Posts Tagged Palestine
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.
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.
Videos of the first UK flight of the new Watchkeeper drone reappeared on Youtube this week. The first flight of Watchkeeper drone in the UK took place several years ago, after the drone was initially tested in Israel by French arms company Thales and its Israeli partner Elbit Systems. Thales is tasked with producing a new British drone from an Israeli prototype, the Hermes 450. So far the project is almost three years late, and Thales has been forced to pay the cost of British ISTAR surveillance in Afghanistan (that Watchkeeper was supposed to provide).
What is clear from the video is how irritating is the noise of the Watchkeeper drone. Residents near the Welsh drone testing site at Parc Aberporth have long complained about the incessant noise of Watchkeeper tests. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza say that the Hermes 450 drone used by the Israeli occupation forces is used not only for surveillance and assassination, but for harrassment and intimidation, as the high pitched engine noise overhead cannot be ignored.
Curiously, the long delays in finalising the Watchkeeper have been blamed by the UK Ministry of Defence on the need to certify Watchkeeper in civilian airspace. Yet it is difficult to see how the noisy Watchkeeper drone can be used in civilian airspace without creating annoyance and alarm to civilian populations.
Aviation Week is reporting that the Watchkeeper drones programme is delayed again.
Inititally expected to be in operation in June, 2010, Watchkeeper has been delayed and was under review by the government watchdog monitoring poor performance on contracts. But the government was able to help the contractors catch up by jettisoning or delaying one of the operational requirements for the drone.
In January 2012, however, there is still no sign of Watchkeeper being deployed. Aviation Week did not indicate why the programme was delayed, but attributed the news of the delay to an unnamed Ministry of Defense spokesman.
Watchkeeper was due in Afghanistan to replace drones leased from an Israeli company.
Watchkeeper has been criticised for being vastly overpriced. The billion pound price tag also supported an Israeli arms company, Elbit Systems, well known for providing services to the occupation forces in Palestine.
Watchkeeper was produced by a coventure between Elbit of Israel, and Thales of France.
Elbit Systems is important to people in the UK because it is an important contractor for the UK Watchkeeper drone system. Elbit is also involved in providing ‘security’ to many agencies in Israel, including those that protect the ‘apartheid wall’, and protect numerous illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Elbit is involved in Israeli security primarily through Elbit Security, and Elbit Electro Optics (some products). Elbit Systems also supplied UAV’s during combat in both Gaza and the West Bank, according to ‘Exposing the Israeli Occupation Industry‘ website. The same website suggests that Elbit has been building and unmanned ground vehicle for patrolling the ‘seamline’, along with Controp Precision Technologies, and Tomcar. They list the major shareholders of Elbit as the Federman family, (since 2004) through the Federman Group. (See end of article for more on the Federman Group)
More than one director of Elbit Systems, have been high ranking officers in the Israeli military, including Gideon Sheffer, executive officer, and Nathan Sharony(74), who retired as a Major General after 30 years in the IDF. Sharony is a well connected high flyer. Sharony is a member of the Council for Peace and Security, (composed mostly of retired military) which supports a Palestinians state in the West Bank and Gaza, but which opposes most other Palestinian demands.
Elbit Electro Optics (El-op) provided LORRO surveillance cameras for the Ariel section of the wall, and the A-ram section.
The Federman Group is composed of David Federman, his brother and his father, Michael Federman. David Federman(bio) has a B.A. from Tel Aviv University, and is a Captain in the Reserve of the Israeli Air Force. Along with another company Federman Group recently bought controlling interest in Haifa Oil Refineries. They appear to be involved in many other companies, including Carmel Olefins, Elite Industries, etc. Here’s an article discussing more of David Federman’s business affairs.
Watchkeeper is a new drone system being build by the UK, based on the Elbit Systems (Israel) Hermes 450 drone. The Prime contractor for Watchkeeper is Thales UK, which awarded a contract for a large part of the program to U-TacS, 51% owned by Elbit Systems.(The other 49% of UTacS is owned by Thales). U-TacS is more formally known as UAV Tactical Systems Ltd., of Scudamore Road, Leicester, UK.
A core plank of Elbit Systems social responsibility charter is ‘adopt a regiment’, also support for Zionism 2000. The social responsibility report contains a list of Elbit directors and management, with short biographies.
MacDonald Dettwiler Associates operates a facility at Suffield Alberta to test and demonstrate Israeli UAVs, as well as train operators and do R&D. In addition to its contract with the military to provide surveillance in Afghanistan, MDA is promoting the Israeli-build Heron UAV for civilian purposes.
Israeli Aerospace Industries (maker of the Heron UAV) suggests that the Heron drone might be used in fighting forest fires, monitoring pipelines, and by insurance companies to spy on clients and claimants. The Civil Air Search and Rescue has participated with MDA and IAI in trials of using the Heron drone for search and rescue.
(It is not clear at this point which other civilian purposes the Heron drone will be put to. However, civilian sales of Israeli drone technology or services will directly support the Israeli arms industry, and indirectly support the Israeli military in its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories).