Israeli general admits widespread use of drones in recent conflicts

Brig Gen Neri Horowitz, chief of Israel's artillery corps, addresses a drone conference in Tel Aviv (Reuters)

The National  /  November 9, 2022

Israel produces several drone types to provide speedy detection and attacks against targets.

A senior Israeli officer has revealed his country’s extensive use of combat drones in a series of conflicts since 2012, outlining for the first time on record how the weapons have been used, everywhere from Gaza to Syria.

Israel’s use of drones during conflicts in Gaza with militant group Hamas and a number of smaller groups has long been known — residents of the enclave have often described hearing the unmanned aircraft overhead.

Israel has operated drones such as the Heron and Hermes ― domestically-made designs ― against militants in the Sinai and in Gaza itself. These drones are similar to US unmanned aircraft such as the Predator and Reaper drones, which were used extensively by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Israel’s use of drones over Syria is less well known. Brig Gen Neri Horowitz was speaking at the annual Uvid DroneTech conference hosted by Israel Defence magazine in Tel Aviv.

He said that previously Israel did not comment explicitly on weapons platforms used. The Israeli government has seldom commented on air strikes against Iran-backed groups in Syria, despite conducting what analysts say have been hundreds of air strikes in the country since 2013.

Experts say that some of the weapons used to target Bashar al-Assad’s air defences have been so-called “loitering munitions” or “kamikaze drones”, which fly at low altitude and have a small “radar signature” making them difficult to detect.

Israeli censors in July permitted publication of information about the armed drones and the chief of Israel’s artillery corps ― which runs the drones together with the air force ― used his speech at an industry forum to give what he described as a first public account of the armed versions of the pilotless planes.

He said the armed drones not only provide Israel with additional firepower, but also allow, in a single platform, for speedy detection and attack against targets, such as Gaza rocket crews, before they can carry out a launch.

He disclosed that when insurgents from Egypt burst across the border into southern Israel in a hijacked armoured vehicle in May 2012, they were destroyed in a drone strike.

Showing footage of Ukrainian forces using drones to guide shelling of invading Russian troops, he said: “We have the same application here.”

Israel is expanding its drone forces, whose personnel are 30 per cent female, Brig Gen Horowitz said. The artillery corps, he said, was replacing its cannon insignia with concentric circles representing the incorporation of the aerial platforms.

At the same conference, Brig Gen Omri Dor, commander of Palmachin airbase, said drones now accounted for 80 per cent of the Israeli military’s operational flight hours.

However, manufacturers of armed drones are barred from advertising them and none of them were among the models on display at the conference.

“There are information security concerns,” said a sales representative for one of the companies, Elbit.

In a separate speech, Economy Minister Orna Barbivai said drone exports were popular abroad, including among Arab countries that have drawn closer to Israel since 2020. She did not specify if such exports included armed drones.