Deputy Defense Minister Denies Israel Spied on Hotels Hosting Iran Nuclear Talks

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Deputy minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan. Credit: Oren Nachshon

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan denied Wednesday a report that Israel carried out a sophisticated cyberespionage campaign that targeted European hotels hosting the Iranian nuclear negotiations.

The possibility that Israel hacked into the hotels' wireless internet and other systems was "total nonsense," Ben-Dahan said in an interview with Israel Radio, adding that Israel does not use such methods to obtain information and has other means to know what is going on in the talks, he told Israel Radio.

Ben-Dahan however admitted that even if Israeli intelligence did run covert campaigns, the deputy defense minister would probably not be informed of them.

The Moscow-based security firm Kaspersky said Wednesday it had uncovered a computer virus which targeted three hotels that hosted the nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers.

The firm, whose CEO served in the Russian military in the past and is said to have close ties with Russian intelligence, said the spyware's sophistication suggests that it state-sponsored.

A report in the Wall Street Journal, who broke the story, said the spyware was an improved version of Duqu, a virus first identified in 2011, which U.S. officials and experts believe was designed by or for Israel. The firm did not name Israel as the country behind the new virus, but it reportedly named the report "Duqu Bet," implying a link to the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Researchers also said that substantial parts of virus' code resembles that of Duqu, adding that it’s was practically impossible to create the virus without access to the original code.

The virus was also found on computers used during a ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, which was attended by world leaders, the report said.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel spied on closed-door nuclear talks between the United States and Iran last year in order to build a case against the impending deal. In addition to eavesdropping on closed-door talks, the report said, Israel “acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe.” 

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