Israeli air base identified as alleged source of GPS disruptions in Mideast

July 10, 2024  - By
Photo: Sauce Reques / Royalty-free / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Photo: Sauce Reques / Royalty-free / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin have identified an Israeli air base as a large source of widespread GPS disruptions affecting civilian airline navigation in the Middle East, reported The New York Times. 

The spoofing disruptions involve the transmission of manipulated GPS signals, which can cause airplane instruments to misread their location. Lead researchers Todd Humphreys and Zach Clements stated they are “highly confident” that Ein Shemer Airfield in northern Israel is the source of these attacks. The Israeli military declined The New York Times request for comment. 

The research team utilized data emitted by the spoofer and picked up by satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO) to determine its location. They then confirmed their calculations using ground data collected in Israel.  

Spoofing, along with GPS jamming, has significantly increased over the past three years, especially near war zones such as Ukraine and Gaza. In these areas, militaries interfere with navigation signals to redirect aerial attacks. 

The Middle East has emerged as a hotspot for GPS spoofing, with The New York Times reporting that a separate analysis estimates more than 50,000 flights have been affected in the region in 2024 alone. Researchers from SkAI Data Services and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, analyzeding data from the OpenSky Network and, found that these attacks have led pilots to mistakenly believe they were above airports in Beirut or Cairo. 

Swiss International Air Lines told The New York TimesNYT that their flights are spoofed “almost every day over the Middle East.” 

The issue extends beyond the region, with Estonia and other Baltic nations having blamed Russia for disrupting signals in their airspaces. Additionally, in April 2024, Finnair temporarily suspended flights to Tartu, Estonia, amid the rise of GPS jamming in the region affecting civilian air travel.  

The attacks have not led to significant safety risks as pilots can use alternative navigation methods. However, they do raise concerns. 

Jeremy Bennington, vice president of Spirent Communications, told The New York Times, “Losing GPS is not going to cause airplanes to fall out of the sky. But I also don’t want to deny the fact that we are removing layers of safety.” 

The spoofing attacks may cause false alerts about planes being too close to the ground, leading to navigation confusion and possibly compromising flight safety. 

As these disruptions continue to affect large areas far from active conflict zones, the aviation industry and international authorities are under increasing pressure to address this emerging threat to air travel security.