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Israeli PM urges cyber deterrence

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

"Our policy is that if you mess with Israel – you’ll pay a price" said Bennett.

PM Bennett at TAU’s Cyber Week, today. Photo credit: Coming up, Cyber Week
PM Bennett at TAU’s Cyber Week, today. Photo credit: Coming up, Cyber Week

“Just like there’s nuclear deterrence, there’s going to be cyber deterrence. My approach with our enemies, especially Iran, is [that] we don’t go around just wreaking havoc in Tehran, that’s never been our policy. Our policy is, though, that if you mess with Israel – you’ll pay a price,” said Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, during the Cyber Week conference held at Tel Aviv University (TAU).

Reports on the covert cyber war between Israel and Iran have greatly intensified over the past months. Both countries have been reporting dozens of attacks on various targets – to varying degrees of success. And while Israel has been careful not to disclose any specific information, and maintains its well-known policy of ambiguity – it has not shied away from sending poignant messages.

“I don’t want to say that everything’s fine, but we’re doing pretty well on the defensive side and, of course, on the military dimensions of defending ourselves,” said PM Bennett regarding Israel’s cyber capabilities.

Yesterday (Monday), a major Iranian steel production company announced that it had to halt production after being hit by a cyberattack. State-owned Khuzestan Steel Co. said that its factory had to stop working until further notice “due to technical problems” following the attacks and its website was also disabled.

Two other steel plants, the Moborakeh Steel Company and the Hormozgan Steel Company, were also targeted. Together, the three companies monopolize state steel production. According to the AP, Iran is the leading producer of steel in the Middle East and among the top ten in the world, and is considered a crucial sector.

Khuzestan’s CEO, Amin Ebrahimi, claimed that the company managed to thwart the attack and prevent damage that would impact supply chains. He told the Iranian Mehr news agency that he expected everything to return to normal by the end of the day.

While Iranian officials have yet to assign blame, a relatively unknown group which calls itself Gonjeshke Darande claimed to be the ones behind the attack.

Taking to Twitter and Telegram, the group posted a video which allegedly shows how they took control of the machinery inside one of the plants, as well as multiple photos. “These companies are subject to international sanctions but continue their operations,” they wrote. “These cyberattacks, being carried out carefully to protect innocent individuals, are in response to the aggression of the Islamic Republic.”

The group had previously claimed responsibility for the cyberattack that disabled Iranian petrol stations in October 2021. Whether it is linked in any way to Israel has not been confirmed, or even officially addressed.

Back in Tel Aviv, Bennett commented on the changing landscape of war. “Today, you can get stuff done hitting your enemy through cyber, which in the past would require 50 or 100 covertly sent commando soldiers behind enemy lines. Now you can get a bunch of smart folks sitting on a keyboard who achieve the same effect.”

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