It has been nearly two weeks since the last reported cable failure in the Middle East, but questions continue to swirl regarding the cause (or causes) of the failures. For those of you who haven't followed the story, here's the quick rundown: From January 30 to February 6, various undersea cables responsible for much of the Internet traffic into and out of the Middle East were cut or broken. This led to major traffic congestion, created communications problems, and cut some areas off the Internet entirely. Repair ships were dispatched immediately, with the twin goals of repairing the damage and gathering information on what might have caused it.
Reports from those vessels have apparently indicated that the may not have been caused by accident or through natural events. According to the ITU's (International Telecom Union) head of development, Sami al-Murshed, "We do not want to preempt the results of ongoing investigations, but we do not rule out that a deliberate act of sabotage caused the damage to the undersea cables over two weeks ago,"
"Do not rule out," doesn't carry quite the same weight as "have proof of sabotage," but of the five cable cuts, only one (the link between the UAE and Oman) is definitely established to have been an accident. There are doubts regarding the others, as some experts feel that the cables were too deep to be cut and lie outside of normal shipping lanes. The short period of time between the other four failures may also be indicative of deliberate action, as its unusual for multiple critical cable breaks to occur that close together. Four of the five cables have been repaired at this point; the repair status of the fifth cable is unknown.
Regardless of whether or not the tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorists actually managed to get one right, these cable-cutting incidents highlight just how dependent vast areas of the world are on a series of (relatively) thin cables stretched over thousands of miles of ocean. Cable redundancy and satellite communications were able to keep certain businesses online throughout the Internet brownout, but it wouldn't be surprising if the nations affected push for the development of better redundant systems in the wake of the crisis. Ironically, if the cable cuts were the result of sabotage, the saboteurs may have set in motion a chain of events that will strengthen the very global communication network they meant to disrupt.