Hackers launched a coordinated cyberattack on Israel over the weekend in an attempt to "wipe Israel off the map of the Internet," defacing some 20,000 Israeli Facebook accounts and nearly 2,000 Israeli websites.
The anarchist hacking collective known as Anonymous formally launched "Operation Israel" on Sunday, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. The stated goal of the attack was to wreak havoc on Israeli servers, government websites, and Internet users.
The hackers penetrated and defaced multiple Israeli websites including government, schools, banks, and a website for children with cancer, according to regional media reports.
Among the government websites breached were the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Government Publications Office, the Haifa Sewage Treatment Plant, and the National Insurance Institute, which provides social security benefits to Israelis, according to a list of hacked websites posted on Hackers News Bulletin.
The hackers brought Israel-based web traffic to a crawl on Saturday and leaked the personal information of more than 1,700 Israeli credit card users, according to Hackers News Bulletin, which reported the Jewish state had lost some $2 billion as a result of the attack.
Hackers also attempted to penetrate the Jerusalem Post’s website as well as the site belonging to Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem-based Holocaust memorial museum.
The Jerusalem Post was able to repel the attacks but Yad Vashem was still recovering from a "fairly massive attack," according to a Post report.
Anonymous also claims to have successfully hacked Israeli defense corporation Decell Inc., which contracts with the country’s Ministry of Defense and its intelligence agencies, according to Cryptome.
"It is our pleasure to announce that we have managed to hack Decell servers, acquiring some highly sensitive information, including exact GPS coordinates of every city, highway, streets, and of course every sensitive buildings located within Israel boarders!" Anonymous said in a statement posted on Cryptome.
The hackers are threatening to release the data in order to help Hamas terrorists and other jihadists attack Israel.
"We are asking every Zionist around the world to pay careful attention to the following statement," Anonymous wrote.
"You have a choice to make, either stop murdering civilians, women and children, stop mass-killing Palestinians, stop stealing Palestinians [sic] land or else we will publish more of what we have got, including coordinates of special buildings!"
"Then Hamas missiles wouldn't land in desert or ocean this time," the statement read.
Parastoo, which has hacked the U.S. Department of Energy and other government entities, condemned iDirect’s work with the American government in a statement posted on Cryptome.
Average Israelis have also become victims of Anonmyous, as the hackers penetrated thousands of Israeli Facebook accounts and released the personal information of students at Haifa University, according to Arutz Sheva.
Israeli hackers have sought to launch a counterattack targeting countries such as Pakistan, Iran, and Syria, according to reports.
The pro-Israel hackers, known as the Israeli Elite Strike Force, have targeted Anonymous-affiliated users and others, according to the group’s Twitter feed.
Pro-Israel hackers also assumed control of OpIsrael.com, a website that had been used as a dumping ground for anti-Israel screeds and information relating to Operation Israel.
The pro-Israel hackers replaced the website’s content with pro-Israel materials and embedded a soundtrack that plays Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem.
Israeli government officials have sought to downplay the effects of Anonymous’s operation, telling the Associated Press on Sunday that there was "hardly any real damage."
"So far it is as was expected, there is hardly any real damage," Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, a member of Israel’s National Cyber Bureau, told the AP.
"Anonymous doesn't have the skills to damage the country's vital infrastructure," he said. "And if that was its intention, then it wouldn't have announced the attack ahead of time. It wants to create noise in the media about issues that are close to its heart."
A spokesperson for Anonymous dismissed Ben Yisrael’s claims.
"Tell that to the thousands of people and orgs that will have to repair their defaced sites today," Anonymous told Salon. "Tell that to the thousands of people who had their credit cards dumped, or passwords and logins dumped. Damage is in the eye of the beholder, if it’s YOUR shit that got wrecked or dumped it’s NOT minimal."
One Middle East expert told the Washington Free Beacon that it is not surprising to see Anonymous join the anti-Israel fray.
"Anonymous' campaign against Israel proves every day that the dividing line between being a leftist activist and being a member of a hate group is very thin indeed," said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser.
"A decade or two ago, Saudi and Qatari donors would give to al Qaeda charities never believing that they themselves would suffer the blowback," Rubin said. "Israel can handle itself, but let us hope that the Arab and Europeans cheering Anonymous understand that they will suffer the most when the revolution turns on itself."
This is not the first time Anonymous has targeted Israel.
Anonymous-affiliated hackers in late March released the personal information of 35,000 Israeli government officials, including politicians, military leaders, and police officers.