Israel leads the charge in making (and selling) fully automated drones

Times columnist Bill Keller reports in a piece titled Smart Drones

Israel is the first country to make and deploy (and sell, to China, India, South Korea and others) a weapon that can attack pre-emptively without a human in charge. The hovering drone called the Harpy is programmed to recognize and automatically divebomb any radar signal that is not in its database of “friendlies.” No reported misfires so far, but suppose an adversary installs its antiaircraft radar on the roof of a hospital?

Israel is also the world’s second-largest producer of drones, and the largest exporter of drones. Last year, Jefferson Morley at Salon wrote about how Israel’s “drone dominance” is influencing both drone policy and industry here in the US:

Israel’s drone expertise goes back to at least 1970, according to the UAV page of the Israeli Air Force. Mark Daly, an expert on unmanned aircraft at Jane’s Defense in London, notes the Israelis were the first to make widespread use of drones in Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, when the aircraft were used to monitor troop movements.

Now, as the Arab media and Western reporters such as Scott Wilson of the Washington Post have reported, the Israeli Defense Force uses fleets of constantly hovering drones to intimidate and control the Arab population in the Gaza Strip.  (The residents call these drones “zenana,” which both sounds like the aircraft’s distinctive buzz and is Arabic slang for a nagging wife.) The IDF regularly uses drones for targeted assassinations of suspected militants, saying the drones enable them to use “precision strikes” to avoid hurting civilians. Yet as Human Rights Watch has documented, the drone strikes during the Gaza War killed scores of children who were nowhere near armed combatants.

As for domestic drone uses, the Israeli example is perhaps most instructive at the U.S. border. The 5 million Palestinian Arabs living in and around Israel, like the 11 undocumented resident aliens in the United States, are ineligible for citizenship in the land they call home. Both groups are subject to monitoring, barriers to entry and rapid expulsion. Not surprisingly one of the first uses of drones by the Department of Homeland Security was to monitor the U.S.-Mexico border, where it now flies Israeli-made Hermes 450 drones.

Keller’s piece quotes Professor Ronald Arkin, director of the Mobile Robot Laboratory at Georgia Tech, who argues that such automation could “make war more humane. Robots may lack compassion, but they also lack the emotions that lead to calamitous mistakes, atrocities and genocides: vengefulness, panic, tribal animosity.” Ironically, Israel is perhaps the one state that could reap the most benefits from such a development.

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