GAZA STRIP, PALESTINE — In a frightening development, Israeli occupying forces have deployed a new unmanned aerial system in the Gaza Strip that drops tear gas canisters from above, according to video footage obtained by Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen news.
The event, described by officials as an “experiment,” is the first recorded incident of weaponized crowd-control UAVs (i.e., drones) being used against unarmed Palestinian civilians in a non-combat environment.
In a video clip posted by the Lebanese news agency, around 200 demonstrators who gathered last Friday on the eastern border of the besieged coastal strip scatter after the small airborne drone targets them with projectiles containing tear gas.
Israeli occupation forces claim that the UAV was not being controlled by the military, but by the state’s Border Police, according to Times of Israel.
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, officials in Tel Aviv say that the new crowd-control technique remains “experimental and has not yet been made operational,” effectively turning Friday’s act of repression into a live-fire exercise against the long-suffering residents of Gaza.
U.S. journalist Max Blumenthal commented in a tweet:
“Israel experiments on caged Gaza natives protesting their perpetual imprisonment by drone bombing them with teargas. For the clearest vision of our dystopian future, always look to present day Israel.”
Officials added that the experimental practice gives Israeli security forces the ability to control protesters from a “safer distance.”
Israel is among a handful of countries — including India, China, France and the United States — whose UAV industries have developed drones capable of bombarding crowds with less-lethal weaponry and crowd-control agents such as tear gas, smoke grenades, explosive ordnance or other payloads.
At the Milipol 2015 arms expo in Paris, Israeli company ISPRA unveiled its Cyclone riot control drone system. The Cyclone can be affixed to a variety of drones and can fire twelve grenades, including a multi-purpose projectile ISPRA produces that can blast targets with “either powder, rubber pellets, coloring agents, or sticky gel.”
It remains unclear whether the Cyclone system was used in Friday’s experiment.
Following an abortive U.S.- and Israeli-backed coup attempt against the elected Hamas government in 2007, the approximately 2 million Palestinians in Gaza have faced three devastating wars initiated by the Israelis and a stifling blockade by Tel Aviv and Cairo that has claimed at least 1,000 lives.
Tel Aviv has long used the Gaza Strip as a de facto laboratory for the testing of experimental weaponry and cutting-edge, unmanned weapons systems that mete out extrajudicial killings and indiscriminate violence from thousands of feet above. According to rights group Defence for Children International-Palestine, children in Gaza were directly targeted by drones during the 2014 Israeli offensive Operation Protective Edge.
In addition to conventional airborne armed drones, Israeli unmanned innovations include the Guardium armored robot car; miniature pistol-wielding tanks; and the “Spot and Shoot” system of remote-controlled machine-gun turrets on the walls enclosing Gaza, which are operated with videogame-style joysticks by distant female soldiers. The Israelis plan to fully automate the Spot and Shoot system, removing human beings from the identification, targeting and killing process.
According to Israeli military personnel, the demand for such devices is fueled in part by declining recruitment levels and a population that’s unwilling to risk life and limb in combat.
Experts predict that robotic technology will exponentially advance in coming years as militaries across the globe increasingly rely on autonomous weapons systems owing to their relative cheapness, tactical efficiency, and ability to rapidly make and implement decisions.
In a 2013 report, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston warned of the acute dangers and ethical questions raised by the fast-increasing use of unmanned systems:
“The minimization of casualties on the side of the technology wielders, and the prospect of ever-greater precision and discernment hold obvious appeal … [And also,] there is a North-South dimension, in that the North has the money and the technical know-how to develop the technologies, while many of the negative consequences of their use will fall much more heavily on poorer countries in the South.”
Top photo| Israeli troops fire teargas towards Palestinians during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AP/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.
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