US conducts cyber attack on Iran – Tehran says ‘spy drone’ violated airspace in May

KUWAIT: The US special envoy for Iran yesterday urged “all nations to use their diplomatic effort to urge Iran to de-escalate and meet diplomacy with diplomacy” amid soaring tensions in the Gulf. “We are not interested in… military conflict against Iran, we have enhanced our forces’ postures in the region for purely defensive purposes,” Brian Hook told journalists in Kuwait.


In mid-June the United States said it would deploy 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East, after a series of tanker attacks in the Gulf it has blamed on Iran despite Tehran’s denials of involvement. The US moves came as Iran set a 10-day countdown for world powers to fulfill their commitments under a nuclear deal abandoned by Washington, saying it would otherwise surpass the uranium stockpile limit mandated by the accord.

KUWAIT: Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran, speaks during a press conference yesterday. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat


Hook said his talks in Kuwait focused “how to de-escalate tensions that in the region have been driven by Iran and we discussed how we can deepen our cooperation especially around the area of maritime security”. “The Iranian regime is a threat to freedom of navigation and all nations of the world share an interest in the free flow of commerce and there is much work to be done together,” he said. “We need Iran to behave more like a normal nation and less like a revolutionary cause. And if we can imagine a peaceful Iran, then we can imagine a peaceful Middle East,” he added.


Hook said the military option is still open after the US’ aborted military response on Iran’s downing of a US military reconnaissance drone. “Yes, it remains on the table in the event that we are attacked. It is very important to understand our position – in the current environment, our troops are all positioned in a defensive way. We are not seeking war or conflict with Iran – we exerted diplomacy but Iran responded with military force. We currently have about 7,000 troops in the region to ensure that if we are attacked, we are going to respond with military might,” he said.
Hook met the Kuwaiti defense minister, the chief of staff of the Kuwaiti military and the Kuwaiti foreign minister and assistant foreign minister. Kuwait is the current president of the UN Security Council (for the month of June), and Hook said he believes the UN Security Council has special role along with other organizations since this is a global threat that requires a global response.


“We had a very good discussion about the current tension. I explained to them that our Iran strategy has many objectives, but our principal objectives are to deny the regime the revenue they need to run an expansionist and violent foreign policy. The Iranian regime provides assistance and funding to terrorism around the region. They aspire to create a Shiite corridor to dominate the Middle East. So much instability in the Middle East is driven by the Iranian regime,” Hook said.
On Friday in Saudi Arabia, the US envoy said Iran has no right to respond to diplomacy “with military force”, a day after Tehran shot down the US reconnaissance drone over the Strait of Hormuz – a strategic waterway for the world’s oil transits. Iran yesterday said a “spy drone” had encroached its airspace in May about a month before it downed the American drone as part of a series of escalatory incidents between Tehran and Washington. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted a map saying the US-made MQ9 Reaper drone – also widely used for carrying out military strikes – had entered his country’s airspace on May 26.


Iran shot down the US Global Hawk drone on Thursday, saying it had violated its airspace near the strategic Strait of Hormuz – a claim the United States denies. US President Donald Trump called off a planned retaliatory military strike Friday, saying the response would not have been “proportionate”, with Tehran warning any attack would see Washington’s interests across the Middle East go up in flames.
Yesterday, US national security adviser John Bolton cautioned Iran against misinterpreting the last-minute cancellation. “Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness,” Bolton said in Jerusalem. The downing of the US drone came after a series of attacks on tankers in the congested shipping lanes of the Gulf, which Washington has blamed on Tehran, exacerbated already-tense relations between the two countries. Iran has denied responsibility for those attacks.


With the military option called off, Washington secretly launched cyber-attacks against Iranian missile control systems and a spy network in response to the downed drone, according to US media reports. US media said the attack crippled computers used to control missile launchers and a spying group tracking ships in the Gulf. Iran is yet to officially react to the claim, but Fars news agency called the move a “bluff” and said it was meant to “regain lost reputation for the White House” following the downing of its drone.


Iran has said it would respond firmly to any threat against it and warned yesterday of the risks of a military confrontation. “If a conflict breaks out in the region, no country would be able to manage its scope and timing,” Major General Gholamali Rashid said, according to Fars. “The American government must act responsibly to protect the lives of American troops by avoiding misconduct in the region.”


Trump, who spent Saturday huddling with his advisers, initially said he was keen to be Iran’s “best friend” – if the country agreed to renounce nuclear weapons. “When they agree to that, they’re going to have a wealthy country. They’re going to be so happy, and I’m going to be their best friend,” he told reporters. “We are putting major additional Sanctions on Iran on Monday,” tweeted Trump, who has also deployed additional troops to the Middle East. “I look forward to the day that Sanctions come off Iran, and they become a productive and prosperous nation again – The sooner the better!”


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added: “When the Iranian regime decides to forgo violence and meet our diplomacy with diplomacy, it knows how to reach us. Until then, our diplomatic isolation and economic pressure campaign against the regime will intensify.” A minister from Britain’s Foreign Office was in Tehran yesterday to meet top Iranian diplomats for “urgent de-escalation” of tensions, yet the Iranian party said the talks were “repetitive”.


Minister of State for the Middle East Andrew Murrison had the “usual talking points”, said Kamal Kharazi, the head of the Strategic Council of Foreign Relations at Iran’s foreign ministry. These included saying a European payment mechanism to help Iran with US sanctions “will soon become operational, that Britain has always supported the (nuclear deal) and has its own problems with America… such talks that have always been repetitive,” Kharazi added. “#EconomicTerrorism brings tension,” Zarif tweeted, adding it was “prudence” that prevented a war breaking out between Tehran and Washington.


Meanwhile, Iranian lawmakers chanted “Death to America” during a parliament session yesterday. “America is the real terrorist in the world by spreading chaos in countries, giving advanced weapons to terrorist groups, causing insecurity, and still it says ‘Come, let’s negotiate’,” the parliament’s deputy speaker, Masoud Pezeshkian, said at the start of a session broadcast live on state radio. “Death to America,” chanted many lawmakers. The chants, often repeated since the 1979 Islamic revolution which toppled the U.S.-backed Shah, came weeks after Trump said in a US television interview: “They (Iranians) haven’t screamed ‘death to America’ lately.”

By Ben Garcia and Agencies