UNIFIL behind YES disturbances

Analysts see example as warning of civilian satellite vulnerability.

October 15, 2007 22:52
UNIFIL behind YES disturbances

yes antenna cool 224 88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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Electronic disturbances that have played havoc with the YES satellite television company's broadcasts in the past month were caused by powerful radar equipment deployed onboard a Dutch Navy vessel off the Lebanese coast, The Jerusalem Post has established. The disturbances took the form of time delays on soundtracks as well as distorted and fragmented pictures during broadcasts. Sources close to YES say that the disturbances, which have caused the company significant financial harm, were caused by an extremely powerful radar system, exponentially stronger than the signal beamed to subscribers' home dishes. The radar was deployed by a UNIFIL vessel, possibly the Dutch vessel HNLMS De Ruyter, an air defense frigate, off the coast of Lebanon. Observers and subscribers are calling on YES to return the monthly fees for YES subscription over the time of the disturbances. Should YES return one month's fee to every subscriber affected, the damages could potentially add up to NIS 100 million. The Dutch frigate is a component of the UNIFIL force observing the UN-brokered cease-fire reached after the Second Lebanon War. According to the Dutch Ministry of Defense, the De Ruyter's orders are to check for illegal arms transports into Lebanon and to contribute to upholding security at sea. The Post has learned that shortly after the Israeli Air Force attack on a Syrian target on the night of September 6, perhaps as early as a few hours after the attack, the Dutch navy vessel moved into position and began deploying its radar to obtain as much information as possible about the military events of that night in northern Syria. That same night, massive disturbances to YES transmissions were recorded, largely in northern Israel. Netherlands Ministry of Defense head of Public Affairs Commander Richard Keulen would not confirm that the De Ruyter moved into position and switched on its radar on September 6, saying he could not discuss operational details. Keulen stressed that he was not ruling out the De Ruyter's possible role in the disturbances, but added that there were other vessels in the UNIFIL flotilla operating similar radar equipment which are also monitoring and implementing the UN mandate reached after last summer's war. Once reports of the disturbances started coming in, the Dutch vessel was ordered to modify its radar transmission to minimize the risk of distortion, Keulen told the Post on Monday, adding, "We are not sure that we are the only cause of the distortion." Industry analysts point to this example as a warning sign of one of the possible directions future conflicts may take, in which massive electronic interference is employed against civilian and military communications infrastructure. With hundreds of thousands of Israelis plugged into satellite television services, as well as an increasing number of people listening to radio through their TV sets, there is a feeling among leaders in the telecommunications industry that the government needs to look at ways to guard against possible electronic disturbances on a mass scale during a time of conflict. Industry analysts have warned that Israel's geography, strategic location on the Mediterranean, and the density of its satellite and cellular infrastructure leaves it vulnerable to a range of electronic threats. Modern armies are increasingly reliant on electronic and satellite communications systems for command and control over most military platforms, including GPS navigation and secure-channel communications. In past conflicts, opposing sides sought to bomb each other's electronic communications transmission sites, however, powerful modern military radars could be used to jam broadcast signals - effectively "destroying" them without the need for a physical strike. Last year, the Chinese military destroyed one of its satellites in space, in a move that raised fears of possible strikes against American satellites during a time of potential conflict. The US strongly condemned the Chinese action at the time. Israeli Air Force chief Gen. Eliezer Shkedy said at the time that Israel needed to prepare to defend its space-based assets. While there are intermittent disturbances to YES satellite transmissions on a regular basis, the company was astounded at the level of the disturbance that began on September 6. The effects were felt mostly in the evenings, originally only affecting the North, but after a few days spreading to the rest of the country, and more and more subscribers began complaining and flooding the YES customer service hotline. YES, which always has one team on standby to locate and fix disturbances to its transmissions, brought in two more teams and also hired out a plane from Israel Aerospace Industries in an effort to locate the problem. Eventually, the source of the disturbance was located by focusing on the electronic "footprint" emanating from the radar onboard the De Ruyter. YES discovered that the strength of the De Ruyter's radar was exponentially stronger than that of the average signal on a home satellite receiver. It also found that the ship's radar could scan up to 450 targets simultaneously. For the ship to be interfering with the YES transmission, it had to be facing a certain direction and transmitting on YES's frequency. Keulen says that the De Ruyter operates a powerful APAR [Active Phased Array Radar] system which tracks air traffic, both commercial and military, in a specific area, via alternating frequency transmissions. "We are not there for fun. We are maintaining a good situational awareness, and part of that is to get a really good picture of the air traffic in the area that must be sent to the UN commander as part of the posture of that mission, so that the commander can send the information up the UN chain of command," Keulen said. The officer would not comment on whether or not the De Ruyter was given special orders on the night of September 6. After locating the source of the disturbance, YES made a concerted appeal to the Israeli government to intervene, first to the Ministry of Defense, and later to other government officials. The Defense Ministry requested that the Dutch vessel turn off or modify its radar device. Since the radar works on alternating frequencies, the Dutch were asked to perform a test with YES technicians observing. The results of that test have not been released, however, the disturbances to YES broadcasts officially ended last Wednesday when the De Ruyter visited Cyprus, and was thus out of range. Angry YES executives have bandied the idea of a suit against the government, arguing that as the company has paid for the right to broadcast, it is the government's duty to protect them against interferences of a security-related nature.

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