The United States is the best-known drone operator in the world, but it’s hardly the only country that uses them. Israel Defense Forces are using drones over Gaza as a way of occupying Gaza, since no soldiers occupy the strip as they do in the West Bank. Drones were also used in Operation Cast Lead and Operation Defensive Shield against Gaza.
The Aviationist reports that, for the first time, Israel is deploying a modified Elbit Systems Hermes 450, with a new antenna on top and carrying underwing pods, over Gaza. The underwing pods could be fuel tanks for longer flights, though speculation exists that they instead contain either light missiles or guns. According to the brochure from the drone’s manufacturer, it doesn’t carry any weapons itself, instead using only surveillance and targeting equipment. Many American drones function that way too, providing information and targeting coordinates for other, armed parts of the military. Drones are especially useful against irregular fighters because they can fly for a long time, and catch movement when it eventually happens. Speaking to the recent conflict and the dearth of images of Hamas fighters, New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks recently noted:
This is a war fought largely behind the scenes. Hamas fighters are not able to expose themselves. If they were to even step a foot on the street they would be spotted by an Israeli drone and immediately blown up. We don’t see those fighters. They are operating out of buildings and homes and at night. They are moving around very carefully. You don’t see any signs of authority on the streets. If you can imagine every police officer, every person of authority in America gone, this is what that would look like.
If the drone was carrying weapons, it wouldn’t be the first time Israel’s used an armed drone. During the 2006 Lebanon War, Israeli drone footage showed hellfire missiles, like those used by American drones, in flight. In 2010, the Wall Street Journal ran footage of an Israeli drone strike in Gaza from the 2009 Gaza war, Operation Cast Lead. Israel is a major drone exporter, and at trade shows Israeli companies display both native-made drone armaments and Israeli drones armed with foreign munitions. According to the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, while much of the world remains opposed to drone strikes, only one country’s population supports American drones strikes more than the United States itself, and that’s Israel.