Speculation: Canada’s drone acquisition policy about to shift toward Israel?

Some time in the next few weeks Canada’s Department of National Defence will release the results of its Project JUSTAS (the programme to identify what drones Canada wants to acquire). In the past the military, and the government, have made it clear that among its requirements would be armed drones.

The leading suppliers capable of providing armed drones of the type required would be General Atomics of the US (Predator, Reaper), and the two Israeli drone companies Elbit Systems (Hermes drone variants), and IAI (Heron drone variants). Canada already has a working relationship with IAI and its Canadian agents through its rental of Heron surveillance drones during the Afghanistan occupation.

Israel does not appear to have sold armed drones abroad to date. However Israel is one of three countries to have used armed drones (in its occupation and wars in Palestine) and is reputed to have several variants of armed drones. Several of its surveillance drone variants are easily capable of being armed, and in any case its surveillance drones can be used as attack drones by marrying laser ‘markers’ with other attack systems, like ground-to-ground missiles or jet fighters. Though Israel remains tight lipped, most observers report Israel using drones as part of its recent attacks on Gaza.

Canada is part of the Missile Technology Control Regime, indeed was its originator and among the earliest signators. While the US has ratified the MTCR, Israel is not a signatory. It would be politically difficult for Canada to buy armed drones from Israel, because some of the terms of the MTCR relate to armed drone technology, which can be considered ‘weapons of mass destruction’.

But news of an impending cabinet shuffle may influence this decision. David Pugliese, writing in the Ottawa citizen, has described rumours around Ottawa that current Minister of National Defence Peter Mackay, (who has been ineffectual), will be shifted laterally in the cabinet, or out. Under MacKay Canada’s defence procurement projects have continued to drift from one crisis to the next (though he isn’t the only minister reponsible).   MacKay’s replacement is rumoured to be John Baird. Baird is a combative Israelophile who, in his post as Minister of Foreign Affairs, has shifted Canada’s foreign policy sharply in favour of Israel, making Canada arguably Israel’s most vociferous ally.

It is easy to imagine that Baird’s appointment as defence minister would sharply improve the prospects of Israeli companies hoping to sell drones or other military hardware to Canada. Baird has the focus and determination to bulldoze over objections to purchasing military hardware from Israel. He can also be assumed to continue Canada’s move to a beligerent foreign policy in support of American interventions around the world.

Whether or not Canada buys armed drones from Israeli companies, it can be assumed that a John Baird appointment to the head of the Defence ministry would raise their prospects for selling surveillance drones to Canada. Both Elbit Systems and IAI maintain lobbyists in Ottawa, and IAI has a well connected Canadian agent in MacDonald Dettwiler.

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