Israeli team spotted in Gaza was installing advanced surveillance system, says Hamas

IDF Gaza Strip HamasAn undercover Israeli team that clashed with Hamas in Gaza on November 11 —an incident that brought the region to the brink of war— was installing an advanced surveillance system, according to Palestinian sources. Local media reports said that the Israeli undercover team —believed to be members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)— killed seven members of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas’ armed wing. The IDF troops eventually escaped into Israel with the help of air support, having lost one team member. The incident was followed by a barrage of nearly 500 rockets and mortars fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The Israelis responded by firing more than 160 missiles that fell throughout the Palestinian enclave. Hostilities were halted on November 13, when Hamas declared a unilateral ceasefire brokered by Egypt. The incident prompted the resignation of Israel’s Defense Minister, Avigdor Liberman, and may bring about early parliamentary elections in the Jewish state.

In the ensuing political crisis, little has been said about the reason for the Israeli undercover incursion into Gaza. The IDF has refused to comment on the team’s mission, admitting only that its troops “operated […] in the Gaza Strip”. It is believed that the members of the undercover team were dressed in civilian clothes and that at least two of them were disguised as women. After entering Gaza in a civilian Volkswagen vehicle, they drove to Khan Yunis, a city in the south of the Strip, near the Egyptian border. It was there that they were discovered by the al-Qassam Brigades, who stopped them at a checkpoint, asking for identification. The Israeli team killed at least one Palestinian at the checkpoint by shooting him with a silenced gun. Following a high-speed car chase, they left via helicopter after their pursuers were killed by Israeli tank and aircraft fire. Their abandoned Volkswagen car was then blown up by an Israeli fighter jet.

Speaking on Saturday at a media conference held in Gaza City, and aired live on the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas’ Gaza City Deputy Chief Khalil al-Hayya claimed that the Israeli undercover incursion was significant. Had it been successful, said al-Hayya, the IDF would have “achieved a major security breakthrough” by installing a new, state-of-the-art surveillance system. Had it been able to “install the surveillance equipment”, the undercover team would have given Israel the ability “to kill, hack and abduct”, and it would have “possibly made it easy for [Israel] to discover tunnels and other” activities pursued by Hamas, according to the Palestinian side. Video footage aired by Al-Aqsa TV on Sunday showed what the television station said was remnants of “surveillance devices” left behind by the IDF undercover team. Al-Hayya finished his statement on Saturday with a warning, saying that “penetrating the security of the Gaza Strip will not be an easy task”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 19 November 2018 | Permalink

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Television program about the Mossad prompts controversy, strong denials in Israel

Tamir PardoIsraeli officials have denied reports that the head of the country’s internal security service was asked by the prime minister to spy on the director of the Mossad intelligence agency and the head of the military. The denials were prompted by allegations that will be made in full on Thursday, when the latest installment of the investigative news program Uvda (Fact) will be aired on Israel’s Channel 12 television channel. According to the program, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested that the personal phones of senior Israeli security officials, including those of the heads of the Mossad and the military, be wiretapped for security reasons.

The investigative news program reported on May 31 that the “unprecedented” request has its roots in a “major secret program” that was launched by the Israeli government in 2012. The program required a major transformation of the country’s intelligence budget, staffing and resources. Although numerous individuals from nearly every facet of the Israeli intelligence community had been briefed on the project, the Israeli prime minister was concerned about leaks to the media. He therefore kept his cabinet in the dark about the program, and did not consult with the Knesset, or even the members of the Knesset’s Subcommittee on Intelligence and Secret Services, which is required by law to be kept fully informed about Israeli intelligence operations.

Uvda further alleges that in 2013 Netanyahu convened an extraordinary meeting of senior officials, which included the participation of the attorney general, the head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic security service) and others. It was during that meeting, according to Uvda, when Netanyahu allegedly approached Yora Cohen, the then-director of the Shin Bet, and asked him to “monitor the partners of the secret project”. When asked what he meant, Netanyahu allegedly said that the directors of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Mossad should have their telephones monitored for possible unauthorized leaks to the media. Two names mentioned during that meeting, according to Uvda: Tamir Pardo, head of the Mossad, and Benny Gantz, the IDF’s chief of staff. Both men were new at their posts. Eventually, however, when Cohen took Netanyahu’s request to senior officials at the Ministry of Defense, “they were shocked and rejected it”, Uvda reports.

On Sunday, Cohen took the unusual step of issuing a denial of Uvda’s allegations, calling “reports in the media” about the prime minister having instructed him to “specifically wiretap Gantz and Pardo […] untrue”. The Office of the Prime Minister also denied the Uvda report, describing it in a statement as “utterly baseless”. The statement went on to say that Uvda’s allegations represented “a total distortion of systemic efforts that are made from time to time to safeguard sensitive information related to Israel’s security”. Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu directly criticized comments made by Pardo on the same program, which the Israeli leader saw as damaging to the reputation of the Mossad. Pardo told Uvda that “the fun part” about working for the Mossad was that the agency is “basically a crime syndicate with a license”. Netanyahu took exception to those comments on Sunday, saying that “the Mossad is not a criminal organization. It is a superb organization that does sacred work in the fight against terrorism and other threats to the state of Israel. We all salute it”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 June 2018 | Permalink

Israeli military says Hamas lured its soldiers using online profiles of women

Cellular telephoneThe Israel Defense Forces told a press conference on Wednesday that hackers belonging to the Palestinian militant group Hamas lured Israeli soldiers by posing as young women online. Wednesday’s press conference was led by an IDF spokesman who requested to remain anonymous, as is often the case with the Israeli military. He told reporters that the hackers used carefully crafted online profiles of real Israeli women, whose personal details and photographs were expropriated from their publicly available social media profiles. The hackers then made contact with members of the IDF and struck conversations with them that in many cases became intimate over time. At various times in the process, the hackers would send the Israeli soldiers photographs of the women, which were copied from the women’s online public profiles.

The anonymous IDF spokesman said that, if the soldiers continued to show interest, they were eventually asked by the hackers posing as women to download an application on their mobile telephones that would allow them to converse using video. Once the soldiers downloaded the application, the ‘women’ would find excuses to delay using the application, or the relationships would abruptly end. But the soldiers would leave the application on their telephones. It would then be used by the Hamas hackers to take control of the camera and microphones on the soldiers’ mobile devices. According to the IDF spokesman, dozens of Israeli soldiers were lured by the Hamas scam. No precise number was given.

Media reports suggest that the Hamas hackers were primarily interested in finding out information about IDF maneuvers around the Gaza Strip, the narrow plot of densely inhabited territory that is controlled by the Palestinian militant group. They were also interested in collecting information about the size and weaponry of the Israeli forces around Gaza. Media representatives were told on Wednesday that the operation “had potential for great damage”. But the IDF claims that the harm to its operations was “minimal”, because it primarily targeted low-ranking soldiers. Consequently, according to the Israeli military, the hackers were not able to acquire highly sensitive information.

In 2009, dozens of members of Sweden’s armed forces serving with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan were found to have been approached via Facebook, and asked to provide details on NATO’s military presence in the country. The Afghan Taliban are believed to have carried out the operation.

Hamas has not commented on the allegations by the IDF.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 January 2017 | Permalink

NSA director made secret visit to Israel last week

Michael RogersThe head of the United States’ largest intelligence agency secretly visited Israel last week, reportedly in order to explore forging closer ties between American and Israeli cyber intelligence experts. Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz said on Sunday that Admiral Michael Rogers, who directs the United States National Security Agency (NSA), was secretly in Israel last week. The NSA is America’s signals intelligence (SIGINT) agency, which is responsible for electronic collection, as well as protecting US government information and communication systems from foreign penetration and sabotage.

According to Ha’aretz, Rogers was hosted in Israel by the leadership of the Israel Defense Forces’ SIGINT unit, which is known as Intelligence Corps Unit 8200. The secretive group, which is seen as Israel’s equivalent to the NSA, is tasked with collecting SIGINT from Middle Eastern locations and protecting Israel’s electronic information infrastructure from adversaries. According to the Israeli newspaper, Rogers’ visit was aimed at exploring ways in which the NSA and Unit 8200 can enhance their cooperation, especially against regional Middle Eastern powers like Iran or non-state groups like Hezbollah.

IntelNews readers will recall that the IDF’s Unit 8200 is viewed by some Middle East observers as the creator of the Stuxnet virus. Stuxnet is a sophisticated malware that is believed to have been designed as an electronic weapon against Iran’s nuclear program. Among these observers is New York Times correspondent David Sanger; in his 2012 book, Confront and Conceal, Sanger claimed that Stuxnet was designed by NSA and Unit 8200 programmers as part of a joint offensive cyber operation codenamed OLYMPIC GAMES. According to Sanger, the two agencies collaborated very closely between 2008 and 2011 in order to bring about Stuxnet and other carefully engineered malware, including Flame.

Ha’aretz said that Rogers’ visit was meant to solidify US and Israeli cooperation on offensive cyber operations, based on the legacy of Stuxnet and Flame. During his visit to Israel, the US intelligence official also met with the heads of other Israeli intelligence agencies, said Ha’aretz.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 28 March 2016 | Permalink

Israeli military warns its soldiers against recruitment attempts by the CIA

Israel IDFIsrael’s military intelligence agency has issued a warning to all soldiers in the Israeli armed forces to resist attempts by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to recruit them. The existence of the highly unusual warning was revealed on Sunday by Chanel 2, one of Israel’s most popular television stations. According to the report, the communique was sent to every member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) by the Military Intelligence Directorate (MID). It cautioned Israeli troops to “be alert and report any unusual incidents” involving American intelligence personnel. The warning made specific reference to the CIA, saying it might be trying to recruit Israeli soldiers as informants.

The communique references a real-life case that is believed to have taken place three years ago, involving several Israeli citizens who had served in the MID. According to media reports, the Israelis, who were traveling to the US, were stopped during passport control and questioned at length by American officials. The latter, who were presumed to be CIA personnel, were alleged to have tried to persuade the Israelis to provide information about their military duties and knowledge of Israeli military affairs. But the Israelis reportedly refused to cooperate with the Americans and reported the incidents to their superiors in the Israeli military.

It is not unusual for the MID to issue warnings regarding soldiers’ use of online social media, or on topics such as confidentiality and discretion when using non-encrypted telephone networks. However, such warnings are typically only communicated to MID personnel and never mention foreign intelligence agencies by name, opting for generic language instead. It is highly unusual for such warnings to identify foreign intelligence agencies, and allied ones at that. The recent move has thus prompted intense speculation in Israel that the MID may have reacted to actual attempts by the CIA to recruit IDF personnel.

An Israeli military spokesperson told Channel 2 that the MID had indeed sent soldiers a written warning about possible recruitment attempts by the CIA. But the representative refused to discuss why the CIA was mentioned in the letter, or why the warning was issued last week.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 November 2015 | Permalink

Hezbollah likely behind malware that attacked Israeli servers

Malware program codeBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A report by a major Israeli computer security firm claims that “a Lebanese entity”, possibly Hezbollah, was behind a cyberespionage operation that targeted companies connected to the Israeli military. In late March, Israeli computer security experts announced they had uncovered an extensive cyberespionage operation that targeted computers in Israel, and to a lesser extent in the United States, Britain, Turkey and Canada. The cyberespionage operation, dubbed VOLATILE CEDAR by Israeli computer security experts, was allegedly launched in 2012. It employed a sophisticated malicious software, also known as malware, codenamed EXPLOSIVE. One Israeli security expert, Yaniv Balmas, said the malware was not particularly sophisticated, but it was advanced enough to perform its mission undetected for over three years.

It is worth noting that, during the period of operation, the EXPLOSIVE malware kept surreptitiously updating itself with at least four different versions, which periodically supplemented the original malware code. Additionally, once the discovery of the malware was publicized in the media, security experts recorded several incoming messages sent to the installed malware asking it to self-destruct. These clues point to a level of programming and operational sophistication that exceeds those usually found in criminal cyberattacks.

According to Israeli computer security firm CheckPoint, there is little doubt that the source of the malware was in Lebanon, while a number of programming clues point to Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah as “a major player” in the operation. In a report published this week, CheckPoint reveals that most of the Israeli targets infected with the malware belong to data-storage and communications firms that provide services to the Israel Defense Forces. According to one expert in the firm, the malware designers took great care to avoid “a frontal attack on the IDF network”, preferring instead to target private entities that are connected to the Israeli military. More specifically, the web shells used to control compromised servers after successful penetration attempts were of Iranian origin. Additionally, the initial command and control servers that handled EXPLOSIVE appear to belong to a Lebanese company.

The head of CheckPoint’s security and vulnerability research unit, Shahar Tal, told Ha’aretz newspaper: “We are not experts on international relations and do not pretend to analyze the geopolitical situation in Lebanon”. But these attacks originated from there, and were specifically designed to infiltrate “systems that are connected to the IDF”, he added.

Israeli ex-military, intelligence leaders, join forces against Netanyahu

Sunday's press conference in IsraelBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Nearly 200 former senior officials in Israel’s intelligence and security services called a public press conference on Sunday and denounced the foreign policy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader, who has been in office since 2009, has spoken out repeatedly against attempts by the United States and other Western countries to improve relations with Iran. As his critics held the press conference, the Israeli prime minister was leaving Tel Aviv for a controversial trip to the US, where he is scheduled to speak before a joint session of Congress. He was invited by senior Republicans in Washington, who, like Netanyahu, are sharply critical of US President Barack Obama’s policy on Iran. Netanyahu is also expected to address the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is widely considered the most powerful arm of the pro-Israel lobby in the US. But President Obama has refused to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister, whose trip to DC is seen as an attempt by the Republican Party to subvert the US leader’s foreign-policy agenda on Iran.

On Sunday, notable figures from Israel’s military and intelligence establishment gathered at a press conference to deliver sharp criticism against Netanyahu’s controversial trip to Washington and to blast the Israeli leader for allegedly injuring the Jewish state’s relationship with America. Among the numerous speakers at the press conference was the decorated veteran of Israel’s 1973 war, Major General Amnon Reshef. He appealed to Netanyahu to scarp his trip to the US and stop criticizing the Obama Administration “before it is too late”. The rift between Washington and Tel Aviv “cannot be accepted”, said Reshef, as it poses “clear and present dangers to the very security of Israel”.

Another speaker at the event, former deputy director of the Mossad, Major General Amiram Levin, told reporters that it was not easy for him to criticize Netanyahu, who had served under him in the Israel Defense Forces. But the Israeli prime minister’s actions left him with no choice, he said. Instead of working with President Obama to resolve the dispute with Iran, Netanyahu had chosen to “go there and stick his thumb in his eye”, said Levin. Such actions, aside from offending Obama, damage Israel’s image in the US among Americans. The latter, even when they are friends of Israel, said Levin, “are Americans first and foremost”. The former Mossad official concluded by saying that, without the strong support of Washington, Israel would be “far weaker strategically” and would allow Iran to get closer to building a nuclear arsenal.

A spokesman for the Likud party, which backs Prime Minister Netanyahu, dismissed the press conference as “a propaganda vehicle of the left”, whose campaign “is funded with millions of American dollars originating from left-wing circles abroad”.