Blog Post

Telecom Infrastructure Targeted During Middle East Conflict

Israel’s strikes into Gaza continue apace, and news stories are pointing out that the conflict is being fought online as well — Twitter, YouTube and hacking web sites are playing a role, as ways to get information out of the country and dispense propaganda. There’s no need to drop pamphlets when you can post video of soldiers destroying a government building on YouTube or send threatening texts. The delivery mechanism is new, but propaganda isn’t.

Neither are the efforts to take out the delivery mechanism and means of communications. However, with Hamas using the same technology as citizens, the scope of such destruction is much wider. On Sunday, Palestinian mobile operator Paltel said that 90 percent of its infrastrucutre in Gaza was down, potentially cutting off communications via cell phone. Warning that the Gaza strip could be “disconnected from the outside world,” Paltel issued a statement that read:

Paltel Group has several alternatives and means that can allow connecting Gaza Strip with the outside world, however only one alternative is still functioning as all other alternatives have been totally damaged as a result of the air strikes and ground assault.

Other reports detail challenges in landline communications and Israeli news sources report that communications among Hamas leaders have pretty much been limited to walkie-talkies. This communication disruption is a scorched earth policy that goes beyond just disrupting the communications of military leaders, and it disadvantages the entire population — civilians included — by cutting them off from the benefits of the information economy. The use of civilian technology and communications by military and terrorists groups makes that infrastructure a bigger target (as was the case in Iraq), much to the detriment of everyone else on that network.

6 Responses to “Telecom Infrastructure Targeted During Middle East Conflict”

  1. Without going into who is to blame for what it is clear that telecom infrastructure is a strategic asset, although this is nothing horribly new. Note that telco central offices have for decades been located in hardened, non-descript buildings (at least in California) and the original ARPA net, predecessor to the internet, was designed to route around damage/lost nodes such that a nuclear war would not necessarily take down the network (guess EMP was not a big concern). US stragegy puts telco facilities, part of enemy command and control infrastructure, right at the top of target lists and now with the advent of precision munitions telco COs can be taken out without (usually) blowing up the hospital/school/mosque next door.

    Civilian infrastructure has proven rather useful in military contexts, one example dramatized in the movie Heartbreak Ridge about the 1983 US invasion of Grenada where troops pinned down by enemy fire made a called Fort Bragg and requested a fire mission. The general usefulness of telephone, wireless telephony in particular, has driven the creation of “cell tower in a box” solutions which allow the rapid deployment of a cellular network in harsh conditions or where existing infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed (see

    Increasing use of cost effective COTS (Commercial, Off The Shelf) solutions in military contexts is likely to continue to spread as these solutions are effective, available and relatively inexpensive. I think that a Casio G’z One, for example, would make a pretty nice walkee talkee…

  2. Totally and irrevocably agree with above. If Hamas cared about future of Palestinian people, life and conveniences of women and children they would have never used them as shields.

  3. “DF” brings an interesting point – when given the choice between taking the hi-tech road or going back to the dark ages of hatred we always assume everyone given this choice would rather have economic prosperity with twitter and facebook and high technology economy when in fact the middle east situation shows some populations (such as in Gaza) choose the opposite: I remember startups featuring Israelis and Palestinians working together were dismantled by the Palestinians in 2001 when the first signs of a possible conflict started.

    This might explain why one country in the region is dubbed as the 2nd silicon valley and less than 50 miles away you see people that would rather use twitter to spread hatred slogans.

  4. Last year I heard the Chairman of Paltel address a meeting of the Israeli Venture Capital Association near Tel Aviv (note that many of the attendees would not have been allowed into many Arab countries with an Israeli passport) in which he described the incredible lengths they have to go through to provide phone service in the West Bank and Gaza (including routing calls through London to keep infrastructure out of harms way). He was also there to promote his plan to set up a venture capital fund with Palestinian, Israeli and other funding. He represents what they future of the Middle East can be.

    Hamas, however, reflects the past with no hope for a future. If the residents of Gaza had been so worried about reaping the benefits of the information economy, they might not have elected Hamas to lead them. Think about how much better off the residents of Gaza would have been if Hamas had spent the last few years developing IT infrastructure instead of funding the digging of tunnels and the development of missiles to launch at Israeli civilians.

    Cutting off command and control is a basic step of any military operation. Just as they hide behind civilians when they launch 100’s of rockets into Israel, Hamas uses the civilian infrastructure to communicate. By contrast, Israel has actually used the Gaza cellular network to send SMS messages warning 1000’s of civilians of a pending bombing so that they could get out of harms way – what other country would do that?

    Finally, the strategic value of communications networks was underscored earlier this year when Hezbollah and the Lebanese government nearly went to war over attempts by the government to shut down a fiber optic network put in place by Hezbollah specifically for future use in battles against Israel.