Israel appears to be behind a cyberattack earlier this month on computers at Iran's Shahid Rajaee port that caused massive backups on waterways and roads leading to the facility, the Washington Post reported on Monday.
Citing unnamed U.S. and foreign government officials, the Post said the May 9 disruption of Iranian computers was presumably in retaliation for an earlier attempted cyberattack on rural water distribution systems in Israel.
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The Israeli Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters on the Post report.
The managing director of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization, Mohammad Rastad, told Iran's ILNA news agency last week that the cyberattack did not penetrate the organization's computers and was only able to infiltrate and damage a number of private operating systems.
A foreign government security official said, however, the attack was "highly accurate" and the damage to the Iranian port was more serious than described in official Iranian accounts, according to the Post.
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“There was total disarray,” a U.S. official told The Washington Post. The paper claimed is has seen satellite photographs depicting miles-long traffic jams on highways leading to port on the day of the attack. Days later, according to The Post, dozens of loaded container ships are seen in a waiting area off the coast.
Israeli water installations were reportedly hit by a cyber attack near the end of April, after which employees at Israeli companies involved in the country's water and sewage systems were instructed to change their passwords or, if that wasn’t possible, bring their online activities to a temporary halt.
Reports emerged this month that Iran used U.S. servers to carry out the strike, and that concurrently Iranian hackers attacked a U.S. company developing a coronavirus drug.
According to Amos Yadlin, Israel's former Chief of Defense Intelligence and director of the Institute for National Security Studies, "if this cyber attack was indeed Israel’s response to the Iranian attack on civilian infrastructure..., Israel is sending an important message to Iran regarding the vulnerability of key elements of Iran’s economy to Israeli cyber capabilities."
In a Twitter thread published on Tuesday morning, Yadlin argues that the tit-for-tat represented a new dimension in the use of technology in warfare, with "cyber is now being integrated to the ground, sea, and aerial dimensions of combat as a major domain of warfighting."
Despite the global coronavirus crisis, the confrontation between the two countries continues. Israel reportedly hit several Iran-linked targets in Syria in the last few weeks. A U.S. official who visited Israel with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this month said Israel seemed to be intensifying its air strikes.
“Iran has in fact started a process of withdrawing from Syria, but we’ve got to finish the job,” outgoing Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Monday. “We have to increase the diplomatic, economic, military and technological pressure, as well as operate in other realms.” Bennett will be succeeded at the Defense Ministry by former IDF Chief of Staff and Prime Minister in waiting Benny Gantz.
Iranian-Israeli tensions have also been mounting behind the scenes in the international arena, as Tehran keeps battling U.S. sanctions that have seriously crippled its economy.
Israel is currently engaged in a pressure campaign around the world and at international institutions against any easing of the sanctions, as a humanitarian gesture for Iran's population, badly hit by the coronavirus.
It is also campaigning to outlaw the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah, particularly its political wing, with some results. That’s in addition to the ongoing effort against Iran’s violations of its international nuclear accord, senior Israeli diplomats have told Haaretz in recent weeks.
Iran was high on the agenda of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit last week. While the U.S. administration is giving its full backing to Israel’s actions in Syria, it might be concerned that it could affect an already fragile situation in Iraq.