This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Post. To read the entire article, click here.
We take some comfort in the fact that yesterday’s missile attack on Israel was limited to a military target and that an Iranian Quds Force operative was among those killed. Unfortunately, though, the numerous headlines about the missile strike fail to mention that it is no accident that this was the target chosen and that civilian victims resulted.
Israel and the United States knew that Iran was going to pay a price for firing its missiles into its occupied Golan Heights territory. Israel’s Joint Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, made this explicit in last month’s conference call: “The fire [into Israel] is not accidental, as we told everyone. We told them we shall shoot them down and we will be prepared for retaliation.”
Israel has not missed its own window of opportunity to initiate and plan this cyberwar. A few days after Eisenkot’s call on May 4, Iranian Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani openly met with Quds Force commander, Qasem Soleimani, and Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani in Tehran in a meeting that was heavily covered by Iran’s press. It is important to note that both Soleimani and Soleimani have seen active combat, yet both have publically endorsed the Iranian regime’s genocidal policies against Israel and other countries in the region. They have guided the military buildup against Israel, backed by the high-level support provided by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Quds Force is specifically expected to lead Iranian-supported militias, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hizbullah, which receive weapons and funding, along with other military support, from Iran. To put this point in perspective, between 1999 and 2016, the IRGC’s military budget grew from $600 million to a staggering $42 billion per year. The most recent report from the Iranian Foreign Ministry shows that the IRGC has spent a billion dollars to purchase every weapon in the world last year. The extensive military buildup against Israel is well beyond the game. In fact, the threat of Iranian-led militaries attacking Israel in cyberspace was amplified following the recent missile fire from Damascus.
Nevertheless, for the past several years Israel has tried to persuade the Iranians that Israel has a counter-terrorism capability and possesses military means in the event of a chemical or biological attack or from terrorism, which is also suspected to be a target of Iranian and Syrian nuclear programs. The Iranians responded by burning a mock synagogue near Jerusalem.
Given that the Iranian regime is fully determined to strike and even achieve its goal of attaining nuclear weapons, we are forced to assess that Israel did not get one shot off from last week’s missile strike. However, after the missile strike on May 5, Iran and Israel have launched cyberattacks against one another, which is unprecedented in the history of cyberwarfare.
It is undeniable that Iran is attacking Israeli and American civilian infrastructure and corporate networks. Following a cyberattack on AT&T’s internet infrastructure in March, the computer systems that hosted the systems used for the company’s security and operating systems, including Foxconn, were blacked out. Within a matter of a few days, the attack was terminated.
In the weeks before the shooting at a Israeli-owned gas factory, hackers penetrated the electricity grid and ended up shutting down power for parts of parts of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Cyberattacks against senior nuclear scientists, factories, pipelines, and train control systems are also possible.
As the US President Donald Trump has often stated, we must act immediately to prevent another act of violence against Israel from being used as an excuse to launch a conflict, when the chances of that are near-zero. Unless an Iranian-led regime has been as brutal and fearful of attacking the United States and Israel as the ayatollahs have been of Israel, a cyberwarfare war by Iran against Israel and the United States would be fruitless. It is important to remember that Iranian lives are the ones who will be lost if nothing is done to take down Iran’s cyber and terrorist efforts.
The author is a foreign policy expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and vice-president of Media Relations and Public Policy.