From Sudan to cyber, secret war with Iran hots up
WASHINGTON: From a suspected Israeli airstrike in Sudan to cyber warfare in the Gulf and a drone shot down over Israel, the largely hidden war between Iran and its foes seems heating up and spreading.
Despite months of speculation, most experts and governments believe the risk of a direct Israeli strike on Tehran’s nuclear program stirring regional conflict has eased, at least for now. But all sides, it seems, are finding other ways to fight.
For the US and European powers , the main focus remains on oil export sanctions that are inflicting ever more damage on Iran’s economy.
But the Obama administration and Israel have also ploughed resources into covert operations – a campaign that now appears to have prompted an increasingly sophisticated Iranian reaction.
With Iranian hackers suspected of severely damaging Saudi oil facility computers and a suspected Hezbollah drone shot down over Israel, tactics and tools once seen as the sole purview of the United States are now clearly being used on both sides.
The mounting body count in Syria, some believe, is also in part a consequence of the proxy war being waged there.
“In many ways, it’s reminiscent of the Cold War, particularly the proxy conflicts,” says Hayat Alvi, lecturer in Middle Eastern politics at the US Naval War College. “But unlike in the Cold War, there are now a much larger number of asymmetrical warfare techniques. Most of this is happening behind the scenes, but in the modern world we are finding it difficult to keep them secret for that long.”
Covert confrontation itself is, of course, nothing new. Foreign intelligence agencies have battled for decades to stop Iran and other states obtaining nuclear material, while Tehran and Israel have long needled each other and proxy battlegrounds, particularly in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
The US and Israel are widely suspected of using the Stuxnet computer worm to target Iranian nuclear centrifuges. Meanwhile, most experts believe Israel’s Mossad was involved in assassinations of several nuclear scientists – attacks suspected to have prompted similar bomb attacks on Israeli diplomats in India, Georgia and Thailand and tourists in Bulgaria.
But it does seem to be escalating. What Tehran is trying to do now, most analysts believe, is in part further retaliation. But its rulers may also be indicating that the Islamic Republic now has a range of new and potentially damaging options in reserve should its nuclear facilities be bombed.
Signaling Through Covert Action: The penetration of Israeli airspace by an unmanned drone apparently operated by Lebanese militant group Hezbollah – a long-term Iranian ally – was, perhaps, one of the clearest examples so far. The drone was shot down by Israel’s military in the vicinity of its main nuclear facility at Dimona.
Iran has long been believed to be putting resources into a drone programme and may have gathered useful tips after a classified US Sentinal stealth drone came down in the country last year. While the Hezbollah drone was unarmed, a attack with multiple drones laden with explosives might prove harder to stop.
The dramatic spike in suspected Iranian cyber attacks this year also has some in the US distinctly worried. While direct denial of service attacks on US banks – widely seen as retaliation for US sanctions and attempts to freeze Iran from the international financial system – were seen relatively simplistic, attacks on US allies in the Gulf were more complex. reuters