June 10, 2009
In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict
By Noah Shachtman
For years and years, the Israeli military has been trying to figure out a way to keep Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip from crossing over into Israel proper. The latest tactic: create a set of “automated kill zones” by networking together remote-controlled machine guns, ground sensors, and drones along the 60-kilometer border.
Defense News‘ Barbara Opall-Rome reports that “initial deployment plans for the See-Shoot system call for mounting a 0.5-caliber automated machine gun in each of several pillboxes interspersed along the Gaza border fence.”
Connected via fiber optics to a remote operator station and a command-and-control center, each machine gun-mounted station serves as a type of robotic sniper, capable of enforcing a nearly 1,500-meter-deep no-go zone.
The IDF’s [Israeli Defense Forces] Southern Command is also considering adding Gill/Spike anti-tank missiles to extend the no-go zones to several kilometers, defense and industry sources here said.
The guns will be based on the Samson Remote Control Weapons Station. And the pillboxes are supposed to be positioned “at intervals of some hundreds of meters along the border, ” Jane’s Defence Weekly
observes. They’ll be “protected and secured (alarms, sensors and steel doors) and feature retractable armored covers that protect the weapon station when not in use.”
Once IDF sensors locate a potential target, the operator can cue Sentry Tech to verify or engage the target through its own electro-optic (EO) day/night sensor package. The sensor-acquired information is transferred to the electro-optic package of the weapon station, which slews to the target, enabling the operator to locate and track the target… Each Sentry Tech can cover another in the event of a system failure and a single [center] can control up to 15 weapon stations.”
The idea, ultimately, is to have a
“closed-loop” system — no human intervention required. But,
Opall-Rome notes, “until the top brass is completely satisfied with the fidelity of their overlapping sensor network – and until the
19- and 20-year-old soldiers deployed behind computer screens are thoroughly trained in operating the system — approval by a commanding officer will be required before pushing the kill button.”
Opall-Rome adds that “See-Shoot embodies the IDF’s goal of waging no-signature warfare along its border areas. It obviates the need to dispatch infantry to intercept intruders or to respond to probing maneuvers by enemy squads.”
The nearly $4-million system is supposed to be completed by the end of the summer. “But the Israeli government has already authorized IDF
Southern Command to begin operating parts of the system in response to the recent surge in violence emanating from the terror-infested strip.”
It’s all part of a larger plan to “wag[e] no-signature warfare along its border areas. It obviates the need to dispatch infantry to intercept intruders or to respond to probing maneuvers by enemy squads.”
Which may sound like a good idea. But Haninah Levine says the tech ignores the lessons of last summer’s war in Lebanon. The Winograd Commission, appointed to investigate the conflict, “calls ‘no-signature warfare’ by its real name,” he says: “’withdrawal of soldiers and military targets from positions to which [the enemy] can penetrate with relative ease,’ and identifies this strategy as a major component in the IDF’s failures in the lead-up to the Second Lebanon
The problem is not that the technology fails: it’s that the technology does not solve the problems which the conditions of engagement create. Along the Lebanese border, the problem was that the rules of engagement allowed the IDF to fire only if attacked by
Hezbollah: the electronic fence therefore proved useless, since alarms were regularly ignored even when the Israelis knew that they indicated
Hezbollah was preparing an attack.
Along the Gaza fence, the rules of engagement are much more aggressive, but the Palestinians will still probably try to “train” the IDF to ignore the system’s alarms by sending unarmed civilians towards the fence. The statement that “the technology here is not as important as the need to evaluate each potential threat on a case by case basis” is as true from a military point of view as it is from a human-rights point of view. And, by the way, the only known case of Palestinians kidnapping an Israeli soldier along the Gaza fence since the disengagement took place when the
Palestinians emerged from a tunnel well behind the IDF lines – a tactic which this system would do nothing to thwart.”