Ministries blame each other for pirate radio chaos

Government offices traded barbs Thursday, a day after flights at Ben-Gurion Airport were delayed due to communication interference caused by pirate radio broadcasts. Communications Minister Ariel Attias visited the airport on Thursday morning and cast a wide net of blame in many directions - but argued that his ministry was not responsible for the situation. Attias said he wanted a larger budget in order to allow the ministry to procure more technologically-advanced equipment to detect and locate radio stations broadcasting without ministry permission. He also took a sharp tone with the Justice Ministry and "law enforcement," claiming that not enough was done about violators. The current punishments - low-sum cash penalties - do not constitute a sufficient deterrent, he said. But police complained Thursday that the real problem lay with the Communications Ministry itself. A senior officer in the Central District - which includes the airport area - told The Jerusalem Post that the police were legally required to raid pirate radio stations as soon as they received word of their existence from the Communications Ministry. The Israel Police do not actually own the necessary equipment to locate broadcast sites - but the Communication Ministry does, and is supposed to operate inspectors whose job is specifically to root out the pirate stations. But, said the police officer, the Communications Ministry hardly ever passes along information alerting them. Most of the stations are located in the Dan area and in the West Bank - with the latter adding a further layer of difficulty as Israel has cut off reciprocal relations with their Palestinian Authority counterparts since Hamas ascended to power. It was such a broadcast - a pirate radio station in Ramallah - that interfered with control tower communication systems at Ben-Gurion on Wednesday. As a result, music was heard on pilots' radios, instead of the usual silence when no messages are being relayed between the planes and the tower. Attias told Army Radio Thursday that Israel had put a stop to the station's activity, "by means which are better left unsaid." Attias went on to say that this "method" was not the ideal option, and that a suitable solution must be found to deal with the stations in and outside of Israel. He said that beyond toughening penalties against offenders, he also planned to try and streamline the process through which ministry inspectors reported to police. After doing so, he said, the several hours that it usually takes between identifying a transmission source and the raid against that source would be greatly reduced. The Public Security ministry confirmed that following the initial incident on Wednesday, Attias did contact Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, but ministry officials emphasized that locating the transmissions was solely the responsibility of Attias's ministry. One such station which had interfered with airport communications - transmitting from the B'nai Barak area - was raided by Tel Aviv District police earlier this week. Police and ministry representatives arrived at the address from which the station was allegedly operating and took the 53-year-old owner of the apartment in for questioning. He was later released on bail.