Russia disrupts Tel Aviv airport activity

The Russians refused Israel’s request to stop using the Syrian-based defense system, which is causing the problem.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Pilots have been having serious problems landing their planes at Ben Gurion International Airport over the last month due to GPS disruptions caused by Russian defense systems activated in Syria, Kan 11 News reported Monday night.

The powerful systems, based at the Khmeimim Air Base operated by the Russians in the Syrian port city of Latakia, interferes with electromagnetic waves over a wide area of the eastern Mediterranean.

“These events hit us quite hard in early 2019,” one pilot of an Israeli airline told the network in an interview in which the pilot’s voice was disguised.

“Then, it more or less worked out one way or another. In the last three or four weeks we have started to re-experience it in the Ben Gurion Airport area. There are speculations that this is a kind of action of the Russians, who are trying to block the possibility of being harmed by disrupting [others’] GPS systems.”

In mid-2019, when the airport had undergone similar disruptions, the Airports Authority stated that it did not endanger the safety of any aircraft or flights. This claim was contested by the pilots’ union and airlines, including Israel’s own El Ald.

A senior Israeli official then went to Moscow to discuss the issue, and the interference stopped.

The Israeli government contacted Moscow this time as well, but their request was rejected on the grounds that the systems must remain activated in order to defend Russian soldiers in the area, according to Kan 11 News.

The Russian defense system is set up to interrupt electronic signals to unmanned aerial drones and missiles. Russia and Israel came to an understanding early on during Moscow’s intervention in Syria’s civil war on behalf of President Bashar Assad. According to the agreement, Russian forces would not interfere during IDF strikes against Iranian targets and Israel would stay away from Russian-occupied sites.

At the end of last month, however, Syrian television reported that an IDF missile strike hit the Latakia port, causing a large fire and damaging several buildings and shipping containers. Some speculate that the Russians likely considered the strike too close for comfort, as it occurred approximately at the same time that the GPS disruptions on Ben-Gurion airport began.

Others surmise that President Vladimir Putin is sending a message to Israel that “enough is enough.”

Kan 11 noted that Russian soldiers conducted a ground patrol immediately following the Latkia Port strike and that the Russian military has stepped up operations in Syria alongside Assad’s army in recent weeks.

The Israeli pilot accused state authorities of “burying their heads in the sand” by not issuing an official, “institutional alert” warning to date about the dangerous situation at Ben Gurion.

“There are actually two types of disruptions to GPS readings,” the pilot explained. “Jamming, which actually blocks the signal. The second type of disruption is called ‘spoofing’, which means that someone is transmitting a signal that interferes with the GPS position location. In this situation you can receive all kinds of alerts.

“There were times when, for a few seconds, the plane’s systems said that the plane was somewhere else, and the pilot had to perform a rescue maneuver.”

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit responded in a statement, saying, “The IDF controls the spectral dimension, protects and acts against threats as part of its multidimensional defense of the State of Israel.”