An Israeli military strike in southern Gaza. Photo: Getty
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If Israel has better drones than anyone, why are so many innocent people dying?

Manless in Gaza: the story of how civilians have lost the drone war.

Five weeks into the fighting in Gaza, there has been widespread condemnation over the high number of civilian casualties, especially given Israel’s claim that it uses “the most sophisticated weapons available today in order to pinpoint and target only legitimate military objectives and minimize collateral damage to civilians.”

Israel is a world leader in unmanned technologies, which make up the backbone of its high-tech arsenal. In Gaza we see a maturing of the art of drone warfare: ground robots probe Hamas tunnels, artillery units use mini-drones to look over the battlefield, and in the sky, long endurance unmanned aircraft provide intelligence, paint targets and drop bombs.

Drone warfare extends through time as well as space. Over the years Gazans have become familiar with the distinctive buzzing that means drones are loitering overhead performing “istar” – intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance. In less poetic language, they capture information that will be used to compile a list of people and things to destroy at a later date.

Making a list, checking it twice

After the previous major Gaza action, 2008’s Operation Cast Lead, national security analyst Anthony Cordesman studied what went into the making of an Israeli target list. Imagery, communications and human intelligence were used to develop what he described as a “remarkably accurate picture of Hamas targets” that “treated virtually every known Hamas location or residence as a potential area of operations.” 

Gaza is a densely populated, highly urbanized environment, and the problem is that Hamas, like guerrillas everywhere, likes to operate in civilian areas. Israel knows this tactic well, and is also cognizant of war laws that frown on states who kill civilians on their way to the bad guys. But there is a loophole – if the military advantage gained is significant, then the action can be defended as a “military necessity.”  Cordesman found that for Cast Lead, Israel “explicitly evaluated the risk to civilians and the location of sensitive sites like schools, hospitals, mosques, churches, and other holy sites,” against the military advantage to be gained by hitting these targets regardless.

Target more, kill more

Israel has owned up to attacking 4,762  “terror sites”.  That’s a lot of targets in tiny Gaza, however accurate the weapons. We can assume that Israel continues to put a lot of thought into choosing targets. We can also assume that, thanks to its drones, it has a pretty good idea of what it hits. In March, an Israeli officer told CBN News, "the most important thing that the [drones] help during combat is to distinguish terrorist from civilians because most of the enemy techniques here in the region is to operate from civilian areas. We really don't want to hurt civilians during combat."

And yet, hurt them they do. According to UN estimates, some 72 per cent of the nearly 2000 Gazans killed were not Hamas militants, but civilians – children, old ladies, bank tellers, schoolteachers. Even the young men, say their mothers, were out buying bread, not firing rockets.

One of the brakes on going to war used to be the risk to soldiers’ lives, but thanks to drones, armies don’t even have to put boots on the ground or pilots in the air, and with all this hi-tech weaponry, all that high-grade intelligence, all those lawyers advising them, modern militaries think they can dispel the fog of war and take the shot.

The problem is, the more that they think they know what they’re doing, the more inclined they are to do it. The biggest lesson of drone warfare is that it lowers the threshold for military action. As Gaza shows, drones makes militaries feel confident about rushing their bombs into areas where angels may fear to tread but where civilians have little choice.

Ann Rogers is co-author, with John Hill, of Unmanned: drone warfare and global security, published by Pluto Press, 2014. She tweets @unmannedfuture

Photo: Getty
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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.