What is GPS jamming and why is Israel using it in Gaza and Lebanon?

Illustration - In-depth - GPS/Israel
5 min read
22 April, 2024

Since the war in Gaza began in October, Israel has used GPS jamming in Gaza, Lebanon, and against Iran’s 13 April strikes. While such jamming can hinder communications and guided weaponry, it also interferes with civilian communications and, more dangerously, civil aviation.

When Iran launched its unprecedented missile and drone attack against Israel on 13 April, several civilians across the Middle East found their vehicle GPS, Google Maps, and Uber phone apps displaying wildly incorrect locations.

Some users found their devices pinning them in entirely different countries. Israeli GPS jamming was widely believed to have caused this.

“Generally, GPS jamming or ‘spoofing’ are used in warfare to disrupt communications and GPS receptions in combat zones or during military operations,” Freddy Khoueiry, a global security analyst for the Middle East and North Africa at the risk intelligence company RANE, told The New Arab.

"Israel has ramped up its use of GPS jamming since the onset of the war in Gaza last October. It has also extended this to parts of Lebanon amidst fears of a full-blown war with Hezbollah"

“They can disrupt communications, causing signal losses or disturbances, but also disrupt enemies’ navigation systems and precision-guided weapons,” he added. “These missiles or drones usually use GPS to find their targets.”

Israel ramped up its use of this jamming since the onset of the war in Gaza last October. It has also extended this jamming to parts of Lebanon amidst fears of a full-blown war with Hezbollah.

“I think that the Israelis are using jamming techniques in a defensive capacity against potential attack by Hezbollah rather than as a pre-emptive measure ahead of launching some form of attack in Lebanon,” Nicholas Blanford, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of the 2011 book Warriors of God: Inside Hezbollah’s Thirty-Year Struggle Against Israel, told TNA.

Live Story

“The same scenario applied last weekend when the Israelis reportedly jammed GPS signals ahead of the Iranian attack,” he said.

GPS jamming can hinder its opponent’s use of drones or precision-guided munitions that rely on GPS guidance to accurately hit their targets, like the ones in Hezbollah’s sizable arsenal.

Khoueiry noted that while Israel did use GPS jamming ahead of Iran’s 13 April strikes, “it is unclear if these affected Iran’s missiles, given that a large portion was shot down before they arrived in Israel, while others were shot down in Israeli airspace, and some landed against their targets”.

The RANE analyst also noted that reports of GPS spoofing have “dramatically increased” since the start of the Gaza war.

In the 2006 war in Lebanon, Israel jammed all communications and GPS signals in the border district. [Getty]

“GPS disturbances significantly increased around the Gaza Strip and also along the northern Israeli border with Lebanon,” he said. “On its northern borders, Israel restricted GPS on its active combat zone on 15 October, in a bid to protect itself from Hezbollah’s precision-guided missiles,” Khoueiry said.

“Israel could use the GPS ahead of a potential offensive in Lebanon, but as of now, its jamming signals in Lebanon are for primarily defensive reasons.”

Blanford also noted that Israeli jamming against Lebanon began after the current war in Gaza started.  “I think it began after 7 October,” he said. “I don’t think it is a routine procedure.”

Aside from interfering with civilian communications and navigation, GPS spoofing incidents can also affect commercial aircraft navigation, increasing the risk of accidents.

Last August, before the Gaza war began, airline pilots flying over the Middle East reported fake GPS signals overtaking their navigation systems, forcing them to rely on verbal directions from air traffic controllers. It’s unclear if Israel was behind those pre-war incidents, one of which took place near Iraq’s border with Iran.

"Aside from interfering with civilian communications and navigation, GPS spoofing incidents can also affect commercial aircraft navigation, increasing the risk of accidents"

Lebanon has protested Israel’s use of GPS jamming, warning that it endangers civil aviation over the country. Beirut intends to file a complaint to the United Nations over this interference. While Israel focuses its jamming on the south of the country, it has already affected flights, with one Turkish Airlines flight forced to return to Turkey after interference prevented it from making a safe landing in Beirut.

It is not the first time Israel has used such jamming against Lebanon. Blanford recalled its impact when Israel last fought a large-scale war against Hezbollah.

“In the 2006 war, Israel jammed all comms and GPS signals in the immediate border district, so we could not use ordinary cell phones nor sat phones down there. Same with GPS signals,” he said.

Live Story

Blanford hasn’t observed a significant impact on daily civilian life in Lebanon caused by the present jamming but did note that it has reportedly had an impact on Israeli civilian communications.

“There have been reports of Israelis finding themselves in Beirut according to their GPS apps,” he said. “There has also been a phenomenon of people using a family location app called Life360 suddenly finding their daughter, son, mother, or father on one of Beirut Airport’s runways.”

While Israel's use of this jamming can also impact civilian communications in Israel, Blanford concluded by noting that nothing has been reported “to suggest that Hezbollah or Hamas have these capabilities”.

Paul Iddon is a freelance journalist based in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, who writes about Middle East affairs.

Follow him on Twitter: @pauliddon