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Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Intelligence arrow Israel: Iran listening in on IDF communications from Syria
Israel: Iran listening in on IDF communications from Syria PDF Print E-mail
Written by Haaretz   
Wednesday, 02 April 2008

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Iran has set up sophisticated listening stations in Syria in recent months to intercept Israeli military communications, Israeli security officials said Tuesday.

The officials offered no details on how many stations had been set up. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose information about defense operations.

Military officials said the listening stations received information through powerful antennas able to pick up communications from a distance of hundreds of kilometers. The antennas are receivers and do not transmit signals, so they cannot be blocked. The distance between Jerusalem and Syria's capital, Damascus, is 220
kilometers (135 miles).

Israel is taking new precautions because of the listening stations, the
officials said.

Israel Defense Forces top brass won't be allowed to bring their mobile phones into rooms where classified information is being discussed, the officials said. Also, IDF generals will be assigned special areas on bases to conduct personal conversations. That way, listening stations won't be able to hear sensitive conversations that might be going on in the background while generals talk on their cellular phones, they explained.

Rules governing landline conversations won't be changed because those communications are less exposed to interception.

Military officials say Iran helped Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas pick up Israeli radio communications during the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Several months ago, all radio communications were ordered to be encrypted, security officials said.

On Tuesday, Israeli intelligence officers told a parliamentary committee that Hezbollah was replenishing its arsenal with medium- and long-range missiles, and improving its systems.

On a tour of the northern border Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak remarked that Hezbollah was growing more powerful, but warned that "Israel is the strongest country in the region, and I would not recommend that anyone on the other side of the border test us."

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Diplomats: China gave IAEA intelligence on Iran's nuclear activities
China, an opponent of harsh United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran, has nonetheless provided the International Atomic Energy Agency recently with intelligence linked to Tehran's alleged attempts to make nuclear arms, diplomats have told The Associated Press.

Beijing, along with Moscow, has acted as a brake within the council, consistently watering down a U.S.-led push to impose severe penalties on Tehran for its nuclear defiance since the first set of sanctions was passed in late 2006.

A Chinese decision to provide information for use in the UN nuclear watchdog's attempts to probe Iran's purported nuclear weapons program would appear to reflect growing international unease about how honest the Islamic republic has been in denying it ever tried to make such arms.

China's venture was revealed by two senior diplomats with good contacts to the International Atomic Energy Agency, with one commenting late last week and the other Wednesday. The IAEA declined comment.

The diplomats said Beijing was the most surprising entry among a fairly substantial list of nations recently forwarding information to the agency that adds to previously provided intelligence, and which could be relevant in attempts to probe Iran for past or present nuclear weapons research.

But they said several other countries not normally considered to be in the anti-Iran camp had also done so in recent weeks.

The diplomats - who demanded anonymity because their information was confidential - declined to name individual nations. But they attributed a generally increased flow of information to concern sparked by a multimedia presentation to the 35 IAEA board members by the agency in February of intelligence previously forwarded by member states on Iran's alleged clandestine nuclear arms program.

One of the diplomats said the agency was also on the lookout for misleading information it was given either inadvertently or in attempts to falsely implicate Iran.


One example, he said was a document showing experiments with implosion technology that can be used to detonate a nuclear device. While the document appeared genuine, it was unclear whether it originated from Iran, said the diplomat.

Suspected weapons-related work outlined in the February presentation and IAEA reports preceding it include:
* Uranium conversion linked to high explosives testing and designs of a missile re-entry vehicle, all apparently interconnected through involvement of officials and institutions

* Procurement of so-called dual use equipment and experiments that also could be used in both civilian and military nuclear programs, and
* Iran's possession of a 15-page document outlining how to form uranium metal into the shape of a warhead.

A U.S. intelligence estimate late last year said Tehran worked on nuclear weapons programs until 2003, while Israel and other nations say such work continued past that date.

Related articles:

  • U.S.: Iran halted nuclear weapons development in 2003
  • PM: Israel will work to expose Iran nuclear program
  • Study: U.S., Israel should begin planning strike on Iran nuclear sites
  • Think tank: Israel could attack Iran's nuclear program alone
  • http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/971108.html

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    Background Historical Info

    newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/ny-wocode184896831sep18,0,3091818.story

    Newsday.com

    Hezbollah cracked the code

    Technology likely supplied by Iran allowed guerrillas to stop Israeli tank assaults

    BY MOHAMAD BAZZI

    Newsday Middle East Correspondent

    September 18, 2006

    AITA SHAAB, Lebanon

     

    Hezbollah guerrillas were able to hack into Israeli radio communications during last month's battles in south Lebanon, an intelligence breakthrough that helped them thwart Israeli tank assaults, according to Hezbollah and Lebanese officials.

    Using technology most likely supplied by Iran, special Hezbollah teams monitored the constantly changing radio frequencies of Israeli troops on the ground. That gave guerrillas a picture of Israeli movements, casualty reports and supply routes. It also allowed Hezbollah anti-tank units to more effectively target advancing Israeli armor, according to the officials.

    "We were able to monitor Israeli communications, and we used this information to adjust our planning," said a Hezbollah commander involved in the battles, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The official refused to detail how Hezbollah was able to intercept and decipher Israeli transmissions. He acknowledged that guerrillas were not able to hack into Israeli communications around the clock.

    The Israeli military refused to comment on whether its radio communications were compromised, citing security concerns. But a former Israeli general, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Hezbollah's ability to secretly hack into military transmissions had "disastrous" consequences for the Israeli offensive.

    "Israel's military leaders clearly underestimated the enemy and this is just one example," he said.

    Dodging the efforts

    Like most modern militaries, Israeli forces use a practice known as "frequency-hopping" - rapidly switching among dozens of frequencies per second - to prevent radio messages from being jammed or intercepted. It also uses encryption devices to make it difficult for enemy forces to decipher transmissions even if they are intercepted. The Israelis mostly rely on a U.S.-designed communication system called the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System.

    Hezbollah's ability to intercept and decode Israeli transmissions underscores how the Shia group had higher military capabilities than many Israeli and U.S. officials thought.

    Much of Hezbollah's capability is believed to have come from its two main backers, Iran and Syria.

    During 34 days of fighting, which ended Aug. 14 under a cease-fire brokered by the United Nations, Hezbollah repeatedly surprised Israel by deploying new types of missiles and battlefield tactics.

    "The Israelis did not realize that they were facing a guerrilla force with the capabilities of a regular army," said a senior Lebanese security official who asked not to be identified. "Hezbollah invested a lot of resources into eavesdropping and signals interception."

    Besides radio transmissions, the official said Hezbollah also monitored cell phone calls among Israeli troops. But cell phones are usually easier to intercept than military radio, and officials said Israeli forces were under strict orders not to divulge sensitive information over the phone.

    Hezbollah eavesdropping teams had trained Hebrew speakers who could quickly translate intercepted Israeli transmissions and relay the information to local commanders, the Hezbollah official said. Even before the war, the group had dozens of translators working in its southern Beirut offices to monitor Israeli media and phone intercepts.

    Mistakes happen

    With frequency-hopping and encryption, most radio communications become very difficult to hack. But troops in the battlefield sometimes make mistakes in following secure radio procedures and can give an enemy a way to break into the frequency-hopping patterns. That might have happened during some battles between Israel and Hezbollah, according to the Lebanese official. Hezbollah teams likely also had sophisticated reconnaissance devices that could intercept radio signals even while they were frequency-hopping.

    During one raid in southern Lebanon, Israeli special forces said they found a Hezbollah office equipped with jamming and eavesdropping devices. Israeli officials said the base also had detailed maps of northern Israel, lists of Israeli patrols along the border and cell phone numbers for Israeli commanders.

    That raid highlighted the ongoing spy war between Hezbollah and Israel. Since Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000 - after an 18-year occupation and guerrilla war with Hezbollah - the militia has stepped up its espionage efforts against Israel. According to Israeli military officials, a special Hezbollah unit recruits Israeli Arabs and others to spy for it. The agents are assigned to obtain maps, monitor Israeli patrols, gather cell phone numbers and photograph military facilities. This information is used to draw up detailed maps and files that could be used to direct Hezbollah's rocket and missile attacks.

    "After the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, each side competed to spy on the other," said Nizar Qader, a retired Lebanese army general who is now an independent military analyst. "This intelligence-gathering was essential to fighting a war ... Hezbollah appears to have collected better information than the Israelis."

    After Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12, Israel launched its most intense attack since it invaded Lebanon in 1982. The offensive crippled the country's infrastructure, displaced 1 million people, cut off Lebanon from the world and killed more than 1,200 Lebanese - the majority of them civilians. Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets at Israel, killing 43 civilians. Of the 119 Israeli soldiers killed, the majority were killed by anti-tank missiles.

    Hezbollah's ability to hack into Israeli communications made its arsenal of anti-tank missiles even more deadly by improving the targeting. Throughout the ground war, Hezbollah deployed well-trained anti-tank teams to transport these missiles and fire them in ways that would inflict heavy casualties on Israeli forces. The units were made up of four to six fighters who moved around mostly on foot.

    The militia used four kinds of sophisticated missiles that enabled it to disable - and, in some cases, destroy - Israel's most powerful armor: Merkava tanks. The Merkava is reinforced with several tons of armor, a virtual fortress on tracks intended to ensure its crew's survival on the battlefield.

    All the missiles used by Hezbollah are relatively easy to transport and can be fired by a single guerrilla or a two-person team. They all rely on armor-piercing warheads. The most prevalent of Hezbollah's anti-tank weapons is the Russian made RPG-29, a powerful variation on a standard rocket-propelled grenade. The RPG-29 has a range of 500 yards.

    Using all their capabilities

    Hezbollah also used three other potent anti-tank missiles, according to Israeli and Lebanese officials: the Russian-made Metis, which has a range of 1 mile and can carry high-explosive warheads; the Russian-built Kornet, which has a range of 3 miles and thermal sights for tracking the heat signatures of tanks, and the European-built MILAN (a French acronym for Anti-Tank Light Infantry Missile), which has a range of 1.2 miles, a guidance system and the ability to be fired at night.

    Israeli officials say the Kornet and RPG-29 were provided to Hezbollah by Syria, which bought them from Russia in the late 1990s. Russian officials are investigating whether Syria violated an agreement that these weapons would not be transferred to a third party.

    Analysts say Hezbollah used all its capabilities - eavesdropping, anti-tank missiles and guerrilla fighting skills - to maximum effect.

    "The information collected by signals intercepts was being used to help direct fighters on the battlefield," Qader said. "These are tactics of a modern army."

    Sonia Verma contributed to this story from Jerusalem.

    Key events

    July 12. Hezbollah kidnaps two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

    July 13. Israel begins bombing the runways at Beirut's airport and imposes a naval blockade of Lebanon. Hezbollah rocket attacks strike the northern Israeli city of Haifa.

    July 18. The United States, others step up evacuations of their citizens from Lebanon.

    July 22. Israeli ground troops enter Lebanon.

    Aug. 6. Hezbollah rocket attacks kill 12 Israeli soldiers and 3 others in deadliest day for Israel in nearly 4 weeks of war.

    Aug. 12. The UN Security Council approves a resolution calling for a "full cessation of hostilities."

    Aug. 14. Cease-fire takes effect.

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