U.S. Had Cyberattack Plan If Iran Nuclear Dispute Led to Conflict - David E. Sanger and Mark Mazzetti (New York Time)
In the early years of the Obama administration, the U.S. developed an elaborate plan for a cyberattack on Iran in case the diplomatic effort to limit its nuclear program failed and led to a military conflict, according to interviews with military and intelligence officials involved in the effort.
The plan, code-named Nitro Zeus, was devised to disable Iran's air defenses, communications systems and crucial parts of its power grid.
At its height, the planning for Nitro Zeus involved thousands of American military and intelligence personnel, spending tens of millions of dollars and placing electronic implants in Iranian computer networks to "prepare the battlefield."
American intelligence agencies also developed a separate, far more narrowly focused cyberplan to disable the Fordo nuclear enrichment site built deep inside a mountain near Qum.
It was intended as a follow-up to "Olympic Games," the code name of a cyberattack by the U.S. and Israel that destroyed 1,000 centrifuges and temporarily disrupted production at the Natanz enrichment site.
The development of the two secret programs demonstrates the critical role cyberoperations now play in both military planning and covert intelligence operations.
Palestinian Education Ministry Holds Memorial for Student Stabber (MEMRI)
On Feb. 14, the Hebron Education and Culture Administration, part of the Palestinian Education Ministry, held a memorial ceremony for Kalzar Al-'Awiwi, 18, a student at the Widad Nasser Al-Din Secondary School, who was killed the previous day after she stabbed a soldier near the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
The administration posted an obituary for her on its Facebook page, referring to her as a "martyr."
The memorial was attended by members of the school board and staff, and the entire student body.
The PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida covered the event, and photos of it were published by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
Lebanese Man Arrested in Panama over Laundering Money for Hizbullah (Ya Libnan-Lebanon)
Panama arrested a Lebanese man for laundering money for Hizbullah, Asharq al-Awsat reported Tuesday.
He was arrested at a Panama airport en route to Colombia with $500,000.
In a related development French authorities detained four Lebanese nationals late last month based on an arrest warrant issued by the U.S., accusing them of providing financial services to Hizbullah.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration accuses Hizbullah of using millions of dollars in cocaine sales in the U.S. and Europe to purchase weapons in Syria.
The U.S., which designates Hizbullah as a terrorist organization, has sanctioned more than 100 individuals and entities associated with the group.
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- Iran Looks to Spend $8 Billion on Russian Arms
Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan is on a two-day visit to Moscow to sign an $8 billion arms contract to buy Russian military hardware, Kommersant reported on Tuesday. "Iran would like to buy Russia's latest S-400 Triumph anti-aircraft missile system," a source said. Another important topic of the talks is Tehran's possible procurement, or even licensed production, of the new Russian Sukhoi Su-30SM multi-role fighter.
Iran is also interested in Russia's Bastion mobile coastal defense missile system, equipped with supersonic Yakhont anti-ship missiles, along with Mi-8/17 helicopters and other arms. (RT-Russia)
- IS Faces Budget Crunch, Cutting Perks and Trimming Salaries - Lori Hinnant, Zeina Karam and Susannah George
Faced with a cash shortage, Islamic State has slashed salaries across the region, asked Raqqa residents to pay utility bills in black market American dollars, and is now releasing detainees for a price of $500 a person. In Raqqa, the group's stronghold in Syria, salaries have been halved since December, electricity is rationed, and prices for basics are spiraling out of reach.
In Iraq, the Iraqi government in September cut off salaries to government workers within IS-controlled territory. Islamic State had taxed the salaries at 20-50%. In the Iraqi city of Fallujah, fighters who once made $400 a month aren't being paid at all and their food rations have been cut to two meals a day, according to a resident. (AP)
- Jerusalem's Ancient Damascus Gate at the Heart of a Modern Wave of Violence - William Booth and Ruth Eglash
On Tuesday, a watchful Israeli sniper was perched in one of the Damascus Gate's stone turrets, as Israeli border police milled about the entrance, warily eyeing the passersby.
The tourists and pilgrims still come, but for locals, Damascus Gate is now a hot zone to be avoided. In the past five months, Damascus Gate has served as the backdrop for at least 14 Palestinian attacks against Israelis. The gate seen today was built by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1537 on top of an earlier entry into the walled city that the Romans erected in Emperor Hadrian's time.
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Merkel: Now's Not the Time for Major Progress on Palestinian State - Raphael Ahren
"Now is certainly not the time to make really comprehensive progress" toward the creation of a Palestinian state, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin Tuesday at a joint press conference with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, "but you can achieve improvements in certain places."
"The European Union, and Germany as a member state, is very concerned about seeing things realistically," Merkel said. "We know the threat of terrorism that Israel has to endure."
Netanyahu rejected a French initiative for a regional conference to discuss the stalled peace process, arguing that bilateral negotiations to peace are the only path to Palestinian statehood. Netanyahu said he found the French proposal "bizarre." He added, "The State of Israel has to be treated fairly. We are not the root cause of the problems of the Middle East. We are an important part of the solution....Israel is Western civilization's iron wall in the heart of the Middle East."
(Times of Israel)
See also Merkel: Germany Won't Normalize Ties with Iran Unless It Recognizes Israel - Raphael Ahren
While Germany and Iran were now in contact with each other, "there cannot exist normal, friendly relations with Iran as long as Iran doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday. "In all conversations [with Iranian counterparts], my ministers, and I myself...have made this clear." (Times of Israel)
See also Text: Netanyahu-Merkel Joint Statement (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
- Palestinian Forces Foil Bombing near Jenin - Elior Levy
Palestinian security forces caught two teenagers with pipe bombs and knives on the Palestinian side of the Jalame checkpoint in Jenin on Tuesday moments before they were to enter Israel, Palestinian sources said.
- U.S. Ambassador to UN Hears Tales of Rocket Fire from Israeli Mothers - Tovah Lazaroff
Visiting U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power met on Tuesday with Israeli mothers at Kibbutz Nahal Oz on the Gaza border, which suffered 265 rocket and mortar hits during the 2014 war, one of which killed Daniel Tregerman, age four. (Jerusalem Post)
- Iran "Foreign Legion" Leads Battle in Syria's North - Sam Dagher
As part of Iran's de facto foreign legion,
Hizbullah, along with Iran's Revolutionary Guards and thousands of Iran-funded and trained Shiite fighters from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere, are leading the current ground assault in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Iran's projection of power in northern Syria is the strongest signal that it intends, both directly and via its Shiite proxies, to bolster its reach and influence throughout the region.
Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite groups in Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the core of the Iran-led forces in Syria include several thousand Iranian fighters, up to 8,000 from Hizbullah, an estimated 6,000 Iraqis and about 3,500 Afghans.
These foreign forces have largely been on the front lines of battles in Aleppo in terms of storming and capturing areas held by rebels, while reconstituted units of the Syrian army as well as local Syrian militias trained by Hizbullah and Iran have played a critical support role. (Wall Street Journal)
- What Hizbullah Stands to Gain from Iran's Nuclear Deal - Ali Rizk
"Hizbullah is more than just an ally for Iran," said a Hizbullah official in the movement's stronghold of Dahiyeh in southern Beirut. The relationship is similar to "that between father and son." Hizbullah's importance as an ally for Iran in the region has become quite clear. The group has played a pivotal role in preserving Assad in Syria and has sent military personnel to Iraq to fight against Islamic State terrorists.
The regional bloc that might be forming between Saudi Arabia and Israel against Iran could further boost Hizbullah's status.
With Iran's Arab state allies, such as Iraq and Syria, worn out by ongoing conflict, Hizbullah could be poised to take up an even greater role to counter a Saudi/Israeli-led anti-Iranian bloc. (Al-Monitor)
- The U.S. Record on Prosecuting Palestinian Killers of Americans - Stephen M. Flatow
64 American citizens have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Israel since the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords, yet the U.S. has not prosecuted even one of the killers.
The Justice Department's Office for Victims of Overseas Terrorism (OVT) was established in 2005 after years of protests over the failure of the U.S. to take action against Palestinian Arab killers of Americans. A total of 138 U.S. citizens have been murdered, and 193 wounded, since the 1960s.
The OVT is required to help bring about the prosecution of the terrorists. But according to testimony at a Feb. 2 hearing at the national security subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, the OVT has not brought about a single prosecution for attacks in Israel or the Palestinian Authority areas. The record of the OVT is "an affront to the victims of terror," according to a statement submitted to the committee by Sherri Mandell, mother of 13-year-old Koby Mandell, who was murdered by terrorists near Tekoa in 2003. The writer, an attorney, is the father of Alisa Flatow who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in 1995.
(Times of Israel)
Talks on U.S. Defense Aid Continuing as Usual - Zalman Shoval (Israel Hayom)
- Talks between American and Israeli security officials on the next U.S. defense aid package for Israel are continuing as usual.
- While three months ago, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he would not increase the defense budget, he has recently changed his position and agreed to increase defense spending by billions. Washington officials said this turnaround was the result of the geopolitical and strategic changes that have taken place.
- A significant number of items in the U.S.'s current and projected defense inventory are also on Israel's defense wish list. The defense package being formulated debates the numbers and types of system made available to Israel.
- As one who has been party to numerous successful negotiations with two American administrations, in four Israeli governments, I can attest that these issues have risen in the past. But the U.S. commitment to Israel's defense and security has never been questioned, nor is it questioned now.
- Israel must contend with a post-Iran deal reality, the turmoil in Syria and Iraq, and regional instability affected by Islamic State, Hizbullah and Hamas.
- Israel believes the situation mandates increased American defense aid that would allow Israel to acquire advanced attack aircraft, missile defense systems, cyber equipment and technology, and - according to foreign media reports - advanced countermeasures to fight the tunnel threat, as well as the means to counter threats posed by Iran's aggressive regional policies and the loopholes in its deal with the West.
The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S.
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