Many countries around the world have purchased or leased Israeli drones, including the UK, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Turkey. Many of these have been the Hermes 450 or variants, the same drone used extensively and more or less secretly in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and in the recent attacks on Gaza.
The UK has an 850 million pound contract with UTacS to provide the UK with modified Hermes 450 drones under the Watchkeeper programme.
Israeli has the leading position in the development of drones, with two companies IAI and Elbit Systems as world leaders.
When countries purchase Israeli drones, what is happening?
For one thing, they are purchasing state of the art technology which has been field tested in ‘combat’ in the occupied territories of Palestine. Israel has a long history of drone use in Palestine, though this was relatively secret until recently. Drones by their nature are difficult to detect, and without IDF confirmation of their use this was difficult to establish.
But beginning about five years ago, reports of drones used in targetted assassinations became more common. Drones were first used to provide surveillance, but subsequently the technology was developed to arm the drones with missiles and other weapons, as well as non lethal capability like the ability to jam cell phones.They were also able to ‘mark’ targets, so that targets could be attacked by other weapons like missiles or bombs launched from military jets.
Early reports talked about the high accuracy of these weapons. Certainly Palestinian militants became fearful of them.
But in Operation Cast Lead reports came in of many, many civilian deaths caused by drones, in circumstances where it ‘should’ have been able to distinguish between fighters and civilians. What was happening? Are drones less precise than believed in the fog of war? Were drones being used to murder people? We can’t know at the moment because Israel refuses to examine the events, or to provide the tapes of the drone attacks to be publicly reviewed.
When a country buys or purchases Israeli drones they are accepting the baggage that goes with them. A brand name cosmetic company can’t survive if it uses ‘animal testing’. Yet western democracies purchase drones from Israeli companies knowing that these drones are either hopelessly and dangerously inaccurate, or have been associated by the senseless slaughter of civilians.
The introduction of the Watchkeeper drone seems to have been delayed beyond the expected date of spring 2010. Is this delay due to technical considerations or is the UK MOD embarrassed to introduce these modified Hermes 450 drones just before an election, which could become an election issue?