Israel’s New “Video Game” Executions

Soldiers Kill by Remote Control

It is called Spot and Shoot. Operators sit in front of a TV monitor from which they can control the action with a PlayStation-style joystick.

The aim: to kill terrorists.

Played by: young women serving in the Israeli army.

Spot and Shoot, as it is called by the Israeli military, may look like a video game but the figures on the screen are real people — Palestinians in Gaza — who can be killed with the press of a button on the joystick.

The female soldiers, located far away in an operations room, are responsible for aiming and firing remote-controlled machine-guns mounted on watch-towers every few hundred metres along an electronic fence that surrounds Gaza.

The system is one of the latest “remote killing” devices developed by Israel’s Rafael armaments company, the former weapons research division of the Israeli army and now a separate governmental firm.

According to Giora Katz, Rafael’s vice-president, remote-controlled military hardware such as Spot and Shoot is the face of the future. He expects that within a decade at least a third of the machines used by the Israeli army to control land, air and sea will be unmanned.

The demand for such devices, the Israeli army admits, has been partly fuelled by a combination of declining recruitment levels and a population less ready to risk death in combat.

Oren Berebbi, head of its technology branch, recently told an American newspaper: “We’re trying to get to unmanned vehicles everywhere on the battlefield … We can do more and more missions without putting a soldier at risk.”

Rapid progress with the technology has raised alarm at the United Nations. Philip Alston, its special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, warned last month of the danger that a “PlayStation mentality to killing” could quickly emerge.

According to analysts, however, Israel is unlikely to turn its back on hardware that it has been at the forefront of developing – using the occupied Palestinian territories, and especially Gaza, as testing laboratories.

Remotely controlled weapons systems are in high demand from repressive regimes and the burgeoning homeland security industries around the globe.

“These systems are still in the early stages of development but there is a large and growing market for them,” said Shlomo Brom, a retired general and defence analyst at the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

The Spot and Shoot system — officially known as Sentry Tech — has mostly attracted attention in Israel because it is operated by 19- and 20-year-old female soldiers, making it the Israeli army’s only weapons system operated exclusively by women.

Female soldiers are preferred to operate remote killing devices because of a shortage of male recruits to Israel’s combat units. Young women can carry out missions without breaking the social taboo of risking their lives, said Mr Brom.

The women are supposed to identify anyone suspicious approaching the fence around Gaza and, if authorised by an officer, execute them using their joysticks.

The Israeli army, which plans to introduce the technology along Israel’s other confrontation lines, refuses to say how many Palestinians have been killed by the remotely controlled machine-guns in Gaza. According to the Israeli media, however, it is believed to be several dozen.

The system was phased-in two years ago for surveillance, but operators were only able to open fire with it more recently. The army admitted using Sentry Tech in December to kill at least two Palestinians several hundred metres inside the fence.

The Haaretz newspaper, which was given rare access to a Sentry Tech control room, quoted one soldier, Bar Keren, 20, saying: “It’s very alluring to be the one to do this. But not everyone wants this job. It’s no simple matter to take up a joystick like that of a Sony PlayStation and kill, but ultimately it’s for defence.”

Audio sensors on the towers mean that the women hear the shot as it kills the target. No woman, Haaretz reported, had failed the task of shooting what the army calls an “incriminated” Palestinian.

The Israeli military, which enforces a so-called “buffer zone” — an unmarked no-man’s land — inside the fence that reaches as deep as 300 metres into the tiny enclave, has been widely criticised for opening fire on civilians entering the closed zone.

In separate incidents in April, a 21-year-old Palestinian demonstrator was shot dead and a Maltese solidarity activist wounded when they took part in protests to plant a Palestinian flag in the buffer zone. The Maltese woman, Bianca Zammit, was videoing as she was hit.

It is unclear whether Spot and Shoot has been used against such demonstrations.

The Israeli army claims Sentry Tech is “revolutionary”. And that will make its marketing potential all the greater as other armies seek out innovations in “remote killing” technology.

Rafael is reported to be developing a version of Sentry Tech that will fire long-range guided missiles.

Another piece of hardware recently developed for the Israeli army is the Guardium, an armoured robot-car that can patrol territory at up to 80km per hour, navigate through cities, launch “ambushes” and shoot at targets. It now patrols the Israeli borders with Gaza and Lebanon.

Its Israeli developers, G-Nius, have called it the world’s first “robot soldier”. It looks like a first-generation version of the imaginary “robot-armour” worn by soldiers in the popular recent sci-fi movie Avatar.

Rafael has produced the first unmanned naval patrol boat, the “Protector”, which has been sold to Singapore’s navy and is being heavily marketing in the US. A Rafael official, Patrick Bar-Avi, told the Israeli business daily Globes: “Navies worldwide are only now beginning to examine the possible uses of such vehicles, and the possibilities are endless.”

But Israel is most known for its role in developing “unmanned aerial vehicles” – or drones, as they have come to be known. Originally intended for spying, and first used by Israel over south Lebanon in the early 1980s, today they are increasingly being used for extrajudicial executions from thousands of feet in the sky.

In February Israel officially unveiled the 14 metre-long Heron TP drone, the largest ever. Capable of flying from Israel to Iran and carrying more than a ton of weapons, the Heron was tested by Israel in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in winter 2008, when some 1,400 Palestinians were killed.

More than 40 countries now operate drones, many of them made in Israel, although so far only the Israeli and US armies have deployed them as remote-controlled killing machines. Israeli drones are being widely used in Afghanistan.

Smaller drones have been sold to the German, Australian, Spanish, French, Russian, Indian and Canadian armies. Brazil is expected to use the drone to provide security for the 2014 World Cup championship, and the Panamanian and Salvadoran governments want them too, ostensibly to run counter-drug operations.

Despite its diplomatic crisis with Ankara, Israel was reported last month to have completed a deal selling a fleet of 10 Herons to the Turkish army for $185 million.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Ismail Zayid said on July 13th, 2010 at 11:43am #

    This is the height of criminality. Extra-judicial executions, by unmanned remotely-controlled machine-guns, operated by individuals who are unwilling to risk their lives, are conducted by Israelis against Palestinians, in the Spot and Shoot style, equivalent to a video game. only dozens of Palestinians in Gaza , we ar told, have been murdered so far, but the operation is to spread to other areas in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Is this the same Israel that we are told is a normal country and is the oasis of democracy in the Middle East? And where is the stand of the international community and the so-called Free World, while this crime goes on?

  2. teafoe2 said on July 13th, 2010 at 1:36pm #

    I see a future in which the familiar image of the socio-economic pyramid will no longer resemble the liberty bell, but look more like the bell of a french horn: wide and almost flat at the bottom, narrowing abruptly to the long thin step with a sharp point at the top.

    The world will be run by a few thousand Israeli and Long Island Jewish Trill- & Billionaires, with a few hundred-thousand live stooges/gunsels/retainers who maintain and operate the machines which keep the rest of us in line.

    Meanwhile, Max will continue biking to his nearest hamlet postoffice to pick up his top-of-the-line tomato seeds:)

  3. kanomi said on July 13th, 2010 at 2:19pm #

    Who needs demons when right here on earth we have the kinds of minds that would deliberately devise a system whereby some nineteen year old woman goes to work every day in an office, sits down at a desk, logs into a computer, and then calmly waits around to machine-gun people to death. And who needs hell when right here on earth we have a societies that consider such a system normal, or even admirable.

    This gruesome gang of secretarial slayers is also about as apt a metaphor for this final form of — I want to call it biocidal capitalism — as we’re going to get.

  4. Deadbeat said on July 13th, 2010 at 2:54pm #

    tf2 writes …

    The world will be run by a few thousand Israeli and Long Island Jewish Trill- & Billionaires, with a few hundred-thousand live stooges/gunsels/retainers who maintain and operate the machines which keep the rest of us in line.

    Meanwhile, Max will continue biking to his nearest hamlet postoffice to pick up his top-of-the-line tomato seeds:)

    I remain in awe of your ability to be so concise and humorous yet at the same time and thoroughly show how out of touch with reality these “small is beautiful” allegories really are.

  5. John Hatch said on July 13th, 2010 at 4:32pm #

    Israel, the world’s most ghastly nation. It won’t survive.

  6. teafoe2 said on July 13th, 2010 at 4:50pm #

    Mil Grazie DB:) Thanks also to John Hatch; I certainly hope you’re right. Alas I’m afraid it looks like the Abomination will be with us for a while, given the slowness of the US “Left” and even the Palestinian-American supporters of the BDS movement to recognize the role in US politics played by the Isreali Fifth Column in the US, aka “The Jewish Community”.

  7. BartFargo said on July 13th, 2010 at 7:33pm #

    Weren’t Warsaw Ghetto escapees also shot on sight? No matter, Israel is just doing its part to prevent another Holocaust by making sure they’re the technologically empowered murderers this time around.

  8. ALH said on July 14th, 2010 at 6:05am #

    Trust the zionist vermin to create these cowardly WMDs. When will the Americn sheeple realize that Americns must destroy zionism before zionism desroys America?

  9. ALH said on July 14th, 2010 at 6:11am #

    All hail the only democracy in the Middleeast!

    What a sick world we live in.

  10. mary said on July 16th, 2010 at 5:44am #

    Another obscenity. The EU is likely to donate taxpayers’ money to Israel to fund military research. This is a press release from the very active Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

    Ireland’s EU envoy aids Israeli war machine
    David Cronin, 28th June 2010

    ‘Ireland’s EU commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn is set to approve two technology grants for an Israeli company that made some of the most lethal weapons used in last year’s war against Gaza.

    Brussels officials are assessing a new series of Israeli applications for funding under the EU’s multi-annual research programme, which Geoghegan-Quinn administers. The probable beneficiaries include Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), manufacturer of the Heron, a warplane that terrorised Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants in late 2008 and 2009.

    IAI has been deemed eligible for two new EU grants following evaluations carried out in recent months but is awaiting a final decision from Geoghegan-Quinn and her advisers. The grants – part of a series earmarked for Israel worth a total of €17 million – are supposed to help develop a new internet-type system for the telecommunications and financial services industries.

    Geoghegan-Quinn’s spokesman Mark English said that while the projects concerned are civilian, there is no guarantee that the fruits of EU-financed research will not eventually be used by the Israeli military. “We don’t fund military projects,” he added. “However, probably the majority of our projects have direct or indirect military applications.” ‘


    ‘IAI’s Heron was one of the two pilotless drones – also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – “battle-tested” by Israel in Gaza last year. An investigation by Human Rights Watch found that while these aircraft are equipped with sophisticated cameras and sensors allowing an army to verify whether a target is a combatant or a civilian, they were frequently used against innocent Gazans. Eighty-seven civilians were killed by drones during the three-week offensive.’
    No words.

  11. mary said on July 16th, 2010 at 6:31am #

    I missed this out –

    That the EU should give one euro to Israel is shameful. That it is proposed to contribute, in effect, to its massive weapons research programme is evil beyond words. This tiny entity, founded on lawlessness and the deaths of many thousands including many British servicemen, has the world’s fourth largest armed forces. Its arms exports now exceed those of the UK.

    I am sure the damned Zionist Tories will support the proposals of the hand picked Ms Quinn, in spite of their pretence of opposing EU existence.

  12. Rehmat said on July 16th, 2010 at 8:04am #

    Not only the “only democracy in the Middle East” – but also the fourth most powerful army in the world…..