Dating apps confused by GPS jamming are matching Israelis with Lebanese

War tactics are creating inadvertent connections between young citizens of the two enemy states

Israel's interference with GPS is affecting apps based on the user's location. Photo: Bumble Lebanon
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On a popular Facebook page, a young Israeli, recently released from military reserve duty, pens a message about a host of surprising matches on a dating app.

They are, bafflingly, in Lebanon, a country with which Israel is on the brink of war, as its army and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah escalate strikes in each other’s territory.

The young reservist had never seen profiles from Lebanon before. Then, suddenly in October, just after Israel launched their incursion into Gaza, Lebanese accounts started appearing.

Israeli social media thinks it has identified the reason for the sudden appearance of the profiles. GPS jamming. The tactic is used by the country’s forces to disrupt attacks originating from Lebanon. It essentially dupes phones into putting their owner’s location elsewhere.

“I’ve been in the reserves for quite some time,” the Israeli user jokes about the absurd situation. “But if the army decides to get that maniac in the north [Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah], I request that my country calls me to arms once more,” he says, hoping to get a chance to meet the new matches.

I think Israelis and Lebanese alike have grown accustomed to total separation to the point where encountering the ‘enemy’ is basically unthinkable
Ari, Tel Aviv resident

Across the border to the north, Beirut residents Leila and Maher, who met online, are discussing the same phenomenon.

“Since the war started, I mostly see Israelis on the app – I barely use it any more,” says Maher.

The consequences for the pair are more serious. Lebanon and Israel are still technically at war and Lebanese citizens are banned from any type of contact with Israelis.

Lebanese social media is perplexed. According to the newspaper L'Orient-Le Jour, in Beirut, Israeli profiles accounted for 60 to 62 per cent of the total profiles in February on Tinder in Lebanon.

The issue is also sparking significant interest in Israel.

“I think Israelis and Lebanese alike have grown accustomed to total separation to the point where encountering the ‘enemy’ is basically unthinkable,” says Ari, who lives in Tel Aviv and has a similar experience on a recent trip to the north.

“Now, with a little bit of GPS jamming, these two enemies are casually swiping past each other,” he adds.

“Israelis are revelling in it.”

Yonatan in Haifa writes on a Facebook page that dating apps are suddenly full of “Amalek”, a biblical reference Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used to describe his country’s enemies shortly after the October 7 attack on southern Israel.

A female poster complains: “Tinder, I’m so sick of seeing Lebanon and everyone who’s in it.”

Before the war, Israeli profiles would occasionally pop up, although “there are definitely more profiles,” says Omar, another Lebanese dating app user.

“I keep seeing them and they're absolutely gorgeous, but I can't do anything because we're divided by an apartheid wall and a genocidal army that doesn't take too well to Arabs,” he adds.

Israel has admitted to increasing GPS jamming in the region in a bid to thwart attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah.

Israeli forces said at the beginning of the Gaza war that they disrupted GPS “in a proactive manner for various operational needs” and warned of “various and temporary effects on location-based applications”.

“This is affecting not only dating apps but also different applications that have access to GPS to identify the user's location,” says Abed Kataya, media programme manager at SMEX, a digital rights organisation in Beirut.

GPS in southern Lebanon is often entirely compromised, displaying erratic locations hundreds of kilometres away, in Beirut or on the other side of the frontier.

On a recent reporting trip to the north of Israel, The National encountered difficulties using navigation apps after sporadic jamming frequently transported the user’s location to the middle of Beirut’s airport.

“Interfering with GPS also endangers civilian and commercial maritime and aerial traffic, potentially causing navigation failures,” Mr Kataya says.

In warfare, jamming GPS signals can hinder enemy forces' ability to navigate accurately when relying on GPS-guided systems like missiles, drones, or vehicles.

“Israel’s military use is also affecting civilian services,” Mr Kataya says. He stressed that this is a breach of the International Telecommunication Union, of which Israel is a member, which requires members to take measures “to prevent the transmission or circulation of false or deceptive distress, urgency, safety, or identification signals”.

Mr Kataya dismissed another widespread theory in Lebanon that the surge of Israeli profiles is a trick by Mossad agents to gather information on Lebanese residents.

“They don't really need to resort to spoofing GPS to spy on users; they possess extensive capabilities to wiretap Ethernet cables, submarine cables, and advanced tools to monitor telecommunication networks in Lebanon,” he says.

Updated: March 25, 2024, 7:05 AM