Israel says Iran ‘spy network’ recruited women online

The Iranian handler, who called himself Rambod Namdar, allegedly approached the women on Facebook. (Social media/Facebook)
The Iranian handler, who called himself Rambod Namdar, allegedly approached the women on Facebook. (Social media/Facebook)
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Updated 13 January 2022

Israel says Iran ‘spy network’ recruited women online

The Iranian handler, who called himself Rambod Namdar, allegedly approached the women on Facebook. (Social media/Facebook)
  • Women, whom the Shin Bet did not identify, were recruited by an Iranian agent who called himself “Rambod Namdar”
  • Missions included covertly photographing US embassy in Tel Aviv

JERUSALEM: An Iranian “espionage network” used Facebook to recruit Israeli women who were manipulated into photographing the US embassy and other activities, the Shin Bet domestic security agency said Wednesday.
The women, whom the Shin Bet did not identify, were recruited by an Iranian agent who called himself “Rambod Namdar” and said he was a Jew living in Iran, the Israeli agency said in a statement.
“Despite the fact that the women suspected that the man in question was an Iranian intelligence operative, some of them maintained contact with him, agreed to perform various tasks he asked of them and received funds from him,” it said.
After being approached through Facebook, “Rambod” asked that communication continue using the encrypted messaging app WhatsApp, the Shin Bet added.
It said there were four prime suspects, and indictments have been issued.
One of the women, aged 40, was allegedly in contact with “Rambod” for several years and carried out various missions.
These included covertly photographing the US embassy in Tel Aviv, and taking pictures inside the interior ministry in her hometown of Holon.
“Rambod” also asked the woman to guide her son, prior to his military enlistment, into the Intelligence Directorate with the aim of obtaining sensitive documents, the Shin Bet alleged.
Another suspect, aged 57, was also tasked with steering her son toward military intelligence.
She “received an accumulated sum of about $5,000 on several occasions” over a period of more than four years, the Shin Bet said.
Her other missions allegedly included trying to get close to a member of Israel’s Knesset, or parliament.
The woman “transferred information about their relationship to her operator,” said the Shin Bet, which jointly investigated with Israeli police.
The Shin Bet’s accusations about the spy network come during negotiations in Vienna between Iran and world powers seeking to revive a 2015 agreement that offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
Israel is not a party to the Vienna talks but is watching with concern, fearing arch-enemy Iran could develop a nuclear weapon. Tehran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
“The State of Israel is in an ongoing campaign with Iran. It is clear: We see never-ending efforts and attempts by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to recruit Israeli citizens,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.
“These attempts go beyond security and intelligence. They are expanding to efforts to influence the citizens of Israel and Israeli society, sow discord and polarization, undermine political stability in Israel and damage the public’s trust in the government,” he added.
Bennett urged Israelis to be cautious, saying: “It is possible that behind the information that you consume or share on social media are the Iranians.”
In November, Israel indicted a man employed as a cleaner in the home of Defense Minister Benny Gantz for attempting to spy for the Black Shadow hacking group, which is purportedly linked to Iran.
Black Shadow hacks are seen as part of a years-long covert war between Israel and Iran, including physical attacks on ships and cyber offensives.


UAE discussing defense upgrade after Houthi attacks- envoy to UN

UAE discussing defense upgrade after Houthi attacks- envoy to UN
Updated 6 sec ago

UAE discussing defense upgrade after Houthi attacks- envoy to UN

UAE discussing defense upgrade after Houthi attacks- envoy to UN
DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates may upgrade its defensive capabilities after missile attacks by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group, while continuing diplomacy with Tehran to reduce regional tensions, a senior UAE diplomat said.
The Emirati envoy to the United Nations, Lana Nusseibeh, told CNN on Tuesday that UAE intelligence showed the two assaults — the first on the regional commercial and tourism hub — had originated from Yemen, and there was also a need to stem illicit flows of weapons and funds to the group.
A Saudi-led military coalition, which includes the UAE, accuses Iran of supplying the Houthis with arms, which both Tehran and the group deny.
Monday’s strike, aimed at a base in Abu Dhabi hosting US forces, was thwarted by American-built Patriot interceptors, after a deadly attack a week earlier on the capital.
Nusseibeh confirmed ongoing security discussions with Washington but declined to provide details. The UAE uses the US anti-missile interception system THAAD.
“Our ability to intercept and deflect these attacks is world class,” she said. “There can always be upgrades and improvements and... additional intelligence cooperation and I think these are the fields we’re looking at with our (US) partners.”
She said the UAE, which has urged Washington to reinstate a terrorist designation of the Houthis, was also discussing with partners increasing pressure on the group to engage with stalled UN-led peace efforts.
“That means listing them again on sanctions regimes ... potentially listing additional figures, it means stopping the illicit flow of weapons and finance to them.”
The Houthis said they are punishing the UAE for backing forces battling the group in energy-producing regions, after the UAE in 2019 largely distanced itself from Yemen.
The Houthis have repeatedly launched attacks on Saudi Arabia in the war, seen as a proxy conflict between Riyadh and Tehran.
Nusseibeh said the Houthis would not succeed in undermining the UAE’s safe-haven status.
The UAE, which has been engaging with Iran, would continue diplomacy aimed at de-escalation, she said, while reserving the right to defend itself “defensively and offensively” in the Yemen conflict.

Rights group says Lebanese staffer targeted with NSO spyware

Rights group says Lebanese staffer targeted with NSO spyware
Updated 17 min 7 sec ago

Rights group says Lebanese staffer targeted with NSO spyware

Rights group says Lebanese staffer targeted with NSO spyware
  • The New York-based rights group said the software was used against Lama Fakih
  • NSO Group has been mired in controversy following revelations against its spyware

BEIRUT: Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that one of its senior staff members was targeted last year with spyware designed by the Israeli hacker-for hire company NSO Group.
The New York-based rights group said the software was used against Lama Fakih, the director of its Beirut office who also oversees its crisis response in several countries, including Syria, Myanmar, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and the United States.
NSO Group has been mired in controversy following revelations its spyware was used in several countries against journalists, activists and even US diplomats. The US barred the firm from accessing American technology last year, saying its tools have been used by repressive regimes, and Facebook and Apple have filed lawsuits against NSO over hacks against their products.
NSO Group does not disclose its clients but says it has safeguards in place to ensure its products are only used to target suspected criminals and terrorists. It says it does not have access to the intelligence its clients gather.
Its Pegasus spyware grants full access to a person’s phone, including photos, emails and real-time communications. The targeted person does not have to take any action, such as clicking a link, and would not be able to detect the breach without a sophisticated technical analysis.
NSO Group issued a statement expressing support for an “international regulatory structure” for cyber intelligence tools, but said any calls to suspend their use until one is established would benefit criminals who evade other forms of surveillance. It did not directly address the hacking reported by Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch said Fakih, a dual US and Lebanese citizen, was targeted on five occasions between April and August. Apple informed her of the breach on Nov. 24, and forensic analysis by Human Rights Watch confirmed the presence of the software, the group said.
“It is no accident that governments are using spyware to target activists and journalists, the very people who uncover their abusive practices,” Fakih said. “They seem to believe that by doing so, they can consolidate power, muzzle dissent, and protect their manipulation of facts.”


Israeli president to make first-ever state visit to UAE

Israeli president to make first-ever state visit to UAE
Updated 26 January 2022

Israeli president to make first-ever state visit to UAE

Israeli president to make first-ever state visit to UAE
  • The visit comes some 16 months after the wealthy UAE broke with decades of Arab consensus and forged diplomatic ties with Israel

JERUSALEM: Israel’s President Isaac Herzog will make a historic visit to the UAE at the end of the month, his office said Tuesday, in the latest high-profile diplomatic trip since the countries normalized ties.
Herzog’s office said the president, who will travel with the first lady, will meet United Arab Emirates’ Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan during the January 30-31 trip.
“We have the privilege of making history by making the first visit of an Israeli president to the United Arab Emirates,” Herzog said in the statement, adding that the countries were “laying the foundations of a new shared future.”
Herzog is also scheduled to meet with the ruler of Dubai and senior government officials, and visit the Dubai Expo, his office said.
The visit comes some 16 months after the wealthy UAE broke with decades of Arab consensus and forged diplomatic ties with Israel.
The move was part of a series of US-brokered deals known as the Abraham Accords, pacts that have angered the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made history last month when he became the first Israeli head of government to visit UAE, in a trip that partly focused on international talks on Iran’s nuclear program, a top Israeli security priority.
Herzog, whose position is largely ceremonial, will be the first Israeli head of state to officially visit the UAE.
He vowed “the bold new partnership” between the countries “will transform the Middle East,” with Israel keen to expand the list of Arab nations that sign on to the Abraham Accords.
The deals were negotiated under former US president Donald Trump but endorsed by President Joe Biden’s administration.
Bahrain and Morocco have also normalized ties with Israel under the accords.
Sudan has agreed to do so but formal diplomatic relations have not emerged amid roiling instability in Khartoum.


Yemen army liberates land, hits Houthi targets

Yemen army liberates land, hits Houthi targets
Updated 26 January 2022

Yemen army liberates land, hits Houthi targets

Yemen army liberates land, hits Houthi targets
  • On Tuesday the coalition launched a series of attacks against Houthi targets overnight, destroying a communications system and weapons depot in Marib

DUBAI: Government forces in Yemen liberated a large swathe of land in the Taiz governorate, after heavy clashes with the Iran-backed Houthis as coalition forces struck more militia sites across the country.

Backed by air cover from the coalition, government troops pushed deeper into Houthi-controlled territy and liberated Azla and Khouloud.

Meanwhile, battles continue raging south of the city of Marib between the government-backed forces and the Houthi militia.

Dozens of Houthis were killed in heavy fighting with government troops west and south of Marib amid intensifying coalition airstrikes, according to state-owned news agency SABA.

On Tuesday the coalition launched a series of attacks against Houthi targets overnight, destroying a communications system and weapons depot in Marib.


Qatar emir to meet with Biden in Washington Jan 31: White House

Qatar emir to meet with Biden in Washington Jan 31: White House
Updated 26 January 2022

Qatar emir to meet with Biden in Washington Jan 31: White House

Qatar emir to meet with Biden in Washington Jan 31: White House
  • The two sides will discuss ‘ensuring the stability of global energy supplies’

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden will receive Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad at the White House on Jan. 31, his spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Biden and the Gulf state leader will discuss security in the Middle East and “ensuring the stability of global energy supplies,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
The meeting comes as Washington and its European allies are seeking to shore up energy contingency plans should Russia squeeze supplies due to tensions with the West over Ukraine.
The US and its EU allies accuse Russia of seeking to upend European stability by threatening invasion of neighboring Ukraine, a former Soviet republic striving to join NATO and other Western institutions.
The European Union sources about 40 percent of its supply from Russia, and Washington and its European allies have been scouring global markets for alternative energy sources.
Qatar, a close US ally, has huge gas reserves and is the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas.
Psaki said Biden will also thank the emir for Qatar’s support to the United States in safely transporting US citizens, permanent residents and Afghan partners out of Afghanistan in the wake of the US withdrawal last year.
Qatar has played a significant role both in diplomacy and evacuations at the end of nearly 20 years of war in Afghanistan.