Archive for category Israel
Back in July, 2014, Defense News reported that the giant French arms company Thales was trying to find markets for the imaging technology carried on the Watchkeeper drone. Thales was also interested in renting out the technology with the Watchkeeper drone included.
The Watchkeeper drone is based on the Hermes 450 drone produced by Israeli arms company Elbit Systems. It is produced by a company 51% owned by Elbit and 49% by Thales. It contains several components made by the Israeli company, included engines made in an Elbit owned plant in Lichfield, UK. Elbit Systems advertises its drones as ‘conflict tested’, due to their use in successive attacks on Gaza which resulted in thousands of deaths.
The UK government spent almost £1 billion to have Hermes redesigned and 54 drones produced. The programme was severely delayed and no drones were produced until immediately before Britain withdrew its forces from Afghanistan.
Though the UK government paid the development costs of Watchkeeper, that technology would be sold or rented on by Thales as a profit making enterprise. There is no published evidence that the government would benefit from exploitation of this expenditure.
Brazil has bought four Hermes 450 drones for surveillance over stadiums of the FIFA World Cup football matches to commence in June, 2014. Intended to prevent terrorism during the games, no good case has been made that the Brazilian games will be targets of terrorism. Or that the drones will be useful in preventing it. Rather, the drones are more likely to be used monitoring protests that are sparked by the matches and Brazilian government policies, and building a ‘security state’. People attending the matches can expect pervasive surveillance, from drones overhead to facial recognition cameras on the ground.
As well, there may be a need to protect football fans and nearby residents from the drones themselves. Hermes 450 drones do not appear to have received widely accepted certification to fly in civilian air space,** although the Israeli government has certified them in Israel. Last year, during the Confederations Cup matches, Brazilian officials appear to have acknowledged this failing by planning to restrict civilian air traffic near the game venues.
British-Israeli Watchkeeper drones (which are based on the Hermes 450) have been recently certified by the UK to fly in civilian airspace but the technology that permitted this to occur does not appear to have been incorporated into the Hermes 450 drones sold to Brazil. There has been an effort worldwide to make drones safe to fly in populated airspace, including large European government subsidies documented by Statewatch and the Transnational Institute.
Drones in general have a much higher crash rate than piloted aircraft, and several Hermes 450 drones crashes have been recorded from a relatively small worldwide fleet.
Hermes 450 drones have been widely used by Israel for surveillance and assassinations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. So often used that Elbit Systems advertises their products as ‘conflict tested’.
Elbit Systems has a strong marketing programme in South America and has sold drones to several countries.
Brazil appears to have paid $25 million for the four drones.
**If anyone knows differently, please let me know.
There is startlingly little fuss being made over the imminent introduction of the long delayed Anglo-Israeli Watchkeeper drone expected in just a few weeks. Delayed by years, the drone has been an embarrassment to both the British military and the prime contractor Thales.
Originally touted as essential for Britain’s intervention in Afghanistan, the drone will likely never be introduced to that operational theatre, due to the delays. The army has since found that it could do just as well with armed Predator-type drones, as well as rented Israeli surveillance drones. Meanwhile, the long delays in finishing Watchkeeper have been blamed on the need for ‘civilian airspace certification’, although it hasn’t been satisfactorily explained why that is needed since UK military drones have so far operated in remote areas, where conflict with civilian air traffic is not an issue.
Perhaps the greatest reason that Watchkeeper introduction has been kept to a low profile is that the drone is primarily an Israeli creation. Watchkeeper’s earliest years coincided with the infamous Cast Lead attack on Gaza, when hundreds of Palestinians, including a very large number of women and children, were killed by Israeli forces. Drones were heavily involved in that attack, and subsequent ones.
Watchkeeper is the anglicised version of the Hermes 450 drone used throughout the Cast Lead attacks, and many times since. Its maker, Elbit Systems, brags that their drones are ‘combat tested’, and their company officials have noted that the active participation of Elbit designers in Israel’s military activities means that the Hermes 450 is constantly updated and fixed to reflect the experiences of the Israeli military (which are largely gained in attacks on Gaza and suppression of Palestinians in the West Bank).** So, Britain’s Watchkeeper drone owes a debt to Palestinians suffering under Israeli occupation.
Watchkeeper’s first flights were at the Megido airfield in northern Israel. (They were originally scheduled for and airport in the occupied territories, until British officials objected to the ‘optics’ of that). There is considerable Israeli equipment and intellectual property on Watchkeeper, including the take off and landing system, the engine, and the basic design. It has never been certain what Elbit’s returns from the £1 billion contract have been, but they will have been considerable.
Britain’s embrace of the Hermes 450 model has also been good for Elbit. Britain’s rented Hermes 450’s have flown thousands of hours in Afghanistan (several have crashed). And Watchkeeper has flown countless test hour from Parc Aberporth in Wales. Those experiences have filtered back to Elbit, and no doubt been incorporated into the design of updated Hermes models, including the Hermes 900 now being sold around the world. These updated Hermes drones will eventually be used again in the suppression of the occupied Palestinians, meaning that British use of Hermes-based drones have had a direct effect on subjugated people in the Middle East.
**It’s possible that Israeli arms company employees are actually involved specifically in the deployment of Israeli drones in combat situations, although this hasn’t been confirmed directly.
Drone Wars UK recently published a briefing paper (Israel and the Drone Wars: New Briefing from Drone Wars UK) that describes the Israeli drones industry, and Israel’s contribution to the proliferation of drones worldwide.
Drone Wars UK states that it “aims to be a source of information on the growing use of armed drones.” It has become the most credible source of information on drones in the UK, and one of the best sources of information on drones in the world.
It maintains a growing database of large drone crashes world wide.
The Canadian government long ago said that it intended to buy a drone system for the Canadian military, and implemented a programme to determine needs and set out criteria for purchase, in the form of Project JUSTAS (Joint Uninhabited Surveillance and Target Acquisition System).
Very little information has been released to the public that would allow anyone to follow the deliberations of this body, even as a procession of lobbyists have had access to all levels of government.
In October 2013 MacDonald Dettwiler announced that it would provide Canada with Raven hand-launched drones, and associated training and maintenance. It isn’t clear whether this acquisition was related to Project JUSTAS, but clearly the Canadian government is still in the market for large surveillance, or even armed drones.
In November, 2013 the Canadian Defence Minister, Rob Nicholson, welcomed the Israeli Minister of Defence, Moshe Ya’alon, and was effusive about the relationship between Canada and the apartheid regime. Nicholson stated ‘I am confident that we will find avenues to expand our defence relations even further in the near future.” Several ministers in the Conservative government waste no opportunities to support the Netanyahu regime.
While no specifics were released it seems likely that the two discussed the possibility of Canada buying Israeli drones, as Israel has become the largest retailer of drones worldwide. Several Israeli companies make large surveillance drones, of which Israeli Aerospace Industries (Heron family of drones) and Elbit Systems (Hermes family of drones) are the largest. Elbit Systems often tries to sell its drones as ‘turn key’ systems, manufactured in the buyer country to permit ‘manufacturing offsets’. Both companies provide drones to the Israeli military for repressing Palestinians, and both drone systems have been implicated with deaths of civilians in Israeli drone attacks on Gaza. Canada has rented Heron drones from IAI for use by Canadian forces in Afghanistan.
Aside from Israeli companies, America’s Northrup Grumman has been aggressively trying to sell their Global Hawk drone to Canada. However Global Hawk is very expensive and likely to be unpopular with the Conservatative base.
General Atomics, which makes the Predator/Reaper class of drones has been less in evidence, perhaps sensing that the quagmire of Canadian defence procurement is best avoided. Predator/Reapers are cheaper, but are clearly thought of as armed drones, which may be a step the Conservative government isn’t ready to make as an election approaches.
Another possibility for a Canadian drone purchase would be the British-Israeli Watchkeeper, which will be part of UK military exercises at CFB Suffield in 2014. Watchkeeper will likely have civilian airspace certification. The Canadian military claims it doesn’t neen civilian authority to fly drones domestically, but certification would make it easier to fly drones to monitor pipeline protesters, (and other Canadian dissidents), which must surely be one of the goals of the Conservative government. Watchkeeper has a very large Israeli component, which would allow the Harper government to support the Netanyahu government while keeping the purchase within NATO. However the Canadian public is sure to react to buying any equipment from the UK military after the submarine debacle of a few years ago.
The Conservative ministers would have trouble facing their Israeli counterparts if they wasted the most obvious opportunity to make a high profile purchase of military technology from the apartheid regime.
Based on the information that is publicly available it my ‘best guess’ that the Canadian government will announce that it intends to buy one of the Israeli drone options in 2014.
It was revealed in July that in 2012 the UK has granted licences for export of £7.7 billion worth of cryptographic technology to Israel. (That’s almost 200 times the typical level of exports) By virtue of the government’s secretive arms trade policies the sale was not revealed until long after it was being processed. Little is known what this massive sale was comprised of. In July, the Independent reported that the UK had issued a wide variety of export licences to repressive countries, including many on it human rights list, often in direct violation of its own policy. Britain also exported to Israel ‘..vehicles with ballistic protection, body armour, military helmets, components for pistols, components for assault rifles, military support vehicles, and …ammunition. In total there were 381 licences for export of arms to Israel. ‘
“Many of the countries on the list are in the Middle East and North Africa. But what is most striking is that over half of the total (£7,878,776,714) is going to “Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” Look a little closer and you see that almost all of those exports are going to Israel with only £5539 going to the Occupied Territories. Look closer still and you see something utterly astonishing. 380 different licences have been granted for exports of arms and military equipment to Israel. However, £7,765,450,000 of the £7.8 billion worth of equipment exported to Israel is covered by just one licence approval – for equipment employing cryptography and software for equipment employing cryptography. This is bizarre, particularly as there are scores of other licences granted for export of cryptography equipment and software which have a substantial value –but still only add up to a tiny fraction of this amount. I am tabling questions to Minister today to find out just what this licence was all about. Is just one company involved? Why does the scale of this licence dwarf all others with similar titles? What does the contact actually involve? Quite apart from all the questions that this particular licence approval raises, there has to be real concern that the arms trade with Israel dominates the list produced by UK Government to this extent. Britain has long standing rules that arms and military equipment should not be exported to countries where they are likely to be used for either internal repression or external aggression, a principle that the Foreign Secretary affirmed to the Committee.
That being the case, you cannot ignore that the West Bank remains illegally occupied by Israel and that there is growing international concern about Israel’s treatment of Palestinian child prisoners. You cannot ignore the Israel’s military blockade of Gaza, or the regular shootings of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces which has been systematically documented by the United Nations.
Against a background of international concern about Israel, we need to know why inventory of equipment the UK is supplying ranges from components for assault rifles and arms to military communications equipment and intelligence software. The UK Government regularly expresses concern about Israel’s breaches of international law and human rights abuses. So just what are we doing supplying Israel with the military equipment that helps it carrying on such violations?
The UK Government has some serious questions to answer here on its arms exports to Israel and to the other countries of concern.”
In September, in response to a question by Mr. Burden, the Minister of State for Business and Enterprise Michael Fallun stated that the export was “of equipment and softward for building public mobile phone networks”
However no details of the exact nature of the equipment, the seller, or the buyer, were forthcoming. It isn’t possible to assess to what extent the technology will prop up the apartheid state’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, though it is impossible to imagine that this mobile phone technology will not be used in some way in the conduct of the occupation.
David Cronin, writing in Electronic Intifada, has suggested that both Conservative and Labour governments have systematically undervalued the amount of British exports to Israel.
In the continuing fallout from Israel’s attack on the Gaza rescue ship Mavi Marmara a couple of years ago, the US Congress has cancelled an agreement to sell Predator drones to its NATO ally Turkey.
When Israel attacked the Mavi Marmara in international waters and assassinated several Turkish citizens, it set off a flurry of angry reactions from Turkish authorities, and scuttled the increasing friendship between the two countries. Not only did plans for Turkey to buy drones from Israel collapse, but there were numerous other diplomatic conflicts.
At about that time the identies of 10 agents working for Israeli Mossad were claimed to be revealed to Iran, allegedly by the head of a Turkish intelligence agency. Turkish officials claim that the allegation was simply ‘black propaganda’ by Israel.
An article in Today’s Zaman suggests that no action was taken by the US and Israel at the time because Turkey’s cooperation was needed gathering intelligence in Syria. With the need to spy on Syria lessened, the US was free to retaliate against Turkey on behalf of Israel.
Today’s Zaman also suggests that the move by Washington was in retaliation for Turkey buying long range missiles from a Chinese arms company, instead of Russian, American or European bidders.
It may also be retaliation for Turkey’s broader rejection of Israel’s use of Turkish airspace, and the probability that it is curtailing its cooperation with Israel’s efforts to infiltrate Iran via the Turkish border areas.
Ironically the US supplies Turkey with a great deal of surveillance in parts of eastern Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, specifically aimed at the PKK. This latest move appears to be an attempt to limit control of surveillance by Turkey as well as force Turkey to return to its policy of cooperating with Israel with respect to Iran, and purchasing arms from it. The move wasn’t totally a surprise, it was rumoured last year in Turkey, and in the United States.
Unless Turkey flinches, the cancellation would ironically appear to be a good thing for peace in the region. Turkey has been making inroads to solving its conflict with the PKK, so has less need for drones to survey and attack rebel fighters. And the US reaction may simply harden Turkey in its resolve not to be used by Israel to threaten or actually attack Iran. The NATO alliance, which is less about mutual aid and more about foreign intervention, has been weakened yet again. Probably not what the US congress wanted, but a plus for the world at large.
A recent report released by the UK illustrate just how widespread Israeli arms sales are, and how many British components are sold along with Israeli weapons. A detailed list of export control decisions can be seen on the Campaign Against the Arms Trade website .
Among the countries receiving Israeli arms exports (with British components) were Algeria, Pakistan, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, and Egypt.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz stated there were hundreds of applications from Israeli companies to use British components in Israeli arms, (even while the UK was admonishing Israel over its continued illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, and attacks on Gaza). Some of these arms were used by the Israeli military, others were exported. Exports of arms and components from Britain require permits under military end use control legislation.
Among the other clients were India, Singapore, Turkey, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Sweden, Portugal, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Colombia, Holland, Italy, Germany, Spain, Thailand, Macedonia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Switzerland, Ecuador, Mexico, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Equatorial Guyana, Poland and Argentina. (These are all purchasers of Israeli weapons with UK components).
According to Haaretz in the past five years the UK rejected only 52 applications to use UK weapons or components on the basis that they could be used for repression in the Palestinian territories.
Clearly the UK is profitting handsomely from its arms sales to Israel which may explain its reluctance to take any serious action against the apartheid policies and human rights abuses of the Netanyahu government.
Haaretz states that more than half of Israeli drone exports in the past seven years were to Europe, with the largest purchase the Watchkeeper drone, ( the beleaguered history of which can be found elsewhere in this blog). So even while the UK was rejecting a few arms sales from Israel, it continued to approve hundreds of exports, as well as purchasing hundred of millions of pounds worth of drone technology from Israel.