Israeli sky-hack switched
off Syrian radars countrywide
Friday November 23, 2007
More rumours are starting to leak out regarding the
mysterious Israeli air raid against Syria in September. It is
now suggested that "computer to computer" techniques
and "air-to-ground network penetration" took place.
The latest revelations are made by well-connected Aviation Week
journalists. Electronic-warfare correspondent David Fulghum says
that US intelligence and military personnel "provided advice"
to the Israelis regarding methods of breaking into the Syrian
Aviation Week's sources apparently said that the first move in
the raid was a combined bombing and electronic attack on a Syrian
radar site near the Turkish border, which allowed Israeli warplanes
to fly in undetected. It seems that there was also some use of
old-school brute force jamming.
So far, so conventional. However, Fulghum's unidentified Pentagon
contacts also said that after the Israelis crossed into Syrian
airspace, US sensors in the region noted that the whole Syrian
radar system "went off the air" for some time while
the main raid on the Dayr as-Zawr facility (believed to have been
a nuclear plant of some kind) went ahead.
(Article continues below)
Presumably this means that Syrian long-range search radars across
the country ceased to transmit. There is no suggestion that the
radars were physically destroyed, which is believable as this
would have called for strikes on multiple locations, which would
probably have become known by now.
AV Week's Pentagon informers don't think that the Syrian power
grid was shut down. Again, this would probably have become known,
so their assessment is believable. It seems that, rather, centralised
Syrian air-defence communications were hacked into. It appears
that the Syrians rely on HF and VHF radio for at least some of
their anti-air comms/data links, so this could be done relatively
easily from aircraft (or even perhaps from across the border,
in the case of HF).
There are also suggestions of more conventional network attacks
via wired/cabled links, though there's not even a hint as to how
the Israelis got access*.
Some of the hacks/spoofs/phreaking may not have been limited
to the air-defence nets. There were "some higher-level, non-tactical
penetrations, either direct or as diversions and spoofs of the
Syrian command and control capability, done through network attack,"
according to an unnamed US intelligence analyst quoted by Av Week.
The magazine promises more details next week, and the teaser is
You always have to treat leaks out of the Pentagon with caution.
However, the Israelis' remarkably easy in-and-out to Dayr as-Zawr
appears to be a fact, and until it happened the Syrian air defences
were thought to be quite serious stuff. You'd have said that they
would take some days to knock down, and that it would require
a big air campaign involving a lot of exploding things. Getting
in and out with the defences still up would have risked dogfights
with Syrian fighters, or very long, fuel-guzzling, dangerous/impossible
low-level flight profiles.
None of that seems to have occurred, so something strange took
place. Network hacking seems like a very possible explanation.
*That said, special forces were doing missions to cut fibre lines
as long ago as 1991 in order to compel the Iraqis to use easily-intercepted
radio. There are rumours nowadays that certain teams specialise
in attaching equipment to cable links rather than just cutting