As the sun rose on July 7, 2020, it became increasingly clear that key strategic sites and industrial facilities in the Islamic Republic of Iran are being targeted by offensive cyber weapons. Although a state actor has yet to claim responsibly, The Intelligence Ledger assesses with a high degree of probability that the Israeli government is behind this unexpected and extremely effective campaign.
The first signs of digital conflict between arch-rivals Iran and Israel emerged in the wake of a failed cyberattack against rural Israeli water facilities. In response to perceived aggression by the government in Tehran, Israel initiated a highly effective cyberattack against the Port of Shahid Rajaee. On May 9, all traffic at the facility ground to a halt as computers that managed vessel, vehicle, and storage flow crashed, leaving the port’s human handlers scrambling. As Shahid Rajaee is responsible for nearly 47% of Iran's sea imports, the shutdown dealt Tehran a hard, albeit temporary, blow.
For several weeks following the port attack, the two sides verbally jousted on media networks across the globe. Despite this, analysts expressed hope that a negotiated solution could be reached, or the old status quo would be accepted once again. It now appears as though such hopes were misplaced.
On June 26, a massive explosion rocked a military installation near Iran's Khojir missile facility. State media outlets were usually tightlipped about the incident, tipping off The Intelligence Ledger that something or somewhere important had been damaged or destroyed. Satellite imagery that emerged the following morning confirmed the hypothesis, showing that a liquid and solid-propellant production facility had been badly damaged by the explosion. Iranian officials claimed that the explosion was the result of a leak where gas tanks had been housed.
Less than four days later, on June 30, Sina Athar Medical Center in Tehran exploded, resulting in the deaths of 19 civilians. In the aftermath of the incident, dozens of firefighters were injured while attempting to rescue the injured or while battling blazes. During a press conference with state media agencies, Tehran Fire Department spokesman Jalal Maleki declared that the explosion was the result of a gas leak in the clinic’s basement. Surprisingly for some, and unsurprisingly for others, a gas leak had also caused the explosion in nearby Khojir.
On July 7, Natanz Nuclear Facility found itself the next victim of an unexplained accident. A massive fire broke out in a storage laboratory for advanced centrifuges, destroying an unknown amount of the devices. These centrifuges are key to the development of enriched uranium. Iranian officials have been tightlipped about the fire, citing security concerns.
Interestingly, this facility happens to be the same one that was crippled by the US developed computer virus Stuxnet several years ago.
On July 3, a major fire engulfed parts of Iran's fifth largest city: Shiraz. Although the exact cause behind the fire is unknown, it is hard to believe that a major fire took place amidst other incidents across the country and was unrelated.
Finally, on July 7, reports emerged of an explosion at the Iranian automotive manufacturer SAIPA's Tehran production plant. SAIPA has close connections to the Iranian Ministry of Defense and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and thus would be a logical target of an opponent of Iran.
Considering the Israeli governments advanced cyber capabilities, the events of the past week could have easily been caused by a well-coordinated cyber offensive. Known as the digital center of the world, the small-nation state has developed incredibly sophisticated tools dedicated to offensive digital warfare. The Israeli government has multiple organizations, such as the IDF's Unit 8200, constantly working to improve Israeli cyber security and degrade hostile systems.
Iran and Israel have been adversaries since the end of the First Gulf War. The grey zone conflict that has emerged between the two nations has touched nearly every part of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. The reasons for this conflict includes Iranian support for anti-Israeli organizations, Iran’s nuclear program, and Israel's relationships with Arab nation-states.
The Intelligence Ledger will continue to monitor the situation and report on developments as they occur.