Friday, April 24, 2015

With Israel's help, EU seeks new ways of being cruel to refugees

European Union leaders have responded in a callous manner to the mass drowning of migrants in the Mediterranean.


Rather than investing in a system that would save lives and guarantee protection to people fleeing oppression and poverty, the EU's governments have put themselves on a war footing. Their proposals to attack boats used to transport asylum-seekers look eerily similar to what far-right parties and tabloid pundits have been advocating.


Such plans have not emerged out of nowhere. For some time, the EU has been discussing migration as if it is a military threat. One recurring theme is the possibility that drones could be deployed in border surveillance operations.


Israel's arms industry -- a top exporter of drones -- has participated in some of the key discussions.


In 2013, an EU "steering group" on "remotely piloted aircraft systems" -- a synonym for drones -- issued recommendations for how these warplanes can be increasingly flown in civilian airspace over a 15-year period. Frontex, the Union's border management agency, was identified as a likely user of drones.


The group's members included Unmanned Vehicle Systems - International, a trade association for drone-makers. Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries, the two main suppliers of drones repeatedly used to attack Gaza, are both represented on UVS - International.


"Great interest"


Last year UVS-International noted that Frontex has "manifested great interest" in drones. The interest has been so great that Frontex has explored deploying the Hermes-900 drone while tracking refugees.


Developed by Elbit, the Hermes-900 received what war analysts called its "combat debut" in Gaza last summer. Almost certainly, this cutting-edge weapon killed and seriously maimed civilians.


Another member of the EU's steering group was the European Association for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE).


Don't be fooled by the "civil aviation" part of its name. EUROCAE has an "active" committee dedicated to drones, which contributed to the EU steering group's work.


Israel Aerospace Industries -- "the largest government owned defense and aerospace company" in Israel, according to its website -- is part of EUROCAE's drone committee. Michael Allouche from Israel Aerospace Industries brags of being that committee's "airworthiness leader."


Are we supposed to find that reassuring?


Exception for Israel


As things stand, it is generally forbidden for drones to enter European civil airspace. Yet an exception has been made for Israel Aerospace Industries.


In April 2013, one of its drones, the Heron, flew over both a military base and civilian airspace in Spain during an EU-funded maritime surveillance exercise. That might have been something of a novelty for the Heron's operators, who are more accustomed to dropping bombs on Gaza.


Barack Obama expressed regret yesterday for how US drones killed two hostages of al-Qaeda in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan earlier this year.


Some press reports inferred it is unusal for innocent people to die as a result of drones. That is bunkum.


The Bureau for Investigative Journalism has documented how as many as 962 civilians may have been killed by America's drones in Pakistan between 2004 and 2015.


The Obama administration gave its fulsome support to Israel's war crimes last summer. Defence for Children International - Palestine has just published the results of its research into those crimes. It found that 164 children were directly targeted and unlawfully killed in drone strikes.


Is there anything more obscene than the deliberate slaughter of children? I can think of one thing: the way arms companies exploit such slaughter for marketing purposes. Israel Aerospace Industries gloats of how its products were "proven in battle" last summer.

Most of Gaza's inhabitants are refugees, uprooted by the ethnic cleansing that led to Israel's foundation. Knowing full well that Israel has tested its drones on Palestinian refugees, the European Union is considering testing these drones on refugees from other parts of the world.


The arms industry and its lackeys constantly talk of innovation. What they really mean by this innovation is finding new ways of being cruel.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 24 April 2015.



















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