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Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post hacked on second anniversary of Soleimani assassination

Pro-Iranian cybercriminals attack Israeli newspaper's website amid nuclear talks in Vienna and commemorations of Quds Force general's death
Qasem Soleimani

PHOTO/AP  -   Former Iranian Major General and former commander of the Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani

The Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post was hacked early Monday morning by a group of pro-Iranian cybercriminals. Instead of the newspaper's front page, the hackers placed an image of the Negev Nuclear Research Centre, a plutonium development facility located near the Israeli city of Dimona, accompanied by a text reading "we are close to you, where you don't think" written in English and Hebrew.

Access to the newspaper's content was disabled at around 2 a.m., at which point the hackers replaced the usual layout of articles with the aforementioned illustration, which featured a rocket hitting the nuclear infrastructure from a red ring in a fist. In addition, the Twitter accounts of The Jerusalem Post and the Maariv newspaper also fell prey to the attack.

This is a new offensive against the Israeli daily following the one in May 2020, when a group of cybercriminals linked to the ayatollahs' regime replaced the website's homepage with an illustration of Tel Aviv in flames as Benjamin Netanyahu, at the time head of government, fled in a lifeboat. The Jerusalemite newspaper was not the only one to be attacked at the time; others would be affected by the same action.

Central nuclear israelí de Dimona
AFP/THOMAS COEX  -  Dimona Nuclear Power Plant in Israel's southern Negev Desert

The perpetrators of this new hack have not yet been identified and no organisation has claimed responsibility for the attack. However, the main suspect is Iran, whose activity in cyberspace has been profuse in recent months, spearheading several attacks against Israeli and US computer systems. In this regard, The Jerusalem Post argues that 'it is unclear whether the hackers came from Iran, Iranian supporters outside the country or were state-sponsored'.

Theories explaining the cyber-attack diverge. It comes on the second anniversary of the assassination of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani by a US drone at Baghdad airport. The operation, which Israel acknowledged taking part in last December, shocked the Islamic Republic. It was a shock from which the Islamic Republic is still trying to recover.

On the one hand, the main theory is that the threatened attack is a response to Iranian retaliation for the death of Soleimani on a date marked in red on the calendar. A key figure in the Iranian state structure, the commander of the elite forces had effectively directed Iran's external action, which was based on relations with like-minded militias such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. His death, facilitated by Israeli intelligence provided to the US, was a setback for Tehran.

Acuerdo nuclear Viena
Delegación de la UE en Viena vía REUTERS  -  European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Foreign Ministry Deputy Abbas Araghchi at the start of a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna

On the other hand, the hacking of the newspaper is said to be part of a large-scale intelligence operation aimed at influencing the negotiations for the resumption of the nuclear deal in Vienna. This is the version of the president of the Toka cyber-intelligence company and former IDF cyber chief, Brigadier General Yaron Rosen, as quoted by The Jerusalem Post. According to Rosen himself, the cyberattack is simply intended to undermine the morale of the Israeli public.

"Any part of the media in Israel, whether it's the press, the internet or television, is part of the media megaphone that speaks to the Israeli public... and we are in the middle of nuclear discussions," he added. Both versions are compatible, although for the Toka co-founder it was only a "very superficial" attack.

Baghdad demonstrations

Thousands of Iraqis marched through the streets of Baghdad on Monday on the second anniversary of the death of Soleimani, a well-known figure in the country. However, the marchers also remembered Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was the number two of the coalition formed by various Iraqi militia groups backed by Iran, known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces. A key organisation in the defence of Iranian interests in neighbouring Iraq.

Protestas Irak
AFP/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE  -  Members of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force chant anti-US slogans during a protest against the assassinations of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Karrada, central Baghdad

Al-Muhandis lost his life along with Soleimani in the US attack carried out on 3 January 2020, while both were at Baghdad International Airport. A risky action, promoted during the Trump Administration without the connivance of Iraq, which raised tensions in the Middle East to the maximum and which would later push the Iraqi Parliament to demand the withdrawal of international troops from the country, which took place in December.

During Monday's rally in memory of the two figures, the Iraqi authorities intercepted at least two fighter planes that were flying over the area around the capital's airport. The wreckage of the aircraft reportedly fell near a US military base and were carrying explosives, according to the Alsumaria network. These events, coupled with recent statements by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi demanding the prosecution of Trump and Pompeo for Soleimani's murder, have deepened the antagonism between Washington and Tehran and made it difficult to revive the nuclear agreement.