Cyber warfare or smart bombs – is there a dilemma ?

Maj. General (ret) David Ivry has performed many national tasks in Israel over the years, among them commander of the Israeli air force.

Ivry said a few days ago that “if a worm can do the job better, use it before you switch to military power”. This very experienced and well-connected figure, who was also director general of the Israeli ministry of defence and an ambassador to Washington, among other things, was referring to reports in the international press concerning a computer “worm” created by Israel that slowed down the Iranian nuclear programme.

Cyber warfare in the Middle East has reached a very advanced stage. While countries still develop very deadly weapons – some non-conventional – some of these countries have also developed silent agents, deception tools that may result in leaving triggers un-squeezed.

Israel, of course, did not react to the stories about the worm which allegedly succeeded in entering the computers of the Iranian nuclear facilities. That said, they are a good indicator of the “parallel war” fought in the dark and far from any defined war zone.

Documents leaked to Wikileaks claimed the attack on the nuclear facility in Syria in 2007 was performed by Israel, and that Israeli air force fighter jets penetrated Syrian airspace after Israel managed to take control of the country’s early-warning system.

When you read the leaked reports you must pay attention to the wording – Israel, according to these reports, did not blind the Syrian radar but took control of it – it did not have any chance of detecting the Israeli fighters.

However, all of these are of course leaked reports and the wild stories of journalists, but if only some are true the trend is very clear – in order to perform a successful military operation, especially a swift one from the air, it’s not enough to have fighter jets with precision bombs. There is a need to manipulate the enemy, deceive it, cause confusion and then attack and get out without meeting any resistance.

Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. Israel, according to press reports, destroyed convoys of arms on their way to the Gaza strip in the dessert of Sudan. Israel, according to further reports, managed to intercept shipments of arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon and bring the ships that carried it to a

waiting “trap”.

There is no doubt – cyber warfare goes on in the Middle East on a daily basis, and it is becoming more complex, more sophisticated and more focused.

Part of the “trick” in such military cyber warfare is to let the enemy think that nothing happened. Unlike in many cases of electronic warfare, where the enemy gets an indication that something is wrong, in cyber warfare the aim is to keep radar and early warning sensors’ operators calm until the attack is over. The surprise is complete and swift.

While Israel is continuing to purchase and manufacture the most advanced weapon systems, experts in this new type of warfare are looking for the next hole in the shield. This is a war between minds, between concepts that are based on long experience, but also on the fact that the most advanced national facilities of every country rely on computers. The firewalls are there, but these new warriors look for the smallest crack, and if you believe these recent reports, they find them.

Can cyber attacks win a war? Can these attacks become a substitute to real weapon systems? Talking with the experts you get contradictory picture – while some say that this is the shape of wars to come, others say that this is only a complementary asset.

But one thing is in no doubt – cyber warfare is a very powerful tool, and it is being used even as I write these lines.

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