Iranian hackers, operating in Hebrew, impersonated anti-Netanyahu activists, spread misinformation on multiple social media platforms and gathered information on Israeli citizens.
The Iranian regime carried out a massive online disinformation campaign against former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the run-up to the country’s March 2021 election, a report by an Israeli cyber watchdog disclosed.
Iranian hackers, operating in Hebrew, impersonated anti-Netanyahu activists, spread misinformation on multiple social media platforms, and spied on Israeli citizens. They interacted with tens of thousands of Israeli users and posted massive content with the intent of sowing social discord and influencing the election outcome, a 23-page report released by the Israeli disinformation watchdog group FakeReporter shows.
According to the watchdog, Iranian accounts infiltrated the left-wing Israeli “Black Flag” protest movement, which pressed for the ouster of Prime Minister Netanyahu. In many cases, they stole the identities of actual anti-Netanyahu activists to further their rogue influence operation.
The watchdog’s report detailed the Iranian attempt to influence Israeli public opinion (download the PDF version of the report here):
In the month leading up to the 2021 Israeli election FakeReporter researchers discovered and reported a Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour (CIB) operating across several social and communication platforms. This network has various operation methods, including impersonating political and social activists, mass distribution of content, contacting Israeli civilians, gathering information and content from them and publishing it on the network’s assets, alongside original content.
The Iranian “Cross-Platform Influence Operation” evaded detection by the service providers and Israeli authorities by interacting directly with unsuspecting individual users and moving in smaller messaging groups.
“Over several months, Iranian agents had infiltrated small WhatsApp groups, Telegram channels and messaging apps that Israeli activists used for intimate discussions among dozens to thousands of people,” The New York Times noted in its article on Wednesday.
The NYT reported the nature of the covert Iranian operation, citing the watchdog report:
The first-of-its-kind discovery of the Iranian campaign by FakeReporter, an Israeli disinformation watchdog group, offers insight into how countries have miniaturized their disinformation campaigns in an effort to stay under the radar of tech companies that have become more aggressive in rooting them out.
Instead of speaking to broad audiences on Facebook or Twitter, these campaigns stir up antigovernment sentiment and gather information about activists’ protests and organization by focusing on smaller and more private communications on WhatsApp, Telegram and other encrypted chat apps. Because only the senders and receivers can see what is being discussed, the disinformation campaigns are hidden from the tech companies and the authorities. (…)
Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, removed several of the WhatsApp accounts tied to Iran after The New York Times contacted it about the evidence collected by FakeReporter. A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed that the identified accounts were tied to previous Iranian activity that the company had removed this year.
The rogue influence operation targeted others along with the former Israeli prime minister. Iranian agents published “incendiary ” and “inciting content” against Orthodox Jews and the country’s police force. “Recurring themes include police brutality and comparing Netanyahu to Hitler and Israeli to Nazi Germany,” the report found.
The Iranian regime makes no secret of its hostility towards Netanyahu, who vociferously opposed the Obama-Kerry nuclear deal and had shown determination to stop Tehran from getting a nuclear bomb. “Iran’s enemies are gone and powerful Iran is still here,” Iranian foreign minister spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh declared a day after the Israeli prime minister’s ouster.
The report comes as President Joe Biden’s administration has begun easing U.S. sanctions on Tehran in the hope of restoring the Obama-era nuclear deal. The sanctions relief will further help the Shia-Islamic regime get its hands on advanced technology to enhance its cyber warfare capabilities.DONATE
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.