A terminal in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas was brought to a standstill 10 days ago. The attack, most likely conducted by Israel, is believed to be a retaliation as well as a warning for Tehran. It is part of an ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran that far exceeds conventional warfare at this stage.
‘Abrupt and Inexplicable Standstill’
According to a Washington Post report, Israel carried out the cyberattack on a recently completed Iranian port facility near Bandar Abbas. The attack occurred two weeks ago and caused an “abrupt and inexplicable standstill” at the busy Shahid Rajee terminal when Software problems prevented the proper handling of goods traffic – causing severe delay and loss of entire shipments. The city of Bandar Abbas is located in the south of Iran directly on the strategically important Strait of Hormuz, making its port one of the largest and most important hubs in the country. The attack was a severe blow to the Iranian economy, which was already shaken by international sanctions and the drop in oil prices and recent months.
Retaliation for April Attack on Israel
While Israel has not confirmed its role in the attack, former head of Israeli military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, tweeted that this was an Israeli response to an Iranian cyber-attack on Israel in April. This was an attack that targeted civilian water and sanitation in Israel. While, according to Israeli media reports, the Iranian attack had done little damage, it was still a paradigm shift because, for the first time in this digital conflict between the two countries, the attack was not aimed at the military, but civilian facilities. According to a Fox News report at the time, the Iranians used servers in America to attack the control systems of Israel’s water supply.
As a result of the attacks, the Israeli security cabinet subsequently met to discuss the case. At that time, Israeli officials were quoted as saying that the Iranian attack was seen as a severe escalation in the already non-existent and extremely volatile relationship between the two nations.
Iran’s Response to the Sabotage of Bandar Abbas
Tehran, meanwhile, did not admit the April attack but did confirm the cyber-attack on its port two weeks ago, while downplaying the impact the operation had on the port’s operations. The port director also stated that Israel only managed to penetrate and damage a number of the port’s private control systems. The Washington Post, however, quotes an anonymous source from a foreign government, who confirmed that significantly more damage than the Iranians would admit had been achieved by Israel.
The cyberwar between Israel and Iran has been taking place in various locations over the past several years. Israel is reportedly exposed to thousands of cyberattacks every day from many parts of the world. Most of them can be blocked successfully, however.
On the other hand, Tel Aviv is also a major actor in cyber warfare, which became known to the public in 2010 via the Stuxnet malware likely developed in cooperation with American intelligence. The latter was aimed to subvert Iranian nuclear facilities.
Israel is Ramping Up its Cyber Warfare Capabilities
According to a US government official during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit in Jerusalem last week, Israel has increased the speed of its cyber operations and goals in recent times as rogue actors continue their attempts to exploit Israeli weak spots in its cyberspace infrastructure.
Israel’s attack on Iran’s port is thus not only retaliation for Tehran’s previous and ongoing attacks but also warning and show of strength. It proves that Tel Aviv can do significant damage within Iran, even without utilizing conventional military technology or military forces. Most importantly, a red line has been established for the future: Iranian attacks and attacks by any other rogue nation on Israeli civilian facilities will come at a very high price.