GPS disruptions in Tel Aviv as Israel braces for possible Iranian attacks

April 10, 2024  - By
Photo: Oren Kfir / iStock / Getty Images Plus / getty Images

Photo: Oren Kfir / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

On April 4, residents of Tel Aviv, Israel, noticed that map applications on their phones such as Waze, Google Maps and the taxi pickup app Gett were placing them in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, 130 miles to the north. Cab drivers could not navigate and food-delivery apps were temporarily out of service, reported The Wall Street Journal.

The spoofing was a result of the Israeli military tampering GPS signals to brace for possible retaliation by Iran or one of its allied militias after a suspected Israeli airstrike on an Iranian diplomatic building in Syria. The attack killed a senior Iranian general, Mohammad Reza Zahedi, and six other military officials. It has marked an escalation of the yearslong conflict between Israel and Iran.

According to WSJ, analysts say a direct Iranian strike on Israel is unlikely. However, one day after Israel drafted reservists to boost air defenses, the Israeli military said it would pause all leave for combat units “in accordance with the situational assessment.”

Israel has withdrawn some of its ambassadors and evacuated its embassies in multiple locations. With tensions and uncertainty rising, several Israeli municipalities near Tel Aviv put out announcements to calm residents and refresh guidance for emergencies.

According to the Israeli military, the GPS spoofing — which can be used to confuse targeting systems for military weapons — was part of an effort to protect the country. “Today we initiated GPS disruption in order to neutralize threats,” said Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari. “We are aware that this disruption causes discomfort, but this is an essential and necessary tool in our defense capabilities.”

Israel has ramped up GPS jamming and spoofing since the start of its war with Hamas in early October 2023, but mainly in the north of the country, where the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia has rockets to strike Israeli towns and military bases, according to Reuters.

The military has scrambled signals in southern Israel, mainly around the city of Eilat, the target of missile and UAV attacks by Iranian-backed Yemeni and Iraqi militias, according to Yigal Unna, former director general of the Israel National Cyber Directorate.

The GPS disruptions have intensified since the most recent strike and have spread to central Israel where a local taxi driver shared that his map application had located him at the Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut. In the south of the country, and in Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian West Bank, GPS devices placed users in Cairo, residents told WSJ.

Mohammad Abdelhalim, founder of the Palestinian navigation app Doroob, said that signal interruptions have occurred regularly on various platforms that rely on GPS since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks on Israel, ranging from a few minutes to several hours at a time.

Spoofing can pose risks beyond being a nuisance for citizens. Distorting signals can create challenges for civilian and commercial planes that use GPS signals for navigation. Spoofing can also throw guided missiles off their trajectory, which poses unpredictable risks to civilians.

The ramifications of the widening GPS blackouts remain unclear. Beyond the hassles for civilian drivers, there are safety concerns for emergency responders and commercial transit unable to reliably track locations.

The recent spoofing in Tel Aviv is one of countless reminders that the country’s active military actions are only miles away and can have cascading effects on aspects of daily life.

This article is tagged with , and posted in Defense, Featured Stories, Latest News, Mapping, UAV/UGV