Barak Ravid reported yesterday that the military escalation in the Persian Gulf announced by John Bolton (sending a carrier task force into the Strait of Hormuz) was a response to a Mossad intelligence report. UPDATE: It now appears that Bolton’s statement about deployment of the U.S. carrier itself was misleading as the task force was already steaming to the region on a regular rotation when he made the announcement.
The Mossad alerted the U.S. to an unspecified threat by Iran to attack our forces somewhere in the region. Ravid quotes an anonymous Israeli source claiming that Israel’s national security advisor met in Washington recently with his U.S. counterparts and offering the warning then. Neither Ravid nor any other journalist reporting this story has been able to pry out of their sources anything specific about the nature of the threat:
The intelligence about a possible Iranian plot is not very specific at this stage, but the [Israeli] officials said it was clear the threat was against a U.S. target in the Gulf or U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia or the UAE…
An Israeli official told me Mossad drew several scenarios for what the Iranians might be planning:
“It is still unclear to us what the Iranians are trying to do and how they are planning to do it, but it is clear to us that the Iranian temperature is on the rise as a result of the growing U.S. pressure campaign against them, and they are considering retaliating against U.S. interests in the Gulf.”
“Not very specific” and “unclear.” Those are the operative words. Any editor or reporter who’s willing to gin up war based on such vague claims coming from a U.S. administration whose very existence is based on lies and fraud should think twice.
UPDATE 1: CNN reports based on anonymous “U.S. officials” that the threat the Mossad notified the U.S. about, concerned Iran shipping “short-range ballistic missiles” by sea. The report does not say what type of missiles, where the ships were located, what their destination was. In short, this offers precious little more than we knew when I first published this post. Not to mention, that Israel has interdicted previous Iranian weapons shipments allegedly headed to Gaza, in the Red Sea. It has also attacked Sudanese arms depots supposedly used to store Iranian weapons headed for Gaza. Iran is also known to have supplied Houthi rebels in Yemen with missiles. So Iran’s use of sea-going vessels to ship weapons is not new. Other than the type of weapon shipped, there’s little newsworthy about this claim.
UPDATE 2: Betsy Woodruff adds yet another cautionary note to the reporting of this story. There are multiple U.S. official sources disagreeing with Bolton’s characterization of the Iranian threat. This Daily Beast report focuses on the threat to U.S. forces from attacks by Iraqi insurgents allied with Iran; while the CNN story says the threat involves missiles shipped by sea, most likely to Yemen.
Woodruff urges caution in evaluating the official version of this story:
…Multiple sources close to the situation told The Daily Beast that the administration blew it out of proportion, characterizing the threat as more significant than it actually was.
“It’s not that the administration is mischaracterizing the intelligence, so much as overreacting to it,” said one U.S. government official briefed on it.
Another source familiar with the situation agreed that the Trump administration’s response was an “overreaction” but didn’t dispute that a threat exists. Gen. Qasem Soleimani—the head of the Qods Force, Iran’s covert action arm—has told proxy forces in Iraq that a conflict with the U.S. will come soon, this source noted.
“I would characterize the current situation as shaping operations on both sides to tilt the field in preparation for a possible coming conflict,” continued the second source, who is also a U.S. government official. “The risk is a low-level proxy unit miscalculating and escalating things. We’re sending a message with this reaction to the intelligence, even though the threat might not be as imminent as portrayed.”
This passage is particularly salient:
The Daily Beast has not reviewed the intelligence itself, which is all but certain to be classified. That means that the characterization of the intel––both on the record and anonymously––is crucial. And in this case, there is not a consensus in intelligence and military circles on whether the administration’s interpretation, used to justify the deployment of an addition U.S. aircraft carrier and Air Force bomber task force to the Gulf, was accurate.
UPDATE 3: This CNN report fleshes out the theory that the alleged Iranian threat is centered around Iraq:
Pompeo made a surprise visit to Iran’s neighbor Iraq, where he accused Tehran of making military moves, including transporting short- and medium-range ballistic missiles aboard boats in the Persian Gulf, much of which falls within Iranian territorial waters or the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
Imagine if Russia or China viewed as a direct threat our shipping of U.S. weapons or missiles to our allies in our own hemisphere. What would we or anyone think of a country which threatened war with us over such activities? Remember the Monroe Doctrine? Historically, America gets very prickly when foreign countries try to interfere in our backyard or tell us how to proceed in our own hemisphere. So Pompeo has unmitigated gall to tell Iran it can’t support its closest allies in a country like Iraq which is, like Iran, majority Shia and right next door.
Remember that just like the Iraq WMD claims two decades ago, Israeli intelligence is often highly skewed toward confirming a pre-conceived policy objective. For example, when Israel wants to justify violating a Gaza ceasefire, it points to Hamas actions while ignoring Israeli provocations which preceded them.
There can be no doubt that the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia seek violent regime change in Iran. Their respective leaders have confirmed this repeatedly. It would be exceedingly easy to contrive intelligence data confirming Iran’s aggressive intentions in order to escalate pressure leading to such an attack. In 1967, Israel used the Egyptian closing of the Strait of Tiran as an excuse to preëmptively attack and destroy the Egyptian air force. That, in turn, sealed Israel’s victory in the ensuing war. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson used an alleged North Korean attack on a U.S. warship to commence a disastrous military escalation in the Vietnam War. Does anyone remember the false yellow-cake and Iraqi WMD claims? Hoaxes and faulty intelligence have brought the world no end of war and misery. Is this where we want to go once again?
Further, let’s remember just how dangerous this particular spot on the globe is; and how quickly a single match could cause it to go up in flames. In 1988, the USS Vincennes falsely identified a civilian Iranian aircraft as a warplane and launched missiles that destroyed it and killed 290 people. Does anyone doubt that John Bolton and the pro-war-riors would relish such a provocation and the opportunity it would offer for doing further mischief? How much might they be willing to connive in order to create such an excuse?
Unless Israel or the U.S. offer concrete evidence confirming the alleged Iranian plot, no journalist should offer any credibility to these claims. Anyone who does is aiding and abetting potential war against Iran.
Here’s an example of an irresponsible bit of journalistic malpractice from the Washington Post, The oil route that could be at the center of a U.S. warning of ‘unrelenting force’ against Iran. The problematic term in the headline is the word “could.” As in, if your mother married your brother, she could be your sister-in-law. In other words, there isn’t a single word in this article offering a shred of evidence that there is indeed any threat from Iran against U.S. forces. Instead, the article rehashes old reporting indicating how sensitive this waterway is. It repeats past threats by both sides to impede navigation and/or retaliate against any party which does so. None of this is new. Nor does the article link the alleged threat reported by the Mossad to this particular geographical location.
In other words, this is yet another piece of escalatory propaganda masquerading as serious analysis. In normal circumstances, one could write this off simply as journalistic excess. But in the current climate, in which any act or even article can serve to buttress hostile intent from one side or the other, this is downright malfeasance.
Gaza Ceasefire Declared
The latest flashpoint in Israel-Palestine relations is Gaza, where Israeli failure to honor previous ceasefire terms led to Hamas and Islamic Jihad retaliation. That included rocket fire and incendiary balloons launched into southern Israel. Israel had promised its Egyptian interlocutors as part of that agreement that it would significantly ease the Gaza siege, open border crossings, lift fishing restrictions, and permit hundreds of millions in Qatari humanitarian aid to enter the enclave. It failed to honor most of these provisions.
After 27 Palestinians, including a mother and her 14-month-old baby, died over the weekend (along with four Israelis), Israel has once again agreed to honor the same terms it previously ignored. Hamas, perhaps a bit wiser after being burned, has warned that the rocket fire will resume, possibly during next week’s Eurovision song contest, if Israel fails to ease the illegal siege.
Hamas has devised a new strategy of firing massive missile volleys simultaneously in order to overwhelm the Iron Dome anti-missile defense. The success of the approach can be seen in the number of projectiles which hit their targets inside Israel. Palestinian militants have shown a more advanced operational capability by closely synchronizing their launches. Though Israel may be able to recalibrate the system to anticipate such coördinated assaults, it failed to do so thus far. This indicates a tilting in the war of attrition between the two sides in Hamas’ favor.
Israel, as we’ve seen repeatedly in the past, only follows through on its pledges when forced to do so by either superior force or diplomatic blackmail. That’s likely the reason it has agreed to a new ceasefire. Not to mention, that Hamas’ new capability of reaching Tel Aviv with its rockets has put the Eurovision spectacle in jeopardy. Israeli tourist officials and event coordinators have already announced a major shortfall in ticket sales. The contest always sells out every year no matter where it is held. The decline in interest is directly attributable to threats concertgoers will face from Palestinians missiles.
False IDF Claims of Escalation of Cyber-War Doctrine
CLEARED FOR RELEASE: We thwarted an attempted Hamas cyber offensive against Israeli targets. Following our successful cyber defensive operation, we targeted a building where the Hamas cyber operatives work.
HamasCyberHQ.exe has been removed. pic.twitter.com/AhgKjiOqS7
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) May 5, 2019
Media outlets have joined in spreading misleading reports claiming Israel’s attack on the so-called Hamas cyber-war headquarters is the first ever retaliatory military attack directed against a cyber-attacker. The reports are based on dubious IDF claims that its bombing of the Gaza building supposedly housing the Hamas unit was in response to a specific attack the army’s cyber-operations unit thwarted (see tweet above).
Information I have learned specifically refutes this. There have been Hamas cyber attacks in the past against Israeli targets. Some successful and some unsuccessful. But there was no specific attack related to the Israeli assault. Instead, the IDF took advantage of the current hostilities to take out a target of convenience which suddenly became accessible to it. Now the military is seeking credit for an escalation in cyber-war doctrine, through a direct violent assault in retaliation for a cyber attack.
This Wired story offers an excellent, and measured account of the issues and their broader context in the history of cyber-warfare. Vice has is exhibiting the sort of skepticism that is warranted in this case:
…The reality is that this may not be an escalation in so-called “cyberwar” but just a continuation of aerial bombing campaigns. And it’s not the first time that hackers have been targeted by a major military power.
At the heart of the controversy is the lack of details about what actually happened. Who were these “cyber operatives” exactly? Why did they get designed as online combatants worthy of an airstrike? Did the strike just take out the building and whatever equipment was inside, or did it kill anyone?
The fact is—the IDF hasn’t provided much information about any of these questions. It hasn’t provided evidence that it was actually targeted by hackers, that those hackers were affiliated with Hamas, or that they were actually working out of the building shown on IDF’s Twitter. All we know is that the IDF blew up another building in Gaza, which it claimed posed an unspecified cyber threat to Israel.
…The IDF did not respond to specific questions sent via email. In response to a request for comment, the Consulate General of Israel in New York City referred to the original IDF tweet. Israeli officials did not provide many details to the press on Sunday either.
…Given what we know and what we don’t know right now, some say it’s too early to say this is really a precedent-setting strike and an escalation of how states respond to cyber operations.
“We don’t know how much of this is PR and states messaging to each other and how much of it is real,” Robert Lee, a former Cyber Warfare Operations Officer at the US Air Force,
This is a perfect example of the IDF pounding its chest in a simian display of threat and dominance. As this article notes, Hamas and the IDF have for years engaged in a social media battle. Most recently, Hamas scored a coup when it posted on Twitter the pictures of all the members of an IDF commando squad involved in a botched covert operation inside Gaza. The social media platforms later acceded to Israeli demands that the pictures be removed, an action which squarely placed them on the side of military censors, rather than on the side of free speech and free press. The above tweet is, at least in part, Israel’s riposte to Hamas.
My guess is that the attack and the IDF braggadocio about it are meant as a warning to both Hezbollah and Iran, who do have developed cyber-war capabilities that are targeting Israel in unspecified ways.