Thursday, May 31, 2012

MIDDLE EAST WRAP: THE FLAME VIRUS

A round-up of the Hebrew newspapers in Israel; covering the major events happening in Israel and the Middle East. Haaretz-Maariv-Yedioth Ahronoth-Israel Hayom-The Jerusalem Post-Ynet-Arutz 7 News-Army Radio-Israel Radio-and Makor Rishon 
On Tuesday, May 29th Israeli newspapers have front-page coverage of the Flame virus, a “cyber-espionage worm” which computer security experts say is designed to collect and delete sensitive information, primarily in Middle Eastern countries.

According to experts at internet security company Kaspersky who first detected the virus, Flame was most likely created by a state actor, and is capable of transferring files, screenshots, audio recordings and keystrokes from infected computers. Kaspersky said this is the “most sophisticated cyber-weapon yet unleashed.” They said the bug had infected computers in Iran, the West Bank, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The company also said that Flame contained a specific element that was used in the Stuxnet worm – which attacked computers used in the Iranian nuclear project and which Tehran blamed on Israel, and which had not been seen in any other malware since.

In Israel’s the first official comments on the virus was from Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon who said cryptically that “Israel has been blessed with a prolific hi-tech sector that opens possibilities in both the business and security fields.”
In an interview done on Army Radio on Tuesday morning, Ya'alon said that several Western countries that possess advanced technologies and see a nuclear Iran as a significant threat could be behind the large-scale cyber-attack that infiltrated thousands of computer systems in Iran and across the Middle East. “Whoever sees the Iranian threat as a significant threat is likely to take various steps, including these, to hobble it,” he said.

Ya’alon agreed with experts’ estimates that only a state could possess the necessary resources to develop such an advanced cyber weapon and noted that Western countries were doing all they could to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. He added that the discovery of the virus, which reportedly attacked 190 Iranian computer systems and hundreds of others across the region, raised awareness of countries’ need to defend themselves from external cyber-attacks. He said that one of the most important decisions passed by the Netanyahu government was the establishment of a national cyber taskforce. “Israel is susceptible to cyber-attacks and is taking measures to protect itself,” said Ya’alon.

The other leading story on all the papers front pages is the announcement by Ankara, Turkey that it has filed indictments against former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and three other former officers who were involved in the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010.

The indictment seeks nine counts of aggravated life imprisonment for Ashkenazi, the former deputy commander of the Navy, Vice-Admiral Eliezer Marom, former Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin and former IAF intelligence head Brig.-Gen. Avishai Levy.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon says that the Foreign Ministry's legal department is checking the possibility that the four could be arrested if they enter countries which have extradition agreements with Turkey. Ayalon said that he was doubtful that the indictments would endanger the freedom of the former Israeli commanders in other countries. “They probably cannot visit Turkey, but I believe they can visit other countries. This seems more of a political step than a legal step,” he said.

Yedioth Ahronoth leads with a letter written by 15 regiment commanders who serve in the reserves to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Benny Gantz, warning that the “government's failures” may soon cause the Reserves to collapse. The letter was sent ahead of a special Knesset session on Israel's reserve forces.

And in regards to the Syrian front, Haaretz leads with an interview with an unnamed leader of the Syrian opposition currently in exile in London, who says that anti-Assad forces in the country know where the regime has stockpiled its chemical weapons and will take control of them the moment that Bashar Assad is overthrown.

And lastly, German President Joachim Gauck began his visit to Israel on Tuesday morning by meeting President Shimon Peres. According to the Times of Israel, Gauck told his host that he shares Israel’s concerns about the Iranian nuclear program and the potential radicalization of the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring. “I understand Israel’s worries, as it is currently still unclear whether the revolts in the Arab countries can last and which direction they may take,” During a ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem Gauck said. “My position is clear: the changes in Egypt and the entire region need to lead to more democracy and to the guarding of human rights. Moreover, they need to be combined with a responsible foreign policy, especially toward Israel. I will stand up for that.” In an interview with Haaretz, Gauck said that he views Iran as posing as much of a threat to Europe as it does to Israel.


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