US charges Iranian hackers with election interference
In the UK media, The Times, Guardian and The Telegraph follows the Shin Bet’s arrest of Benny Gantz’s cleaner who ‘offered to spy for Iran’. Goren was arrested shortly after he contacted an Iran-linked hacking group and sent them photographs he took in Gantz’s home, but before he could do any damage, according to the Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency. Shortly after communicating with Black Shadow, Omri Goren was arrested by Israeli police and, according to the charges, admitted his actions under questioning by the Shin Bet. Goren’s lawyer, Gal Wolf, said his client admitted to some of the offences he was accused of but denied carrying out the security-related crimes attributed to him. Wolf added that Goren “had no intention to harm state security and hadn’t — he had acted only out of financial distress”.
Reuters reports that the US announced criminal charges against two Iranian accused of launching a cyber attack aimed at meddling in the 2020 US presidential election. The two Iranians are accused of launching a disinformation campaign after obtaining confidential US voting information. According to the indictment, the plot was foiled by the FBI.
The Guardian and Independent report that supporters of Hamas could face up to 10 years in jail under plans to be announced on Friday by Priti Patel. The Home Secretary said the organisation will be proscribed by the government under the Terrorism Act. It means anyone who expresses support for Hamas, flies their flag or arranges meetings for the organisation will be in breach of the law. Patel hopes to push through the change in parliament next week in a move she says will help to combat antisemitism.
The Economist on the rising murder rate in Israel’s Arab community. While the government has promised to tackle the violence, it has soared in recent months with at least 109 Arab-Israelis being killed this year. The paper notes: “This year the police have solved 71% of murder cases where the victim was Jewish. But this success rate tumbles to just 22% when the victims are Arab (almost all non-political murders are Jew-on-Jew or Arab-on-Arab). One of the main problems is, indeed, a lack of policing. Despite promises by previous governments to devote more resources to such work in Arab neighbourhoods, only 13% of police officers are Arab, and a third of police stations planned for Arab towns have never been built.”
The Times reports that Iran has sped up production of enriched uranium to a point where it could have enough for a nuclear weapon within months, according to the IAEA, the UN’s atomic watchdog. The IAEA says Iran now has 17.7kg of uranium enriched to 60 per cent purity, one level below weapons-grade. That is up from 10kg at the time of the last report in August. That amount could produce about 10kg of uranium enriched to 90 per cent, the level required for a nuclear weapon. About 20kg is enough for a bomb, and the speed at which enrichment is progressing suggests that quantity could be reached within a few months.
Reuters writes that whilst the stated US aim when indirect talks with Iran resume this month in Vienna is to see if the two can revive the JCPOA 2015 nuclear deal, Washington’s unspoken goal may be to win support from China and Russia to pressure Iran if the talks fail.
More than 100 high-profile figures, including musicians and authors, have pledged support for six Palestinian civil society groups that Israel has designated as terrorist organisations, according to the BBC. A statement condemns what they call the “unprecedented and blanket attack on Palestinian human rights defenders”. Israel says the groups are a front for a militant faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has carried out deadly attacks.
Catherine Philp, diplomatic correspondent for The Times, comments on the UK’s expected proscription of Hamas’ political wing later today. She writes: “Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Britain’s decision to proscribe Hamas as a terrorist group is that it has taken so long. The European Union did it in 2017. Hamas was also already proscribed in its entirely by some of the UK’s closest allies, including the United States, Canada and Japan. Britain previously chose to draw a distinction between Hamas, the political party, and its military wing.”
The Financial Times reports that US and UK authorities believe Iran is conducting an “ongoing” campaign of ransomware and other cyber-attacks on US critical infrastructure and Australian organisations that began in March.
The Independent publishes a commentary by Richard Burden who argues that whilst Keir Starmer has said he is a friend to Palestinians, his latest speech at the Labour Friends of Israel event this week doesn’t square with that.
The Israeli media is dominated by the return of Mordy and Natalie Oknin from Turkey, including news coverage of the diplomatic efforts that brought about their release, and extensive analysis of the political-diplomatic fallout from the crisis. A senior official said President Erdogan had personally intervened to resolve the crisis after he spoke with Prime Minister Bennett yesterday. The official said the Turkish president called for closer bilateral ties with Israel in the discussion, which lasted about 15 minutes and took place in a relatively good atmosphere. Bennett thanked the Turkish president for intervening to conclude the humanitarian issue of the arrest of the two Israeli citizens. The prime minister also said the diplomatic channels of communication between Israel and Turkey had worked effectively and discreetly during the crisis. However, not everyone supported his celebratory tone: Blue and White MK Ruth Wasserman Lande wrote on Twitter: “Stop sucking up to Erdogan! What happened in Turkey is terrorism for diplomatic gain It worked and it could set a dangerous precedent for Israelis travelling abroad.”
In Yediot Ahronot, Sima Kadmon writes: “Bennett and Lapid now say their ability to work together and to flatter one another is what saved Natalie and Mordy Oknin from a long stint in a Turkish jail. No ego, no wars over who should get the credit. Just a race against the clock before an indictment was filed and before the story really took off on a public and political level for the Turks. The decision to get the Mossad involved and to open channels directly to Erdogan was made quickly. They acted quietly and determinedly to get the allegations of espionage — charges that could easily have ended with a 15-20 year sentence — off the table. It took a little while longer for Erdogan to understand he was dealing with a problematic issue rather than a good opportunity, that it wouldn’t be good for him to have to represent this side of Turkey.”
All the papers report on the arrest of Omri Goren. Kan Radio notes that Minister Gantz personally employed Omri Goren as a housekeeper on the recommendation of his acquaintances well before he became an official requiring a security detail. Goren and his wife owned a cleaning company, and sources close to Gantz said that the company had been paid directly by law. Following the arrest, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee Chairman Ram Ben Barak will convene a meeting with the Shin Bet officials who are responsible with the vetting process, after the security agency admitted that there had been a vetting failure and that Goren should not have been allowed to work in the defence minister’s home.
Also writing in Yediot Ahronot, military correspondent Yossi Yehoshua criticises the Shin Bet for what he calls a “resounding failure” even given the organisation’s quick detection that Goren had contacted hackers linked to Iran. “This incident should have been treated seriously, as if the Iranians had actually wiretapped the defence minister: [recruiting] a cleaner in the defence minister’s home is the dream of every intelligence official in the world,” he says. “Goren could have caused massive damage: he could have given an alleged Iranian official maximum proximity to the defence minister, the most intimate possible, by means of a connection to his personal computer and red telephone, and maybe by photographing or taking documents too.”
Kan Radio reports that Defence Minister Gantz called a meeting with leaders of the security establishment in response to the growing number of hate crimes committed by settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank. Gantz said violence by settlers is the root from which terrorism grows and that we must cut it off. It was agreed at the meeting to step up cooperation between the various security organisations. Among other steps, specially designated teams will be established to monitor longstanding and new friction points, and legal tools will be promoted to help field operatives. Deputy Defence Minister Alon Schuster will coordinate the preparatory work and the defence minister will call a follow-up meeting soon.