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6057313_sThe new silent agents of war. While some countries continue to develop very deadly weapons or even non-conventional ones, there are other countries developing silent agents, tools of deception that at the end of the day may result in leaving the triggers of destruction untouched.

According to recent press reports, Israel has managed to slow down the Iranian race to develop a nuclear weapon, by using a ‘worm’ type computer virus. The virus has reportedly wreaked havoc on the Iranian centrifuge facilities that are working to produce uranium for Iran’s nuclear weapon.

Israel has not reacted to the speculative stories that appeared regarding who was behind that cyber attack, but the Iranians were forced to confirm that the ‘worm’ had been very effective in slowing down their nuclear program. This story is a very rare indication of the type of ‘parallel war’ being fought in the dark and from places very distant from any defined war zone.

Only recently, the Lebanese claimed that they found artificial rocks on mountains overlooking some of the most strategic areas in their country. They exhibited photographs of equipment that was concealed in the ‘rocks’ which left little doubt about its origin. Again, Israel did not react but the writing was clearly left on the mountain. Prior to that, the Lebanese claimed that the Israelis had penetrated their cellular infrastructure and that this was part of a vast espionage effort.

Other publications leaked through Wikileaks, claimed that the attack on the nuclear facility in Syria in 2007, was performed by Israel and that Israeli Air Force fighter jets penetrated Syrian airspace after Israel managed to take control of the country’s early warning system. The nuances are important – not blinding the Syrian radar but taking control over it, in a way that it did not have any chance of detecting the Israeli fighters.

All these are of course leaked reports and ‘wild’ stories of journalists but if only some are true, the trend is crystal clear, in order to win a war or to perform a ‘surgical’ attack it’s not enough to have fighter jets with precision bombs . There is a need to manipulate the enemy, deceive it, cause confusion, and then attack and get out without meeting any resistance.

The following information while generalized is done so on purpose, and is based on putting different facts together; Israel is a high tech super power. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the Mossad have special units that develop tools for cyber wars. These units are trying to keep at least one step ahead of anyone else that is or may be considered to be a potential enemy.

It can be assumed that as in other areas, Israel feels the need to stay quantum leaps ahead of others. It happened with unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) that were needed for wars. It makes sense that in its need to supply the right tools for Cyber war for its armed forces and secret services, Israel has positioned itself at least one generation ahead of its adversaries.

Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.  According to press reports Israel managed to destroy convoys of arms on their way to the Gaza strip while they travelled through the Sudanese desert. Israel according to press reports has even managed to intercept shipments of arms to the Hezbollah in Lebanon while manipulating the ships that carried them into prepared ‘traps’.

There is no doubt that cyber wars are being fought in the Middle East on a daily basis and they are becoming more complex, more sophisticated, and more focused.

A part of the ‘trick’ of such military cyber wars is to let the enemy think that nothing is happening. Unlike many situations involving electronic warfare, where the enemy gets indications that something wrong has occurred during the cyber war, the trick is to keep the radar and other early warning sensors’ operators calm until the attack is over. The surprise in these situations can be complete and swift.

While Israel is continuing to purchase and manufacture the most advanced weapon systems, experts in this new type of warfare continue to look for the next hole in the shield. This is a war between minds, between ‘wild’ concepts that are based on long experience but also on the fact that the most advanced national facilities of every country rely on computers. The ‘fire walls’ are there but the new warriors look for the smallest crack and if one is to believe recent reports they also seem to have found them.

Can cyber attacks win a war? Can these attacks become a substitute to real weapon systems? Talking with the experts you get a somewhat contradicting picture – while some say that this is the shape of wars to come, others say that this is only a complementary asset. One thing is obvious, the higher the importance designated a target, the bigger will be the effort put into the ‘cyber weapons’ that will attack it.

The dilemma about cyber wars resembles to a great part the dilemma that once concerned UAVs. Should an Air Force invest in more manned platforms or instead channel its limited budget to additional and more sophisticated UAVs?  These two dilemmas will remain in the air for years to come because there is no General, not to mention a politician that can or actually wants to make that decision.

However a dilemma can sometimes resolve itself. The UAV’s will take over many tasks of manned aircraft at an ever increasing pace. It’s enough to see the growing number of unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVS) programs to understand this growing trend. The same thing is applicable to cyber war systems, which will only become more complex and more sophisticated. Will they replace fighter jets, missiles and tanks at some time?

Judging by the alleged use of cyber wars in the Middle East in recent years, the answer is positive.  Although it will be a slow process, attacking and destroying the enemy without him getting any warning or understanding as to what hit him, will one day become the ultimate tool of war.

The ‘weapons’ for this new type of war are being developed in secret facilities and by teams of geniuses that will probably never hold an assault rifle but will in spite win many wars. Cyber wars in the Middle East are no longer something vague; they have become a part of the everyday fighting. That is of course if the press reports are true.

Arie Egozi
Arie Egozi