by Jinen Lakdawala SVKM’s Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai University.
Earlier at the beginning of last month, Albania announced that it has cut all diplomatic ties with Iran and has asked the Iranian diplomats to leave Albania within 24 hours. This decision was taken following the cyber attacks by Iran on official Albanian state websites. This was the first case of severing diplomatic ties over a cyber-attack, witnessed by the international community.
Iran in complete violation of the principle of sovereignty, has conducted a series of cyber-attacks in the state of Albania directly affecting the government and digital services rendered to the public. The very first attack was conducted in May which affected governmental websites and also the digital services which help in functioning of the country on a daily basis. The attack was aimed to target the governmental server administrate.al. The Second attack was conducted in July which targeted the governmental portal e-Albania.al. The portal is used by the Albanian citizens to book appointments with Albanian officials or apply for official documentation like passport or other governmental IDs. This attack by Iran is a blatant violation of the rules of privacy. The third attack by Iran was conducted on 10th September 2022. This time Iran has attacked on The Information Management System (TIMS) of Albania which contains records of people leaving and entering the country. This forced the state of Albania to take the system offline for 24 hours until the necessary protections have been taken against the attack. This also resulted in a lot of chaos near the Albanian borders.
These attacks are in blatant violation of the international laws and the conduct in which an International Sovereign State ought to have conducted itself. These attacks by Iran are an offensive act of aggregation and an open call for war. Iran ought to have respected the sovereignty of the state of Albania. These acts by Iran have compromised the Security of the state of Albania and its citizens. Albania in an act of self-defense have asked the officials at the Iranian embassy to vacate the premises and have deported them back. This act by Albania displays the cut in diplomatical ties between the two nation states. The United States of America along with other NATO members have come in support of the Balkan nation state and condemned the actions of Iran. U.S.A in light of these actions have further put sanctions on Iran resulting in a political show-off between both nation states as Iran also backlashes against U.S.A by condemning it by not adhering to the nuclear dela which was signed by both Nation States in 2015. Other NATO members have also condemned Iran, and threatened to invoke article 5 of the treaty which provides that if a NATO ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take actions it deems necessary to assist the ally attacked.
Motive behind the said attack
Iran has stated that these attacks are the consequence of Albania housing the Iranian rebellion group Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK). MEK is an Iranian rebellious group formed in the year 1965 with the intention of bringing the Iranian regime down. It took arms against against the Pahlavi dynasty and supported Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Shortly after the revolution, there was a conflict of political interest between the group and the political authorities. As a result, they were banned from Iran and went into exile. However, they still continued functioning and were mainly settled within Iraq. The U.S.A came to their rescue, drew a pact with Albania to house 3,000 MEK members in its territory, after the death of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Albania being a member of NATO and an ally of U.S.A agreed to house the members of these group despite being aware about the risk. Following the death of Iranian general Qassam Soleimani due to US’s drone strikes in Iran, the Balkan state found itself in crossroads between the conflicts of the Nation states. After the death of the Iranian general, Iran has been targeting rebellious groups having any kind of affiliation with the U.S.A. Thus, the Iranian backlash is being faced by Albania. The cyber-attacks have been conducted by Iran in lieu with the conference which was to be held in Albanian town of Manez that was affiliated to the Iranian opposition group MEK. Iran as an act of aggression, carried out a series of Cyber-attacks. The conference as a result of these attacks, stands postponed.
USA’s and NATO’s Condemnation and possibility of further attacks in the future
According to a Microsoft report and investigation by the USA and Albania, it has been revealed that four Iranian groups were responsible for the cyber-attacks. It was also revealed that one of the groups is linked to Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The ransomware software used is referred to as Roadsweep, which is a new software which upon execution enumerates and encrypts files on the attacked device. These attacks have been primarily been targeted on journalists and activists affiliated with the MEK both inside and outside of the territory.
The USA in response of the cyber-attacks conducted against Albania has imposed sanctions on the Iran’s ministry of Intelligence and Security. It has quoted these activities of Iran to be “Malign Cyber- activities”. The USA has strongly criticised the actions of Iran and have made a statement condemning them that the actions are a breach of responsible behaviour of an independent Nation State in the Cyber-Space. A responsible Nation State shall refrain from interfering with the critical infrastructure of any other Nation State which provides essential services to the public. These additional sanctions have been added by the USA along with penalties imposed on several Iranian companies. Iran has violated all the moral and legal principles of maintaining a responsible conduct in the international society.
The relation between Albania and Iran have been tensed since Iran admitted 3,000 members of the MEK in 2013 on Washington’s request. Iran has always viewed the rebellious group as a terrorist organisation with the objective of creating disruptions and chaos in the country. Such attacks will continue until stringent actions are taken against Iran by the international society. However, Albania being a member of NATO and an ally of the USA, the notion of collective security will be enlarged. This means that sufficient defensive mechanisms will be taken by the NATO member states to withhold such cyber-attacks in the future. However, a permanent solution to refrain from such attacks is to take stringent actions against Iran for blatantly violating the UN charter and the misconduct towards an Independent Nation State.
The analysis of the entire situation is that Iran has committed an offensive act of aggregation. Iran has violated international laws by conducting such acts. No Nation State shall interfere with the circadian functions of any other nation state to obtain its selfish objectives, which in this case was the objective of Iran was to take harsh acts of reprisals on Albania for sheltering MEK. Iran is further aggravated by the entire situation as the USA is coming to Albania’s rescue and they have pulled off from the 2015 Nuclear deal. This is coupled with the killing of the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike conducted by the USA. However, that does not justify this act of vengeance. Disruption in a country’s service is violative of the ethical behaviour of an independent Nation State along with the violation of the principle of external sovereignty. Iran, despite claiming its actions to be an act of self-defence as rightly described in the UN charter is still not justified in conducting its actions. The actions are not in proportion to be justified as an act of self-defence.
Edited By : SAILBlogs Editorial Board