According to reports, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have started interfering with GPS signals over its northern airspace as tensions between Israel and the militant organisation Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, are high.
Israel is potentially endangering Israeli civilians and commercial aircraft by jamming GPS signals across a large portion of its northern airspace in an attempt to guard against Hezbollah missile strikes.
This is noteworthy in light of the supposedly rising hostilities between the two sides as Hezbollah fires drones and missiles at targets within Israel.
A peculiar pattern began to emerge after the surprise strike by Hamas on October 7. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, who have been tracking GPS signals in the area for years, noticed that planes flying close to the Mediterranean Sea were momentarily disappearing over numerous areas of Israel. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz was the first to report on this.
Since then, experts have observed that the pattern strongly suggests the usage of a technique called “GPS spoofing,” which essentially skews the location of any object that can use GPS, such as precision-guided missiles and aeroplanes.
Politico was informed by University of Texas researcher Todd Humphreys that “this is the most sustained and clear indication of spoofing I’ve ever seen,” and that it may have an impact on hundreds of major commercial aircraft. Strangely, one of his classmates was the one who initially noticed the spoofing trend.
Interference with GPS is extremely dangerous because pilots on aircraft utilise it as one of their main navigational devices to optimise flight patterns, burn less fuel, and assist in landings, among other critical responsibilities. An unauthorised business jet flight into Iranian airspace almost happened as a result of a September spoofing event over Iran and Iraq.
However, GPS spoofing also aids in thwarting these strikes, as modern sophisticated missiles also need GPS to strike their targeted target. That carries some risk, too, since GPS-equipped missiles have the potential to stray from their planned path, making it challenging to predict where they would land on Israeli territory. This may make civilians more vulnerable to missiles directed at military targets.
Iran provides a significant amount of modern precision-guided missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the Hezbollah organisation in Lebanon. These weapons can be used to target military targets that are too strategically important for Israel to give up.
The IDF is working feverishly to prevent the formation of new front in the north as the militant group continues to threaten assaults in response to the continued bombing of Gaza. The intermittent bombings by Hezbollah have sparked worries that a larger regional battle may be approaching.
The IDF has acknowledged that, in order to maintain necessary security, it must manipulate the GPS signals. Various operational considerations have “restricted GPS in active combat zones,” according to an announcement made by the Israel Defence Forces on October 15. The extent of the signal disturbances, however, remained a secret.
Aside from anticipating “temporary glitches in location-based applications” such as Google Maps, the notice cautioned residents near Israel’s border to stay close to safe areas. Israel also declared that pilots entering the country would no longer use GPS alone for aeroplane landings, but would instead employ additional onboard procedures.
According to military analysts with knowledge of the subject, Israel would probably be interfering with GPS to deflect the missiles from their intended course and hinder its adversaries’ ability to launch ground attacks across the border if it were monitoring space and intercontinental ballistic missile operations.
With ADS-B Exchange, an open-source commercial aircraft tracker, the researchers were able to identify the GPS faking. They claim that based on data they had been watching for the previous five years, it is obvious that such high levels of spoofing were not happening before to the October 7 Hamas attack. It’s possible that spoofing was used to keep Hezbollah under control.
Over the past two weeks, there have been numerous clashes between the Israeli military and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. This has caused the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to worry that they may be opening a new front at a time when they are focusing their energies on bombing Gaza.
The IDF has made no secret of the fact that it plans to eventually conduct a ground invasion, some of which may have already started, over the little enclave.
Is Israel learning from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
Israel has been attacking the heavily populated Gaza Strip nonstop in an effort to demolish Hamas in response to the Palestinian organization’s October 7 slaughter of 1,200 Israelis.
However, more than 5,000 people have died as a result of the unabated bombing campaign. Hezbollah and Iran have threatened consequences, even if the organisation has not fully abandoned its opposition to Tel Aviv.
Israel might even be taking cues from Russia, whose GPS spoofing has been widely documented.
For example, even before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that more than 60% of its Unmanned Aerial Vehicle monitoring missions had encountered GPS signal interference, including in locations as close as 25 kilometres from the OSCE base’s contact line.
A commercial space organisation used radio frequency signal detection to confirm the GPS interferences. Solid GPS interference caused Ukraine’s long-range UAV to momentarily lose control on February 23, 2022, a day before the battle began.
In order to prevent contact between the thousands of ground terminals that make up Viasat’s KA-SAT network and the company itself, Russia launched a cyberattack on February 24, 2022. Just one hour had passed since this cyberattack before Russian forces invaded Ukraine that day.
Following a slew of deadly drone strikes on Moscow, the country’s capital, including the Kremlin, Russian authorities have increased their GPS suppression efforts more lately. According to reports at the time, “strong” tampering was seen in at least 15 different areas in Russia.
In Syria, where Russian troops have been fighting alongside the Syrian regime, Russia’s GPS jamming and spoofing have also been seen closer to Israel. It is believed that Russia’s GPS interference operations have occasionally affected Israel’s commercial planes.
For example, flights landing at Ben Gurion Airport have recently forced to detour over West Bank settlements due to chronic GPS interference caused by unknown sources, according to a statement released by the Israel Airports Authority last month.
Iris Raz, chief of the IAA’s environmental and engineering section, said that “in recent months, Israel has experienced non-stop GPS jamming from unknown sources, likely from outside the country.” She also added that planes are frequently unable to land following the standard procedure.
Large-scale spoofing exercises have been conducted in the past by the US and other Western countries, but not during times of conflict. In an effort to discourage Russia, Ukraine has likewise been quick to develop GPS spoofing techniques. Recently, GPS spoofing has been used in nations like China.