Mary Dobbing, co-author of Drone Wars’ briefing on Israel and the drone wars, looks at the implications of the recent news that US and British spooks hacked Israeli drone feeds.
The United States and Britain have been hacking into Israeli drone signals and video feeds since 1998 we have learned from latest publication of leaks from former US NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The details were published by The Intercept at the end of January. “This is an earthquake, the worst leak in the history of Israeli intelligence” shouted the headline in The Times of Israel quoting “a security source”. The information hacked related to video feeds and routes-over-the-ground that the drones were flying. Read more →
As Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, named ‘Operation Protective Edge’, enters its second week, Palestinian casualties have reached 168 and continue to mount according to the latest UN figures. Israeli casualties are so far nil. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said of these Palestinian casualties “80 per cent of the fatalities (133) have been civilians, of whom 21 per cent (36) are children, raising concerns about respect for international humanitarian law.” The Palestinian Ministry of Health reports that 1,140 Palestinians, including 296 children and 233 women have also been injured. As well as this, OCHA estimate 25,300 children whose families have experienced death, injury or loss of homes are in need of psychosocial support. Read more →
While its drone use is shrouded in secrecy – Israel has never publicly admitted to the use of armed drones – DWUK’s research pieces together the evidence and describes the human cost to Palestinians living in what campaigners have characterized as a ‘test zone’ for drone warfare. Nader Elkhuzundar, for example, a Palestinian from Gaza interviewed by Drone Wars UK, tells of the fear instilled by the constant noise of drones flying overhead. Read more →
One week after a ceasefire came into effect, it is not yet possible to detail with any certainty the use of drones in the latest Israeli war on Gaza. As well as armed drones, Israel used F-16s, Apache helicopters, tanks and ships to launch over 1,500 strikes on Gaza during its latest eight-day war. However according to one Israeli military source the use of drones during ‘Operation Pillar of Defense’ was “unprecedented“.
While the UK is developing its own “sovereign” drones at BAE Systems and using Reaper drones bought from the US, there is also a strong Israeli connection as the UK are leasing Israeli drones for use in Afghanistan and also jointly developing a new surveillance drone called Watchkeeper.
In October 2005 the UK government awarded a $500m contract to UAV Tactical Systems Ltd. (U-Tacs) a joint venture company formed by Thales UK and Israeli company Elbit Systems, based in Leicester, to build up to 100 Watchkeeper UAVs. Watchkeeper is a derivative of the Israeli Hermes 450 drone but differs in having an automatic landing capability and multiple payload configuration.
In April 2010, Elbit announced that it had signed a $70 million deal to provide maintenance and logistical support for the Watchkeeper project. The announcement came the very day the Watchkeeper drone made its maiden test flight, logging 20 minutes in the air in Wales.
Since July 2007, the UK has also been leasing Israeli Hermes 450 from Thales UK in an innovative ‘pay by the hour’ contract for use in Afghanistan until the Watchkeepers are in service. By April 2010, the leased drones had flown more than 30,000 hours over Afghanistan and the contract is likely to be extended until the Watchkeeper drones are ready to go into service in 2011