Tehran’s ‘terror drone’ program is a growing international threat, says Iranian opposition

Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the NCRI's Washington office. (Screenshot/NCRI)
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Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the NCRI's Washington office. (Screenshot/NCRI)
Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the NCRI's Washington office. (Screenshot/NCRI)
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Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the NCRI's Washington office. (Screenshot/NCRI)
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Updated 07 October 2021

Tehran’s ‘terror drone’ program is a growing international threat, says Iranian opposition

Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the NCRI's Washington office. (Screenshot/NCRI)
  • It ‘has only one purpose and that is destabilizing the region and creating chaos,” warns National Council of Resistance of Iran’s deputy director
  • Calling for greater global pressure on the regime, he said ‘sanctions by themselves will not solve all of this problem but sanctions are a tool, making (Iran) pay the price’

CHICAGO: Iran’s aggressive and expanding unmanned aerial vehicles program is a growing threat not only to countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, but also the West, according to officials from the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the NCRI’s Washington office, said the program includes eight production and assembly sites across Iran that receive parts and materials from foreign countries.

During a briefing on Wednesday, attended by Arab News, he said UAVs, or drones, have been used to attack many Western targets in conflict zones such as Syria and Iraq, as well as targets in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

Tehran supplies the Houthi militia in Yemen with the drones that are the primary weapons used in its terror campaign against targets in Saudi Arabia, Jafarzadeh said. They are “assembled in Yemen” and many essential components come from sources outside of Iran, he added.

“The UAV program has only one purpose and that is destabilizing the region and creating chaos,” Jafarzadeh said. He added that eight industries in Iran are involved in “disguising” the production of the weaponized drones.

“The Iranian regime has really stepped up its efforts and money and resources to its UAV program, to destabilize the region. Billions of dollars have been spent on UAVs and missiles, and under (Iranian President Ebrahim) Raisi this program will gain more prominence. The question is, what is to be done?”

Jafarzadeh said that Iran’s multibillion-dollar UAV program, which he described as “the regime’s primary weapon for terrorism,” is directed by Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

He continued: “Iran is expanding its terror and destabilizing efforts in the region, and the oppression of people in Iran. We must hold Iran responsible and make them pay the price. … We need to see firmness, decisiveness and stepped-up pressure against the Iranian regime.”

Iran’s UAV program is a direct result of “counterproductive” negotiations with Western nations about the lifting sanctions, Jafarzadeh said, during which Tehran bolstered and expanded the program.

“Obviously, sanctions by themselves will not solve all of this problem,” he added. “But sanctions are a tool, making (Iran) pay the price.

“If the regime is allowed to carry out an extensive operation (like) that we showed today without any consequences, then they are encouraged and will do more. You want to hold the regime itself accountable.”

To support his arguments, Jafarzadeh presented detailed satellite images, graphs and charts he said reveal the complexity and “alarming new details” of Iran’s UAV terror program. The information was gathered inside Iran for the NCRI by opposition group the Mujahedin-e Khalq.

Over the past two decades, the NCRI has exposed dozens of what it says are key sites that form parts of Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, missile program and growing terrorism network in the region.


Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai

Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai
Updated 4 sec ago

Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai

Israel, UAE sign ‘green corridor’ agreement for vaccinated passengers — Israeli consulate in Dubai
  • Passengers vaccinated against the coronavirus can travel freely between the two countries
DUBAI: Israel and the United Arab Emirates have signed a “green corridor” agreement allowing passengers vaccinated against the novel coronavirus to travel freely between the two countries, the Israeli consulate in Dubai said on Twitter on Sunday.

Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week

Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week
Updated 31 min 49 sec ago

Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week

Israel set to OK 3,000 West Bank settler homes this week

TEL AVIV: Israel is expected to move forward with thousands of new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank this week, a settlement watchdog group said Sunday.
The plan for some 3,000 new settler units in the West Bank has already drawn calls for restraint from the US, which on Friday voiced “concern” over the expected approvals.
Hagit Ofran from the anti-settlement group Peace Now said a committee is set to meet Wednesday to approve 2,800 units deep in the West Bank, complicating any efforts to create a Palestinian state. More than half of those are receiving final approval, meaning construction could begin in the coming year.
On Friday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US was “concerned” about the housing plans. He called on Israel and the Palestinians to “refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tension and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution” to the conflict.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war — for their future state. The Palestinians view the settlements, which house some 700,000 settlers, as the main obstacle to peace. Most of the international community considers settlements illegal.
Israel views the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people.
Ofran said Israel is also set to approve 1,600 units for Palestinians in the areas of the West Bank that it controls. But critics say the move comes at the initiative of villagers and not the Israeli government and that the figure is a fraction of the building permits requested by Palestinians over the years.


Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch

Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch
Updated 40 min 34 sec ago

Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch

Under Israel’s blockade, Gaza fishermen struggle for a catch
  • High prices of fuel in the enclave means that fishing operating costs are crippling, making them stay closer inshore
  • The permitted fishing zone was expanded last month to 15 nautical miles

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Crashing through the Mediterranean waves at sunset, Palestinian fisherman Mohammed Al-Nahal leads a convoy of rickety boats out for another risky night under the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Forced to stay close to shore due to Israeli restrictions on powerful engines, the men complain they must seek a catch from overfished shallow waters with declining stocks.
“If we catch 200 kilos (450 pounds) of sardines, that would be great,” Nahal says. “But we can also come back empty-handed.”
High prices of fuel in the enclave means that fishing operating costs are crippling, making them stay closer inshore.
“The further we go, the more we pay for fuel without guarantees about the catch,” Nahal says, leading a line of five boats, the air heavy with the stench of diesel and sardines.
For Gaza, fenced in by Israel and Egypt, and where Hamas Islamists took power in 2007, the open sea seems to offer the promise of freedom — but it is deceptive.
Israel’s navy fully controls the waters off Gaza’s 40-kilometer (25-mile) long coastline, and regularly restricts or expands the size of the fishing zone in response to security conditions.
After months of relative calm following an 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in May, the permitted fishing zone was expanded last month to 15 nautical miles, its maximum under the blockade, including deep water with richer fish stocks.
But Nahal’s crew does not venture that far. Six miles is their outer limit, good for sardines, but too close to shore for the bigger value fish such as tuna.
“We fishermen do not have appropriate engines to reach a distance of 15 miles,” Nahal says. “Currently, we are not allowed to enter Gaza with these modern engines.”
Some Palestinian fishermen are also fearful of heading out too far to sea. In the past, Israeli gunboats have opened fire and damaged nets to enforce access restrictions.
Making a living requires resourcefulness, and Nahal has repurposed a Volvo car engine to power the boat and run the powerful lights — which the fishermen shine into the night waters to attract the sardines.
Due to the blockade’s import restrictions, Israel also limits access to other key equipment such as sonar devices to find fish shoals.
Israel restricts such items citing their “dual use,” saying they could either aid Hamas weapons production, or the powerful engines could be used by smugglers.
It says the blockade is necessary to protect Israeli civilians who have been targeted with thousands of rockets fired by militants in the enclave since the Hamas takeover.
But Yussef, 22, keeping watch on Nahal’s boat, complains that with all Gaza’s fishermen forced into the same small area, they struggle to catch enough to turn a profit.
“There’s not enough fish,” he says. “I’ve lived off of fishing since I was 14. Every day, when the water is open, I go out. It’s the only thing I know how to do in life.”
For Gaza, home to some two million Palestinians — roughly half of whom are unemployed — fish from the sea offer a critical source of protein.
But as well as overfishing, the industry faces multiple challenges.
They include poorly treated sewage pumped into the sea from the tightly packed city, “affecting the entire marine environment and public health,” according to a 2020 World Bank report.
“Many of the fish that people depend on are already overexploited,” the World Bank adds.
This time, for Nahal, there is moderate success.
After hours shining bright lights into the waters, the boats encircle the area and cast their nets.
“Here are the fish, catch them, for it is my fish that I love,” the men sing as the catch is hauled up.
Exhausted and back in port, the fishermen sell the catch in the busy port, where auctioneers shout prices to waiting wholesalers.
For Nahal, the half-ton sells within 90 seconds for 3,000 Israeli shekels ($935).
It is more than he had hoped for, but is barely a profitable night once his costs and crew’s wages are deducted.


Israeli official says reopening of US Palestinian mission in Jerusalem may not happen

Israeli official says reopening of US Palestinian mission in Jerusalem may not happen
Updated 24 October 2021

Israeli official says reopening of US Palestinian mission in Jerusalem may not happen

Israeli official says reopening of US Palestinian mission in Jerusalem may not happen
  • The Jerusalem consulate was subsumed into the US Embassy that was moved to the contested city from Tel Aviv in 2018

JERUSALEM: Israel’s deputy foreign minister said on Sunday that the Biden administration may shelve its plan to reopen a US diplomatic mission for Palestinians in Jerusalem after Israel voiced opposition to such a move.
The Jerusalem consulate was subsumed into the US Embassy that was moved to the contested city from Tel Aviv in 2018 by the administration of former President Donald Trump — a reversal of US policy hailed by Israel and condemned by Palestinians.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this month reiterated Washington’s plan to reopen the consulate as part of efforts to repair Palestinian ties. He did not give timelines.
“I believe that I have good reason to think this will not happen,” Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll told Israel’s Ynet TV.
“The Americans understand the political complexity,” Roll said. “We have very good relations ... We don’t believe in surprising them. I don’t think they will try to surprise us.”
US Embassy spokespeople could not immediately be reached for comment
Israel deems all Jerusalem its undivided capital and says it would not consent to reopening the consulate. The Palestinians want the city’s east for their own future, hoped-for state.
Reopening the consulate could weaken nationalist Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and undermine his fragile cross-partisan government, Israeli officials have argued.


Middle East faced wave of cybersecurity threats since start of pandemic

Middle East faced wave of cybersecurity threats since start of pandemic
Updated 24 October 2021

Middle East faced wave of cybersecurity threats since start of pandemic

Middle East faced wave of cybersecurity threats since start of pandemic
  • The researchers issued 49 threat intelligence reports due to investigations associated with cyberattacks on the UAE
  • In the VMWare report, a survey of 252 Saudis showed 84 percent of them said that cyberattacks had increased due to working from home

RIYADH: Since the start of the pandemic, a wave of advanced threat campaigns targeting the Middle East have been discovered by Kaspersky, a global cybersecurity firm.

An APT is an attack campaign in which intruders establish an illicit, long-term presence on a network to mine highly sensitive data. The targets, which are carefully chosen and researched, typically include large enterprises or government networks.

The region has always been a hotbed for such attacks due to geopolitical factors.

Kaspersky researchers, keeping a close eye on the region for APTs, worked on 68 investigative reports related to 29 cyber gangs actively targeting the Middle East since the start of the pandemic.

The researchers issued 49 threat intelligence reports due to investigations associated with cyberattacks on the UAE, which endured the highest number of reports for all Middle Eastern countries.

The second highest was Saudi Arabia with 39 reports, followed by Egypt with 30. Kuwait and Oman had 21 each, while Jordan had 20. Iraq, Qatar and Bahrain had fewer than 20 reports each.

APT attacks primarily targeted government agencies, followed by diplomatic institutions, the education sector, and telecommunication institutions. Other targeted sectors included finance, IT, healthcare, legal, military, and defense.

Some of the APT groups investigated were Oilrig, WIRTE, Lazarus, and Sofacy.

Fatemah Alharbi, a cybersecurity expert and assistant professor at Taibah University, told Arab News: “PowerShell-based malware are utilized by advanced cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructures in Saudi Arabia.”

She said these cybercriminals were sending phishing emails that contained malicious Microsoft Office files impersonating legitimate entities.

To pass the firewall and the email protection techniques, she explained, these rigged files were protected by passwords and compressed as zip files.

“This approach facilitates the mission of these cybercriminals to take full control of the file system and to compromise every single file there. This means they would be able to control the operating system, applications, and data. Assuming the attack is detected, an in-depth analysis and investigation on the file system is highly recommended as a quick response to recover the system and stop the attack.”

Referring to a report by Bitdefender, a cybersecurity technology company, Alharbi said: “Researchers shed light on a well-known APT cyber espionage campaign that targets mainly critical infrastructures in Saudi Arabia.This threat group is called Chafer APT (also known as APT39 or Remix Kitten). The report shows that these cybercriminals rely on social engineering to compromise victims in Saudi Arabia.

“Technically, the attack tricked victims to run a remote administration tool located in the downloads folder, similar to the RAT components used against Turkey and Kuwait back in 2014 and 2018, respectively.”

Despite these threats, Alharbi said the Kingdom’s cybersecurity resources had proven their ability to face such dangers.

“Saudi Arabia is ranked No.1 in the MENA region and Asia and No.2 globally according to the Global Cybersecurity Index issued by the UN’s specialized agency in information and communications technology, the International Telecommunication Union in 2021.”

This indexing evaluates countries periodically based on five main axes: Legal, technical, regulatory, capacity-building, and cooperation. The Kingdom scored advanced points in all of these axes, she said.

Amin Hasbini, head of the global research and analysis team for the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa at Kaspersky, said: “Our cybersecurity experts have always been at the forefront of detecting and reporting the latest APT threats. Our reports are the product of their visibility into the cybersecurity landscape and promptly identify what poses a threat.

“We use these insights to, of course, alert the concerned organizations on time and provide them with the protection as well as intelligence needed against both known and unknown threats. As companies move towards digitization, especially due to the pandemic, it is more important now than ever before to know about the threats that are constantly evolving.”

According to a recent report from Kaspersky and VMWare, working remotely during the pandemic made Saudi employees vulnerable to cyberattacks.

In the VMWare report, a survey of 252 Saudis showed 84 percent of them said that cyberattacks had increased due to working from home.

Alharbi talked about methods to protect users from social engineering threats. “Recently, we see a rise in the number of cyberattacks that are based on social engineering. According to a recent report by PurpleSec, 98 percent of cyberattacks rely on social engineering. Cyber criminals prefer to use social engineering techniques that can expose a victim’s natural inclination to trust easily compared to implementing malwares or any other tools to hack systems.

“For that, organizations must strengthen and diversify their cybersecurity awareness tactics, such as publishing cybersecurity awareness content, in-class training, videos, simulations and tests,” she said.