U.S. to Expand Middle East Cyber Alliance to Combat Iran Threat

President Biden has vowed to expand the U.S.’s corporation with Israel and Saudi Arabia following the rising cyber threat posed by Iran.

The announcement came during Biden’s trip to the Middle East last week, which saw him sign a bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia to share cyber intelligence.

During the trip, the U.S. also reached an agreement with Israel to ramp up their collaboration in combating cyber crime.

Israel is currently in the middle of a cyber war with Iran. Tensions have remained high for several years but a flurry of attacks against the Israeli government in recent weeks has escalated the situation.

Iran has also been linked to cyber attacks against the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Although its cyber capabilities are not as strong as Israel or other major players, such as Russia and the U.S itself, Iran has been active in state-sponsored cyber attacks.

Earlier this year, the FBI confirmed that it has thwarted a cyberattack intended to disrupt the network of the Boston Children’s Hospital. FBI Director Christopher Wray said Iranian-backed hackers were behind the attack, which he described as “one of the most despicable cyberattacks” he’s ever seen.

Iran has also been accused of conducting cyber espionage operations against Western media. A Proofpoint report published this month notes that Iranian hackers have regularly spied on U.S.-based journalists to access sensitive information.

Getting Israel and Saudi Arabia on board

Discussing President Biden’s trip the Middle East, American Enterprise Institute research fellow Jeson Blessing said: “[W]e have to acknowledge that Iran is the primary driver of a lot of what happened […] and this extends to cyber space as well.”

Blessing added that the U.S. is able to forge stronger alliances with Israel and Saudi Arabia because of their common enemy.

“I would say the number one geostrategic priority [for the U.S.] is getting both countries on the same page when it comes to Iran,” Blessing said.

The head of Israel’s National Cyber Directorate, Gaby Portnoy, has previously described Iran as its “dominant rival” in cyberspace, and added that the county “cannot fight cyber aggression alone”.

He said that Israel must engage with partners at home and abroad, including the private sector and in academia. The alliance with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia clearly represents significant progress towards this.

The partnership with the U.S. will prove particularly useful, given the two countries have some of the most advanced cyber capabilities in the world. Saudi Arabia, by contrast, doesn’t have the same expertise, although having the country on board will be mutually beneficial for the wider political objectives of the alliance.

James Lewis, a senior vice president and director with the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said “The U.S. is promoting alliances around the world and cyber is a crucial part of those alliances.”

He adds: “Iran is one of the leading cyber threats […] so coming up with ways to push back on Iran is in the interest of all three.”

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