Israeli analyst sheds light on new age of Drone warfare

July 20, 2021 by Ahron Shapiro
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Drones and guided missiles constitute both a threat and an opportunity for Israel’s defences, Jerusalem Post columnist and drone expert Seth J. Frantzman told an AIJAC webinar.

Sethy Frantzman    Screenshot

Frantzman, author of the recently published book Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence, and the Battle for the Future, told the audience that Israel continues to lead the world in drone technology with new innovations constantly being introduced by the IDF into battlefield situations.

For example, he noted, in the recent mini-war with Hamas in May, Israel’s applied “drone swarm technology” – a form of artificial intelligence combining data from multiple drones – to pinpoint and return precision fire to rocket launch sites in Gaza in real-time. Also, Israel for the first time used its Iron Dome anti-missile system to shoot down a Hamas attack drone during the recent conflict.

Meanwhile, Hamas for the first time used an Iranian Ababil-style drone, “which is similar to what the Houthis have used in Yemen… It’s launched from a catapult [and] doesn’t come back and land. It’s a one-way system, like a cruise missile. You program it where to go.”

Frantzman emphasised that the Hamas’ war against Israel was planned and said he also believed that the escalation directly served Iranian interests by testing Israeli missile defences against barrage attack.

“I think there’s a lot of evidence that [Hamas] put a lot of plans into this war that was not like 2014 or 2012,” Frantzman said. And what that means is this war was not just spontaneous, like people said [at the time that] there were tensions [in] Jerusalem and then a Hamas fired a rocket. No, this war was carefully planned. They were waiting for the spark that would set it off. You don’t have 4,000 missiles ready to go because [you’re just] very angry and there’s a spontaneous war. This was this was a complicated plan, you know, like the German Von Schlieffen Plan [of World War I]…This was coordinated and choreographed, and there have been a lot of studies of it in Iran.”

Frantzman said that the drone threats Israel faces from Gaza, southern Lebanon and Syria are from Iranian-designed systems. He observed that Iran’s missile and drone expertise was borne out of necessity since under sanctions imposed since the 1979 revolution, the Islamist regime couldn’t buy modern military aircraft.

“Iran is a country that has pioneered this type of technology… why does Iran like missiles and drones? Because Iran is a country that’s been under sanctions for a very long time,” Frantzman said. “Iran’s Air Force, a lot of the planes it has are from the time of the Shah, and they’re actually [obsolete] American planes.”

However, Frantzman also noted that Iran has tended to exaggerate its technological achievements in conventional weapons development. “They’re always playing with things and showing things off at their demonstrations and they’re their tech fairs and stuff,” he said. But, Frantzman added, “if the Iranians were really building it as a threat, then why would they show it off? Wouldn’t they just like use it secretly to attack something and you’d never know it existed? So the very fact that they’re always bragging about it speaks to me that it actually doesn’t work.”

Frantzman was asked about the prospect of a multi-front war with attacks from Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and an uprising in the West Bank – and whether the IDF, which has downsized, was equipped to handle it, Frantzman said he believed that while such a scenario should be avoided, Israel would prevail, but would expect to see far higher civilian and military casualties than in recent wars.

Speaking on other topics, Frantzman warned that Western acceptance of a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan would create a precedent for engaging with other problematic militant or terror groups. “I think everyone is trying to prepare the future in which the Taliban will be seen as a legitimate government or at least a partner in one,” Frantzman said, “And that’s very disturbing and bad…. [They’ll say next] well… why can’t we meet with Hezbollah? It’s part of the government. Well, why can’t we meet with Hamas – and we’re seeing that already.”

Frantzman noted that, in the age of social media, Israel faces intense international pressure to keep casualties to a minimum and reach its military goals in a limited time frame. This is influencing IDF strategy. “It means concentrating more power quicker and having a much faster war with much more impact and in a much shorter period of time,” he said.

AIJAC’s next guest on its lauded “Live Online” webinar series will be Dr Dave Rich is Director of Policy at the UK’s Community Security Trust organisation, who will be speaking on “Antisemitism in 2021” on Monday, July 26 at 7:30pm, streamed live publicly on Facebook


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