Gov't intervenes to halt mysterious 'Yes' disruptions

YES suffers millions of shekels in damages from cancelled subscriptions.

By EHUD ZION WALDOKS, AP
October 10, 2007 18:54
4 minute read.
Gov't intervenes to halt mysterious 'Yes' disruptions

Ofek 7 298.88. (photo credit: IAI)

 
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Mystery still surrounds the electronic disruptions experienced by Yes satellite TV viewers over the past month. While the disruptions have spawned a wide range of theories, none has been officially endorsed. The leading cause of the disruption seems to be Dutch and German boats patrolling in international waters, possibly as part of UNIFIL, although there are theories that Syria, Russia or the IDF have been behind the disruptions. Defense Minister Ehud Barak's office confirmed Wednesday that he had spoken to his Dutch counterpart, Eimert Van Middelkoop, this week, and asked for his assistance in the matter. Van Middelkoop agreed to help in any way he could, Barak's office said. The Defense Ministry also said on Wednesday that it had been involved in determining the source of the interference. A spokesperson said they had investigated many possible causes, but declined to elaborate on what those possibilities had been. However, Tal Inbar, head of the Fisher Institute's Space Research Center, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday that the media was focusing on the wrong problem. "It is irrelevant which country's ship is causing the problem. The main point is that Yes is a commercial company which paid a lot of money to the state to do satellite television, and it is the state's responsibility to guarantee that there is no interference." "The government should have gotten involved much sooner to help Yes solve the problem," Inbar declared. Government officials reportedly only got involved at the beginning of the week, roughly a month after the disturbances began and after most of them have reportedly disappeared. According to news reports, Yes and its shareholders, among whom is Bezeq, attempted to pressure Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to intervene diplomatically. That pressure apparently only bore fruit this week. Inbar told the Post that it was almost certainly not another satellite interfering with Yes's transmissions. He also quickly dismissed claims that it was some sort of Syrian electronic warfare campaign. "This was not a Syrian electronic attack," he said. He did concur with previous reports that a ship operating in the Mediterranean using strong radar was a very plausible cause of the interference. Ron Eilon, CEO of Yes, said recently that he knew the source of the disruptions but could not reveal it, though he hinted that some naval vessel was involved. "We're not shooting in the dark, and we know what the source of the disruption is. It is outside Israel's territorial waters. We know the identity of the party in question but I can't disclose it. All the rest is speculation: Russians, Dutch, Germans," Eilon said on the Radio 99 program "Business on Air." A Yes spokeswoman did not return calls for comment. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev told AP that technical experts from the ministry and the UN were in contact over the possibility that UNIFIL was the source of the transmissions, and the United Nations was ready to cooperate if it was proven responsible. In Lebanon, senior UNIFIL official Milos Strugar said both Lebanese and Israeli authorities had told the force of electronic problems and the reports were being investigated. "At the moment it is not clear what is causing the interference," he said. The interference began on September 6, the day Israeli warplanes attacked a target in Syria. Israel has maintained an almost total official silence over the strike, which Syria said hit an unused military installation. Since then, subscribers have been bombarding the switchboard of Israeli satellite broadcaster "Yes," and have launched an NIS 122 million class action suit against the company for failure to deliver goods. The interruptions have led to canceled subscriptions and forced Yes to seek to pacify its half-million subscribers with 18 free movies, available on its DVD-box station until October 18. The competing commercial TV distributor, "Hot," uses cables and has not been affected. There were reports Wednesday saying the Yes company would collapse if the interference continues another month. Yediot Aharonot on Tuesday pointed to Moscow as another possible culprit, quoting an unnamed Israeli security official as saying Moscow was suspected of beaming signals at Israel to try to probe its military electronic capability in the wake of the September 6 raid on Syria, and as an expression of its anger at Israel for making Syria's Russian radar appear impotent. The Russian defense ministry refused to comment on the allegations. The disturbance does not seem to be affecting any other Israeli satellites, and Inbar hastened to allay any fears on that front. "There is nothing wrong with Israeli satellites. They are working very well. There is no reason to complain." Inbar explained that commercial satellites are not protected from interference because there is usually no need for it. "It is a matter of money, and it costs a lot of money to protect a satellite from interference," he said. "Military satellites are protected as a matter of course, but not civilian ones," he said. He mentioned, however, that because of the lack of protection, civilian satellites were vulnerable in wartime. "In times of war, commercial satellites can be interfered with. Therefore, protecting future satellites should be considered."

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