On Monday, January 3rd, Israel’s Jerusalem Post reported that its website had been hacked. They described this attack as an “apparent threat to the country,” according to Reuters. The website’s main page showed an illustration that recalled General Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated in a U.S. drone strike on January 3rd, 2020.
Specifically, CNN reported that the image showed a “bullet-shaped object shooting out of a red ring worn on a finger, an apparent reference to a distinctive ring Soleimani used to wear.” This image was joined by the phrase “we are close to you where you do not think about it” in both Hebrew and English. ABC News noted that while Iran has not claimed responsibility for the cyber-attack, “it has stepped up its commemoration of the slain Revolutionary Guard general.”
This cyber-attack comes amidt rising tensions between Israel, the United States, and Iran. While there has often been a level of distrust between the U.S. and Iran, it reached new heights when former U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the targeted killing of Soleimani, who was the commander of the Quds Force. The U.S. has designated the Quds Force as a terrorist organization and holds them responsible for the “deaths of hundreds of U.S. personnel,” according to BBC. As such, a drone strike was carried out in Baghdad on January 3rd, 2020, killing both Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. These assassinations infuriated Iran and its allies. Iran retaliated five days after Soleimani’s killing by firing missiles at U.S. airbases housing American troops near Ain al Assad and Erbil.
Iran’s recent actions have shown that Soleimani’s killing will not be easily forgotten. According to the Times of Israel, “Iranian officials have pledged repeatedly that Soleimani would be avenged.” Authorities in Iran prepared week-long activities to mark the anniversary of his death, with the main commemoration event being held on Monday. Additionally, they stated that there would be a “display of Iran’s missile capabilities” on January 7th. Further, on January 8th, the Iranian foreign ministry communicated that 51 additional Americans have been “blacklisted in relation to the terrorist act” of Soleimani’s assassination and human rights violations, according to Al Jazeera.
Iran and Israel have been engaged in a year-long shadow war. This war finally entered the cyber realm in 2010 with the famous Stuxnet virus. This virus was said to have been engineered by Israel and the U.S. to infect “Iran’s nuclear program, causing a series of breakdowns in centrifuges used to enrich uranium,” according to the Times of Israel. Moreover, last month it was reported that Iran fired multiple ballistic missiles after five days of military drills. These drills were said to be a warning to Israel, according to Iranian generals. The drill was concluded by blowing up a target that resembled Israel’s Dimona nuclear complex. Images of these military drills were broadcast on Iranian TV to issue a threat to Israel. These were the images that accompanied the hack on the Jerusalem Post’s website.
Israel-Iran relations have only been made worse by the issues with global nuclear deals. After Trump pulled out of Tehran’s nuclear deal in 2018, U.S. sanctions were re-imposed on Iran. As a result, Iran has “accelerated its nuclear advances as negotiations to return to the accord struggle to make headway,” according to the Times of Israel. It’s now been reported that Tehran has begun to enrich uranium up to 60 percent purity, which is only one short technical step from reaching the 90 percent purity needed to make an atomic bomb.
Iran’s advancement towards nuclear proliferation is a cause for concern for both the U.S. and Israel. As a U.S. ally, Israel has vouched for more hardline policies towards Iran, even though Iranian officials insist that their nuclear program is peaceful. Should Israel’s demands be ignored, they are prepared to seek out alternative measures. Defense Minister Benny Gantz stated that he has notified the U.S. of his orders to the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for a strike against Iran.
As the threat of violence looms, the international community must intervene to prevent further conflict and loss of life. The cyber-attacks on Israeli media sites are just the latest indication that the road to diplomacy will be a long and rocky one. The U.S. must reconsider negotiations with Iran in the Tehran Nuclear Deal. While there is understandable trepidation in this dealing, it is the only way Iran has agreed to scale back its nuclear program. Additionally, this would fulfill some of the demands of Israel, as it would decrease Iran’s nuclear presence in the region, thus decreasing the imminent threat to Israel. Lastly, the international community must intervene to prevent Israel from carrying out any strikes against Iran. At this point, a strike against Iran would just stoke the flames. The U.S. and other international actors need to step up to take part and mediate peaceful negotiations for a ceasefire of both land, sea, and cyber-attacks between all parties. It should also be noted that the U.S. will also need to adhere to the same rules and not carry out violent attacks on Israel’s behalf. We cannot control or take back the violence of the past, but it is up to everyone to make sure those same mistakes are not repeated
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