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Unusual Iranian Military Activity Detected in Lebanon: Israeli Intelligence

Pirzadeh is a member of the Iran National Council for Free Elections, a dissident group founded by U.S.-based Iranian crown prince Reza Pahlavi.

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A prominent Iranian-Israeli journalist says Israeli intelligence sources have reported unusual activities by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps forces in Lebanon.
Iran Military Flag, wikimedia commons

A prominent Iranian-Israeli journalist says Israeli intelligence sources have reported unusual activities by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps forces in Lebanon.

Speaking to VOA Persian’s special program about President Donald Trump’s decision on the Iran nuclear deal, Menashe Amir said his intelligence sources detected the IRGC activities in Lebanon on Tuesday. Amir, who is based near Jerusalem, said the nature of those activities was not specified but he believed they could involve IRGC forces bringing Iranian missiles closer to Israel’s borders in preparation for an attack.

In the past few days, Israeli officials increasingly have warned of a potential Iranian strike in retaliation for recent Israeli military action in Syria aimed at curbing Iranian efforts to establish military bases there.

Amir said Israeli media were reporting increased activity by Israeli military aircraft in northern Israel on Tuesday. He said Israel may take military action against Iranian missile sites in the region to preempt any Iranian strikes. Iran has vowed to avenge recent attacks on its forces and their allies in Syria, without detailing the timing or nature of its response. Israel has acknowledged intervening militarily in the years-long Syrian civil war, but rarely has claimed credit for specific attacks.

Iran has long supported and supplied Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, which has an influential role in the Lebanese government and whose forces rival those of the Lebanese military. But the extent of Iran’s deployment of its own IRGC forces in Lebanon is not clear. STRATFOR, a U.S. publisher of intelligence analysis, reported in 2010 that there were about 4,000 IRGC troops in Lebanon at the time, deployed among five different bases. Amir said Iran and Hezbollah also have used Lebanese territory to train militiamen from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Iran has long supported and supplied Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, which has an influential role in the Lebanese government and whose forces rival those of the Lebanese military.
Iran Military Activity in Lebanon, VOA

The revelation of unusual Iranian military activity in Lebanon coincided with Trump’s announcement of his decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement on Tuesday. Under the deal, his predecessor Barack Obama and leaders of five other world powers suspended sanctions against Tehran in return for Iran accepting restrictions on its nuclear program to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.

In another interview on the VOA Persian special program, Paris-based Iranian opposition figure Reza Pirzadeh called the U.S. withdrawal a “big defeat” for Iran’s ruling Islamist clerics.

“Our job is not to let the Islamic Republic’s defeat turn into a defeat for the Iranian people, but rather into an opportunity for them to realize the freedom they deserve and save all of us from the evil of the regime,” he said.

Pirzadeh is a member of the Iran National Council for Free Elections, a dissident group founded by U.S.-based Iranian crown prince Reza Pahlavi.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in a televised statement following Trump’s announcement, said Iran will consult with European powers, Russia and China in the next few weeks to determine if it is in Iranian interests to remain in the 2015 nuclear deal. He also vowed that the U.S. will not succeed in hurting the Iranian economy by re-imposing nuclear-related sanctions.

But the U.S. pullout from the deal has put European powers in a tough spot in their economic ties with Iran, according to prominent Iranian journalist Alireza Nourizadeh.

Speaking to the VOA Persian show from London, Nourizadeh highlighted the case of Austria’s seventh-biggest bank Oberbank, which had signed a deal with Iranian officials last September to finance Austrian projects in Iran.

Austrian media reported in late March and early April that Oberbank put the deal on hold ahead of a possible decision by Trump to quit the nuclear deal and re-impose sanctions. The deal would have made Oberbank one of the first European banks to do business with Iran since the 2015 deal took effect.

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 Leaders of the three EU signatories to the deal, Britain, France and Germany, promised to keep abiding by the Iran nuclear deal despite the U.S. withdrawal.

In separate remarks on the VOA Persian program from Los Angeles, senior advisor to the Iranian American Jewish Federation Sam Kermanian said the European powers and the previous Obama administration had expected that the deal would dissuade Iran from pursuing regional domination.

“They hoped Iran would use the deal’s economic benefits to help the Iranian people and save them from pressure and misery. Unfortunately, this did not happen,” Kermanian said. (VOA)

 

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Iranian Hackers Wage Offensive Cyberattacks Amid Tensions with US

Iran has increased its offensive cyberattacks against the U.S. government and critical infrastructure

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Iranian, Hackers, Cyberattacks
FILE - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the nation from Tehran, Aug. 6, 2018. Iran has increased its offensive cyberattacks against the U.S. government and critical infrastructure as tensions have grown between the two nations, experts say. VOA

Iran has increased its offensive cyberattacks against the U.S. government and critical infrastructure as tensions have grown between the two nations, cybersecurity firms say.

In recent weeks, hackers believed to be working for the Iranian government have targeted U.S. government agencies, as well as sectors of the economy, including oil and gas, sending waves of spear-phishing emails, according to representatives of cybersecurity companies CrowdStrike and FireEye, which regularly track such activity.

It was not known if any of the hackers managed to gain access to the targeted networks with the emails, which typically mimic legitimate emails but contain malicious software.

U.S. sanctions

Iranian, Hackers, Cyberattacks
FILE – Security firm FireEye’s logo is seen outside the company’s offices in Milpitas, Calif. VOA

The cyber offensive is the latest chapter in U.S.-Iran cyber operations battle, with this recent sharp increase in attacks occurring after the Trump administration imposed sanctions on the Iranian petrochemical sector this month.

Tensions have escalated since the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran last year and began a policy of “maximum pressure.” Iran has since been hit by multiple rounds of sanctions. Tensions spiked this past week after Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. drone,  an incident that nearly led to a U.S. military strike against Iran on Thursday evening.

“Both sides are desperate to know what the other side is thinking,” said John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis at FireEye. “You can absolutely expect the regime to be leveraging every tool they have available to reduce the uncertainty about what’s going to happen next, about what the U.S.’s next move will be.”

CrowdStrike shared images of the spear-phishing emails with AP.

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One such email that was confirmed by FireEye appeared to come from the Executive Office of the President and seemed to be trying to recruit people for an economic adviser position. Another email was more generic and appeared to include details on updating Microsoft Outlook’s global address book.

The Iranian actor involved in the cyberattack, dubbed “Refined Kitten” by CrowdStrike, has for years targeted the U.S. energy and defense sectors, as well as allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, said Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at CrowdStrike.

The National Security Agency would not discuss Iranian cyber actions specifically but said in a statement to AP on Friday that “there have been serious issues with malicious Iranian cyber actions in the past.”

“In these times of heightened tensions, it is appropriate for everyone to be alert to signs of Iranian aggression in cyberspace and ensure appropriate defenses are in place,” the NSA said.

Iranian, Hackers, Cyberattacks
FILE – In 2010, the Stuxnet virus disrupted operation of centrifuges at a uranium enrichment facility in Iran. VOA

Fuel sectors, infrastructure

Iran has long targeted the U.S. oil and gas sectors and other critical infrastructure, but those efforts dropped significantly after the nuclear agreement was signed. Cyber experts said that after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in May 2018, they saw an increase in Iranian hacking efforts.

“This is not a remote war [anymore],” said Sergio Caltagirone, vice president of threat intelligence at Dragos Inc. “This is one where Iranians could ‘bring the war home’ to the United States.”

Caltagirone said as nations increase their abilities to engage offensively in cyberspace, the ability of the United States to pick a fight internationally and have that fight stay out of the United States physically is increasingly reduced.

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The U.S. has had a contentious cyber history with Iran.

In 2010, the so-called Stuxnet virus disrupted the operation of thousands of centrifuges at a uranium enrichment facility in Iran. Iran accused the U.S. and Israel of trying to undermine its nuclear program through covert operations.

Iran has also shown a willingness to conduct destructive campaigns. Iranian hackers in 2012 launched an attack against state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco, releasing a virus that erased data on 30,000 computers and left an image of a burning American flag on screens.

Banks, dam

In 2016, the U.S. indicted Iranian hackers for a series of punishing cyberattacks on U.S. banks and a small dam outside New York City.

U.S. Cyber Command refused to comment on the latest Iranian activity. “As a matter of policy and for operational security, we do not discuss cyberspace operations, intelligence or planning,” Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb said in a statement. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Despite the apparent cyber campaign, experts say the Iranians would not necessarily immediately exploit any access they gain into computer systems and may seek to maintain future capabilities should their relationship with the U.S. further deteriorate.

“It’s important to remember that cyber is not some magic offensive nuke you can fly over and drop one day,” said Oren Falkowitz, a former National Security Agency analyst. It takes years of planning, he said, but as tensions increase, “cyber impact is going to be one of the tools they use and one of the hardest things to defend against.” (VOA)