Why Were North Korea and Iran Given a Pass After a Nuclear Cyberattack?

(Getty/Sean Gallup)

Few people cared about the threat such attacks pose. (Getty/Sean Gallup)

[UPDATE: Sony Pictures, the target of one of the cyber attacks discussed below, has now canceled the planned holiday release of The Interview.]

A funny thing happened last week as Sony came under ferocious cyberattack by a presumed North Korea. The world didn’t seem much to care that one of the most barbarous and murderous regimes on earth, that starved to death as many as 3.5 million of its own people, targeted a movie studio to protest a film. Rather, as Sony computers buckled from the North Korean onslaught and its most confidential information was made public, the world focused on Sony’s guilt.

Did the executive call Angelina Jolie a spoiled brat? And refer to Leonardo DiCaprio as despicable? And infer that President Obama loves African-American themed films?

As if feuds between studio execs and movie stars is something new, or that there would be something unnatural about an African American President loving a film about the greatest American of the 20th century, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Even more astonishing is how little attention a giant expose by Bloomberg News last Friday about Iran’s cyberattack on Jewish mega-philanthropist Sheldon Adelson received.

About a year ago I hosted a panel discussion at Yeshiva University in New York on Iran’s repeated threats to annihilate the State of Israel and its Jews. On the panel was Mr. Adelson, the world’s foremost supporter of Jewish causes, joined by Pulitzer-Prize winner Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal and Yeshiva University President Richard Joel. The full video is available here.

I asked the panelists what America should do to show Iran that under no circumstances whatsoever would we allow the world’s primary sponsor of international terrorism to acquire a nuclear device. Mr. Adelson commented that an atomic bomb be detonated in an empty Iranian desert. It should serve as a warning to Iran that the US will never allow them to obtain nuclear weapons. Mr. Adelson emphasized that the nuclear demonstration in a desert wasteland should “not hurt a soul, except for a few rattlesnakes.”

The next day Mr. Adelson’s spokesman, Ron Reese, said that he had used “hyperbole to make a point that… actions speak louder than words.”

No doubt Mr. Adelson was also trying to demonstrate the double standard to which Israel is constantly subjected. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened repeatedly that Israel would be destroyed. Doing so would require the murder of six million more Jews in a second Holocaust. Yet amid his clearly stated genocidal intent, Ahmadinejad was invited to speak at Columbia University and repeatedly at the UN where he was clear about his intentions with regards to Israel. His stated intention of a second Holocaust did not stop him from being invited to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Yet Mr. Adelson’s glib comments about nuking rattle snakes seemed to rattle Iran’s leaders pretty seriously. While they lie to the world and continue to pursue doomsday weapons that would make annihilation of Israel possible, Mr. Adelson’s comments provoked a nuclear cyberattack against his company Las Vegas Sands. A full-on devastating hacker assault nearly shut the company down until, against the odds, the attack was rebuffed.

Lest we believe that Iran has changed under Hassan Rouhani, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the true power in Iran, repeated the threat to “destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa” well into Rouhani’s presidency. For good measure Khameini warned that “the fake Zionist [regime] will disappear from the landscape of geography,” adding that the “cancerous tumor” Israel had to be removed. Khameini, whose loathing of Israel is unconcealed, even framed the Arab spring not as a movement to bring Arab democratization but as an Islamic “awakening” that could ultimately fulfill the Iranian goal of liquidating Israel.

Be that as it may, depending on the degree to which it was sponsored or blessed by the Iranian government, this, this attack and North Korea’s attack against Sony, can be construed as the most serious provocation against the United States itself, demanding a US government response to the attack.

Too harsh? Well, merely counterfeiting another country’s money has long been described by experts as “an act of war.” The New York Times, in July 2006, reported that North Korea had been involved in the creation of near-perfect American counterfeit “Supernotes.” The Times then said that “Michael Green, a former point man for Asia on the National Security Council, told me that in the past, counterfeiting has been seen as an ‘act of war.’ A current senior administration official, who was granted anonymity because of the sensitivity of relations between the United States and North Korea, agreed that the counterfeiting could be construed by some as a hostile act against another nation under international law and added that the counterfeits, by creating mistrust in the American currency, posed a ‘threat to the American people.’”

How could counterfeiting notes be described as an act of war? Because it undermines the victim country’s ability to conduct its affairs, just like a blockade or other more obvious acts of war.

In the cyber age, what happened to Las Vegas Sands (Iran) or Sony (North Korea) cannot be ignored. Today it’s a movie studio’s embarrassing emails. Tomorrow it’s the electric grid in Chicago or the water treatment plant in Cleveland. As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tweeted, “With the Sony collapse America has lost its first cyberwar. This is a very very dangerous precedent.”

The fact that both these extremely hostile acts against companies that employ tens of thousands of Americans have been allowed to pass without serious condemnation by the US government is troubling in the extreme and will no doubt intimidate other companies in democratic nations from stepping out of line in the confrontation with murderous and genocidal regimes.

If American industry is not to be destroyed by the likes of Iranian Mullahs or North Korean thugs whenever they wish to throw a temper tantrum, then these attacks demand an earnest American response.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom Newsweek and The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the Founder of This World: The Values Network, which regularly stages large-scale, values-based debates on the leading issues of our time. He is the author of “Judaism for Everyone.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Why Were North Korea and Iran Given a Pass After a Nuclear Cyberattack?