Drones and Death: The Israeli Connection

Drones are remote-controlled airborne robots. They come in all shapes and sizes. These unmanned high-tech weapons are remarkably versatile. From thousands of feet in the air some reportedly have heat-detecting and surveillance instrumentation that can distinguish between an automatic weapon that has been recently fired and one that hasn’t.

Unlike the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Palestine, most US Americans are oblivious to drones. But we’d better wake up. Drones are poised to become tools of domestic surveillance.

The Houston police are now secretly experimenting with drones. Col. Kevin Bradley, local Hancock Airbase drone commander, looks forward to having drones used for domestic police work.1 ACLU please take note.

In Upstate New York we’re beginning to learn about the Reaper drone in our midst – “piloted” via satellite out of Hancock on the outskirts of Syracuse. Syracuse’s Reaper now flies surveillance and assassination missions over Afghanistan. The Pentagon proudly describes the Reaper as a “hunter/ killer.”

But the US isn’t alone in developing and deploying drone technology. I became aware of Israel’s use of drones during its December 2008/January 2009 invasion of Gaza. Israel deploys two types of hunter/killer: the “Hermes,” produced by Elbit Systems Ltd, and the “Heron,” produced by the government-owned Israeli Aerospace Industries.

Recently – by Googling “Israeli drones” – I learned that Israel pioneered the drone and that Israel purveys that cutting edge weaponry throughout the world. As far back as 1982 Israel used drones against Syria. In the early nineties Israeli drones were used in the Kosovo campaign. Israeli drones invade the skies over Lebanon and patrol occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza. Israeli drones reportedly can reach Iran.

Even Israel acknowledges that, during the Gaza invasion, it killed well over 1000 Palestinians. Such was the butchery that over 100 Palestinians were killed for every Israeli killed. Among the wide range of weapon systems deployed in and over Gaza, drones accounted for the deaths of at least 87 civilians, many of them children.

The cold-bloodedness of it all struck me as I read the 39-page, June 2009 Human Rights Watch report: “Precisely Wrong: Gaza Civilians Killed by Israeli Drone-Launched Missiles.” Frequently those killings had no combat or defensive role whatsoever. Like aerial warfare generally, those killings were out-and-out state terrorism.

Israel’s drone technology is so “good,” and now so well demonstrated in Gaza, that other nations are lining up to put in orders. These exports generate enormous revenue for Israel’s weapons industry, an enterprise boosted by $3 billion a year in US military aid to Israel.

Israel’s known drone customers include: Turkey ($185 million for 10 Heron drones); Brazil ($350 million drone deal for border and police work); India (occupying Kashmir and long hostile to Pakistan); Georgia (used Hermes drones against Russia in 2008). Russia, very impressed with Georgia’s drone performance, has acquired three different types of Israeli drones ($53 million) for reverse engineering to kick-start its own drone industry.

To better service Pentagon contracts, Israel even has drone factories in the US – in Starkville, Mississippi and Columbus, Ohio. The US uses Israeli “Skylark” drones in Iraq. Brits, Germans, and Canadians use Herons over Afghanistan. They assassinate those perceived, correctly or not, as enemies. Given the flimsiness of the legal cases against most Guantanamo prisoners, we know that an informant or bounty hunter’s word that someone is a “terrorist” or “enemy combatant” is dubious.

In an ominous indicator of how easily lethal misjudgments can be made by those whose god-like job it is to select drone targets, the aforementioned Col. Bradley sees domestic anti-drone protesters as a “threat” to his pilots.1 Such attitudes help explain how the drone’s “precision” strikes can kill so many civilians. These deaths, whether in occupied Gaza or elsewhere, defy international humanitarian law.

One might suggest that much of US mainstream media is itself “occupied” by the nation’s highly militarized power structure. Otherwise, why aren’t the nation’s newspapers editorializing against the killer drones that rile up hatred against the US? And that subject US military and intelligence facilities to deadly reprisal?

Why doesn’t our media admit that much of the “terrorism” it constantly invokes is blowback from the kind of US policies that deploy hunter/killer drones? Why doesn’t our media point out that those in the chain of command responsible for these extra-judicial executions are war criminals?

Why doesn’t it call those nations deploying armed drones against civilians what they are: rogue states? And why doesn’t it describe their cowardly airborne killings as what they are: terrorism?

Corporations and militarists in the US and Israel promoting killer drones claim that as an unmanned weapon the drone saves lives — i.e., no pilots are shot down in action. This is specious: for every pilot saved, many other humans are killed or maimed.

Drone boosters further argue that, with its extraordinary surveillance capability, the drone’s laser-guided missiles are more precise killers than those of (say) a manned F-16 fighter jet. However, “[D]rones, much like sniper rifles, are only as good at sparing civilians as the care taken by the people who operate them. The accuracy and concentrated blast radius of the missile can reduce civilian casualties, but in Gaza, Israel’s targeting choices led to the loss of many civilian lives.”2

The Heron hunter/killer even has camera-bearing missiles that relay images in real time. This allows a pilot on the ground far away, suddenly realizing that noncombatants are about to be slain, to divert the missile at the last moment. But such capability makes the killing of children and other non-combatants – whether in Gaza, Iraq, Pakistan or Afghanistan — all the more detestable. No more blaming such “collateral damage” on the “fog of war.” Because the surveillance capability of these killer drones is so remarkable, when obvious noncombatants are targeted, the pilots know exactly what they are doing. This means the chain of command also knows exactly what is being done.

Because the drone cameras provide live footage of the strike, and since such footage is archived, the circumstances under which the killings occur are well documented. Such evidence needs to be presented to domestic or international war crimes tribunals. Problem is, just as Israel refused to cooperate with the UN’s Goldstone investigation, it refuses to release the footage. If the Human Rights Watch Gaza investigation were somehow flawed, such footage would refute its damning conclusions.

The US should insist that Israel release the footage. More: US military aid to nations like Israel that flaunt international law should cease.

The Pentagon trains foreign military in “anti-insurgency” tactics at schools such as the US Army’s School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia. In a further “anti-insurgency” initiative, at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona the US Army trains soldiers to operate drones. Of particular concern to us in Syracuse, Hancock Airbase is becoming the national headquarters for training Reaper drone maintenance crews from all service branches.

Likewise, since at least 2005 Israel has been training many of the world’s drone operators and maintainers. Some of these operators have gone on to deploy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • A similar version was first published in the February 2010 Peace Newsletter.
    1. 18 Dec. 09 Syracuse Post-Standard. [] []
    2. HRW, p.3. []

    Ed served 14 months in federal prisons for his civil resistance against the SOA. More recently he has been one of the “Hancock 2,” the “Hancock 15,” the “Hancock 33,” and the “Hancock 38.” Reach him at: edkinane@verizon.net. Read other articles by Ed.

    5 comments on this article so far ...

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    1. Ismail Zayid said on January 30th, 2010 at 3:03pm #

      The question is asked, in this thorough and well-documented report,: “Why doesn’t our media point out that those in the chain of command responsible for these extra-judicial executions are war criminals?” The answer to this queston has been evident in the longstanding impunity and predominant silence that our media provide for Israel, while it continues to commit the war crimes in Gaza and the continunig extra-judicial executions in the illegally-occupied Palestinian Territories. The Use of drones, phosphorus bombs and flechette explosives, in that brutal assault on Gaza, were barely worthy of mention by our media and political leaders.

    2. kalidas said on January 30th, 2010 at 3:47pm #

      It’s not our media. It’s the Jewish/Judaic/neocon/Zionist/ call it anything you want but we know whose media it really is media and to even pretend it isn’t is an admission of mental illness.

    3. mary said on January 30th, 2010 at 4:14pm #

      I have just heard from a friend in Gaza that Israeli drones are overhead in number by day and night, that electricity is on for only 10% of the time and that fuel supplies are very low because the EU funding to the Israelis is insufficient.

      In the rubble of Cast Lead, life must be pretty dreadful for the people.

      Life in the pressure cooker…. Living in an open air prison. All metaphors are applicable.

    4. Rehmat said on January 31st, 2010 at 5:28pm #

      According to the Press Trust of India (PTI) – Seven Indian states (Maharashtra, West Bengal, Bihar, Orrisa, Andhra Pradesh, Chatisgarth and Jharkhand) have selected 30 senior officers for a special task force to deal with current Moist groups fighting against New Delhi. These police officers will go through a 30-day training at Ghatsila (Jharkhand). The instructors include Israeli experts (Massad, Sayeret Matkal, Shin Bet, Yamam, etc.)on so-called ’counter-terrorism’. Knowing the past record of these Israeli terrorist agencies in the assassinations of the US, European and Muslim leaders – one would not be wrong to guess that ‘task’ of the 30 Indian officers would also include the target assassination of Moist leadership. Israeli sources have confirmed that the current Israeli ‘assassination list’ includes Iranian president Ahmadinejad, Turkish prime minister Erdogan, Venezuela president Hugo Chavez, Hizb’Allah leaders Sheikh Nasrallah and Hamas’ leader Mishaal. Israel’s has just assassinated one of the founder of Hamas’ miltary wing, IZZ al-Din Qassam Brigades, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Israel did not even spared its fellow Jewish US ambassador to Lebanon, John Gunther Dean, during 1978-81 (both parents Jewish), because he was against Israeli attack on Lebanon……..

      Terrorists to train Indians to fight local terrorists
      http://rehmat1.wordpress.com/2010/02/01/terrorists-to-train-indians-to-fight-local-terrorists/

    5. ajnasreddin said on February 1st, 2010 at 5:49am #

      I was watching a news documentary (on DW-TV, I think?) which showed the drones being used over Afghanistan were being controlled from Nevada, USA. They said that the future of war was robotic – even that they were working on an AI system so that they wouldn’t need people to fly the things. They said the Raptor would be the last fighter developed to carry a pilot. Drones, they mention, were only the first step in remote controlled warfare – they also want to develop remotely controlled tanks.

      It looks like some of those couch-potatoe kids who play computer games all day might have a future in the Air Force!