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Israeli surveillance drones thought to be armed { September 15 2004 }

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Israel surveillance drones are thought to be armed
~~article_author~~ Reuters
Wednesday, September 15, 2004

JERUSALEM Recent Israeli airstrikes against militants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have raised Palestinian speculation that it is arming its surveillance drones with missiles for track-and-kill missions.

"I saw a small plane and then a flash of light, then I heard a huge explosion and a car went up in flames," said Abdel Karim Abdel of Jenin, recounting how three militants were slain by Israel while driving through the West Bank city on Monday.

Israel will not say whether its unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, have offensive capabilities. But mounting testimony from the occupied territories as well as foreign reports suggest the country is a leader in this high-tech field of weaponry.

"The Israelis almost certainly have armed UAV programs on the go right now," said Robert Hewson, editor of Jane's Air-Launched Weapons.

"The UAVs offer an ideal 'closed loop': spotting the target and then hitting it from the same platform," Hewson said.

The United States already uses an attack drone, the Predator, one of which rocketed a car in Yemen in November 2002, killing six people suspected of being Al Qaeda militants.

The advantages of using unmanned aerial vehicles for such lightning strikes, analysts say, are obvious. Being propeller-driven and capable of altitudes of up to 3,000 meters, or 10,000 feet, they make none of the giveaway rotor or jet noise of conventional combat aircraft. Lacking pilots who get tired, and with low fuel consumption, unmanned aerial vehicles can cruise for hours, their cameras relaying live images to operators on the ground, which allows an almost instant "fire" order once a target is spotted.

The Web site of Northrop Grumman, a U.S. avionics firm, says the company has rigged its Israeli-designed Hunter drone with missiles that are completely silent, coasting out of the sky onto their targets by using glider fins rather than a propulsion system.

Hewson said Israel had its own UAV-fired munitions, adapted from tank shells and rockets. "We are positive Israel has developed specific low-collateral guided weapons for these platforms," he said.

Israeli officials do not discuss the tactics of their policy of assassinating militant leaders, which has been in force since 2001.

But they insist that efforts are made to reduce noncombatant casualties.

Three bystanders were hurt in the Jenin strike Monday.

Such distinctions are often lost on Palestinians fighting Israel since Middle East peace talks stalled in 2000.

"The Israelis have never cared who they kill," said Mushir al-Masri, a spokesman for the Islamic militant group Hamas in Gaza. "There is no difference between this or that blood," he said. "All these crimes shall not go unpunished."

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