IDF UAVs in Gaza and West Bank operations

Rather unusually, we are not hearing much detail regarding the deployment of UAVs in the ongoing conflict in Israel between the IDF and Hamas.

It is no secret that the IDF lies marginally behind the US in terms of the development and deployment of mature unmanned systems and it is undoubtable that it will have been utilising an array of such platforms to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions over the past few weeks.

The Skylark UAV in operation with an IDF soldier during recent hostilities

The Skylark UAV in operation with an IDF soldier during recent hostilities

Furthermore, it is highly likely that the IDF will have used these systems for precision strikes on Hamas positions in the Gaza strip. However, the IDF has been unavailable to discuss the use of armed UAVs during this most recent conflict but we know the capability is most certainly there.

Photos have appeared on Internet sites including Twitter illustrating the first operational deployment of Elbit Systems’ Hermes 900, as well as a Hermes 450 UAV complete with unknown payload bays under each wing. Speculation continues to run abound as to whether these pods were carrying additional fuel, electronic warfare sensors or attack munitions.

Meanwhile, Hamas claimed to have captured a damaged Skylark UAV, traditionally used for ‘over-the-hill’ surveillance by the IDF and certainly not designed for direct action.

On the other side, the IDF’s official Twitter account claimed to have shot down an ‘aerial drone from Gaza’ which infiltrated Israeli territory in July. The platform was show down with a Patriot missile, it is understood.

Naturally, the IDF’s discretion in commenting on the use of UAVs throughout Operations Brothers Keeper and Protective Edge is hardly surprising but the most noticeable aspect is that we are not witnessing the worldwide condemnation of drone strikes.

This, to my mind, marks a significant first considering coverage of recent campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention cross-border operations in Pakistan and Yemen where worldwide condemnation of Predator and Reaper strikes has been widespread.

With the frequency of IDF artillery and air strikes from fighters hitting Gaza, it strikes me as rather surprising that international news outlets have restrained from blaming drones for any collateral damage caused. This lack of criticism appears even more peculiar when one considers the close-knit relationship enjoyed by the US government and Israeli Knesset, a case in point being the recent decision to pump an additional $200 million into the IDF’s fabled Iron Dome C-RAM system.

Questions that spring to mind are, does this lack of attention display a growing tolerance in the utility of UAVs, whether armed or not? Are observers too concerned with other aspects of the fighting to focus on the use of UAVs? Has the IDF tied down covert operation of such systems or, is it managing to successfully cloak any details from the public?

Regular critics such as Amnesty International and Code Pink have remained relatively quiet on this front, with Drone Wars UK only managing to remark [at the Farnborough International Airshow]: ‘IAI certainly seemed in no way abashed to declare that its Searcher, Heron and Eitan drones were “fully operational with the Israeli air force” during the week despite the horror and revulsion many feel at the horrific loss of life and damage to the civilian infrastructure.’

The utility of unmanned systems stretches far beyond kinetic operations and it will be interesting to hear the response of drone critics when similar systems are used for humanitarian aid/disaster relief operations, potentially in Gaza as well.

However, the deployment of UAVs over this most recent conflict has granted us an interesting perspective into what appears to be an evolving attitude towards drones.

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