El Al flight communication disrupted by ‘hostile actors’

The airline maintained that the disruptions did not affect the flight and all airlines in the region were targeted


El Al aeroplane at the Ben Gurion International Airport. October 4, 2022. Photo by Moshe Shai/FLASH90

(JNS) ‘Hostile elements' attempted to take over the communication networks of two El Al planes flying through Somalian airspace in recent days.

According to Channel 12, one flight left Israel for Thailand on Saturday and the other targeted plane was returning to Israel from Thailand on Sunday. Both planes landed safely at their destinations.

Senior officials at Israel's flagship carrier emphasized that there is no direct connection to the war against Hamas in Gaza and that planes from all airlines flying in the region are experiencing similar takeover attempts.

However, Kan reported that the attempt on the flight from Thailand to Israel occurred near a region where Iranian-backed Houthi rebels operate. The Houthis have been attempting to attack Israeli interests in waterways surrounding Yemen after siding with the Hamas terror group in the war.

But Somali officials claim that the unrecognized state of Somaliland was responsible for the incident. Ethiopia recently signed a sea access agreement with the breakaway region.

During the flights, the hostile actors attempted to take control of the communications networks, giving route instructions different from the assigned flight path. In response, the pilots changed frequencies. It was unclear if the goal was to steer the flight into a dangerous area, damage the craft or hijack it.

"Somalia's local civil aviation authority recently issued an update to all international airlines regarding expected disruptions in communication in this area," El Al said in a statement.

"El Al pilots were also updated on the issue, and instructed to use alternative means of communication in such a case. We emphasise that the disruptions are not directed at El Al's aircraft And that this is not a security incident. The disruption did not affect the normal course of the flight thanks to the professionalism of the pilots who used the alternative means of communication and allowed the flight to continue on the planned route."

Chuck Freilich, former deputy head of the Israeli National Security Council and a senior researcher at the National Security Institute, told Channel 12 that the cyber threat to air travel "is considered one of the most dangerous in the world, and has been recognized as such by Israel's national cyber system as well."

He added that Israel operates a special unit dedicated to cyber threats to air travel.

Lt. Col. Talia Lankeri, a consultant for national security and crisis management, clarified to Channel 12 that it was not a cyber attack.

"You need to understand the difference between entering or infiltrating the cyber systems and the radio frequency spectrum systems. In fact, hostile elements took control of the communication frequency system on the planes and tried to instruct the planes what to do," she explained.

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