Friday, March 14, 2008
Hezbollah and Cyber War
CNN has learned intelligence officials in Britain and the US believe Hezbollah sleeper cells could use their computer expertise to launch a cyber attack, on the orders of Iran. Hezbollah has been described as Iran’s surrogate army. For years US, Israeli and European security services have accused Iran of exporting terror around the world, using Hezbollah operatives. Now, cyber space may be the new battlefield, especially if Iran believes its nuclear program is under threat.
While Hezbollah’s capability in launching such an attack has been questioned, the US and Israeli military are taking the threat very seriously. In fact, the FBI says it now considers Hezbollah operatives more capable and robust than even Al Qaeda terrorists.
Hezbollah showed its increasing technological sophistication during its war with Israel in 2006. The moment Israel starting bombing Hezbollah targets in Beirut, the US government says it was being attacked on another battlefield in cyber space. A US Congressional research report detailed more than 10,000 breaches including the Pentagon, the House of Representatives website and NASA.
“There’s an argument out there shared by most independent specialists on Hezbollah that Hezbollah is actually better at using and understanding cyber warfare against the Israelis, than Israel is,” says Bilal Saab, a Middle East analyst with the Brookings Institution.
In 1994, 85 people were murdered and hundreds injured when a white van, packed with explosives was detonated at a Jewish cultural centre in Buenos Aires. Prosecutors in Argentina still believe the Iranian government gave Hezbollah agents the ‘kill’ order and wouldn’t hesitate to attack again.
“What I can say with certainty is that they can quickly launch a terrorist attack. Because they have the sleeper cells ready, they have the research ready, they have the agents.” says Marta Nercellas, an Argentine lawyer working with victims and their families. Iran and Hezbollah deny any involvement in the attack and Hezbollah declined to be interviewed for this report telling CNN, 'they don't answer these kinds of questions'.
While analysts believe conventional terror is still Hezbollah’s main weapon, some now are looking at the possibility that it could activate sleeper cells in order to open a second front in cyber space.
“The ambition is there, they would have a vested interest in retaliating and working with the Iranians,” says Saab.
For Iran, Hezbollah still serves as a potent threat and a warning that if and when the US, Israel or Europe try to block its nuclear ambitions, it is ready to fight back.
By Paula Newton, CNN’s International Security Correspondent.
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