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Israel offers cyber aid to Albania, which severed Iran ties over hacking claim

Deputy FM Idan Roll relays Jerusalem’s backing for Tirana’s move and vows to ‘tighten’ relationship between two countries

Illustrative: A cybersecurity expert talks about Iran hacking techniques, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, September 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Illustrative: A cybersecurity expert talks about Iran hacking techniques, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, September 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

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

Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll met with Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka on the sidelines of the Conference on Shaping Feminist Foreign Policy in Berlin, where he “offered to share our knowledge and experience in cyber defense” and “expressed Israel’s appreciation” for Tirana’s decision to kick out Iran’s diplomats, he said in a tweet.

“We will continue to tighten cooperation between Israel and Albania,” Roll added.

Last week, Albania blamed Iran for a July 15 cyberattack that temporarily shut down numerous Albanian government digital services and websites. Over the weekend, Albania’s Interior Ministry accused Tehran of an additional attack on Friday that targeted the national police’s computer systems.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi 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.

Iran rejected the accusation it was behind the cyberattack as “baseless” and called Albania’s decision to sever diplomatic ties “an ill-considered and short-sighted 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, which is a NATO member.

“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.”

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.

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)

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.

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

The MEK backed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the 1979 revolution that ousted the shah, but rapidly fell out with the new Islamic authorities and embarked on a decades-long campaign to overthrow the regime.

The MEK regularly hosts summits in Albania that have long attracted support from conservative US Republicans, including former US vice president Mike Pence, who delivered a keynote address at an event in June.

A month later, the group postponed another summit, citing unspecified security threats targeting the event.

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