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JONATHAN COOK: Israeli army will cash in on Egypt’s upheavals

February 22, 2011 Comments off

The following commentary is reprinted with permission from Global Research.
 

Israeli army will cash in on Egypt’s upheavals
©  Jonathan Cook
Source:  Global Research
February 22, 2011

Israel has been indulging in a sustained bout of fear-mongering since the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was toppled earlier this month. The ostensible aim has been to warn the international community that the lengthy “cold peace” between the two countries is on the verge of collapse.

In reality, the peace treaty signed three decades ago is in no danger for the forseeable future. The Egyptian and Israeli armies have too much of a vested interest in its continuation, whatever political reforms occur in Egypt.

And if the Egyptian political system really does open up, which is still far from sure, the Israeli military may actually be a beneficiary – if for all the wrong reasons.

The main value of the 1979 Camp David treaty to the Israeli leadership has been three decades of calm on Israel’s south-western flank. That, in turn, has freed the army to concentrate on more pressing goals, such as its intermittent forays north to sow sectarian discord in Lebanon, its belligerent posturing towards first Iraq and now Iran in the east, and its campaign to contain and dispossess the Palestinians under its rule.

But since Mubarak’s ousting on February 11, Israeli politicians and generals have warned that democracy for Egypt is bound to empower the country’s Islamists, supposedly bent on Israel’s destruction.

Last week, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, compared a post-Mubarak Egypt with Iran, saying Israel was “preparing for the worst”. Likewise, Gabi Ashkenazi, the departing chief of staff, stated that Israel was braced for the peace treaty’s cancellation as the “moderate camp” weakened.

Officially, Tel Aviv’s concern is that, should the treaty be revoked, Israel will have to redirect much of its martial energy to preparing for potential hostilties with its neighbour, the most populous Arab state. Israel’s anxious declarations about the peace treaty, however, are largely self-serving.

Peace has reigned between Israel and Egypt because it is so strongly in the interests of both militaries. That is not about to change while the Egyptian and Israeli general staffs maintain their pre-eminent roles as the praetorian guards of their countries’ respective political systems.

Today’s close ties between the Israeli and Egyptian armies are a far cry from the earlier era of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who galvanised Arab nationalism in an attempt to defeat Israel, or his successor, Anwar Sadat, who almost led the Arab world to victory against the Israeli army in 1973.

Since the signing of the 1979 agreement, Washington has bought off the hawks on each side with massive military subsidies underwritten by the American taxpayer. The U.S. has been happy to bankroll an accord that strengthens Israel, its useful Middle Eastern ally, and buys the acquiesence of Egypt, the Arab state best placed to resist the current regional order.

The Egyptian army receives $1.3 billion in annual military aid, making it the second largest recipient after Israel, which gets more than twice as much. In addition, military hardware has been lavished on the Israeli army, making it possibly the fourth strongest in the world – an astonishing situation for a country of only seven million.

The munificence has continued despite the U.S. financial crisis, and includes Washington’s effective donation last year to Israel of two dozen of the next-generation F-35 stealth fighter jet as part of its pledge to maintain Israel’s “technological edge” over its rivals in the region.

Three decades of American money thrown at the two armies have made each a key player in their respective economies – as well as encouraging a culture of corruption in the senior ranks.

In Egypt’s case, large sections of the economy are controlled by retired generals, from electrical goods and construction companies to the production of olive oil and medicines. The army is reported to own about a third of the country’s assets.

The Israeli army’s economic stake is less ostentatious but no less significant. Its officers retire in their early forties on full pensions, and then cash in on their “security know-how”. Second careers in arms dealing, military consultancies or sinecures in Israel’s booming homeland security exports are all but guaranteed. Ehud Barak, a former chief of staff and the current defence minister, made millions of dollars from his security consultancy in a few years out of politics, for example.

Corruption, endemic in Israel’s political culture, has rapidly seeped into the military. Some of it is visible, as demonstrated this month with the passing over of a series of candidates for the vacant post of chief of staff because of the skeletons in their closets. Some is not: current investigations into dubious activities by Mr Ashkenazi and his family are subject to heavy reporting restrictions.

Nonetheless, both armies are revered by their countrymen. Even should that change in Egypt over coming months, the army is too strong – thanks to the U.S. – to be effectively challenged by the protesters.

Israeli hawks, however, are right to be concerned – on other grounds – about the “threat” of political reform in Egypt. Although greater democracy will not undermine the peace agreement, it may liberate Egyptians to press for a proper regional peace deal, one that takes account of Palestinian interests as the Camp David accord was supposed to do.

Not least, in a freer Egypt, the army will no longer be in a position to play Robin to Israel’s Batman in Gaza. Its continuing role in the strangulation of the tiny enclave would likely come to an end.

But in such a climate, the Israeli military still has much to gain. As Israeli analyst Aluf Benn has observed, Israel will use the Middle East’s upheavals to highlight to the U.S. that it is Washington’s only reliable ally – the so-called “villa in the jungle”. Its show of anxiety is also designed to remind the U.S. that a jittery Israel is more likely to engage in unpredictable military adventures.

The remedy, of course, is even greater American largesse. And for that reason, if no other, the fear-mongering from Tel Aviv is not about to end.

[End.]
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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

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Categories: EGY, IRN, ISR, Jonathan Cook, LEB, PAL, USA

JONATHAN COOK: Israel’s New ‘Video Game’ Executions

July 14, 2010 Comments off

The following article is reprinted with permission from Global Research.

Israel’s New ‘Video Game’ Executions
Soldiers kill by remote control
©  Jonathan Cook
Source:  Global Research
July 14, 2010

NAZARETH – It is called Spot and Shoot. Operators sit in front of a TV monitor from which they can control the action with a PlayStation-style joystick.

The aim: to kill terrorists.

Played by: young women serving in the Israeli army.

Spot and Shoot, as it is called by the Israeli military, may look like a video game but the figures on the screen are real people – Palestinians in Gaza – who can be killed with the press of a button on the joystick.

The female soldiers, located far away in an operations room, are responsible for aiming and firing remote-controlled machine-guns mounted on watch-towers every few hundred metres along an electronic fence that surrounds Gaza.

The system is one of the latest “remote killing” devices developed by Israel’s Rafael armaments company, the former weapons research division of the Israeli army and now a separate governmental firm.

According to Giora Katz, Rafael’s vice-president, remote-controlled military hardware such as Spot and Shoot is the face of the future. He expects that within a decade at least a third of the machines used by the Israeli army to control land, air and sea will be unmanned.

The demand for such devices, the Israeli army admits, has been partly fuelled by a combination of declining recruitment levels and a population less ready to risk death in combat.

Oren Berebbi, head of its technology branch, recently told an American newspaper: “We’re trying to get to unmanned vehicles everywhere on the battlefield … We can do more and more missions without putting a soldier at risk.”

Rapid progress with the technology has raised alarm at the United Nations. Philip Alston, its special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, warned last month of the danger that a “PlayStation mentality to killing” could quickly emerge.

According to analysts, however, Israel is unlikely to turn its back on hardware that it has been at the forefront of developing – using the occupied Palestinian territories, and especially Gaza, as testing laboratories.

Remotely controlled weapons systems are in high demand from repressive regimes and the burgeoning homeland security industries around the globe.

“These systems are still in the early stages of development but there is a large and growing market for them,” said Shlomo Brom, a retired general and defence analyst at the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

The Spot and Shoot system – officially known as Sentry Tech – has mostly attracted attention in Israel because it is operated by 19- and 20-year-old female soldiers, making it the Israeli army’s only weapons system operated exclusively by women.

Female soldiers are preferred to operate remote killing devices because of a shortage of male recruits to Israel’s combat units. Young women can carry out missions without breaking the social taboo of risking their lives, said Mr Brom.

The women are supposed to identify anyone suspicious approaching the fence around Gaza and, if authorised by an officer, execute them using their joysticks.

The Israeli army, which plans to introduce the technology along Israel’s other confrontation lines, refuses to say how many Palestinians have been killed by the remotely controlled machine-guns in Gaza. According to the Israeli media, however, it is believed to be several dozen.

The system was phased-in two years ago for surveillance, but operators were only able to open fire with it more recently. The army admitted using Sentry Tech in December to kill at least two Palestinians several hundred metres inside the fence.

The Haaretz newspaper, which was given rare access to a Sentry Tech control room, quoted one soldier, Bar Keren, 20, saying: “I’’s very alluring to be the one to do this. But not everyone wants this job. It’s no simple matter to take up a joystick like that of a Sony PlayStation and kill, but ultimately it’s for defence.”

Audio sensors on the towers mean that the women hear the shot as it kills the target. No woman, Haaretz reported, had failed the task of shooting what the army calls an “incriminated” Palestinian.

The Israeli military, which enforces a so-called “buffer zone” – an unmarked no-man’s land – inside the fence that reaches as deep as 300 metres into the tiny enclave, has been widely criticised for opening fire on civilians entering the closed zone.

In separate incidents in April, a 21-year-old Palestinian demonstrator was shot dead and a Maltese solidarity activist wounded when they took part in protests to plant a Palestinian flag in the buffer zone. The Maltese woman, Bianca Zammit, was videoing as she was hit.

It is unclear whether Spot and Shoot has been used against such demonstrations.

The Israeli army claims Sentry Tech is “revolutionary”. And that will make its marketing potential all the greater as other armies seek out innovations in “remote killing” technology.

Rafael is reported to be developing a version of Sentry Tech that will fire long-range guided missiles.

Another piece of hardware recently developed for the Israeli army is the Guardium, an armoured robot-car that can patrol territory at up to 80km per hour, navigate through cities, launch “ambushes” and shoot at targets. It now patrols the Israeli borders with Gaza and Lebanon.

Its Israeli developers, G-Nius, have called it the world’s first “robot soldier”. It looks like a first-generation version of the imaginary “robot-armour” worn by soldiers in the popular recent sci-fi movie Avatar.

Rafael has produced the first unmanned naval patrol boat, the “Protector”, which has been sold to Singapore’s navy and is being heavily marketing in the U.S. A Rafael official, Patrick Bar-Avi, told the Israeli business daily Globes: “Navies worldwide are only now beginning to examine the possible uses of such vehicles, and the possibilities are endless.”

But Israel is most known for its role in developing “unmanned aerial vehicles” – or drones, as they have come to be known. Originally intended for spying, and first used by Israel over south Lebanon in the early 1980s, today they are increasingly being used for extrajudicial executions from thousands of feet in the sky.

In February Israel officially unveiled the 14 metre-long Heron TP drone, the largest ever. Capable of flying from Israel to Iran and carrying more than a ton of weapons, the Heron was tested by Israel in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in winter 2008, when some 1,400 Palestinians were killed.

More than 40 countries now operate drones, many of them made in Israel, although so far only the Israeli and U.S. armies have deployed them as remote-controlled killing machines. Israeli drones are being widely used in Afghanistan.

Smaller drones have been sold to the German, Australian, Spanish, French, Russian, Indian and Canadian armies. Brazil is expected to use the drone to provide security for the 2014 World Cup championship, and the Panamanian and Salvadoran governments want them too, ostensibly to run counter-drug operations.

Despite its diplomatic crisis with Ankara, Israel was reported last month to have completed a deal selling a fleet of 10 Herons to the Turkish army for $185 million.
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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

[End.]

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Categories: ISR, Jonathan Cook, PAL