Drones and Death: The Israeli Connection

By Ed Kinane

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 (18 Dec.’09 Syracuse Post-Standard). 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 (18 Dec. ’09 Syracuse Post-Standard). 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.“ [HRW, p.3]

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.]

– Ed Kinane, based in Syracuse, New York, works to end state terrorism. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: edkinane@verizon.net. (A similar version was first published in the February 2010 Peace Newsletter.)

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out