US launches cyber-attack on Iran, pledges more sanctions

The US launched a cyberattack targeting Iranian weapons systems on Thursday after the downing of a US drone over the Persian Gulf, US media reports. “Major” new US sanctions on Iran’s economy will be announced on Monday.

“We are putting major additional Sanctions on Iran on Monday,” US President Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday, without providing details.

“I look forward to the day that Sanctions come off Iran, and they become a productive and prosperous nation again – The sooner the better!”

Trump says he called off a retaliatory strike on Iran after a US drone was shot down on Thursday by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.

The US president said he was “cocked and loaded” to attack Iranian targets, but canceled the mission at the last minute, arguing the likely death toll would not be proportionate.

According to reports in the Washington Post, Trump seems to have instead opted for a cyberattack, ordering US Cyber Command to temporarily disable weapons systems used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Iran’s Fars news agency said Tehran is yet to respond to the reports.

The New York Times says the attack came in retaliation for the shooting down of the US drone and recent attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf, for which the US blames Iran.

The cyberattack was reportedly planned in advance and intended to come in retaliation for the tanker attacks, but moved forward in response to the downing of the US drone.

Both sides have increased their use of cyberattacks in recent months.

Trump has averted a further escalation with Iran which could have resulted in war. He repeated his call on Saturday for Iran to enter negotiations to give up its nuclear weapons program. However, he also threatened to “obliterate” Iran if it came to war.

“If Iran wants to become a prosperous nation … it’s OK with me,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn on Saturday.

“But they’re never going to do it if they think in five or six years they’re going to have nuclear weapons,” he added.

US-Iran tensions have risen again in recent days following the downing of the US Navy surveillance aircraft in the early hours of Thursday over international waters. Iran insists the craft violated its airspace.

Washington deployed yet more troops to the region following attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week. The US and its allies blame the attacks on Iran, but Tehran strenuously rejects the charges.

The US and Iran have been at loggerheads since May last year when Trump withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Actions (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, leaving the Europeans and other signatories of the deal to pick up the pieces.

The US imposed a raft of sanctions targeting Iran’s economy. Under relentless US pressure, Iranian oil exports have now fallen to below 500,000 barrels per day (bpd). Washington rescinded the six month waivers that were given to eight major customers of Iranian oil in early May.

The sanctions have squeezed consumers caused Iran’s currency to nose drive in value. It is not yet clear what sectors of Iran’s economy the US will target next.

Iran announced last week it will now raise its stockpile of enriched uranium beyond the limits imposed by the deal.