The September 9 Attack on Syria: Israeli Electronic Warfare Capabilities Beyond Any Yet Displayed

An awesome display of electronic warfare capabilities by Israel in September sparked a sharp reaction in Russia today. It all may bode ill for Iran tomorrow.

Electronic warfare capabilities reached new heights during the September 9 Israeli attack on Syria. That was the revelation from the November 25 issue of Aviation Week & Space. The revelations apparently touched a nerve somewhere in Russia.

Today Pravda carried a story imparting their own spin to the events described in AW&S, along with an interview with Richard J. Aldrich and an editorial wrap-up that featured a scary prediction.

The article packed an informational punch. The authors of the AW&S piece, David A. Fulghum, Robert Wall and Amy Butler, covered a lot of ground.

Among the highlights were: the elements of the electronic attacks carried out by the Israelis; methods the Israelis used to penetrate Syrian air defenses undetected; an Israeli claim that rejected any link between the Syrian and Iranian nuclear programs; and a rebuttal to that claim by John Bolton.

First, the highlights of the Aviation Week & Space article, "Israel Shows Electronic Prowess".

Elements of the electronic attack:
Elements of the attack included some brute-force jamming, which is still an important element of attacking air defenses, U.S. analysts say. Also, Syrian air defenses are still centralized and dependent on dedicated HF and VHF communications, which made them vulnerable. The analysts don’t believe any part of Syria’s electrical grid was shut down. They do contend that network penetration involved both remote air-to-ground electronic attack and penetration through computer-to-computer links.

“There also were some higher-level, nontactical penetrations, either direct or as diversions and spoofs, of the Syrian command-and-control capability, done through network attack,” says an intelligence specialist.

The penetration by non-stealthy aircraft using electronic means:
That ability of nonstealthy Israeli aircraft to penetrate without interference rests in part on technology, carried on board modified aircraft, that allowed specialists to hack into Syria’s networked air defense system, said U.S. military and industry officials in the attack’s aftermath. Network raiders can conduct their invasion from an aircraft into a network and then jump from network to network until they are into the target’s communications loop. “Whether the network is wireless or wired doesn’t matter anymore,” says a U.S. industry specialist (AW&ST Nov. 5, p. 32; Oct. 8, p. 28; Feb. 19, p. 31). Now development of the technology in Israel is being confirmed.

The links between the various nuclear programs:
Israeli officials reject any suggestion that the Syrian and Iranian nuclear programs were or are linked in any way. “I don’t think Iran knew anything about what Syria was doing,” says a long-serving member of the Israeli parliament with insight into military affairs. “I don’t think they would have told the Iranians. They didn’t need Iranian assistance because they had help from the North Koreans.”

John Bolton disputes that view:
However, John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, disagrees. “I’d be very surprised if the Syrians were to engage at least without Iranian acquiescence,” he says. And, “it may be beyond that,” he tells Aviation Week. Since Syria alone lacks both the funding and expertise for a nuclear weapons program, it would logically turn to Pyongyang for technology and oil-rich Tehran for funding, he says.

Moreover, Bolton says the use of network attack is a clever move by the Israelis. He contends that it will serve as a deterrent for Iran. Or, at the very least, it sends a message that even the advanced, Russian-built air defense systems won’t protect Iran’s nuclear activities.

Next, the Pravda take.

The Russian paper starts out first with a claim that the U.S. provided monitoring assistance during the attack itself.
The U.S. provided Israel with information about Syrian air defenses before Israel attacked a suspected nuclear site in Syria, Aviation Week & Space Technology is reporting in its Nov. 26 edition.

The U.S. was monitoring the electronic emissions coming from Syria during Israel's Sept. 6 attack, and while there was no active American engagement in the operation, there was advice provided, according to military and aerospace industry officials.

The first event in the raid involved Israel's strike aircraft flying into Syria without alerting Syrian air defenses. The ultimate target was a suspected nuclear reactor being developed at Dayr az-Zawr. But the main attack was preceded by an engagement with a single Syrian radar site at Tall al-Abuad near the Turkish border, Aviation Week reports.

Next, Pravda poses several questions concerning the attack to Richard J. Aldrich.
Pravda.Ru has interviewed Professor Richard J Aldrich, Department of Politics and International Studies University of Warwick, to find out more about US interference into the conflict between Israel and Syria.

Pravda.Ru: Can we speak here about the US interference into the conflict between Israel and Syria?

Richard Aldrich: Not really. Intelligence and technical co-operation amongst friendly countries is now so widespread that it is hardly meaningful to talk about 'interference'. Many European countries also exchange intelligence with Israel. Indeed, during the Cold War, Israel even exchanged intelligence with the Soviet Union. Even intelligence rumored to come from Israeli espionage operations inside the United States!

In this case, Aviation Week has made it clear that it was Israeli personnel and units that undertook these electronic operations, not Americans.

However, there are important benefits from this close relationship for both the United States and Israel. Israel clearly benefits from very advanced technological assistance in the area of electronic intelligence and network warfare which may have helped with this operation. Equally, it is likely that the United States received reports on the operational effectiveness of this equipment in return. In short, the operation against Syria would have provided the US military with great opportunities to see the latest secret equipment under "live battle conditions". This is always considered to be invaluable.

Pravda.Ru: It is well-known fact that most part of Syrian strategic objects is operated by Russia. Is there a possibility that it was US intelligence operation against Russia?

Richard Aldrich: Not really. It is unlikely that Russia has given its latest air defense equipment to friendly countries in the Middle East and so the United States would not learn much about current Russian capabilities by looking at Syrian Air Defense. Its more likely that the United States would gather useful intelligence against Syria itself during this operation. The information might also be useful against another regional power operating similar types of equipment.

Pravda.Ru: Can we speak here that this operation will launch a new war in the field of electronic and digital technologies?

Richard Aldrich: Electronic warfare has been around a long time and had already reached quite a level of sophistication during the Second World War. However, the new aspect of this operation was the use of network attacks. It appears that the command and control systems of the Syrian military were directly attacked by Israelis using computers as weapons. This is a specialist form of military hacking. For many years there has been an active debate about how practical and realistic the idea of pure 'network warfare' really is. During the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s this activity seemed to be limited to fairly trivial "denial of service" attacks.

Finally, the Pravda piece sums up with a scary prediction--especially if you're a Russian military planner or ally.
Now, perhaps we have seen the first live example of the military application of network warfare.

One of the troubling issues with network warfare is that it is hard for the victim to know if they have been attacked - or merely suffered a network failure. Even if they are sure they are being attacked, they can't always tell who is attacking them?

For this reason, Israel's attack on 6 September appears to herald a frightening new era in the realm of electronic warfare.

All this happened in the last couple of days; it's a lot of information.

And it's only the parts that we know.

by Mondoreb

notes by: Little Baby Ginn

Pravda, "USA Helps Israel Only to Test Its Arms Under Live Battlefield Conditions"
Aviation Week & Space, "Israel Shows Electronic Prowess"


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