The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Israel blames in-flight GPS disruptions to civilian planes on Russia’s airbase in Syria

Russia dismisses claim and says air defence systems in Hmeimim are needed to protect soldiers in Syria

Israel has informed Russia that its defence systems in the Syrian air base of Hmeimim, on the country’s western, Mediterranean coast, are disrupting the GPS signals of planes landing at Tel Aviv airport.

The Israeli channel Kan reported on Monday that Russia had dismissed the claim that it was interfering in Israeli civilian airspace, saying that the air defence systems in Hmeimim are needed to protect its soldiers in Syria.

Hmeimim is a significant air base near the Syrian city of Latakia. Russia has maintained a military presence there since it entered the Syrian civil war on the side of Bashar al-Assad in 2015.

Several pilots landing planes at Tel Aviv airport in recent weeks have complained of GPS issues, and had to react quickly to a sudden signal jamming as they approached the eastern Mediterranean from Europe.

Signal jamming and what is known as GPS “spoofing”, caused by electromagnetic waves and “spectrum interference”, show the plane in the wrong location on the pilot’s monitor.

Kan reported that this was the first time in three years that planes approaching Israel had experienced such issues.

Israeli officials believe this is collateral damage and that Russia’s defence systems are not deliberately targeting them.

There has been no official Israeli statement about Russian interference, unlike in 2019 when Israel made an official complaint about the same issue, and Russia dismissed it as fake news.

According to Kan, a pilot accused Israeli officials of “burying their heads in the sand” instead of facing the problem. The Israeli army said it is working to “neutralise” the signal jamming, without elaborating on the matter. Airlines have instructed their pilots to be aware of the issue and turn off devices in the cockpit in the event of GPS disruption.

‘Who is the boss’

Kan reported that Russia was sending a message to Israel about “who is the boss” in Syria, after Israeli air strikes hit Syrian targets, including Latakia, near the air base where Russian troops are stationed. Last December, Israeli air strikes hit a cargo hub in the port city, setting it ablaze. 

On Monday, Syria blamed Israel for targeting areas in the outskirts of Damascus and said its air defences had intercepted a volley of Israeli missiles. Israel declined to comment on the two incidents, as has been the case since 2011, when it started launching air strikes against Syrian, Iranian or Hezbollah-related targets in the country.

On 24 January, Russian and Syrian pilots held their first joint air patrol mission along the Golan Heights and the Euphrates River. Israel saw the military drill as an example of Russia stepping up its presence in the country.



Source: Middle East Eye

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Observatory.