The 'Onion' latest victim of Syrian Electronic Army's fat jokes

This afternoon, the Syrian Electronic Army, a group of hackers supportive of Bashar al-Assad's regime, appeared to briefly hack into the Onion's Twitter feed. Over the course of about an hour, the SEA tweeted seven times from @TheOnion, and claimed responsibility for the attack on the Onion's @ONN account (the satirical newspaper's parody of 24-hour news networks) before the messages were deleted.

You could say the SEA's attacks have been a bit hit or miss over the past several months. The group's members promoted an alternate narrative of the Syrian civil war when they hacked into @60Minutes last month, but also tweeted fat jokes about the emir of Qatar, a backer of the opposition, when they hacked the BBC's weather account ("Earthquake warning for Qatar: Hamad Bin Khalifah about to exit vehicle").

In one of their strangest strikes yet, the SEA broke into the Twitter feed of the television channel E! on Sunday to "out" Justin Bieber and then to tweet, "Angelina Jolie admits, in E! latest issue, that Jordan is to blame for the Syrian refugees' atrocious conditions" -- a sentence that  under no circumstances would ever appear on E!

Today, the SEA fell back on fat jokes about Qatar's ruler ("NASA: 9th planet discovered and identified as the Qatari Emir") and also took a few jabs at Israel -- "UN's Ban Ki Moon condemns Syria for being struck by Israel: 'It was in the way of Jewish missiles;'" "The #Onion CEO: 'We regret taking zionist money to defame Syria. now the hackers are up our ass;'" "Poland to double flights from the Middle East, anticipating Israeli mass exodus. 'The bagel bakery ovens are working over time' ~ Larry" -- after the Israelis reportedly launched two airstrikes against weapons depots in Damascus in the past week.

Whoever was behind the hacking demonstrated a fairly proficient knowledge of the Onion's style (for example, attributing a quote without context to "Larry") and included a well-timed "Futurama Fry" meme as Twitter followers wondered if @TheOnion had been hacked, or if the tweets were simply more satire:


Though the Onion is first and foremost a satirical site, it has also hosted some of the most trenchant commentary on the Syrian civil war, leaving little doubt about why it was targeted. Darkly humorous articles from the past year and a half have included titles such as, "'Help Has To Be On The Way Now,' Thinks Syrian Man Currently Being Gassed,"  "Having Gone This Far Without Caring About Syria, Nation To Finish What It Started," "Target Pulls All Sponsorship From Publicly Ignored Syrian Conflict," "Alien World To Help Out Syria Since This One Refuses To," and an op-ed by Bashar al-Assad titled, "Hi, In The Past 2 Years, You Have Allowed Me To Kill 70,000 People."

So perhaps it's not a surprise that when the news outlet finally regained control over its Twitter feed, it had this to say:





Is the enemy of Assad the friend of the Syrian opposition?

Reported Israeli airstrikes in Syria have left the Syrian opposition in a bit of a PR bind. As FP's Blake Hounshell wrote on Saturday:

The regime will seek to exploit the raids to tie the rebels to the Zionist entity, after spending two years painting them as an undifferentiated mass of "terrorist gangs."...

But the propaganda can cut both ways. The rebels can point to the Israeli attacks as yet more evidence that Assad's army is for attacking Syrians, not defending the country.

So how are the Syrian rebels reacting? "Many Syrian rebels welcomed the attack, even if it was from a most unlikely source -- an Israeli airstrike against their common enemy, President Bashar al-Assad's regime," reports NBC News, which caught up with one Syrian rebel in Damascus over Skype. "Even though the raid was from Israel, Syria's decades-old foe, it lifted the opposition's spirits," the fighter observed. 

But while some individual rebels may be grateful to Israel, the fractured opposition's official line has been to denounce Israeli intervention.

The leadership of a group calling itself the Islamic Brigade of Aleppo, for instance, released a video angrily condemning Israel's assistance. And the Free Syrian Army quickly dismissed the claims of a Syrian rebel who, according to the group, praised the attacks on Israel's Channel 2. "The leadership of the FSA has traditionally considered Israel an enemy and will continue to do so until the complete liberation of the occupied lands," the mainstream rebel force said in a statement released on its Facebook page

Meanwhile, the Syrian National Coalition, the internationally recognized opposition umbrella group, adopted a somewhat conspiratorial tone in its statement on the alleged Israeli attacks, hinting that the assault may have done more harm than good for the opposition:

The Syrian Coalition is suspicious of the timing of this attack. These strikes have given the regime the necessary time to draw attention away from its crimes and massacres on the Syrian coast. It is not unlikely that as a result of these attacks, and world distraction, more crimes will be committed. 

For their part, the Israelis have made it clear that any actions they took were not a show of support for the rebels but rather an effort to prevent Iran from arming Hezbollah. But with Israeli officials hinting that this is not the last military action it will carry out in Syria, it looks like there will be more opportunities to make sense of what exactly Israeli involvement will mean for Syria -- and who, if anyone, will benefit.