While Israel has publicly refrained from striking Iran, a secret “cyber war” may have already begun.
According to ABC's Simon McGregor-Wood, clandestine computer battles are being used both to gather information and to launch offensive strikes.
Israeli defense expert Alon Ben-David, who spoke with McGregor-Wood, says cyber warfare has become “a very important area in Israeli strategy.” Israel began hacking into foreign systems years ago, after a routine exercise demonstrated that Israel's own systems were shockingly unprepared for a cyber assault.
It did not take long for Israel to apply those findings to other countries, experts say.
Ben-David relates that Israel's war on Iran has been successful so far. “The Iranians have experienced a number of malfunctions and unexplained breakdowns,” he says.
Targeting Iran is particularly easy as the Islamic Republic imports the vast majority of its computer equipment and expertise. This allows Israel to target Iran's computers before they even reach the country.
Israel has successfully attacked computer-based systems in Syria as well, Ben-David says. Only the use of “cyber war” allowed Israel to conduct an airstrike on a Syrian nuclear facility in 2007 without setting off Syria's air defense systems, he explains.
Cyber attacks have also been used against Israel. During Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Israeli government sites came under attack and were briefly paralyzed. More sensitive systems were not breached.
The attack on Israel's systems, in January of this year, involved more than half a million computers sending a total of 15 million junk mail items each second, causing server overload. While cyber attacks are notoriously difficult to track, Israeli experts believe they may have pinpointed the culprit: a criminal group based in the former Soviet Union that used similar tactics against Georgia months earlier. The group may have been paid off by Hamas or Hizbullah, they say.