything else.

Iranians drivers fill their tanks at a gas station in the capital Tehran on November 5, 2018. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

“Our problem is the embezzlers and thieves in the government,” said Nasrollah Pazouki, who has sold clothes in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar since before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. “When people come to power, instead of working sincerely and seriously for the people, we hear and read after a few months in newspapers that they have stolen billions and fled.”

He added: “Whose money is that? It’s the people’s money.”

Sanctions do cause some of the problems, said Jafar Mousavi, who runs a dry-goods store in Tehran. But many of the woes are self-inflicted from rampant graft, he said.

“The economic war is not from outside of our borders but within the country,” Mousavi said. “If there was integrity among our government, producers and people, we could have overcome the pressures.”

Yet people come and go each day to work on Tehran’s crowded metro, seemingly earning less each day for the same work. In one train car, Abbas Feayouji and his son Rahmat play mournful-sounding traditional love songs known as “Sultan-e Ghalbha,” or “King of Hearts” in Farsi.

“People pay less than before,” said the elder Feayouji, a 47-year-old father of three, as he took a short break to speak to the AP. “I don’t know why they do, but it shows people have less money than before.”


Trump: US demands for Iran are no nuclear weapons, no terror funding 

June 24, 2019

Source: Trump: US demands for Iran are no nuclear weapons, no terror funding | The Times of Israel

US President Donald Trump on Monday says other countries should protect their own Gulf oil shipments, and defined US aims regarding Iran as “No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror.”

In a pair of tweets, Trump says the US did not even need to be in the Gulf because it had become the world’s largest energy producer.

“So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been a dangerous journey,” he writes.

As for Tehran, he says, “The U.S. request for Iran is very simple – No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!”

Donald J. Trump


China gets 91% of its Oil from the Straight, Japan 62%, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been….

Donald J. Trump


….a dangerous journey. We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world! The U.S. request for Iran is very simple – No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!


US covert cyber war on Iran may prompt Russian, Chinese cyber aid for Tehran against America – DEBKAfile

June 24, 2019

Source: US covert cyber war on Iran may prompt Russian, Chinese cyber aid for Tehran against America – DEBKAfile

President Donald Trump is reported widely by US media to have embarked on a covert cyberwar on Iran. Just as, in the absence of proof, Tehran has never owned up to its recent sabotage provocations in the region – although its hand is self-evident, Washington too intends to duck formal attribution for any cyberattacks against the Islamic Republic.

President Trump has not said this out loud, but his turn to clandestine cyber warfare in retaliation for Iranian attacks, in place of direct military strikes, takes the campaign against Tehran out of the hands of the US Central Command and over to the Cyber Command and the CIA, in line with his resolve to avoid full-scale war. Under consideration are operations not just to disable various missile bases and command centers, but also a range of Iranian vehicles of aggression. They include the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) patrol boats used to damage Gulf oil tankers this month, as well as Iranian proxies across the region, such as Hizballah and Iraqi Shiite militias.  The CIA will deploy covert forces inside Iran for striking essential infrastructure and stirring up unrest.

The first operation of the first cyber war in military history was in fact launched by Washington on Thursday, June 20, just hours after an Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down a US Navy drone over Gulf waters. It targeted the computers of the IRGC missile command centers, as well as the computers and networks of an Iranian intelligence group which US spy agencies hold responsible for managing the strikes on the oil tankers.

President Trump believes that his constantly toughened sanctions supported by this clandestine, unadmitted cyber campaign is the correct and fitting response for Iran’s aggression and upholds his vow not to entangle America in another Middle East war. This strategy does, however, entail some omissions and drawbacks, say DEBKAfile’s military sources:

  1. The US Cyber Command certainly keeps in a bottom drawer a range of plans for attacking specific targets in Iran, but not likely a comprehensive US-Iranian cyber conflict.
  2. Even the US Cyber Command is in the dark about the extent of Iran’s cyber capabilities and its capacity to strike back. Eight years ago, the Iranians astonished Washington when they seized control of the military satellite computers operating the highly sophisticated US RQ-170 Sentinel spy drone and bringing the UAV down. To this day, the US has never confirmed this Iranian coup.
  3. What is Israel’s role in this campaign and is it prepared to face up to a cyber war?
  4. Iran is unlikely to stand alone in the first major cyber war to be launched by the United States in real time, notwithstanding Trump’s efforts at secrecy. Russia and China may decide to leap to Tehran’s aid for seizing a unique opportunity for testing their own offensive cyber weapons in a real confrontation with America.