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.

Also on rt.com Khamenei tells Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to create its own advanced and modern weapons...

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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Iran says oil tanker struck by rockets off Saudi Arabia

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Two missiles struck an Iranian tanker traveling through the Red Sea off the coast of Saudi Arabia on Friday, Iranian officials said, the latest incident in the region amid months of heightened tensions between Tehran and the U.S.

There was no word from Saudi Arabia on the reported attack and Saudi officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Oil prices spiked by 2% on the news.

"This latest incident, if confirmed to be an act of aggression, is highly likely to be part of the wider narrative of deteriorating relations between Saudi and the U.S. and Iran," private maritime security firm Dryad Maritime warned.

"It is likely that the region, have being stable for the last month, will face another period of increasing maritime threats, as the Iranian and Saudi geopolitical stand-off continues," it added.

Iranian state television said the explosion damaged two storerooms aboard the oil tanker and caused an oil leak into the Red Sea near the Saudi port city of Jiddah. The leak was later stopped, IRNA reported.

The state-run IRNA news agency, quoting Iran's National Iranian Tanker Co., identified the stricken vessel as the Sabiti. It turned on its tracking devices late Friday morning in the Red Sea, putting its location some 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of Jiddah, according to data from MarineTraffic.com. The ship is carrying some 1 million barrels of crude oil, according to an analysis from data firm Refinitiv.

Images released by Iran's Petroleum Ministry appeared to show no visible damage to the Sabiti visible from its bridge, though they did not show the ship's sides. Satellite images of the area showed no visible smoke.

The ministry's SHANA news agency said no ship nor any authority in the area responded to its distress messages.

The Sabiti last turned on its tracking devices in August near the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. Iranian tankers routinely turn off their trackers as U.S. sanctions target the sale of Iran's crude oil.

"The oil tanker ... sustained damages to the body when it was hit by missiles 60 miles (96 kilometers) from the Saudi port city of Jiddah," IRNA said.

The agency did not say whom Iranian officials suspect of launching the missiles.

An undated picture shows the Iranian-owned Sabiti oil tanker sailing in Red Sea. National Iranian Oil Tanker Company via WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY© Reuters An undated picture shows the Iranian-owned Sabiti oil tanker sailing in Red Sea. National Iranian Oil Tanker Company via WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi described the incident as an "attack" carried out by those committing "dangerous adventurism." In a statement, Mousavi said the Sabiti was struck twice in the span of a half hour and an investigation was underway.

Lt. Pete Pagano, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet overseeing the Mideast, said authorities there were "aware of reports of this incident," but declined to comment further.

Benchmark Brent crude oil rose over 2% in trading Friday to reach some $60.40 a barrel.

The reported attack comes after the U.S. has alleged that in past months Iran attacked oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, something denied by Tehran.

Friday's incident could push tensions between Iran and the U.S. even higher, more than a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear deal and imposed sanctions now crushing Iran's economy.

The mysterious attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, Iran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone and other incidents across the wider Middle East followed Trump's decision.

The latest assault saw Saudi Arabia's vital oil industry come under a drone-and-cruise-missile attack , halving the kingdom's output. The U.S. has blamed Iran for the attack, something denied by Tehran. Yemen's Houthi rebels, whom the kingdom is fighting in a yearslong war, claimed that assault, though analysts say the missiles used in the attack wouldn't have the range to reach the sites from Yemen.

Mousavi also said that Iranian tankers have been targeted by "damaging activities" over recent months in the Red Sea. He did not elaborate.

In May, an Iranian oil tanker carrying more than 1 million barrels of fuel oil suffered a reported malfunction in the same area as the Sabiti came under attack. The kingdom helped the Happiness 1 reach anchorage off Jiddah, where it was repaired and later left.

In its analysis Friday, Dryad Maritime said the incident involving the Happiness 1 bore "the hallmarks of a potential explosive incident."

Iran said in August another oil tanker, the Helm, faced a technical failure while passing through the Red Sea, without elaborating.

___

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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Iran Rejects US Accusations of Attack on Saudi Arabia

The accusation, in which no proof was presented, was rejected by Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif.

Iran's government dismissed Sunday the United States' claim that Tehran is behind the attacks on Saudi oil facilities, and as warmongering rhetoric escalates fears of an all-out Iran-U.S. conflict reignite in the region.

"Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Sunday, adding that “there is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

The accusation, in which no proof was presented, was rejected by Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif, who responded by saying Washington shifted from a failed campaign of “maximum pressure” to one of “maximum lying” and “deceit,” adding that Yemen’s situation won’t be solved by blaming Iran.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi also criticized Saudi Arabia for fueling the flames of war in the region by committing various war crimes in Yemen and hailed the country for putting up resistance in the face of the aggression.

As tensions increase, President Donald Trump warned that the U.S. believes it “knows” who was behind the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities and is “locked and loaded,” but waiting for verification and for a Saudi assessment of responsibility before deciding how to proceed.

While Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps issued a statement warning that although neither country wants a military conflict if it comes down to it, Iran is prepared for a "full-scale war". The commander of the IRGC aerospace arm Brigadier-General Amir Ali Hajizadeh noted Iran's missiles could hit U.S. bases and ships within a range of 2,000 km.

All this comes as Yemen’s Houthi forces Saturday attacked the state-run oil company Aramco’s Abqaiq plant, the world’s biggest petroleum processing facility, in a strike that cut more than half the Kingdom’s output or more than five percent of global oil supply.

A Saudi source told Reuters the damages inflicted on the oil facilities in the recent drone attacks are so massive that it is not clear when the country's oil output can return to normal.

As the world faces a possible production shortage of as much 150 million barrels per month, Trump authorized on Sunday the release of oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) if needed in a quantity to be determined. While oil prices surged more than 15 percent to their highest level in nearly four months at the open on Sunday.

Dubbed as the “Forgotten War,” the Yemeni civil war started on March 26, 2015, when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates led a coalition of countries in a military campaign against the Houthis in Yemen in support of the Saudi-backed government of Abd-Rabu Mansour Hadi.

The conflict has since turned into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran. A narrative rejected by the Houthis who say that they took power from the Saudi-backed government in order to end Saudi interference into the country's affairs.

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Oil prices spike after drone attack in Saudi Arabia

Global energy prices spiked on Monday after a weekend attack on key oil facilities in Saudi Arabia caused the worst disruption to world supplies on record, an assault for which President Donald Trump warned that the U.S. was “locked and loaded” to respond.

U.S. officials offered satellite images of the damage at the heart of the kingdom’s crucial Abqaiq oil processing plant and a key oil field, alleging the pattern of destruction suggested the attack on Saturday came from either Iraq or Iran — rather than Yemen, as claimed by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels there.

Iran for its part called the U.S. allegations “maximum lies.”

The Houthis on Monday warned of more attacks on Saudi oil facilities and urged foreign companies doing business in the kingdom to stay away from its energy sites. Yahia Sarie, a rebel spokesman, said facilities such as the Abqaiq oil processing plant and the oil field hit this weekend could again “be targeted at any time.”

In Vienna, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry condemned what he called “Iran’s attack on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” in an address to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s general conference.

“This behavior is unacceptable and they must be held responsible,” Perry said of Iran. “Make no mistake about it, this was a deliberate attack on the global economy and the global energy market.”

He added that “despite Iran’s malign efforts, we are very confident that the market is resilient and will respond” and said that Trump has authorized the release of strategic oil reserves should the U.S. need them.

But actions on any side could break into the open a twilight war that’s been raging just below the surface of the wider Persian Gulf in recent months.

Already, there have been mysterious attacks on oil tankers that America blames on Tehran, at least one suspected Israeli strike on Shiite forces in Iraq, and Iran has shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone.

Benchmark Brent crude gained nearly 20% in the first moments of trading Monday before settling down to over 8% higher as trading continued. A barrel of Brent traded up $5.33 to $65.55.

That spike represented the biggest percentage value jump in Brent crude since the lead up to the 1991 Gulf War that saw a U.S.-led coalition expel Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.

U.S. benchmark West Texas crude was up around 8%. U.S. gasoline and heating oil similarly were up over 8% and 7% respectively before markets opened in New York.

Saturday’s attack halted production of 5.7 million barrels of crude a day, more than half of Saudi Arabia’s global daily exports and more than 5% of the world’s daily crude oil production. Most of that output goes to Asia.

At 5.7 million barrels of crude oil a day, the Saudi disruption would be the greatest on record for world markets, according to figures from the Paris-based International Energy Agency. It just edges out the 5.6 million-barrels-a-day disruption around the time of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, according to the IEA.

Saudi Arabia has pledged that its stockpiles would keep global markets supplied as it rushes to repair damage at the Abqaiq facility and its Khurais oil field.

Trump said the U.S. had reason to believe it knows who was behind the attack — his secretary of state had blamed Iran the previous day. He assured his Twitter followers that “we are … locked and loaded” depending on verification and were waiting to hear from the Saudis as to who they believe was behind the attack and “under what terms we would proceed!”

The tweets followed a National Security Council meeting at the White House that included Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

A U.S. official said all options, including a military response, were on the table, but said no decisions had been made Sunday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal deliberations.

Trump’s “locked and loaded” comment mirrors similar remarks he made following Iran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone in June. However, the president said he pulled back from retaliating against Iran at the last minute.

U.S. officials also offered highly detailed satellite photos of the Saudi sites that show damage suggesting the attack came from the north, where Iran or Iraq are, rather than from Yemen to the south. Iraq’s prime minister has denied the attack came from his country, where Iranian-backed Shiite militias operate. Iraqi Premier Adel Abdel-Mahdi said he received a call Monday from Pompeo, without elaborating.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi on Sunday called U.S. allegations “blind and futile comments.”

“The Americans adopted the ‘maximum pressure’ policy against Iran, which, due to its failure, is leaning toward ‘maximum lies,'” Mousavi said.

On Monday, Mousavi dismissed as mere “speculation” media reports about a possible meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly later in September. The U.S. has said it will remain open for talks with Iran but Mousavi said a Trump-Rouhani meeting was not on the agenda.

The U.S. satellite photos appear to show the attack on Abqaiq may have struck the most-sensitive part of the facility, its stabilization area. The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies has said the area includes “storage tanks and processing and compressor trains — which greatly increases the likelihood of a strike successfully disrupting or destroying its operations.”

Stabilization means processing so-called sour crude oil into sweet crude. That allows it to be transported onto transshipment points on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, or to refineries for local production.

The attack “damaged five to seven spheroids and five out of ten stabilization towers,” said Fernando Ferreira, the director of geopolitical risk at the Washington-based Rapidan Energy Group.

Five “or so stabilization towers appear to be destroyed and will have to be rebuilt — this will take many months,” Ferreira said. “The sophisticated attack now seems likely to reduce Abqaiq’s 7 (million barrels of crude oil a day) capacity for an indefinite period” measured in months.

Saudi Aramco did not respond to questions from The Associated Press regarding damage at Abqaiq and the satellite images.

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Iran thanks Saudi Arabia for release of its oil tanker Happiness 1

Iran said on Sunday it appreciated Saudi Arabia's efforts in the the return of an Iranian ship that had docked at Jeddah port because of technical problems in May, the semi-official Fars news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.

"Iran appreciates efforts by the authorities of Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and Oman to secure the safe return of Iran's Happiness 1 oil tanker," Abbas Mousavi said.

Iranian media reported in early July that Saudi Arabia - Iran's regional rival - was not allowing the ship to leave Jeddah because of a dispute over the payment of repair costs.

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Republican, Democratic senators seek to block Trump Saudi arms sales

Backers said the introduction of the resolutions was intended to “protect and reaffirm Congress’ role of approving arms sales to foreign governments.”

The announcement followed furious rejection in Congress late last month of the Trump administration’s declaration that a growing threat from Iran was an emergency that forced it to sidestep lawmakers’ review of major arms deals and approve precision-guided munitions, aircraft engines, mortars and other equipment and services for Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan.

“We are taking this step today to show that we will not stand idly by and allow the President or the Secretary of State to further erode Congressional review and oversight of arm sales,” Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said.

The effort was led by Menendez, and Republican Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who is also a critic of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Members of Congress had been blocking sales of offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for months, angry about the huge civilian toll from their air campaign in Yemen, as well as rights abuses such as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

“While I understand that Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of (Saudi Crown Prince) Mohammed bin Salman cannot be ignored. Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia,” Graham said in a statement.

Graham said he expected “strong bipartisan support” for the resolutions.

Many lawmakers say that the powerful crown prince is ultimately responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and other rights abuses. The government in Riyadh denies that.

Two other Republican senators - Rand Paul and Todd Young - and three Democrats - Chris Murphy, Patrick Leahy and Jack Reed - also joined the announcement.

‘EMERGENCY’

Declaring the emergency, the Trump administration informed congressional committees on May 24 that it was going ahead with 22 military deals worth $8.1 billion, circumventing a long-standing precedent for lawmakers to review major weapons sales.

The decision angered members of both parties, who worried that Trump’s decision to blow through the “holds” process would eliminate Congress’ ability to prevent not just Trump but future presidents from selling weapons where they liked.

Announcing their plan to introduce the 22 resolutions, the senators said Trump’s “unprecedented” action is at odds with longstanding practice and cooperation between Congress and the executive branch.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that lawmakers were working on responses to the administration’s action and could file legislation within days. A separate set of legislative responses is being considered in the House of Representatives. [L2N23B1W6]

The Arms Export Control Act gives Congress the right to stop major weapons sales by passing a resolution of disapproval in both the Senate and House.

Opponents of the weapons sales said strong bipartisan support for such resolutions would send a forceful message to the administration - as well as defense contractors and the three countries - that Congress was unhappy about the process and could retaliate.

They also said it was possible, given the level of congressional anger over Trump’s use of the emergency declaration, that some of the resolutions would garner the two-thirds majorities in the Senate and House needed to override a Trump veto if necessary.

(The story corrects third country to Jordan from Lebanon in third paragraph.)

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Trump ‘salivates’ over prospect of nuclear deals with Saudis despite proliferation concerns – expert

Safeguards should be introduced to curb Saudi Arabia’s atomic energy plans, an expert on nuclear power issues told RT, noting that, while President Trump is ‘salivating’ over juicy trade deals, the world has been put in danger.

“[Saudis] already are developing certain behind-the-scenes capabilities. They are looking to expand their nuclear energy development,” Peter Kuznick, the Director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University said, stressing that observers are “frightened” at the thought that Riyadh is inching closer to potentially obtaining nukes.

If that happens in the Middle East this could really be a disaster.

“They have refused to sign the additional protocol that was put into place by the International Atomic Agency in the late 1990s to make sure or at least make it more difficult for countries to use their abilities in developing nuclear energy to actually make nuclear weapons,” he said.

Also on rt.com US senators press energy chief to reveal details of nuclear cooperation with Saudis...

Earlier in the week, Google Earth satellite images revealed that Saudi Arabia is nearing completion of its first nuclear reactor in King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Riyadh. But the Kingdom cannot be trusted with keeping its nuclear ambitions purely civilian, because Riyadh has been pointing a finger at Iran and has made it clear that it intends to match the alleged nuclear capabilities of its rival – even though the Islamic Republic’s peaceful civilian atomic program is closely supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

While President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the international nuclear deal with Iran – to the cheers of no one besides the Saudis and Israel – his closest aides have reportedly been helping the Saudis with their nuclear ambitions. Energy Secretary Rick Perry had confirmed issuing seven authorizations to US companies, that allow them to export “unclassified civil nuclear technology” to Saudi Arabia. The details, however, were kept under the public radar.

Also on rt.com Trump accused of seeking to sell US nuclear ‘secrets’ to Saudis… so why is this Russia’s fault?...

“The United States has facilitated this despite the fact that there is no bilateral pact between the US and the Saudis,” Kuznick noted.

The Trump administration is salivating over the prospect of these massive nuclear energy deals with Saudi Arabia... This is the regime that cannot even be trusted with a bone saw.

To prevent the Saudis from developing nuclear weapon capabilities, Kuznick proposed introducing international safeguards and monitoring. “Why not have the same safeguards in Saudi Arabia that we now have in Iran?” he suggested. “The same degree of inspection. The same degree of surveillance. The same degree of monitoring.”

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UN Official: Secret Khashoggi Trial Violates International Law

“The current proceedings contravene international human rights law according to which the right to a fair trial involves the right to a public hearing,” she stated.

The United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, has called out Saudi Arabia on holding secretive judicial hearings for the 11 suspects accused of the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

RELATED: MBS Approved 'Intervention' Against Dissidents Before Khashoggi Murder: Report

Callamard, who is leading the international inquiry regarding Khashoggi's death, said that unless the hearings are open to the public, they are in violation of international law.

“The current proceedings contravene international human rights law according to which the right to a fair trial involves the right to a public hearing,” the UN rapporteur stated.

In order for Saudi Arabia to address this lack of transparency, aside from opening the hearings to the public, Callamard has called for authorities to release the names of the suspects, as well as provide an update on the 10 individuals who were initially arrested for the crime. 

Both the UN human rights office and the International Bar Association have requested that the Saudi government grant them access to the court.

“The government of Saudi Arabia is grievously mistaken if it believes that these proceedings, as currently constituted, will satisfy the international community, either in terms of procedural fairness under international standards or in terms of the validity of their conclusions,” Callamard pointed out.

IN PICTURES | Protests against the Saudi murder of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi. https://t.co/wo8B15tkBq pic.twitter.com/J6YeyvUHGL— teleSUR English (@telesurenglish) October 21, 2018

The 11 suspects were indicted by the country's public prosecutor one month after Khashoggi was murdered. Five of the suspects could be given the death penalty if convicted for ordering or committing the crime. A former top aide to Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saul al-Qahtani, was linked to the crime and fired, but is not one of the 11 facing trial in Riyadh. 

The Crown Prince has also been implicated in the crime, with the CIA's and some Western countries' findings. Prince Mohammed vehemently denies the accusations.

The UN director at Human Rights Watch Louis Charbonneau says the Khashoggi murder trial should be opened to UN observers, activists and international media, adding that the criminal justice system in Saudi Arabia has "an abysmal record" of human rights violations, including detention without charge or trial and denial of representation. 

Khashoggi was killed on October 2, 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, while reportedly seeking necessary documents for his upcoming wedding.

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