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Drones on the front line between Israel and its adversaries

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Israel, a pioneer in the use of military drones, says its technological superiority is being challenged by Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, which is also developing military drones.

Last week, this complex undeclared war came to the fore.

On August 24, Israel bombed a Syrian town in what it said was intended to “counter” an Iranian suicide bomber attack. The next day Lebanese officials confirmed that two Israeli warplanes crashed, one of which exploded in the southern suburb of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold. Then, on 28 August, the Lebanese army fired at two Israeli aircraft in Lebanese airspace.

In Iraq, the pro-Iranian paramilitary Popular Mobilization Forces accused Israel in August of launching a drone attack on one of its bases.

Israel did not endorse the launching of the two marches that landed in Beirut’s southern suburbs but said Hezbollah was trying to build high-precision rockets in the area, information it may have gathered thanks to drones.

The Jewish state has long sent reconnaissance aircraft into Lebanese airspace to gather information. Since 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon, it had spy reconnaissance aircraft in what was then a science fiction.

Even in the 1970s, after the October War, Israel was relying on drones.

“The system was operating during the first war in Lebanon in 1982. It was a real-time surveillance system with cameras,” French-Israeli David Harare told AFP. Harare was leading the project in the Israeli aerospace industry and is the “Israeli drones engineer”.

Gradually, these aircraft were equipped with infrared cameras and laser routers that allowed the identification of targets with high accuracy and then “magnetic-electric reconnaissance” systems with microphones and radars.

“The military received orders to use them but they were saying ‘what can we do with such a small plane?'”

After 1982 things changed. “Israel was the first country to establish a national program to introduce such a system into military doctrine,” Harare said.

– The drone as a symbol –

The drones gradually established themselves in the heart of the military establishment and the “emerging Israeli nation.”

Today, about 50 local “start-ups” are betting on drones, according to the economy ministry, which has billions in revenues. Israel was the world’s first exporter of drones between 2005 and 2013, according to a study by a specialist company.

But the industry is evolving very quickly, with small planes being developed for low-cost entertainment and the emergence of new manufacturers, such as China, Russia and Iran, in a sector that until recently was the exclusive domain of Israel and the United States.

“Today everyone is working in this area,” said Uzi Rubin, a former defense ministry official who is now an analyst at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

It is now possible for armed groups to place explosive devices on drones to carry out attacks on strategic installations or military bases.

“It is a threat to all armies and that’s why everyone is looking for solutions and these solutions are aimed at destroying or intercepting these aircraft,” Rubin told AFP.

– Anti-path systems –

Israeli companies such as SkyLock and Albit are developing technology that allows remote control of drones without damaging them to gather their data.

In October 2012, an Iranian surveillance aircraft fired by Hizbullah flew over the Mediterranean, flying for 30 minutes over the Negev desert, where Israel’s nuclear facilities were toppled.

Last year, Israel accused Iran of launching one of its drones in its airspace.

Israeli researcher Leran Entebbe said the development of drones in Iran would allow Hizbollah to acquire new intelligence and offensive air capabilities.

The 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah was “the first in history” in that the hours of unmanned aerial vehicles were “higher” than those of a pilot, according to a Tel Aviv University study. But then the drones were mainly Israeli.

Today, Israel remains technologically superior, but “Hezbollah has become a military organization equipped with sophisticated systems including military and commercial drones.”

Hizbullah may add to its fleet of routers anti-drone systems. This week, its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, announced that “every time Israeli drones violate Lebanese airspace, we will try to bring them down.”

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