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Suspicions Fall On IRGC For Dangerous Interference With GPS In Iran

File photo - A Boeing 747 of Iran's national airline is parked at Mehrabad International airport in Tehran, Iran.
File photo - A Boeing 747 of Iran's national airline is parked at Mehrabad International airport in Tehran, Iran.

The satellite-based radio navigation system GPS (Global Positioning System) has been deliberately disrupted in Iran last week, says the country's chief radio communications regulator Hossein Fallah Josheghani.

He told the official news agency IRNA that the disruptions are illegal and orders have been issued to stop them. However, he did not say which organization disrupted the GPS and who has ordered to stop the disruption.

Although there are speculations about the origin of disruption in the radio navigation system, and some sources have attributed it to Russia, Josheghani said that "the source of disruption has been identified, but measures have been taken to stop it."

It is not clear from his remarks when exactly the interference took place and how long it lasted. Josheghani mentions Thursday, June 27, but it is unclear if the interference began earlier or if it stopped by July 1, when the IRNA report was published.

According to the Times of Israel on June 27, Israel blamed Russia for disruption of GPS systems at Ben Gurion Airport. Israeli officials said the interference was caused by Russian military in Syria, but the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv dismissed the accusation as "fake news."

The Israeli publication adds, the interference with aircraft GPS reception was taking place for a while around its airports and it appears to stem from a form of electronic warfare known as “spoofing”, which Russia might be using as a defensive measure around its airbases in Syria.

According to the National Interest, Israeli sources have attributed the disruption that has been going on for three weeks, to A Russian electronic Warfare campaign in the region.

The National Interest warned that the electronic warfare campaign could affect U.S. forces deployed to the region to confront Iranian threats.

"The U.S. Air Force starting in April 2019 has deployed F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, respectively, as part of a wider build-up of forces as Washington clashes with Tehran following U.S. president Donald Trump’s decision unilaterally to withdraw the United States from the agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program," the newsletter noted.

Josheghani's allusion to the "legal actions by Iran's Judiciary," however, indicates that the chief regulator of radio telecommunications believes the disruption has been caused by an organization in Iran.

Josheghani added that the disruption has endangered flight safety and caused damages to online businesses in Iran.

One of the functions of the GPS is synchronizing radio aerials that also control the precision of downloading and uploading data.

In September 2011 Iran's cell phone system experienced widespread disruption in the positioning system. Experts at the time attributed the disruption to U.S. Sanctions, but anecdotal accounts blamed an Iranian military organization, allegedly IRGC, for the disruption.

In January 2012, Mashregh News, a website close to Iranian intelligence community said that Iran had steered a U.S. RQ-170 drone to land intact by disrupting the Global Positioning System using equipment developed by IRGC's Khatam ol-Anbia Headquarters. This led observers to believe that the IRGC was testing the system in 2011 when mobile communications were disrupted.

Similar incidents in Iran occurred between August and October 2018. First, a disruption in GPS created chaos in traffic in Tehran as a result of Internet connection cut-off in Tehran and the adjacent town of Karaj. Several banks and the taxi companies complained they were affected.

Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi at the time said the source of the disruption was not identified but intelligence officers were following the case.

Josheghani's said the Supreme Council of National Security was had gotten involved in the matter, which indicates that the issue was discussed at the highest level. Nevertheless, as disruptions have continued, experts believe they must have been caused by a powerful organization that can ignore highest security alerts by top officials. That can hardly be any organization other than the IRGC.

The latest round of disruptions that started on Thursday, has annoyed Internet users. Iranians on social media addressed their complaints to the Telecommunications Minister, although in similar cases IRGC has simply ignored comments and complaints by government officials.

The statement by Josheghani could be the administration's response to complaints made on social media.

Whether the Russians or IRGC in Iran or other players are to be blamed for the interference in the Global positioning system, the result of the electronic warfare endangers civil and military aviation as noted by the Iranian regulator, at a time when tensions are extremely high in the region and the downing of a U.S. drone nearly pushed Iran and the United States' forces toward a dangerous confrontation less than two weeks ago.