Israeli Army Refuses to Disclose Its Protocols for Operating Drones

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Israel's Heron TP drone, known locally as Eitan
Israel's Heron TP drone, known locally as EitanCredit: Bloomberg

Last week the Israeli army refused to disclose its guidelines for approving drone operations, citing state security concerns.

About two months ago several human rights activists, represented by attorney Eitay Mack, asked the Israel Defense Forces to reveal its protocols for approving the use of drones in the West Bank and Gaza. The activists argued that publicizing the approval procedures “is important not only in order to examine the legality of using drones in the occupied territories ... but also has global importance and implications for the method of operation by other states that purchase” drones from Israel.

In its response, the army said it gave “serious” consideration to the request before rejecting it. The IDF cited an article in Israel’s Freedom of Information Law permitting the withholding of information whose disclosure could harm state security or foreign relations.

A report that revealed American and British surveillance of Israel, an operation code-named "Anarchist," indicated in the past that Israel operates armed unmanned aircraft. According to a document published by The Intercept, Israel's Heron TP drone, known locally as Eitan, is an armed drone. 

In their request, the human rights organizations noted that a prolonged legal battle in the United States led to the disclosure of protocols for approving drone attacks outside U.S. territory. On each of the 18 pages of the U.S. document, details about preliminary activities and how a strike is carried out were redacted. A description of the approval process remained. The Israeli organizations had hoped to receive a document describing the protocols for drone operations in Israel.

Israel is considered a leading exporter of drones that it manufactures. According to foreign media reports, Israeli-made drones have in the past been sold to Azerbaijan, Colombia, France, Georgia, Germany, India and Singapore. The human rights organizations claimed in their application to receive information that Israeli drones were also exported to Sri Lanka, where war crimes were committed.

Mack has asked the Defense Ministry to release documents on Israeli military exports to Sri Lanka.

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