After cutting ties with Iran, Albanian PM arrives in Israel to talk cybersecurity

Edi Rama blames Tehran for series of attacks in July, will meet with Israel’s cyber czar; Dutch PM also slated to land this week

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (C) lands in Israel for a three-day visit on October 23, 2022. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (C) lands in Israel for a three-day visit on October 23, 2022. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama arrived in Israel on Sunday for a three-day visit that will focus on cybersecurity.

Rama is slated to meet on Sunday afternoon with Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who had invited him to Israel.

The Albanian leader will also meet with President Isaac Herzog, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, in addition to the head of Israel’s National Cyber Directorate, Gaby Portnoy.

In September, Israel offered cyber-defense assistance to Albania, days after the Balkan state severed its diplomatic ties with Iran citing accusations that the Islamic Republic had carried out cyberattacks against the country in July.

Rama’s delegation includes Albania’s cyber director and foreign, youth and agriculture ministers, as well as the national security adviser and chief spokesperson.

The visit is the first of two leaders of NATO countries this week.  Long-time Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is slated to land Monday for a two-day visit focused on energy, water and food security.

Netherland’s Prime Minister Mark Rutte arrives for the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, on June 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

The Netherlands is a member of the European Union as well, while Albania is a candidate for accession.

Following the collapse of its communist government in the early 1990s, Albania — a majority-Muslim country — has transformed into a steadfast ally of the United States and the West, officially joining NATO in 2009.

Albania blamed Iran for a July 15 cyberattack that temporarily shut down numerous Albanian government digital services and websites. Rama said an investigation determined that the July cyberattack wasn’t carried out by individuals or independent groups, calling it a “state aggression.”

The two countries have been bitter foes for years, since the Balkan state began hosting members of the opposition People’s Mujahideen of Iran, or Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), on its soil.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama speaks during the Wine Vision fair, part of the ‘Open Balkan’ economic forum for regional cooperation in Belgrade, Serbia, Sept. 1, 2022. (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

Iran rejected the accusation it was behind the cyberattack as “baseless” and called Albania’s decision to sever diplomatic ties “an ill-considered and shortsighted action.”

“Iran as one of the target countries of cyberattacks on its critical infrastructure rejects and condemns any use of cyberspace as a tool to attack the critical infrastructure of other countries,” its Foreign Ministry said.

The Biden administration said it supported the move by Albania.

“The United States strongly condemns Iran’s cyberattack,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement. “We join in Prime Minister Rama’s call for Iran to be held accountable for this unprecedented cyber incident.”

Former US Vice President Mike Pence, center, and the leader of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran Maryam Rajavi, left, wave to the participants at the Iranian opposition headquarters in Albania, where up to 3,000 MEK members reside at Ashraf-3 camp in Manza town, about 30 kilometers (16 miles) west of Tirana, Albania, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Franc Zhurda)

Israel and Iran have for several years been involved in a largely clandestine cyberwar that occasionally bubbles to the surface. Israeli officials have accused Iran of attempting to hack Israel’s water system in 2020.

The Islamic Republic has also been targeted by cyberattacks, most notably in 2010 when the Stuxnet virus — believed to have been engineered by Israel and the US — infected its nuclear program.

Albania agreed in 2013 to take in members of the MEK at the request of Washington and the United Nations, with thousands settling in the Balkan country over the years.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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