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Remote-Control Killers

Aharon Granot

The IDF’s use of drones for surveillance and intelligence — and, according to foreign reports, for targeted killings — has created new rules in this war-torn region, as seen in president Obama's recent disclosure that four US citizens (and radical Muslims) were killed in targeted strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. One day, war might be waged by remote control, but while a bomb can be detonated by a radio signal, those on the receiving end of the blast still pay with their lives.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

planesJanuary 2009.

Several unmanned aircraft take off from the Palmachim air force base, while another drone is launched from the base at Tel Nof. A team of operators sits in the control room as real-time images are transmitted to the “pit,” the air force command center. The objective: to liquidate a convoy transporting weapons from an Iranian military warehouse inSudanto the Gaza Strip.

Six hours later, a convoy of 23 trucks carrying 20 tons of arms and explosives, including antitank rockets and Iranian Fajr missiles, leaves the harbor inPort Sudan, headed toward the poorly guarded Egyptian border. It’s the height of Operation Cast Lead — the three-week Israeli assault on Gaza’s terror bases and missile-launching centers — and the Mossad has been tipped off that Iran organized a huge weapons delivery to Gaza via Port Sudan, through the southern Egyptian border and then up into Gaza, through the dozens of remaining weapons-smuggling tunnels that Israel had not yet destroyed.

As the convoy makes its way from the port through the Sudanese desert with its lethal loot, Israeli F-16 fighter-bombers take out the lead trucks, turning them into a massive ball of fire. Drones mounted with high-resolution cameras pass over the burning trucks, but the video shows that the convoy had only been partially damaged. While operators watch from the “pit,” a second round with the F-16s finishes the job. The survivors flee into the desert; 39 bodies are left behind, and the planes are summoned home. During the 1,750-mile flight toSudanand back, the Israeli aircraft refuel in midair over theRed Sea.

It would take another two months before the world learned about the thwarted weapons-smuggling scheme and the beginning of a new era in Israel’s air-to-land warfare — the use of unmanned aircraft for both surveillance and combat purposes.

Today, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) make up a quarter of the Israeli Air Force fleet, butIsraelisn’t the only player in theMiddle Eastto fly pilotless planes over enemy airspace. While the IDF’s unmanned planes are the most sophisticated in the world, Hizbullah inLebanonis known to maintain a squadron of drones, one of which was shot down by the IDF last month off the shores ofHaifa. During Operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF bombed a number of sites where Hizbullah — with the help ofIran— had been testing unmanned aircraft.

AndIsraelisn’t the only country to use drones for air strikes. Between 2004 and 2012 the US Air Force initiated 411 drone attacks acrossPakistan,Yemen, andSomalia, resulting in 3,430 casualties; 401 were civilians. ForIsrael, though, drones have become the first line of defense in its own backyard. The IDF’s drones are used to pinpoint and liquidate Palestinian terror operatives as part ofIsrael’s program of targeted assassinations, although the IDF officially claims that unmanned aircraft are used by the air force “for purposes of intelligence and surveillance.”


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