Israel Refuses to Sign U.S. Document Regulating Attack Drones

Israel's defense industry fears U.S. document could threaten Israel's drone exports; some 40 nations sign document meant to regulate armed drone sales and usage among U.S. allies.

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An unmanned drone at Israel's Palmahim air base.
An unmanned drone at Israel's Palmahim air base.Credit: Nir Kafri
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Israel is concerned that a U.S. State Department document formulated in recent months on drone usage could adversely affect Israeli defense industries. The document includes guidelines on the use and export of armed drones that have been provided to several countries that are considered American allies.

The one-page document, titled "Joint Declaration for the Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike-Enabled Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)," covers a number of issues, including international legal standards, oversight of arms exports and the sale of weapons to various countries, as well as efforts at transparency.

Drones in the Israeli Air Force

It has been signed by over 40 nations, including Austria, Germany and Italy, but not Israel.

First reported by the U.S. publication Defense News about two months ago, the document is an effort to establish international standards in the production of unmanned aircraft. In another report, Defense News’ Israel-based reporter Barbara Opall-Rome reported that the initiative has been met with suspicion in Israel, along with major doubts that it will be successful.

Sources in Israel’s defense industry have told Haaretz that they are concerned that the document could limit the country’s export business. One source said he saw it as an additional step by the United States that could indirectly damage Israeli exports. Among the other moves that the Americans have taken has been the admission of India to the multilateral Missile Technology Control Regime, which removes barriers to the sale of American unmanned aircraft to the south Asian country.

Following that development, India has shown an interest in acquiring the U.S.-made Predador drone rather than an Israeli unmanned aircraft, which is seen in Israel as an example of how Israel’s military exports are being detrimentally affected. Despite a large number of arms purchases negotiated by India recently, there has been a preference for American suppliers over Israeli ones.

A suit filed by the American firm General Atomics seeking to block the lease of the Israeli Heron TP drone to Germany is another example of the challenges in the global drone market. As Haaretz reported in the past, Israel’s defense industry is concerned about losing control of the market. For the most part, transactions for the sale of drones for use by air forces include possible joint training with Israel or instruction in Israel.

An unmanned drone at Israel's Palmahim air base.Credit: Nir Kafri

This is thought to give Israeli defense contractors an advantage, because the Israel Air Force is considered a world expert in the use of drones. It operates unmanned aircraft squadron at Palmahim airbase, making use of the Hermes 900, the Hermes 450 and the Heron 1. In addition, the Heron TP drone is based at the Tel Nof airbase.

Israel is seeking to have limitations placed on information about its deployment of drones. German members of parliament, including several from a small, far-left party, have demanded answers regarding the lease of the Heron TP — and have been denied information several times. When they asked about the aircraft, the German government said that “without exception,” the matter was considered confidential by Israel and that the provision of any information is subject to limitations imposed by Israel.

An Azerbaijani Israeli-made suicide drone allegedly on a mission in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

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