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Israel will be holding general elections on April 9. The country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is backed into a corner due to corruption accusations, wants to win the elections by establishing an alliance with the most radical groups of Israel’s rightists. The alliance that Netanyahu, who is up against strong competitors, formed with the racist “Jewish Force” and “Jewish Home,” divided the Israeli lobby in the US – Abdullah Muradoğlu, YENISAFAK
As is known, U.S President Donald Trump had a peace plan, which he describes as the “deal of the century,” prepared to be a final solution to the “Palestine issue.” However, the details of this plan are yet to be announced to the public. The plan implemented by Trump’s son-in-law and chief adviser Jared Kushner, has, for months, turned into the case of the blind man describing the elephant. Trump had postponed the announcement of the plan till after the April 9 elections in Israel. Trump did not want the so-called peace plan to turn into a referendum at the elections. This is how Trump’s excuse to postpone the announcement has been explained.
The outline of Trump’s plan is drawn not by a team that is unbiased toward the parties involved, but by a small, strict group known to be pro-Israel. The Palestinian sides withdrew from the meetings due to Trump’s pro-Israel policies. Diplomatic ties between Palestine and the U.S. are broken. The Trump administration took pro-Israel decisions the previous U.S. governments could not dare to do. The U.S.’s Israel embassy was relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; the financial contribution the U.S. made to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees was cancelled; and the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Washington office was closed. The U.S. also withdrew from the UN’s UNESCO and Human Rights Council as it took decisions that disturbed Israel.
In addition to the sanctions on the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), the law package including a $38-billion military aid to Israel was also approved in the U.S. Senate. If the package passes the approval stages in Congress, it will be enacted. By withdrawing from the “Iran Nuclear Deal,” Trump fulfilled another demand of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Bringing out a law that identifies Israel as a “Jewish state,” Netanyahu reduced an Arab population of close to 2 million to second class citizens. Trump remained silent in the face of this fait accompli.
In exchange for the favors his did for Netanyahu, Trump is waiting for Israel to approve the peace plan he states is the “deal of the century.” However, Netanyahu has not given any positive signal with respect to the project. On the contrary, he made statements indicating that he will not approve of a Palestinian state whose capital is East Jerusalem, and that he will make no compromise on the settlement in the West Bank. Certain Zionist writers are warning that the plan is harmful in terms of Israel.
One of Netanyahu’s signs that he will interrupt Trump’s peace plan was his election alliance with three minor parties that are known for being Jewish racists. Netanyahu’s cooperation with these parties that are affiliated with the “Meir Kahane” movement, which is on the U.S.’s terrorist organizations list, is bad news for Trump’s peace plan. These parties, which do not intend to give even a pebble to Palestinians from Palestine’s territory, entering the Israeli parliament, or taking place in the Israeli government, is one of the most serious obstacles standing before Trump’s plan.
The main organizations of the Israeli lobby in the U.S. also made statements criticizing Netanyahu’s alliance move. According to some commentators, this alliance is equivalent to the U.S. president striking a deal with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). In the case that Netanyahu wins the elections, there is no likelihood that a coalition government with these parties will take a positive approach to Trump’s peace plan. This alliance move has shown what Netanyahu, who got Trump to do everything he wanted until now, cannot make Trump do too.
If Netanyahu loses in the April 9 elections, will the new government take a positive approach to Trump’s Palestine plan? Whether is a government with Netanyahu, or another government, can Trump apply serious pressure for Israel to accept the U.S.’s plan? Or will the “deal of the century” end in a fiasco? It is too soon to see what Trump has up his sleeve, but we can say that a great uproar will break out in Israel after April 9.
President Doland Trump said on Thursday, ahead of a decision by Israel’s attorney general on whether to indict Benjamin Netanyahu of corruption, that the latter “has done a great job as prime minister.”
Speaking at a press conference in Vietnam following a second summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, Trump was asked about the upcoming indictment decision. “He’s tough, smart, strong,” the president said on Netanyahu.
The U.S. president then spoke of his plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, a plan said to be unveiled following Israel’s April 9 general election.
“All my life I heard that the toughest of all deals – and everyone loves deals – would be peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump said. “They say it’s the impossible deal, I’d love to be able to produce it.”
Speaking about the plan, Trump mentioned the military aid Israel is receiving from the United States and the U.S. aid cut to the Palestinians. “We were paying the Palestinians a lot of money and we ended that a couple of years ago because they weren’t saying the right things. And they’ve been much better. We have a great shot at peace.”
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is expected to announce Thursday his decision on whether to charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, subject to a hearing, in the three criminal investigations pending against him.
In Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is suspected of providing regulatory concessions to Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecommunications, in exchange for favorable coverage from Bezeq’s news website, Walla, Mendelblit is expected to announce an indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
In Case 1000, in which the prime minister is alleged to have accepted gifts from wealthy business figures in violation of the law, the PM is expected to be charged with fraud and breach of trust.
Charges are also expected to be filed in Case 2000, which centers on negotiations between the prime minister and Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, allegedly involving limiting the circulation of the rival Yisrael Hayom daily in exchange for favorable coverage for the prime minister. It is not yet clear what charges Mendelblit will file against the prime minister for that case. Mendelblit is also expected to announce plans to charge Mozes in that case.
AMMAN (Reuters) – Two car bombings in two areas of northwest Syria killed at least six people on Thursday in the latest such attacks in towns held by Turkey-backed rebel groups, witnesses and rebels.
In the northwestern city of Afrin, a 10-year-old girl and a man were killed and at least 20 people were wounded when a car bomb was detonated remotely in a main street only hours after a parade by Turkish-backed security police cadets, a witness said.
Since the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia backed by Washington was driven out of Afrin by Turkey-backed Arab rebels last year, the area has seen frequent bombings blamed by rebels on the Kurdish militia.
The YPG has vowed it will not allow the Arab rebels to consolidate their control over the mainly Kurdish city.
Turkey-backed Arab rebels have said their goal is to allow tens of thousands of their kin displaced by Kurdish-led forces backed by Washington to return to their towns and villages.
Ankara considers the YPG an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged an insurgency on Turkish soil since 1984.
Further east, near the city of Jarablus, along the same border stretch with Turkey, at least four members of a Turkey-backed Arab rebel group were killed while trying to dismantle a car bomb in the village of Ghandura, two sources from the area said.
Separately at least 10 people were killed and a number were wounded on Thursday when a bomb blast hit a minibus carrying workers employed in a major oil installation in eastern Syria run by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by the YPG, residents of the area said.
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi, Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Editing by William Maclean)
KIEV|AIWA! NO!| — To see the warfare of the future, head to the top floor of a nondescript office tower on a potholed street on the scruffy outskirts of Ukraine’s capital. There, next to a darkened conference room, engineers sit at dark gray monitors, waging war with lines of code.
“Attacks are happening every day,” says Oleh Derevianko, founder of the Ukrainian cybersecurity firm that employs them, Information Systems Security Partners. “We never thought we were going to be the front line of cyber and hybrid war.”
There may be no better place to witness cyber conflict in action than Ukraine today. Open warfare with Russia, a highly skilled, computer-literate pool of talent and a uniquely vulnerable political, economic and IT environment have made the country the perfect sandbox for those looking to test new cyberweapons, tactics and tools.
“Ukraine is live-fire space,” says Kenneth Geers, a veteran cybersecurity expert and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who advises NATO’s Tallinn cyber center and spent time on the ground in Ukraine to study the country’s cyber conflict. Much like global powers fought proxy wars in the Middle East or Africa during the Cold War, Ukraine has become a battleground in a cyberwar arms race for global influence.
Derevianko’s outfit works closely with the Ukrainian government and its U.S. and European allies to fend off onslaughts against the country’s networks. On the other side of the virtual front line: Not just sophisticated Russian-affiliated hacker groups like Fancy Bear, Cozy Bear and Sandworm — the group behind “NotPetya,” the most devastating cyberattack to date — but also hosts of other governmental, nongovernmental and criminal players testing out their capabilities on the country’s networks.
“They’re not only testing destruction but also testing your reflexes” — Oleh Derevianko, founder of Information Systems Security Partners
Activity has spiked ahead of presidential elections in March, says Derevianko. Since November, hacker groups have been shelling Ukrainian magistrates, government officials, attorneys and others with emails that contain attachments with malware and viruses — sometimes disguised as Christmas greetings, or as messages from the prime minister’s office — in what Derevianko describes as “mass phishing.”
Russian hacker groups are repeatedly attempting to get into the country’s systems, Ukraine’s national security service told POLITICO. Critical infrastructure and election systems are under constant stress, it said.
“They’re not only testing destruction but also testing your reflexes,” says Derevianko.
The war in eastern Ukraine has given Russian-affiliated hackers the opportunity to perfect their ability to launch cyberattacks with a series of major intrusions in Ukraine over the past few years.
“The annexation of Crimea and war in Donbas, it has created a volatile political environment,” says Merle Maigre, the former head of NATO’s cyberdefense center in Tallinn who is now executive vice president at the Estonian cybersecurity firm CybExer.
Even as Russian tanks crossed the physical border into eastern Ukraine in the spring of 2014, Russian-affiliated hackers were sending malicious code onto Ukraine’s IT systems, providing political chaos as a smokescreen.
Three days before the presidential election in May 2014, hackers broke into Ukraine’s Central Election Commission and disabled parts of the network using advanced cyberespionage malware, according to a report by the International Foundation of Electoral Systems funded by the U.S. and U.K. and seen by POLITICO. The Central Election Commission was hit again later that year, when hackers took down its website ahead of a parliamentary vote in October.
Large-scale attacks followed the next year, and again in 2016. The targets, this time, were companies running Ukraine’s power grid. In 2015, hackers used so-called BlackEnergy malware, dropped on companies’ networks using spear phishing attacks that tricked employees into downloading from mock emails. So-called KillDisk malware later destroyed parts of the grid.
The resulting blackouts — the world’s first known successful cyberattack on an energy company at scale — affected about 230,000 Ukrainians for up to six hours. A year later, in December 2016, hackers relied on even more sophisticated tools to successfully turn off the lights in large parts of the Ukrainian capital yet again.
But the widest-reaching attack — and the world’s most financially damaging to date — took place in 2017, when hackers combined code tested in the power grid attacks with malware known as “Petya” and a security vulnerability initially discovered by the U.S. National Security Agency called EternalBlue.
The resulting malware — “NotPetya” — compromised the software of a small tech firm called Linkos Group, providing it access to the computers of utility companies, banks, airports and government agencies in Ukraine. It also crippled multinationals like the Danish shipping giant Maersk, logistics giant FedEx, pharma company Merck and other major corporations.
The NotPetya attack — which cost an estimated $10 billion to clean up — was “as close to cyberwar” as we’ve come, says Geers. “This was the most damaging attack in history, of a scale and cost that would far exceed a missile fired from the Donbas into Kiev.”
The free-for-all environment of a country at war has turned Ukraine into a magnet for players of all types looking to test their cyber capabilities. In addition to hostile Russian hackers, the country has attracted cybersecurity firms looking to get close to the action, Western intelligence agencies seeking to understand the nature of modern conflict and criminals looking to make a buck.
“Donbas is basically lit up with malware. That’s intelligence services trying to figure out what Russia is going to do next in Donbas, trying to figure out what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is up to,” says Geers, the Atlantic Council’s cybersecurity expert. “The U.S., China, Russia, Israel, Turkey, Iran — it’s coming from everywhere.”
In addition to the ongoing military conflict, Ukraine offers a tempting target because so many of the country’s computers run pirated software, which doesn’t receive standard security patches. And, because it is well integrated with Western European internet networks, the country offers a backdoor to hack the rest of Europe.
Constant attempted attacks by hacker groups such as Fancy Bear, Cozy Bear and Turla are putting critical infrastructure and election systems under constant stress, Ukraine’s national security told POLITICO.
The goal, say experts, is to test the West’s defenses. The U.S. and other intelligence agencies have responded by moving into the Ukrainian networks to pick up the signals.
“Getting intelligence ahead of time is important,” says Dymtro Shymkiv, the former head of Microsoft in Ukraine and President Petro Poroshenko’s chief adviser on cyber between 2014 and 2018. “Some of the viruses and malware in the energy blackouts in Ukraine were later found in the U.S. and Israel.”
Ukrainian authorities, he says, exchange cyber intel for help in fending off the hackers.
“Whenever we identified malware, we uploaded it to special services where manufacturers of anti-virus could analyze it,” says Shymkiv. His cyber team sometimes worked with expert communities on platforms like Hybrid Analysis or ANY.RUN, a technique known as “cloud-based sandboxing,” where researchers can access the data and get in touch with those affected by malware, he says.
“U.S. counterparts, they are requesting a lot of information and interacting very productively” — Roman Boyarchuk, head of Ukraine’s State Cyber Protection Center
Washington has invested heavily in cyber resilience in Ukraine since 2014. USAID alone freed up a pot of $10 million (€8.9 million) for cybersecurity defenses, and a sizeable part of its much larger budget to support Ukraine goes to securing IT systems in the country.
U.S. companies, such as tech giant Microsoft, have also beefed up their presence in the country. Hardware leader Cisco has a strong foothold that includes its renowned cyberintelligence unit Talos. And U.S. cyber firm CrowdStrike, known for bullishly calling out state-sponsored hacks, is also active in the country, as are many others.
The U.S. and Europe are also investing in seminars and training for Ukrainian cybersecurity staff, and are involved in day-to-day assistance via the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), an international organization backed by democracies worldwide to help out with holding elections, and other channels.
“U.S. counterparts, they are requesting a lot of information and interacting very productively,” says Roman Boyarchuk, the head of Ukraine’s State Cyber Protection Center, the authority tasked with fending off attackers from government networks. American and European cybersecurity authorities regularly ask for more details about his agency’s analysis of major threats, he says.
Activity has increased ahead of Ukraine’s national election in March, experts say, as smaller groups and individual hackers and criminals look for financial gain.
“They’re scanning the networks and sending a lot of malware in order to find the breaches, the vulnerabilities,” says Boyarchuck, of the national cyber emergency team. “They are taking control, recording this control, putting it into databases and selling it.”
The hackers then find buyers for these credentials or access into confidential networks. Large data sets are sold on dark web marketplaces to anyone willing to pay the price.
“Everyone is buying it,” says Boyarchuk. “Corporate competitors, state actors, anybody.”
Fears of contagion
For Kiev’s cyber helpers, the goal is not just to help out a developing country under pressure. As Ukraine becomes ever more integrated with the West, there’s a strong fear of contagion. A successful cyberattack in Kiev, they fear, can easily slip the country’s borders and infect computers across the globe.
That’s become especially true following Ukraine’s shift toward the West, which triggered Russia’s aggression. The country’s 2014 Association Agreement with the EU came with a “deep and comprehensive free-trade agreement” in place since 2016 that has strengthened economic ties. And with the increase in trade has come added data flows and interactions in its internet networks.
The 2017 “NotPetya” attack was a painful example of the risks that come with this kind of entanglement: An attack starting in a small tech firm in Ukraine spread to companies and government agencies across the world, grinding the business of international heavy-hitters to a halt.
“We provided them with political support, we’ve supported Ukraine in providing guns and ammo. Now we’re moving to cyber” — Edvinas Kerza, Lithuania’s vice minister of national defense
NotPetya “was when everybody realized how vulnerable we are when Ukraine gets hit,” says Maigre, the former head of NATO’s cyberdefense center. “It easily blows over to Europe and beyond.”
For the EU, in particular, the attack underlined the urgency of beefing up Ukraine’s cyberdefenses.
Since then, European countries have set up bilateral assistance deals. Estonia, for example, is heavily involved in helping Ukrainian authorities set up a secure electoral IT system. Lithuania is also active, according to Edvinas Kerza, the country’s vice minister of national defense.
“We provided them with political support, we’ve supported Ukraine in providing guns and ammo,” says Kerza. “Now we’re moving to cyber.”
The EU’s eye is now on securing the upcoming presidential election at the end of March.
“We strongly expect Russia will try to influence the course of Ukraine’s presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019,” Ukraine’s security service said in an email, adding that the greatest threat comes from special services launching “purposeful, long-term cyberattacks with state interests in mind.”
Above all, the March vote could provide valuable insight for the EU, as it braces for cyberattacks on its European election at the end of May. That vote — in which voters in 27 countries will choose a new European Parliament and by extension decide who sits at the helm of the EU’s top institutions — is uniquely vulnerable to interference.
What happens in Kiev today could easily happen in Berlin, Rome or Amsterdam tomorrow, experts say. Ukraine “is sort of like a litmus test,” says Maigre. The stream of phishing emails, the data sold on the dark web, the new types of malware — all of it can pop up west of Ukraine at any time. “That’s why it is interesting to see how it all plays out in the elections,” she says.
AIWA! NO!| Rancor and recriminations were the order of the day with allies as well as adversaries turning on each other in one of the most important gatherings of the Munich Security Conference in recent years.
Efforts were supposed to be made, at least among western countries, to find common ground on a range of issues from the Middle East after the end of the Isis caliphate to cyber warfare, Brexit, extremism and climate change.
Instead the US vice president Mike Pence attacked European states for not joining Washington in pulling out of the nuclear deal with Iran and failing to fully follow the American line on the Venezuelan crisis.
Repeatedly praising Donald Trump for his allegedly “remarkable” and “extraordinary” qualities which have made “America stronger than ever before”, enabling it to “lead on the world stage again”, Mr Pence derided Nato allies.
His speech was greeted with muted cheering, with Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner clapping enthusiastically, but a significant number of those present staying silent and some of his remarks being greeted with whispered mockery.
The criticism was not just one way.
Angela Merkel warned of the dangers in American isolationism and staunchly defended multilateral institutions under threat from US policy.
The German chancellor defended the Iran deal, condemning Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw from it, and questioned his decision to pull troops out of Syria and Afghanistan. Ms Merkel also rebuffed US demands that her government scrap a gas deal with Moscow under which a new pipeline, Nord Stream 2, being built under the Baltic, will bring Russian gas directly to Germany.
She highlighted a statement by a US official that German cars were a security threat to America, to show the attitude to trade held by some in Washington. “We are proud of our cars and so we should be … If it is viewed as a security threat to the United States then we are shocked,” said Ms Merkel, adding that many were manufactured in the US and exported to countries like China.
Warning of attacks on international organisations of the type Mr Trump is in the habit of making, Ms Merkel commented: “We cannot just smash it, we need to cooperate … Now that we see pressure on the classic order we are used to, the question now is, ‘Do we fall apart into pieces of a puzzle and think everyone can solve the question best for himself alone?’”.
It would be wiser, she said, “to put yourself in the others’ shoes … and see whether we can get win-win solutions together”.
Germany is among international powers – along with Britain, France, Russia and China – which signed the nuclear agreement with Tehran. All these countries, as well as the UN Atomic Energy Authority, stress that the deal was working in preventing Iran developing a nuclear arsenal and that Tehran was abiding by its obligations.
European countries have organised a payment mechanism under which businesses and banks would, in theory, be able to trade with Iran without incurring American sanctions. Mike Pence said: “The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal and join with us as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure. The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining US sanctions against this murderous revolutionary regime.”
When Mr Pence went on to accuse Iran of sponsoring terrorism there were some whispered comments among some in the room about Gulf states, which are major purchasers of American arms, funding extremist Islamist groups. There were also sotto voce comments about the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi for which officials close to Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, an American ally close to Mr Kushner, have been blamed.
Mr Pence is part of the largest American delegation ever sent to the Munich conference. It includes senior Democrats like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi who are vocal critics of Mr Trump. Mr Biden is expected to criticise current US policy in a number of fields, including foreign policy, when he speaks at a session.
It was not surprising, in this acrimonious atmosphere, to hear the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov round on the west for a catalogue of alleged wrongdoing past and present, from the “illegal bombing of Serbia” and “organising a coup in Kiev” to the “aggressive” stance being taken by western politicians.
British defence secretary Gavin Williamson, who had attacked Russia in a speech at the conference on Friday for its role in a number of conflicts, got a special mention. “If you listen to some people like the minister of war – sorry the minister of defence – of the United Kingdom then you might get an impression that nobody except Nato has the right to be anywhere,” said Mr Lavrov.