A few weeks after Israel and Hamas signed an open-ended truce to end their nearly two-month-long war in Gaza, Israeli defense contractors are parading weapons used in the conflict at a conference in Tel Aviv. The annual Israel Unmanned Systems conference, which began Sunday and runs through Friday (Sept. 19), is jointly hosted with the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. According to its website, attendees include “senior officials from commercial and government entities” from Europe, Asia, North and South America.
The conference’s sponsors include the largest Israeli private defense contractors, among them Haifa-based Elbit Systems. Elbit’s Hermes 450 (pdf), a “multi-role tactical high-performance unmanned aircraft system” (UAS)—in other words, a battle drone—operated this summer in the Gaza Strip, and may have carried out attacks.
Photos taken by an Agence France-Presse photographer that appeared in a July post on The Aviationist, a blog, showed the aircraft flying over the skies of Gaza. It had a pod under each wing that looked like it could be a fuel tank, but which, according to an Israeli source quoted by the blog, was “a firing pod for a light missile.” The source would not independently confirm or deny that it was used in attacks on Hamas positions but David Cenciotti, founder of the blog, told Quartz that it’s highly likely that the Hermes 450 was the IDF’s vehicle of choice for such attacks.
According to Elbit’s website, the Hermes 450 has been “fighting terror for over a decade” and the company touts the aircraft as “the primary platform of the IDF in counter-terror operations.”
The conference is an opportunity for Elbit to showcase its prize aircraft in front of a consortium of arms buyers. Bloomberg Businessweek reported in July that Elbit’s stock soared during the war, which analysts attributed to demand for Elbit’s products. Elbit is the nation’s biggest publicly traded developer of military technology, an industry that provides Israel with about $7 billion in annual exports.
“They may not have the same amount of drones/UAVs the US forces have but they [Israel] have developed some hi-tech systems, some of those are exported to foreign air arms,” said Cenciotti in an email.
According to a 2009 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report (pdf) about that year’s conflict in Gaza, the Hermes was one of two drones used by the IDF. The report cites estimates ranging from 48 to 87 Palestinian civilians killed by drones, out of that war’s total of 1,200-1,400 deaths, both civilian and combatant. (For comparison, the first five years of US drone strikes in Pakistan and other countries were estimated to have claimed 2,400 lives.) In this year’s Gaza war, more than 2,130 Palestinians were killed; there’s no tally as yet of how many were due to drones.