Winning: The Big War You Never Hear Much About


December 21,2008: The war that worries most people in the Middle East is the one going on between Shia Iran and Arab Sunnis. This conflict ultimately takes over every other conflict. For example, Iran has been trying to get a Cyber War going against Israel. Prizes were offered for the most daring attacks on Israeli web sites by Moslem hackers. But the effort went sideways last year when some of the Shia hackers began attacking Sunni websites, in retaliation for some Sunni attacks on Shia sites. For the Shia, this was also payback for the increasingly anti-Shia tone of Sunni mass media. This, in turn, was in response to Iran's nuclear weapons program, and increasingly belligerent Iranian claims that it should be the leader of the Islamic world.

For the last three months, Shia and Sunni radicals have escalated their attacks on each other's web sites. What really got things going was a Shia attack on the two main web sites for Sunni radical religious propaganda (including al Qaeda) on September 11, 2008. Sunni hackers retaliated shortly thereafter by defacing 300 web sites belonging to Shia clergy and religious organizations. Shia hackers then came back with more attacks on Sunni clergy, media and religious sites. The two main Sunni radical propaganda sites, and, have been down most of the time since September 11. Since some 80 percent of Moslems are Sunni (versus about ten percent Shia), the Shia soon began taking more damage than they were dishing out, by a margin of more than two to one.

At first Arab media and religious leaders pleaded for the hackers to stop. Some chastised the hackers for fighting fellow Moslems, rather than going after infidels (particularly Israel.) But Moslem hackers don't like tangling with the Israelis, who have a much deeper bench in the hacking department.

Escalation was assured when sheikh Yousef al Qaradhawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, recently called in the Arab media, and denounced Shia in general, and Iran in particular, for being heretics and beyond redemption. These statements got wide coverage in the Egyptian and Saudi press, and were soon picked up by Islamic media worldwide. The leaders of most Sunni nations are content to play down the theological differences between Sunni and Shia. This includes Saudi Arabia, the guardian of Islam's most sacred shrines. But now this Internet based war threatens to spill over into the real world.

This particular Cyber War seems to have attracted Arab and Iranian hackers who do not normally get involved in Islamic radicalism. The animosity between the Shia and Sunni sects goes back nearly a thousand years, and has led to much bloodshed in that time. While Sunni and Shia leaders try to play down this feud (over who should have inherited the leadership of Islam over a thousand years ago), grass roots hatred is tolerated. Thus lower ranking religious leaders in Iran and the Arab world spew hatred for each other's religious beliefs. This has little to do with the current plague of Sunni terrorism (al Qaeda and so on), but is more of a deep seated cultural dispute.

Meanwhile, Iran has been trying to get Moslem hackers united against Israel. For two years now, the Hamas office in the capital of Iran, has sponsored a hacking contest. Whoever makes the most spectacular attack on the most important Israeli web sites (belonging to a government agency or one of the major political parties), wins a prize of $2,000. Not that a lot of Moslem hackers need much encouragement for this sort of thing. But the Islamic radical groups have noticed that they are not getting the best hacking talent, and the Israelis typically respond much more forcefully. It has been found, however, that a prize, and a formal competition, tends to bring in the more skilled, if less religiously radical, Moslem hackers.

There are a growing number of programmers and Internet specialists in the Moslem world, but most of them have legitimate jobs in software firms, or maintaining software and Internet services for companies. Some are involved with Internet crime, and a very few spend some time trying to get some Internet based terrorism going.

It was hoped that this contest would defuse the Internet based war between Sunni and Shia Moslems. Although most Hamas members are Sunni, Shia Iran is a major backer of Hamas. So it makes sense for Hamas to come up with something to stop the Internet war between Shia and Sunni Moslems, and unite everyone against Israel. It hasn't worked, and Israeli and Western counter-intelligence agencies appear to have joined in, making attacks on Shia and Sunni sites, and letting paranoia take its course.




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