Stealth aggression: US attacked Iran with cyberweapons, including after Saudi oil refinery airstrike – reports

The US has conducted several cyberwarfare operations against Iran in recent months, including one in retaliation for the September 14 attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, according to Reuters sources.

The latest cyber-strike was conducted by the Pentagon sometime in late September and affected physical hardware, two sources told the news agency. The target is related to what the sources described as Tehran’s ability to spread “propaganda.” The operation was said to be smaller in scale than previous ones that took place during several months of US-Iranian brinkmanship.

Washington has a long record of using its cyber-offensive capabilities against Iran. The most famous example was Operation Olympic Games, which involved infecting industrial controllers at an Iranian uranium enrichment plant with a virus designed to damage centrifuges in ostensibly natural malfunctions. The campaign was conducted under the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and was stopped after the virus, called Stuxnet, got out of control and spread across the internet, where it was identified by cybersecurity experts.

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The latest cyberoperation was meant as retaliation for the September 14 drone and missile attack on a Saudi Arabian oil facility which the US and its allies blamed on Tehran. Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have been fighting against a Saudi-led military incursion into their country since 2015, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The escalation of tensions between the US and Iran started last year when President Donald Trump broke an international agreement signed by his predecessor and launched a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. Trump re-imposed economic sanctions which had been lifted in exchange for Iran’s agreement to restrict its nuclear industry, and targeted Iranian oil exports, threatening buyers of Iranian crude with secondary sanctions.

Washington’s public response to the September 14 airstrikes was to deploy additional troops and weapons to the region – the latest in a series of similar moves this year.

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U.S. to send troops to Saudi Arabia, as Rouhani arrives at United Nations with peace plan

United Nations, September 24 (RHC)-- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says he will present a regional security plan dubbed the “Hormuz Peace Endeavor” during the United Nations General Assembly this week, as he called on foreign powers to leave the Persian Gulf amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Earlier, the Trump administration said it would deploy military forces to Saudi Arabia, as well as impose new sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and other financial institutions.  The announcements from the Pentagon were in response to the drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities, which the U.S. has blamed on Iran.  Iran has denied any involvement in the attack, which was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi movement.

In more news about Iran, a government spokesperson said that the British-flagged Stena Impero oil tanker, which was seized in the Strait of Hormuz in July, had been released.

Edited by Ed Newman
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Thanks, close friends! Pompeo hails European allies for pinning blame on Tehran for Saudi oil attacks

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heaped praise on America’s “close friends” – the UK, France, and Germany – after they toed the line and blamed Iran for the attacks on Saudi oil facilities – without providing any hard evidence.

Pompeo took to Twitter to thank the US allies in Europe for “their clear articulation of Iran’s sole responsibility” for what he called “the act of war against Saudi Arabia,” after the UK, France, and Germany, albeit belatedly, followed Washington’s lead and pinned the September 14 attacks on Saudi oil facilities on Tehran.

Pompeo, however, did not present any evidence to back his accusations. The incident and the subsequent blame game have resulted in soaring tensions in the region, with Tehran denying it was behind the attacks that briefly cut state oil giant Saudi Aramco’s daily output in half.

Earlier on Monday, the leaders of the three European powerhouses issued a joint statement, saying that there is “no other plausible explanation” than Iran being behind the attacks.

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Riyadh also sided with Washington, claiming that the weapons allegedly used by the rebels originated from Iran, and arguing that this proves Tehran’s key role in the assault.

Washington has used the attacks as a pretext for a massive military build-up at Iran’s doorstep, sending an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer armed with surface-to-air and Tomahawk cruise missiles to Saudi Arabia’s shores, and vowing to speed up the delivery of weapons and to send more troops to the Gulf to fend off “Iranian aggression.”

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As tensions flared up, Tehran said it would fight back until “the full destruction of any aggressor,” promising to shoot down any drones violating the nation’s airspace.

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Sanctions-sapping US Treasury is ‘nothing more than a jail warden,’ says Iranian FM Zarif

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has compared the US Treasury to a prison guard who throws inmates into solitary confinement for seeking sanction waivers. Washington, meanwhile, promised continued “maximum pressure.”

Zarif lashed out at the US Treasury a day after the department blacklisted several Iranian oil shipping companies. He slammed the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control as “nothing more than a JAIL WARDEN.”

“Ask for reprieve (waiver), get thrown in solitary for the audacity. Ask again and you might end up in the gallows,” Zarif wrote.

“The only way to mitigate US #EconomicTerrorism (sanctions) is to decide to finally free yourself from the hangman’s noose.”

The minister was likely referring to a potential US sanctions waiver for France, which previously suggested providing $15 billion in credit lines to Iran. Officials in Tehran said this would have sufficed as sanctions relief, prompting Iran to revert back to complying with the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA.

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Washington, however, rejected the prospect of a waiver, with its special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, promising “more sanctions.”

We can’t make it any more clear that we are committed to this campaign of maximum pressure and we are not looking to grant any exceptions or waivers.

The US insists that the sweeping sanctions are necessary to pressure Tehran into scrapping its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs, as well as ending its support for militant groups abroad. Iran, which denies any wrongdoing, says the sanctions are unjustified and violate international law. 

In the past several months, Iran has been urging the EU to provide some sort of relief from US sanctions. The Islamic Republic made this a condition for its return to full compliance with the JCPOA, which the US unilaterally abandoned last year. Previous assessments by the nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), found that Iran had not violated any of its commitments by the time Washington left the agreement.

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‘Playing part in anti-Tehran policy?’ UK marines seize ship with alleged Iranian crude for Syria

Iran has summoned the British ambassador after the seizure of a supertanker that was allegedly carrying crude to fuel-starved Syria in defiance of EU sanctions. It comes as the US is trying to stifle Iranian oil trade to zero.

The MT Grace 1, a 300,000-ton Very Large Crude Carrier, was detained in a raid conducted by the British Royal Navy Marines and Gibraltar law enforcement on Thursday morning. The government of Gibraltar, a British overseas territory located on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, said the ship was detained for allegedly violating EU sanctions on Syria.

The Panama-flagged vessel owned by a Singaporean company was en route to deliver its cargo to the Banyas refinery in Syria, Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said. “That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria,” the official explained. The EU imposed sanctions on the Syrian government in 2011, but this appears to be the first time a shipment of crude allegedly violating them was detained by a European authority.

Detention of Super Tanker ‘The Grace 1'...

Spain’s caretaker Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said the British targeted the tanker on a request from the US. He added that Spain, which considers the waters off Gibraltar as its own, was assessing the implications of the operation.

Iran has reportedly acknowledged ownership of the cargo. Its foreign ministry summoned the British ambassador in Tehran to protest the “unlawful seizure of the Iranian tanker,” according to the IRNA news agency.

According to Reuters, the MT Grace 1 has been used by Iran in the past to ship crude to Singapore and China in defiance of unilateral sanctions imposed against Iran by the US. The current trip allegedly started in Iran’s port of Bandar Assalyeh, thought the papers state that the crude was loaded in the Iraqi port of Basra.

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In seizing the tanker under the pretext of sanctions on Syria, the EU seems to be at least partially siding with Washington, which is trying to cripple the Iranian economy through harsh economic sanctions. The pressure campaign was escalated after the US broke its commitment under the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

“Maybe the EU was trying to show that it was siding with the Americans, playing its part in anti-Iranian policy? We know that the Trump administration has been critical of the European countries,” Ali Rizk, a Middle East-based journalist and writer, told RT.

“And it’s likely a demonstration against Syria. It all helps an ongoing plan of parting Syria with its allies.”

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The seizure also comes amid an escalation in the Gulf of Oman, where several tankers have been damaged in two separate incidents. Washington accused Iran of attacking the tankers, presumably to show it can interrupt the flow of Arab crude through the crucial waterway. Iran denied the accusation and said the attacks were likely false-flag operations meant to justify an increased US military presence in the region.

Syria has been experiencing fuel shortages for years amid devastating armed conflict within the country. A large part of its oil fields in the northeastern part of the country are currently controlled by the US-backed Kurdish militias.

 

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Nations become ‘more united when bullied,’ Trump should understand – Iranian top official

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani responded to Donald Trump’s threats on Monday following Tehran’s announcement that its stockpiles of enriched uranium have exceeded the limits set out in the 2015 nuclear deal.

The US threats would have the opposite effect on Iranian nation, the head of Iran’s parliament said during a live broadcast on state television on Tuesday:

Mr Trump should understand that when one uses bullying language against a civilised nation, they become more united.

Although Trump himself had unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 nuclear agreement, he warned Iran on Monday that its decision to exceed the terms of the agreement was “playing with fire.” He also reiterated that he had not forgiven Iran for the downing of US surveillance drone last month. Although he had not gone through with a counter-strike at the time, Trump stated that his clemency had given him license to “do far worse, if something should happen” in the future.

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Tehran had repeatedly said it would partially suspend its commitments if the European Union failed to take "practical and tangible steps" to help facilitate trade and protect the Iranian economy from US sanctions.

The deputy chairman of the Iranian parliament, Mahmoud Pezeshkian, expressed doubts it would be possible to negotiate with the US again after their withdraw from the agreement and provocative gestures in the Persian Gulf.

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China Will Continue To Import Iranian Oil, Says Official

Vienna: China said Friday it would continue to import Iranian oil in defiance of US sanctions on the country, a day before US and Chinese leaders are to meet to try to resolve thorny trade disputes.

"We reject the unilateral imposition of sanctions," said Fu Cong, Director General of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Department of Arms Control, on the sidelines of meeting in Vienna on the implementation of the 2015 agreement to limit Iran's nuclear programme.

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Inquiry into oil tanker attacks stops short of blaming Iran

UN security council hears unidentified state was behind explosions in Gulf last month

An unidentified state actor has been blamed for attacks on four oil tankers in the Gulf last month, according to an inconclusive inquiry that stopped short of explicitly pointing the finger at Iran.

The UAE along with Saudi Arabia and Norway presented the preliminary findings during a private briefing to members of the UN security council, which will also receive the final results of the inquiry and consider a possible response.

The US has accused Iran of almost certainly being behind the attacks on the four oil tankers off the Emirati coast, but the brief report, while providing evidence of the sophistication of the attack, goes nowhere near identifying the culprit.

The UAE may be waiting to see whether other intelligence agencies can provide evidence that Iran directed surrogate groups, or possibly Houthi rebels, to carry out the attack.

The four vessels – two Saudi-flagged, a Norwegian-flagged and an Emirati-flagged – were damaged by explosions in UAE territorial waters, off the port of Fujairah.

The UAE is convinced Iran was behind the attacks and that they were designed to send a clear message to the US and the Gulf states about its capacity to wreak havoc on oil shipping, including through the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran is battling the effects of US sanctions, including on its ability to export oil, the lifeblood of its economy.

The initial findings showed it was “highly likely” that four limpet mines, which are magnetically attached to a ship’s hull under the waterline, were used in the attacks. The report said they had been placed by trained divers deployed from fast boats. The mines were placed soon after the ships were anchored.

The UAE believes the attacks required high-level intelligence in order to identify the four oil tankers as targets, one of which – a Saudi ship – was at the opposite end of the anchorage area at Fujairah from the three other tankers.

The report also said that detailed knowledge of the ships’ designs was required to detonate the mines without sinking the tankers. The mines were sequenced to explode within an hour of each other.

Despite the ambiguous findings, Saudi Arabia continued to blame its arch-enemy, Iran. Tehran has denied involvement.

“We believe the responsibility for this attack lies on the shoulders of Iran,” Saudi Arabia’s UN ambassador, Abdallah al-Mouallimi, said after the briefing. Saudi Arabia maintains that the attacks affect the safety of international navigation and the security of world oil supplies, requiring a response from the security council.

Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Vladimir Safronkov, said after the closed-door briefing that no evidence had been presented linking Iran to the attacks. “We shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” Safronkov said. “This investigation will be continued.”

Tehran reacted coolly to the findings, saying the UAE was determined to blame it as part of an effort to escalate the situation and press the US into a war with Iran.

In an attempt to calm tensions the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is due to visit Tehran next week as a mediator between the US and Iran. The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, is also due to visit Tehran before Abe’s trip.

Germany remains a signatory to the nuclear deal signed in 2015 from which Donald Trump withdrew in May 2018.

Trump then pursued a policy of strong economic sanctions against Iran but he has dialled down his bellicose rhetoric in the last week, waiting to see if any of the mediators can find a basis for setting up direct talks between him and Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president. Iran will demand the lifting of economic sanctions as a precondition of talks.

On Friday Tehran again ruled out extending the nuclear deal to cover Iran’s ballistic missile programme, something the French president, Emmanuel Macron, suggested should be addressed this week.

France, Germany and the UK have stood by the nuclear deal but have largely failed to find a financial mechanism that protects European companies from the threat of US sanctions if they trade with Tehran. Iran’s oil exports have plummeted and there is a lively debate in Tehran on whether it is tenable to hold out against talks.

Iran is due to show reporters around its heavy water reactor in an attempt to show the implications of the measures it is taking to increase the level of enriched uranium. In response to the US economic pressure, Tehran says it is taking steps to extricate itself from the deal, with the next steps on uranium enrichment due in 30 days.

Germany and Japan are certain to urge Iran to hold back from taking any steps that could be interpreted as abandoning the deal.

Speaking at a conference in Bratislava, Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s foreign affairs minister, said the Iran nuclear deal had not delivered “a peaceful and normal Iran”.

He said: “We are faced with escalation in the region and bellicose rhetoric from Iran, which continues to foster and use sectarianism as a means to insert itself into the Arab world.”

The Iran deal, he said, “did not tackle this dangerous ballistic missile programme or Iran’s regional policies, which include interference in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and support for proxy forces including the terrorist group Hezbollah”.

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