Mystery Israeli satellite telly disruption blamed on UN
Independence Day-style alien invasion plot discounted
Mysterious high-powered transmissions have caused a month of severe interference with Israeli satellite television, threatening the commercial viability of the country's major sat-broadcaster.
The signals - source thus far unknown - are not thought to be connected to any Independence Day-style pre-invasion alien communications. Rather, it is thought there might be some connection with the Israelis' brief, secretive air raid against Syria on 6 September.
Full details of last month's bombing are unknown, including the nature of the target. However, many military observers were surprised by the ease with which Israel was able to penetrate Syria's Russian-supplied air defence network. The exact nature of the systems which Syria may have had in place is, again, unclear. However, it is widely accepted that Iran uses Syria as a supply line to its Hezbollah allies/clients in southern Lebanon, and that Iran and Syria often cooperate militarily - perhaps to the extent of sharing or supplying equipment.
Iran at least is known to have purchased the Russian TOR-M1 missile system, which is seen as a potent threat to non-stealthed aircraft flying at less than 20,000 feet. However, there would be very little to prevent Israeli F-15s and F-16s from conducting a bombing raid from higher altitudes than this.
Syria is known to have fielded higher-altitude missiles such as the SA-8, 6 and 2; but these are quite old technology, never terribly effective even in their day and unlikely to cope with modern attackers like the Israeli air force. Rumours have circulated in recent years that Iranian oil money might be about to purchase relatively formidable Russian S-300/SA-10 kit, but thus far there has been no confirmation of S-300s or the like in Iranian/Syrian hands.
It may be that the mystery tactic of the Israeli raid was nothing more than flying too high for modern TOR-M1 missiles - or going around them - and evading or spoofing any older high-altitude gear. Syrian fighter jets would struggle to intercept and engage a swift Israeli raid, and might regret doing so if they managed it.
On the other hand, rumours have lately emerged that modern Russian kit - presumably TOR-M1 radars - completely failed to even see any Israeli raiders, prompting testy Middle Eastern purchasers to question the value for money provided by Russian exports. A Kuwaiti paper has reported that Russian troubleshooters are scratching their heads over the Israeli attack. Well-informed Aviation Week reporter David Fulghum has speculated that fiendish new American electronic warfare technologies may have been employed, in which digital defence networks are effectively hacked by feeding tailored transmissions into their radar receivers, allowing an attacker to manipulate and falsify what the defender sees.
The truth of the raid will probably not be known for some time. What is known is that shortly thereafter, large numbers of subscribers to Israel's Yes satellite TV service became unable to get a signal, and they still can't. Yes says it will be out of business in a month if the disruption persists as its customers turn elsewhere - not to mention mounting a class-action lawsuit - and the embattled broadcaster has turned to the Israeli military for an explanation.
The TV satellites themselves have been checked out as fully serviceable, and it appears that the interference is typically strongest in northern Israel, in the general direction of Lebanon and Syria.
Three main theories are currently circulating. First, that a new Israeli defensive radar or some such - deployed, perhaps, to forestall any Syrian retribution - is responsible, although the Israeli government denies this.
Secondly, some have speculated that the Russians, angered by being humiliated during the air raid, are pushing out annoyance signals in the region - perhaps from "spy trawler" intel-gathering vessels at sea, though such ships normally operate strictly in listening mode.
Another possible culprit, now perhaps moving to the front, is the taskforce of UN warships deployed off the southern Lebanese coast.
Israeli defence officials have now said specifically that the TV interference is coming from Dutch warships operating there with the UN, and that it previously came from German ships - which desisted after a polite request to the German military attache in Tel Aviv.
According to the Israeli press reports, the naughty radar is specifically an "army radar", not a naval one - unless that's a translation error - and is used by both the German and Dutch armies. Such a radar system does exist, fitted to the Gepard air-defence vehicle, and it operates occasionally in the Ku band - just like the Amos satellites used by Yes. It might conceivably have been sent to sea in order to beef up the warships' air defences in some way, and then been turned on following a heightened threat assessment in the wake of the Israeli attack.
It might be that the Israeli journos meant "military" rather than "army", and in fact the new APAR high-powered naval air-defence radars are responsible. This looks likelier, as they put out a lot more juice - but on the other hand, they aren't supposed to operate on satcomms frequencies.
Or - god knows - it could be something else altogether. Probably not marauding extraterrestrials, though. There are enough spookery stations, spy planes, electronic warfare platforms, and other assorted bits and bobs bleeping away around there at the moment to account for almost anything.
That said, the UN ships are only there as a result of the prolonged and unhappy Israeli incursion into Lebanon last year; so in fact the ruined satellite TV signals could be said to be something to do with an invasion after all.®