Pilots flying in and out of Israel’s biggest international airport have been experiencing trouble with their Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite signal, forcing them to switch to the older Instrument Landing System (ILS), the Israel Airports Authority said on Wednesday, without speculating about the culprit.
“As a result of the disturbances, changes were made in some of the entry procedures for landing to ensure safety,” the IAA said in a statement, adding that “at no stage was there a safety incident” related to the troubles.
The GPS problems have been going on for the past three weeks, according to the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA). The IAA says that “all of the elements in Israel have been working to solve the problem and find the source of the problem” from the first day.
This has not stopped the media from breathlessly speculating that “Russia” was behind the problem, citing anonymous sources and unnamed officials.
One anonymous “aviation source,” for example, told the liberal daily Haaretz that the disruptions only happen during the daytime.
Likewise anonymous but “high-ranking” military sources reportedly told Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) radio that Russia was to blame, pointing to electronic warfare systems at the Khmeimim airbase in Syria, some 350km (217 miles) north of Ben Gurion. The Russian expeditionary force in Syria has used the airbase to conduct operations against Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS) terrorists and other militants.
The Russian embassy in Tel Aviv rejected those claims as “fake news” that it “couldn’t give a serious response to.”
Publicly, the IDF declined to comment on the source of the interference, saying only that its own operations and “superiority in the electromagnetic spectrum” were not affected.
Israeli bombers have been carrying out airstrikes against what they say are Iranian targets in Syria. Damascus has condemned the raids as a violation of Syrian sovereignty and demanded that they stop. During one of these raids, in September 2018, Israeli jets hid behind a Russian Il-20 scout, causing it to be shot down by Syrian air defenses, with the loss of all 15 crew aboard.
There have been no confirmed cases of Russian GPS “spoofing,” with has not stopped Western researchers from surmising and speculating. Media reports about the Ben Gurion disruption inevitably referenced an April report by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), a Washington-based think tank, which accused Russia of almost “10,000 separate incidents” of GPS disruption.
The GPS system was launched by the US military in the 1970s, and opened to civilian use in the 1980s, but remains under control of the Pentagon.