Security experts believe Tehran will be reeling from effects of Stuxnet computer worm for a while, but warn it may try to strike back and 'set in motion a deadly game that catalyses a nuclear program'
Iran has limited capacity to retaliate in kind to an apparent cyber attack that infected computers at its sole nuclear power plant, analysts say, but some worry it could seek to hit back by other means.
Security experts say they believe the release of the Stuxnet computer worm may have been a state-backed attack on Iran's nuclear program, most likely originating in the United States or Israel. But they say the truth may never be known.
Little information is available on how much damage, if any, Iran's nuclear and wider infrastructure has suffered from Stuxnet -- and Tehran will probably never share the full details. Officials said on Sunday the worm had hit staff computers at the Bushehr nuclear power plant but had not affected major systems there.
Some analysts believe Iran may be suffering wider sabotage aimed at slowing down its nuclear ambitions, and point to unexplained technical problems that have cut the number of working centrifuges in its uranium enrichment program.
In the short term, intelligence experts believe Tehran's priority will be trying to identify the source of the attack and examining how the worm was uploaded onto its systems. "The Iranian internal security and counterintelligence departments will need to nail down the culprits first, then work out how to turn the tables," said Fred Burton, a former US counterintelligence expert who is now vice president of political risk consultancy Stratfor.
But finding reliable evidence identifying which country or group was responsible might well prove impossible, increasing the probability of a more unofficial and deniable reaction.
Some analysts suggest Iran might like to retaliate with a cyber attack against Israel or the West – although there are question marks over its capability to do so.
"I don't think we can expect much in the way of retaliatory cyber attacks," said regional analyst Jessica Ashooh. "The Iranians simply don't have the technical capacity to do anything similar to properly protected systems – as evidenced by the very hard time they are having controlling and quarantining this attack."
Nevertheless, experts say Iran has made improving its cyber espionage capability a priority – and will probably aim to grow these resources further in the years to come.
The risk, some worry, is that Iran might be tempted to either intensify its own nuclear program or target the West's own nuclear installations in return.
"How prepared are we all for this and could this set in motion a deadly game that catalyses a nuclear program no one intended to engage in?" said Mark Fitt, managing director of N49 Intelligence, a firm that advises businesses in the Middle East.
In terms of a more conventional response, Iran could potentially act through proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, as well as insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"They can... use networks in Afghanistan and the Gulf to strike back using unconventional `stealth tactics' and asymmetric methods," said Fitt.
Whatever happens, analysts say the Stuxnet attack is an early insight into the form state conflict may take in the 21st century.
"It's by no means a one-off – I think we'll see much more of this," said Ian Bremmer, president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
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"There is no such country as Palestine. 'Palestine' is a term the Zionists invented. There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria. 'Palestine' is alien to us. It is the Zionists who introduced it".
- Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi, Syrian Arab leader to British Peel Commission, 1937 -
"There is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not".
- Professor Philip Hitti, Arab historian, 1946 -
"It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but Southern Syria".
- Representant of Saudi Arabia at the United Nations, 1956 -
Concerning the Holy Land, the chairman of the Syrian Delegation at the Paris Peace Conference in February 1919 stated:
"The only Arab domination since the Conquest in 635 c.e. hardly lasted, as such, 22 years".
"There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent (valley of Jezreel, Galilea); not for thirty miles in either direction... One may ride ten miles hereabouts and not see ten human beings. For the sort of solitude to make one dreary, come to Galilee... Nazareth is forlorn... Jericho lies a mouldering ruin... Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and humiliation... untenanted by any living creature... A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds... a silent, mournful expanse... a desolation... We never saw a human being on the whole route... Hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil had almost deserted the country... Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes... desolate and unlovely...".
- Mark Twain, "The Innocents Abroad", 1867 -
"In 1590 a 'simple English visitor' to Jerusalem wrote: 'Nothing there is to bescene but a little of the old walls, which is yet remayning and all the rest is grasse, mosse and weedes much like to a piece of rank or moist grounde'.".
- Gunner Edward Webbe, Palestine Exploration Fund,
Quarterly Statement, p. 86; de Haas, History, p. 338 -
"The land in Palestine is lacking in people to till its fertile soil".
- British archaeologist Thomas Shaw, mid-1700s -
"Palestine is a ruined and desolate land".
- Count Constantine François Volney, XVIII century French author and historian -
"The Arabs themselves cannot be considered but temporary residents. They pitched their tents in its grazing fields or built their places of refuge in its ruined cities. They created nothing in it. Since they were strangers to the land, they never became its masters. The desert wind that brought them hither could one day carry them away without their leaving behind them any sign of their passage through it".
- Comments by Christians concerning the Arabs in Palestine in the 1800s -
"Then we entered the hill district, and our path lay through the clattering bed of an ancient stream, whose brawling waters have rolled away into the past, along with the fierce and turbulent race who once inhabited these savage hills. There may have been cultivation here two thousand years ago. The mountains, or huge stony mounds environing this rough path, have level ridges all the way up to their summits; on these parallel ledges there is still some verdure and soil: when water flowed here, and the country was thronged with that extraordinary population, which, according to the Sacred Histories, was crowded into the region, these mountain steps may have been gardens and vineyards, such as we see now thriving along the hills of the Rhine. Now the district is quite deserted, and you ride among what seem to be so many petrified waterfalls. We saw no animals moving among the stony brakes; scarcely even a dozen little birds in the whole course of the ride".
- William Thackeray in "From Jaffa To Jerusalem", 1844 -
"The country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is of a body of population".
- James Finn, British Consul in 1857 -
"The area was underpopulated and remained economically stagnant until the arrival of the first Zionist pioneers in the 1880's, who came to rebuild the Jewish land. The country had remained "The Holy Land" in the religious and historic consciousness of mankind, which associated it with the Bible and the history of the Jewish people. Jewish development of the country also attracted large numbers of other immigrants - both Jewish and Arab. The road leading from Gaza to the north was only a summer track suitable for transport by camels and carts... Houses were all of mud. No windows were anywhere to be seen... The plows used were of wood... The yields were very poor... The sanitary conditions in the village [Yabna] were horrible... Schools did not exist... The rate of infant mortality was very high... The western part, toward the sea, was almost a desert... The villages in this area were few and thinly populated. Many ruins of villages were scattered over the area, as owing to the prevalence of malaria, many villages were deserted by their inhabitants".
- The report of the British Royal Commission, 1913 -