Posts Tagged Gaza

Do drones cause MORE civilian casualties, not fewer?

Dr Ann Rogers has argued that rather than reducing civilian casualties (due to their ‘precision’ targeting and comprehensive imaging capabilities) the use of drones actually increases total civilian deaths. She states that the belief that drones are ‘more accurate and therefore less damaging’ leads military planners to carry out many more attacks than they would with conventional weaponry.

Certainly this is borne out by the evidence. Thousands of attacks involving drones have been carried out on a variety of fronts, from Iraq, to Gaza, to Yemen, to Afghanistan, by the US, UK and Israel, without leaving the impression that major warfare has been engaged in. The main quality that supports these drone encounters is high quality imaging and persistence. Rogers points out that these capabilities also lead to identifying a very large number of targets, and therefore causing many more deaths.

Rogers’ conclusion can be supported from a different perspective. Many claim that Israel has ‘the world’s most moral army’. The Israeli government claims to seek to avoid civilian casualties, and goes to extreme lengths to deflect blame for civilian deaths onto Israel’s enemies. Yet the civilian death rate from Israel’s successive attacks on Gaza is roughly the same, or higher, than the civilian death rate from Syrian President Assad’s attacks on Syrian rebels.** (Shouldn’t the world’s most moral army have a lower civilian casualty rate?) Israel has lauded the heavy use of drones for surveillance and targeting in Operation Protective Edge, its most recent incursion into Gaza. But it is clear that Protective Edge ended only when the number of civilian deaths and destruction of civilian infrastructure had reached the saturation level, and more killing would have ended support from many of Israel’s key allies. Using drones in this case saved no civilian lives. Although it is perhaps unfair to compare the conflicts directly, it may nevertheless be instructive that the conflict involving heavy use of drones (Operation Protective Edge) had a roughly equivalent or higher civilian death rate than the conflict (Syria) in which persistent drones are not a significant factor.

**52-70% in the case of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza,  31% in the case of Syria

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Drones use acknowledged in Gaza Attacks

Israel as been somewhat circumspect with respect to its use of drones in a number of attacks on its neighbours, though most people know that drones have been a significant part of its armed forces. Israeli drone companies have bragged about their drones being ‘combat tested’, without specifying in exactly which combat.

This changed with Operation Protective Edge, the brutal and murderous campaign against Gaza in the summer of 2014. In Protective edge 2192 Palestinians died at the hands of Israeli attackers, 504 of them children. Since then there have been many official acknowledgements of drone use.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced that the Israeli military had been restructured to add more unmanned systems (drones). The Israel military has always been integrated with its arms industry, both supporting each other. After Protective Edge, the newspaper Ha’aretz reported that the ‘operation had offered the opportunity to showcase some of Israel’s technological advancements’. Ha’aetz reported that both Hermes 900 and Hermes 450 drones were used in Protective Edge.

Defense News reported Israeli commanders praising the Hermes 900 as an improvement over the Hermes 450. Though Hermes 450 and Hermes 900 drones are widely believed to be armed, Israeli commanders didn’t confirm that. They did, however, praise the smaller Skylark drones, which streamed target acquisition information to ‘a myriad of shooters on the ground’.

i-HLS has reported that both Hermes 900 and Hermes 450 drones were flown from Palmachim air base and were used round the clock in operations against Gaza. Hermes 900 also has a marine surveillance version that may be used in the ongoing campaign of harassment against Gaza fishermen.

Most of the drones (85%) used by the Israeli military are provided by Elbit Systems, according to IsraelDefense.

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Many benefits for Israeli arms companies from Palestine occupation

Israeli arms companies are quick to point out their close association with the Israeli military, and the fact that many of their key development staff are active members of the military. Since much of the effort of the military has been the occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights, and the blockade and attacks on Gaza, it follows that many of these staff have been integrally involved in the brutal occupation of the West Bank, and many of Israel’s incursions into Gaza and Lebanon.

Elbit Systems is Israel’s largest drones manufacturer and the world’s largest drone exporter. Elbit’s Chief Financial Officer, Joseph Gasper, was recently interviewed by Financial Times, claiming that Elbit’s employees with active involvement in the Israeli military gave it “quick feedback” on whether those systems were working and whether they needed addressing. Elbit is a part of the Israeli military, and the Israeli occupation is a testing ground and feedback mechanism for the development arm of the Israeli arms industry.

In a country where military, government, and arms company roles are a virtual revolving door, it is not hard to imagine that there are strong finanical incentives to suggest military solutions to political problems. Elbit Systems not only profits from sales to the Israeli military and occupation forces, it uses the “combat proven” experience it gains from attacks on Gaza dn the surveillance of the West Bank to promote arms sales worldwide.

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Canada’s armed drones may be a step nearer

On Wednesday, the National Post’s John Iveson claimed that anonymous sources have stated that the Canadian Department of National Defense is tendering a contract to purchase around six ‘remotely piloted vehicles’  of the Predator type (used by America in conflict zones around the world). Only on Monday did this blog report other claims that a drone contract was under active consideration.

Iveson notes that General Atomics has been trying to sell Predator or Reaper drones to Canada for years, but neglects to mention that the US arms maker was frozen out last time the Canadian government made an acquisition of large drones. The Canadian government spurned the Americans in favour of the Israelis.

The Conservative government of Canada appears to favour doing business with the Israeli regime, and recent visits by Canadian cabinet ministers to Israel may portend another big deal with the Israelis. Certainly all the Israeli Heron and Hermes drone contenders are capable of being armed, and Israeli drones are known to have attacked and killed people in Gaza in 2009. Indeed the Israelis use their drone attacks on Gaza to claim that their drones are ‘battle tested’.

The Canadian government already has a relationship with Israeli Heron drone producer IAI though Canadian affiliate Macdonald Dettwiler. My bet is that the Conservatives will buy drones from an Israeli company, avoiding the relatively onerous bureaucracy that goes with buying American weapons, and cementing the perception of the government as a ‘friend of Israel’.

Active militarists, the Conservatives will be keen to be seen taking positive steps as their signature F-35 jet purchase project flounders. A relatively small drone purchase of a few hundred million dollars would probably distract the negative attention their failed jet purchase initiative has been getting.

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Protests at Watchkeeper Drone Engine Site

There were protests this week at the Lichfield site of UAV Engines, the Israeli owned company that manufactures  engines for a variety of drones, including the much delayed Watchkeeper drone.

Watchkeeper is a joint venture between Elbit Systems of Israel, and Thales, a French arms company. UAV Engines, of Lichfield (known as UEL) is a subsidiary of Elbit. Engines from this plant are apparently also used in the Hermes drone, which was used in the attack on Gaza recently, and in other aspects of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli sources periodically deny this, but at other times appear to confirm that the motor made in Lichfield is indeed used in the ubiquitous Hermes 450.

The British Watchkeeper drone is based on the Hermes 450.

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Israel May Sell Battle Tested Drones to Finland

Far from losing business after Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza recently, the Israeli arms exporters have enjoyed a mini-boom, as a number of countries have lined up to buy battle tested hardware from the Israelis, who have been supplying leading edge drone technology to war zones around the world.

After Georgia attacked Russia recently, aided by Israeli Hermes drones, the Russians were persuaded to arm themselves with Israeli drones.

This points to the high motivation that arms companies have to encourage their host countries and their customers to skirmish and be involved in campaigns, since without active campaign experience, new technology lacks credibility that can only be gained in warfare. Arms companies have a high motivation to encourage armed conflict, and to present armed conflict as a good solution to international problems.

Among the countries participating in Israel’s mini sales boom is Finland. Following is an article that describes the Finnish quest to acquire more drones:

“Finland’s Ministry of Defense has narrowed the field in its competition to provide the Finnish army with mini unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Of the five remaining bidders, four are Israeli firms with deep ties to the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Syrian Golan Heights. In addition, three of the models offered are or have been in active recent use in Israeli military operations in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and south Lebanon. The Finnish army already employs a UAV produced by Israel Aerospace Industries, as well as other “battle-tested” Israeli weapons including anti-armor missiles, artillery munitions, avionics and more…..” (more)

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Pratt and Whitney Canada Links to Israeli Military

Pratt and Whitney Canada has a long standing relationship with the Israeli Air Force. Pratt and Whitney Canada is part of a global concern Pratt and Whitney Ltd that is based in Hartford Connecticut. The global company maintains manufacturing facilities around the world, including in Israel.

The Pratt and Whitney (Canada) PT6A is used in Israel’s new Eitan drone, an unmanned aerial vehicle the size of a jet liner that was used for surveillance in the recent Cast Lead attacks on the Gaza Strip, and is said to be capable of spying on, or even attacking Iran.

Pratt and Whitney Canada also supplied the Israeli Air Force with PT6A turboprop engines for IAI Arava STOL aircraft,  in an association that went back as far as 1980.

Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A (-27 thru -42, -50), PT6T (series), are listed as exports to Israel by Israeli ‘Homeland Security’.

IAI also used Pratt and Whitney Canada   PW-306A  turbo fan engines in its Galaxy corporate jets in the 1990’s.

In December 2010, Canada’s Industry minister, Tony Clement announced that Canada would be investing $1 Billion Canadian in a Pratt and Whitney Canada project to make a lighter aircraft engine, in a move said to preserve jobs at Pratt and Whitney’s Longeuil, PQ facility, in Lethbridge, AB, and in Mississaugua, ON. Since the research will almost certainly be to improve the Pratt and Whitney Canada mainstay PT 6 engine, can we expect that this will directly benefit future production of Israel’s Eitan drones?

Bet Shemesh Engines Ltd. of Israel advertises that it does casting for Pratt and Whitney Canada’s PW306 and PW307 engines, either at its facilities in Bet Shemesh Israel, or in Serbia. As in many Israeli companies producing arms related items, some of the prinicipal officers are high ranking officers in the Israeli military. Bet Shemesh CEO Avner Shacham owns about 25% of Bet Shemesh, and is a Lieutenant Colonel in the reserves of the Israeli army.

Bet Shemesh is an Israeli town about 20 km west of Jerusalem. It is the site of the former Arab Palestinian village of Beit Natif, and has been a hotbed of support for the Likud Party. The Arab Palestinians were ‘ethnically cleansed’ and are now refugees who cannot return to their homes in Beit Natif. They and their descendants live mostly in refugee camps under occupation in the Bethlehem district.

In July 2009, Israel purchased 20 T-6 Beechcraft aircraft trainers, powered by Pratt and Whitney Canada’s PW6A turbo prop engines.

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Iron Dome Doesn’t Help Sderot

In Israel, like many countries with very large  arms industries, there is a close relationship between the government, the defense department and the industry, with the former often acting to promote the interests of the private arms industry.

Politically it was very important in the last few years for the Israeli government to ‘protect’ the residents of Sderot, in Israeli territory near the Gaza strip, who were being attacked by Qassam rockets fired from Gaza.

Residents of Sderot were promised a ‘missile defense shield’ that would protect them from Qassam rockets and money was awarded to Rafael Advanced Defence Systems to build one. Indeed a working system was completed in just two and a half years. However the IDF purchased only one system, at a cost of $50 million, then promptly put it into storage in the north of the country saying that it would be used to protect the frontier with Lebanon. It did not announce plans to purchase additional batteries.

Two theories have been advanced for this abrupt change of policy.

First, it has been pointed out that the Iron Dome system supplied by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems could not possibly defend Sderot from Qassam rockets fired from Gaza because the time it takes for a rocket to arrive in Sderot is far to short to allow the Iron Dome system to be activated. Iron Dome would only work where the lead times are greater, perhaps on the front with Lebanon.(It has also been pointed out that Israel could have purchased ‘off the shelf’ defence systems from the US, which used lasers and therefore had much shorter activation times, and were cheaper.

Second, it has been suggested that the plan to provide a ‘shield’ for Sderot was simply an excuse to commence a weapons development programme, with the real goal to sell the system to an offshore client, specifically Singapore. It was recently announced that Singapore would buy xx units of the system.

(Additional information from article by Lars Olberg, in Missile Monitor).

So were the citizens of Sderot betrayed by their government, who used their situation to justify a weapons development system that could not possibly benefit them?

Did Singapore believe that Israel was building a workable system for itself, when in reality the system is of little use for Israel and is more expensive than better alternatives?

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Elbit’s Arms Business in Brazil

Elbit’s Brazilian arm is Aeroelectronica Industria de Componentes Avionicos SA. , or AEL. It’s main contract is the modernisation of Brazil’s F-5 aircraft, and electronics for Brazil’s new AL-X aircraft. Additional info. It is a relatively small company, but Elbit CEO Yossi Ackerman claims to be involved with projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the military (including drones) and space industries in Brazil.

Elbit has made most of it’s money in Brazil in a joint venture with Brazilian Embraer, upgrading the F-5’s and providing electronics for the AL-X.

Elbit now claims to be in a good place to win contracts to build drones for the Brazilian military, given that it has local manufacturing facilities, and has been transferring Israeli drone technology to workers in its company in Brazil.

Elbit has also won a contract to provide the Brazilian military with ‘unmanned turrets’ for military vehicles, designed to by used in ‘asymetric warfare’. In other words terrorism, guerrilla warfare, or civil disobedience. Given that warfare isn’t a high risk in Brazil, the turrets would likely be used to quell civil disobedience or riots. In the Brazilian situation, I believe that ‘asymetric warfare’ is a code word for ‘riots’. Elbit already supplies the turret to the Belgians.

These unmanned turrets appear to be remotely controlled turrets capable of firing cannons, machine guns, grenade launchers (presumably smoke or tear gas), and with sophisticated electronics for seeing and following targets.

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Drones in Gaza and the Significance for Purchasers of Israeli Drones

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?

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