Cops on Tel Aviv roofs for Eurovision forced down 80 drones; none were attacking

Bomb squad chief says sappers with anti-drone guns neutralized but did not shoot the UAVs, which were flying near competition venues despite skies having been declared off limits

Police sappers armed with anti-drone guns guard the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds during the Eurovision Song Contest on May 18, 2019. (screen capture: Channel 12)
Police sappers armed with anti-drone guns guard the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds during the Eurovision Song Contest on May 18, 2019. (screen capture: Channel 12)

Israeli police, fearful of a terror attack on the Eurovision Song Contest, deployed a new new anti-drone unit to protect the participants, fans and Tel Aviv residents during last week’s music extravaganza, Israeli TV reported Sunday.

Channel 12 detailed some of the many security precautions taken for the glitzy international song fest, which concluded with the final on Saturday and was held in Israel days after a massive flare-up in violence in and around the Gaza Strip.

Israel had already announced that it was deploying its Iron Dome System to protect against rocket attacks, but authorities also feared that drones could be used to target the international event.

Eran Salomon, the head of police’s Bomb Disposal Division, told the TV news channel that sappers from the unit brought down — but did not shoot — 80 UAVs that approached the Eurovision Village or the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds last week despite police instructions not to fly drones near the competition venues.

Israeli fans roar for Kobi Marimi, the Israeli contestant for Eurovision 2019, singing ‘Home,’ at a Friday dress rehearsal for the May 18, 2019 show (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Salomon said the newly-formed police unit set up a command center at the Fairgrounds, where the song contest was held, but also stationed sappers armed with a specialized frequency-jamming guns on balconies and rooftops throughout the no-fly zones.

When officers are alerted to a drone entering a restricted area, Salomon said sappers “neutralized” the device with a specialized gun, and force it to land away from crowded areas.

According to Channel 12, none of the 80 drones that were intercepted by security forces over Tel Aviv last week were attempting to carry out an attack. Police said the drones were forced to land and then returned to their operators, who were given a warning.

However, Salomon said that if an approaching drone had been believed to be attempting a terror attack, sappers could have used the gun to instantly shoot the drone out of the sky, or to force it to return to where it was launched from.

According to the report, the weapon used by the police sappers is the Chinese-made Hikvision UAV Jammer, which brings down nearby drones by interfering with their radio frequencies. It is said to have a range of several hundred meters.

Israel has a home-grown anti-drone system, which was reportedly deployed recently to stope a drone that caused hundreds of flights to be cancelled at the UK’s Gatwick airport.

Counter drone equipment is deployed on a rooftop at Gatwick airport in Gatwick, England, December 21, 2018 (John Stillwell/PA via AP)

The Daily Mail reported that the British Army used the Israeli-made “Drone Dome” to bring down the UAV last December after police failed for hours to do so with a commercial anti-drone system.

Six of the systems, which were developed by Israeli defense firm Rafael, were sold to the UK Ministry of Defense in August in an estimated $20 million deal, according to Israel’s Globes financial daily.

The burgeoning use of drones poses new safety challenges for security authorities as well as civil aviation.

The state comptroller has warned in the past of the need to confront the threats posed to public safety by drones, with over 20,000 believed to be owned by Israelis for a variety of purposes.

Channel 12 said that police in Israel are increasingly concerned about a potential terror attacks carried out via drone, and that all major events in the future will be required to implement the additional precautions.

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