HOUSTON (FOX 26) - This week’s panel: Bob Price – Associate Editor of Breitbart Texas, Chris Tritico – FOX 26 legal analyst, Antonio Diaz- writer, educator and radio host, Chris Tritico – FOX 26 legal analyst, Michelle Byington – conservative attorney, Craig Jackson – Professor, TSU Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Kathleen McKinley – conservative blogger, join Greg Groogan in a discussion about Iranian tensions.
JERUSALEM (AP) - U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Sunday that Iran should not "mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness," after the U.S. abruptly called off military strikes against Iran in response to the shooting down of an unmanned American surveillance drone.
Bolton's tough message seemed to be aimed not only at Tehran, but also at reassuring key U.S. allies that the White House remains committed to maintaining pressure on Iran. Israel, along with Arab countries in the Gulf, considers Iran to be their greatest threat, and Trump's last-minute about face appears to have raised questions about U.S. willingness to use force against the Islamic Republic.
The downing of the aircraft on Thursday marked a new high in the rising tensions between the United States and Iran in the Persian Gulf. The Trump administration has vowed to combine a "maximum pressure" campaign of economic sanctions with a buildup of American forces in the region, following the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
On Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed the United States' "interventionist military presence" for fanning the flames. He was quoted by the official IRNA news agency.
"The region is very sensitive and security of the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman waterways is important to many countries. We expect international bodies to show proper reaction to the invasion move," Rouhani said about the downing of the U.S. drone.
President Donald Trump says he backed away from the planned strikes after learning 150 people would be killed. But Bolton, a longtime Iran hawk, emphasized that the U.S. reserved the right to attack at a later point. He also said a new set of sanctions on Iran are expected to be announced Monday.
"No one has granted them a hunting license in the Middle East. As President Trump said on Friday our military is rebuilt, new and ready to go," Bolton said in Jerusalem alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, himself a vocal critic of Iran over the years.
"And as he made clear yesterday, referring to his earlier remarks, the president said, 'I just stopped the strike from going forward at this time,'" Bolton added.
Bolton is visiting Israel for three-way talks with his Israeli and Russian counterparts that are expected to focus on Iranian involvement in conflicts across the region, including in neighboring Syria.
Israel's prime minister has been a vocal critic of Iran over the years, accusing the Islamic Republic of sinister intentions at every opportunity.
But Netanyahu, a longtime opponent of the nuclear deal, has remained uncharacteristically quiet throughout the current crisis between the U.S. and Iran. The Israeli leader appears to be wary of being seen as pushing the U.S. into a new Middle Eastern military conflict.
Standing alongside Bolton, Netanyahu sided with the Americans. He said Iranian involvement in conflicts across the region had increased as a result of the nuclear deal, which gave the country a new cash infusion, and had nothing to do with the U.S. exit from the agreement.
"After the deal, but before recent events, Iran has been on a campaign of aggression," he said. "Those who describe the recent actions as somehow opening a hornet's nest are living on another planet."
Netanyahu made no mention of the called-off airstrike and said he was "pleased" by U.S. plans for increased economic pressure. But Israeli commentators said that Trump's about-face was a cause for concern.
"It further undermined the already limited confidence of other Western leaders in Trump's judgment, it cast the U.S. president as a paper tiger and provided a moment of triumph for the ayatollahs in Tehran and it raised new doubts about the rationale behind Netanyahu's drive to persuade Trump to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal," wrote Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev.
Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons - a charge Tehran denies.
Meanwhile, Iran's foreign minister said Bolton was trying to force the U.S. into a conflict with Iran. Javad Zarif tweeted that the presidential adviser was "moments away from trapping" Trump into a "war," before the U.S. president called off the strikes against Iran.
A top Iranian military commander warned Sunday that any conflict with Iran would have uncontrollable consequences across the region and endanger the lives of U.S. forces. Maj. Gen. Gholamali Rashid's remarks, published by the semi-official Fars news agency, were made while addressing Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps during a field visit to a command center for Iranian radars and missile systems. The general oversees and coordinates joint military operations in the Iranian Armed Forces.
U.S. military cyber forces on Thursday launched a strike against Iranian military computer systems, according to U.S. officials. The cyberattacks disabled Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps computer systems that controlled its rocket and missile launchers, the officials said.
Throughout the recent crisis, Trump has wavered between bellicose language and actions toward Iran and a more accommodating tone. His administration is aiming to cripple Iran's economy and force policy changes by re-imposing sanctions, including on Iranian oil exports.
However, Trump said Saturday he appreciated that Iran did not fire on a U.S. spy plane with a crew of over 30 people that was flying Thursday over the same area as the drone that was shot down.
He also dangled the prospect of eventually becoming an unlikely "best friend" of America's longtime Middle Eastern adversary.
Iranian lawmakers on Sunday chanted "death to America" during an open session when acting parliament speaker Masoud Pezeshkian condemned what he said was the violation of Iranian airspace by the U.S. drone.
The regional tensions have prompted major international carriers, including Saudi Arabia's state airline Saudia, to divert flight routes away from the Gulf of Oman and Strait of Hormuz.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's on Friday barred U.S.-registered aircraft from operating over parts of the Persian Gulf.
The U.S. blames Iran for apparent attacks on six oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in recent weeks, which Iran denies. Iranian-allied rebels in Yemen have also recently launched attacks on a civilian airport in Saudi Arabia, a desalination plant and key oil pipeline in the kingdom. The kingdom has been at war in Yemen against the rebels since 2015.
WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. military cyber forces launched a strike against Iranian military computer systems on Thursday as President Donald Trump backed away from plans for a more conventional military strike in response to Iran's downing of a U.S. surveillance drone, U.S. officials said Saturday.
Two officials told The Associated Press that the strikes were conducted with approval from Trump. A third official confirmed the broad outlines of the strike. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the operation.
The cyberattacks - a contingency plan developed over weeks amid escalating tensions - disabled Iranian computer systems that controlled its rocket and missile launchers, the officials said. Two of the officials said the attacks, which specifically targeted Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps computer system, were provided as options after Iranian forces blew up two oil tankers earlier this month.
The IRGC, which was designated a foreign terrorist group by the Trump administration earlier this year, is a branch of the Iranian military.
The action by U.S. Cyber Command was a demonstration of the U.S.'s increasingly mature cyber military capabilities and its more aggressive cyber strategy under the Trump administration. Over the last year U.S. officials have focused on persistently engaging with adversaries in cyberspace and undertaking more offensive operations.
There was no immediate reaction Sunday morning in Iran to the U.S. claims. Iran has hardened and disconnected much of its infrastructure from the internet after the Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli creation, disrupted thousands of Iranian centrifuges in the late 2000s.
Tensions have escalated between the two countries ever since the U.S. withdrew last year from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and began a policy of "maximum pressure." Iran has since been hit by multiple rounds of sanctions. Tensions spiked this past week after Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. drone - an incident that nearly led to a U.S. military strike against Iran on Thursday evening.
The cyberattacks are the latest chapter in the U.S. and Iran's ongoing cyber operations targeting the other. Yahoo News first reported the cyber strike.
In recent weeks, hackers believed to be working for the Iranian government have targeted U.S. government agencies, as well as sectors of the economy, including finance, oil and gas, sending waves of spear-phishing emails, according to representatives of cybersecurity companies CrowdStrike and FireEye, which regularly track such activity. This new campaign appears to have started shortly after the Trump administration imposed sanctions on the Iranian petrochemical sector this month.
It was not known if any of the hackers managed to gain access to the targeted networks with the emails, which typically mimic legitimate emails but contain malicious software.
Tensions have run high between the two countries since the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran last year and began a policy of "maximum pressure." Iran has since been hit by multiple rounds of sanctions. Then Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. drone this week.
"Both sides are desperate to know what the other side is thinking," said John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis at FireEye. "You can absolutely expect the regime to be leveraging every tool they have available to reduce the uncertainty about what's going to happen next, about what the U.S.'s next move will be."
CrowdStrike shared images of the spear-phishing emails with the AP.
One such email that was confirmed by FireEye appeared to come from the Executive Office of the President and seemed to be trying to recruit people for an economic adviser position. Another email was more generic and appeared to include details on updating Microsoft Outlook's global address book.
The Iranian actor involved in the cyberattack, dubbed "Refined Kitten" by CrowdStrike, has for years targeted the U.S. energy and defense sectors, as well as allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, said Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at CrowdStrike.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement released Saturday that its agency tasked with infrastructure security has been aware of a recent rise in malicious cyber activities directed at U.S. government agencies by Iranian regime actors and proxies.
Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Christopher C. Krebs said the agency has been working with the intelligence community and cybersecurity partners to monitor Iranian cyber activity and ensure the U.S. and its allies are safe.
"What might start as an account compromise, where you think you might just lose data, can quickly become a situation where you've lost your whole network," Krebs said.
The National Security Agency would not discuss Iranian cyber actions specifically, but said in a statement to the AP on Friday that "there have been serious issues with malicious Iranian cyber actions in the past."
"In these times of heightened tensions, it is appropriate for everyone to be alert to signs of Iranian aggression in cyberspace and ensure appropriate defenses are in place," the NSA said.
Iran has long targeted the U.S. oil and gas sectors and other critical infrastructure, but those efforts dropped significantly after the nuclear agreement was signed. After Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in May 2018, cyber experts said they have seen an increase in Iranian hacking efforts.
"This is not a remote war (anymore)," said Sergio Caltagirone, vice president of threat intelligence at Dragos Inc. "This is one where Iranians could quote unquote bring the war home to the United States."
Caltagirone said as nations increase their abilities to engage offensively in cyberspace, the ability of the United States to pick a fight internationally and have that fight stay out of the United States physically is increasingly reduced.
The U.S. has had a contentious cyber history with Iran.
In 2010, the so-called Stuxnet virus disrupted the operation of thousands of centrifuges at a uranium enrichment facility in Iran. Iran accused the U.S. and Israel of trying to undermine its nuclear program through covert operations.
Iran has also shown a willingness to conduct destructive campaigns. Iranian hackers in 2012 launched an attack against state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco, releasing a virus that erased data on 30,000 computers and left an image of a burning American flag on screens.
In 2016, the U.S. indicted Iranian hackers for a series of punishing cyberattacks on U.S. banks and a small dam outside of New York City.
The Defense Department refused to comment on the latest Iranian activity. "As a matter of policy and for operational security, we do not discuss cyberspace operations, intelligence or planning," Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb said in a statement. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Despite the apparent cyber campaign, experts say the Iranians would not necessarily immediately exploit any access they gain into computer systems and may seek to maintain future capabilities should their relationship with the U.S. further deteriorate.
"It's important to remember that cyber is not some magic offensive nuke you can fly over and drop one day," said Oren Falkowitz, a former National Security Agency analyst. It takes years of planning, he said, but as tensions increase, "cyber impact is going to be one of the tools they use and one of the hardest things to defend against."
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Jon Gambrell in Dubai contributed to this report. Follow Tami Abdollah on Twitter at https://twitter.com/latams
Nasser Karimi reported from Tehran, Iran. Aya Batrawy contributed reporting from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.