by BARBARA OPALL-ROME, TEL AVIV
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is creating automated kill zones around the Gaza Strip aimed at halting infiltrations by terrorists, arms smugglers and other hostile individuals.
Now in final stages of operational testing, the “See-Shoot” system will add weapons to the network of overlapping sensors already deployed along the approximately 60-kilometer border separating Israel from the Palestinian coastal territory.
Developed by state-owned Rafael, See-Shoot consists of a series of remotely controlled weapon stations which receive fire-control information from ground sensors and manned and unmanned aircraft. Once a target is verified and authorized for destruction, operators sitting safely behind command center computers push a button to fire the weapon.
Marketed by Rafael under the more benign name of Sentry-Tech, the sensor-to-shooter system is part of the Hunter digital C4I network, a centerpiece, $780 million Land Forces modernization program developed by Elbit Systems.
See-Shoot embodies the IDF’s goal of waging no-signature warfare along its border areas. It obviates the need to dispatch infantry to intercept intruders or to respond to probing maneuvers by enemy squads.
In an interview prior to Israel’s September 2005 evacuation from Gaza, Gabi Ashkenazi, then the outgoing IDF deputy chief of General Staff, explained the concept.
“We understood from [our May 2000 withdrawal from] Lebanon that in Gaza, we’re going to have to compensate for lack of depth and limited freedom of maneuver,” Ashkenazi said. “We plan to do this through a technological process that allows us to transform depth, which we’ll lack, into time, which we will create with pictures served up instantaneously through the network.”
Ashkenazi, now chief of the General Staff, added, “We can’t allow ourselves to be sitting ducks. Our vision is to execute border control without having to deal with booby traps and ambushes. Through high-quality 24/7 pictures, we’ll be able to maintain a very low-signature presence and determine the timing and the conditions under which we respond to terrorist activity.”
According to the latest issue of “In the Camp,” the IDF’s official weekly Hebrew-language journal, initial deployment plans for the See-Shoot system call for mounting a 0.5-caliber automated machine gun in each of several pillboxes interspersed along the Gaza border fence.
Connected via fiber optics to a remote operator station and a command-and-control center, each machine gun-mounted station serves as a type of robotic sniper, capable of enforcing a nearly 1,500-meter-deep no-go zone.
The IDF’s Southern Command is also considering adding Gill/Spike anti-tank missiles to extend the no-go zones to several kilometers, defense and industry sources here said.
Each weapon station is protected against vandalism and weather by an armored folding shield, which also is activated remotely by computer operators.
“Ultimately, we aim to create a truly closed-loop sensor-to-shooter system, in which all the systems are able to work together on a single network. At the end of the day, the weapon system knows how to get specific targeting orders from the various sensors, and is operated from a distant command and control site,” said Yizhar Sahar, director of marketing and business development at Rafael’s Land Combat Systems Directorate.
High-Priority Defense In interviews here, defense and industry sources said the See-Shoot system should be deployed by the end of the summer, prior to the second anniversary of Israel’s 2005 evacuation of the Gaza Strip. But the Israeli government has already authorized IDF Southern Command to begin operating parts of the system in response to the recent surge in violence emanating from the terror-infested strip.
In addition to internecine battles among armed Palestinian groups within Gaza, the strip is being used as a launching ground for missiles directed at Israeli civilians across the border. Since May 15, nearly 270 rockets have landed in Israel’s western Negev desert, according to IDF data.
Israel has responded with air strikes, limited ground incursions and an expansion of anti-terror operations throughout the West Bank.
A senior Israeli defense official called the See-Shoot system “yet one more tool in the toolbox we draw on in our anti-terror fight.”
He said it would help enforce the buffer zone established just beyond the anti-infiltration barrier erected around Gaza.
“Nobody has any business approaching our border fence,” the official said. “It’s well-understood that this area is off-limits, and this new technology will make it easier for us to prevent the next kidnapping or terror event.”
Israel has experimented before with the concept of remote weapons. In 2002, the IDF cobbled together a makeshift solution in dealing with the 39-day standoff with Palestinian forces at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
During that crisis, a Rafael remote-controlled weapon mounted on a large crane was deployed at the perimeter of Manger Square, in a kind of standoff attempt to sharpshoot at Palestinians seeking to attack Israeli forces. And in 2004, a prototype of See-Shoot was deployed along one of Israel’s borders, another Israeli source said.
Man in the Loop While See-Shoot is ultimately intended as an automated, closed-loop system, defense and industry sources here say it will be operated in semi-automatic mode for the foreseeable future.
Until the top brass is completely satisfied with the fidelity of their overlapping sensor network – and until the 19- and 20-year-old soldiers deployed behind computer screens are thoroughly trained in operating the system — approval by a commanding officer will be required before pushing the kill button.
“It’s a precision system deployed along a fixed border area, so that removes a lot of operational complications,” an IDF division commander said.
“But still, at least in the initial phases of deployment, we’re going to have to keep the man in the loop. We don’t want to risk making tragic and politically costly mistakes with such a lethal system.”
In a May 28 interview, the commander, a brigadier general, said that even with the added step of target verification and authorization by a commanding officer, the See-Shoot system enables “standoff precision attack in near-real time.”
Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, said she is concerned about the deployment of such a system, regardless of whether it is operated in automatic or semi-automatic mode.
“There have been many cases in which people with no hostile or terrorist intentions were shot approaching the perimeter fence,” she said.
“Some attempted to enter Israel to find work, others suffered from disabilities, and still others were children who may have wandered into the forbidden areas. From a human rights perspective, the technology here is not as important as the need to evaluate each potential threat on a case by case basis.”
According to Michaeli’s statistics, since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, 14 unarmed Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces at ranges of 100 meters to 800 meters from the perimeter fence. IDF statistics for that same period, however, show seven “terrorists killed” and 12 others wounded in the no-go buffer zone.