Fake SMS Claims Haifa Chemical Plant Hit by Rocket

False report sent in Haaretz's name is received by thousands of Israelis.

Illustration: A commuter looks at his iPhone.
Illustration: A commuter looks at his iPhone. Reuters

Thousands of Israeli smartphone users received text messages on Wednesday claiming to be from Haaretz, but were in fact sent from a fake account.

The message, written in broken English, purported to report that a missile had struck a petrochemical plant in Haifa.

Thus far, it seems that only iPhone users were targeted through a messaging service. Haaretz does not use an SMS service; rather, it sends news updates using a push notification system to users of its smartphone apps. That system has not been hacked.

As soon as Haaretz's news desk was informed of the fake messages, the paper issued clarifications in Hebrew and English that Haaretz was not the source.

Haaretz is consulting with law enforcement officials over whether to file a criminal complaint.

The messages were most likely sent from a pro-Hamas source as psychological warfare to instil fear and panic in Israeli citizens.

Similar attempts at psychological warfare were carried out 20 months ago during Operation Pillar of Defense, when various fake email accounts and Facebook pages were used to try and convince Israelis that the true casualty figures were much higher than those described by official sources, but were being hidden from them.

Thousands of people received emails from one "Moshe Rotoor," using a Russian account, who claimed in broken Hebrew that "the military censorship of military intelligence is hiding the information about the attacks on our soldiers on the border of Gaza. See the picture of the field of death in which our soldiers are falling in Gaza." YouTube videos enclosed in the email claimed to show an Israel Defense Forces jeep being hit by an anti-tank missile. In reality, it was a jeep that belongs to the Reuters news agency.

In a separate case of psychological warfare during the 2012 operation, many Israelis received a false announcement via e-mail from "IDF Spokesman" warning them against opening text messages because "when you open the message, terrorists in Gaza can track you and direct their Katyushas to your location!"

On Facebook someone who claimed to belong to the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, claimed to be holding the personal details of 5,000 "Israeli officers" and to have hacked their mobile phones. He threatened to disclose their details online but never delivered.