Elbit Acedes to U.K. Request to Cancel UAV Trials in 'Occupied' Golan

Israeli company to supply British Army with Hermes 450 by 2010, has now relocated trials to Rosh Pina.

Elbit Systems canceled recently a series of trials for its unmanned drones that it had been planning to carry out in the Golan Heights on behalf of the British Army.

The tests were canceled after London objected to the trials being conducted at the Golan Piq airfield, across the Green Line, said security and aviation sources.

The Israeli company thus reached an agreement with the Airports Authority to run the trials at an airport in the northern city of Rosh Pina, despite fears they could be hazardous to area residents and the environment.

The UAVs are part of the British defense ministry's Watchkeeper project - an 800 million pounds sterling project to provide the British Army with UAVs for all-weather, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance use.

The Watchkeeper, based on the Elbit Hermes 450 UAV, is expected to begin operating in 2010.

Elbit would not respond to Haaretz's request for an interview.

The company would only comment that "the activity is fully compatible with the Airports Authority's requirements, including noise regulations. It should be noted that Elbit System operates in the same area and at the same time that commercial aviation companies carry out their own ongoing aviation operation."

The British defense ministry said that the government has for some time viewed the Golan as occupied territory. The Israeli defense ministry said it was unaware of the matter.

Residents in Rosh Pina said this is the first time UAV test flights have been carried out from the area, and environmental groups warn the activity could pose a threat to area residents and the environment.

The sources told Haaretz that the drones' noise level is higher than permitted.

They also warned of the insurance problems that could arise in the case of an aerial accident or crash in a civilian, populated area.

In addition, keeping the UAVs in Rosh Pina's airport would require building new structures that are not approved by the area's planning commission.

The Airports Authority said the necessary infrastructures would be built on Air Force and Defense Ministry territories; the air strip used for the tests would be the Air Force runway that crosses the civilian runway in the Rosh Pina airport.

The British Defense Ministry said that "it is the long held position of the U.K. Government that the Golan Heights is occupied territory. In this context the U.K. Defense Ministry would consider it inappropriate to use the facilities at the Golan Heights as part of the Watchkeeper program."