Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Drones of Hamas

The most important part of this July 16 article (while the war in Gaza is raging), which I translated from the Italian on-line defense magazine Analisi Difesa, are the last two lines. They reveal what should be clear to anyone who can count, and possesses a little knowledge of military technology; that is, the fact that the terrorist organization Hamas, that controls Gaza (hopefully not for long), actually has a certain strategic advantage over Israel.
Hamas is capable of producing large quantities of inexpensive low-technology rocket projectiles (or modifying existing ones), and now also simple unmanned aircraft, that can be launched into Israeli territory.
The Israeli military is forced to respond to the threat by developing and fielding anti-missiles systems (like Iron Dome and Patriot), which are much more expensive, and can be "saturated," for example by salvos of multiple rockets, fired simultaneously. A system like Iron Dome won't be able to follow and intercept all the rockets; and even if it did, the cost ratio between a Tamir missile (used by Iron Dome) and a ballistic unguided rocket is probably around 50 to 1. Not to mention the very high cost of the Patriot missiles (more than $ 1,000,000 each), used to shoot down cheap unmanned aircraft that cost less than an economy automobile. That is not sustainable, in the long term.
The only solution is to destroy the rockets and the drones where they are kept, before they are even launched; and that's another reason why Israel needs to regain control of the Gaza Strip.
You comments will be very appreciated. Thank you,
L. Pavese

Translated by Leonardo Pavese

After the long-range M-302 rockets, capable of reaching the whole Israeli territory, Hamas fielded the remote-controlled unmanned aircraft derived from the Iranian Ababil, built or modified in the Gaza strip; on July 14, 2014, at least one of them was shot down by an Israeli Patriot missile, from a launcher based near Ashod.
The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades announced the launch of several drones from Gaza for “special missions,” and they stated that the flights “will continue for the next few days.”
According to the Islamic fundamentalist militia, the drones reached “the Israeli ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv”. The announcement was met with jubilation from the minarets of Gaza, while al-Aqsa, Hamas’s TV continued to broadcast this new development all morning.

The fact that Hamas possessed unmanned aircraft was not really a surprise for the Israelis. During the past few days, the military broadcast service reported that, in the course of one of the Israeli air-strikes, several “kamikaze aircraft” had been destroyed; that is, aircraft that could have been fitted with a warhead and were meant to hit designated targets. On their part, the military wing of Hamas assured told the civilian population of Gaza that “that was only one of the many surprises they had in store for the enemy.”
Supposedly, Hamas’s drones are derivatives of the Iranian Ababil’s and Mohajer’s. They measure about three meters in length, and their wingspan is about three and one half meters. According to what Hamas declared, the engineers of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades have developed three basic models: one, equipped with a video-camera, is tasked with gathering intelligence-relevant imagery; one is designed to “attack the enemy,” launching weapons; and the third is the “suicide” version, which is meant to crash on selected targets, loaded with explosive.

According to Hamas, three waves of drones (each consisting of “more than one aircraft”) took off in three different directions. In the course of the operation, contact with one aircraft of wave no. 2, and one of wave no. 3 was lost. Nevertheless, the mission was deemed a success because the “drones,” as Hamas declared, “were able to reach the KiryĆ , the Israeli Defense Ministry, and make a video of it” although the images, so far, have not been divulged.
“We doubt that very much,” said the spokesman of the Israeli Air Force to military radio. “In any case, it would have been just a wasted effort, because the “drone” would not have uncovered anything that is not already visible on Google.”
In Israel the episode did not cause particular apprehension. At dawn, a Patriot air-defense system, deployed near Ashod (south of Tel Aviv), detected an unidentified aircraft and shot it down.


The Ababil is not a novelty in the sky of Israel. Two years ago, the Lebanese Hezbollah used it gather intelligence. On that occasion, too, one Ababil was shot down as it headed for the Dimona nuclear power plant.
The Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Yaalon, called the remote controlled aircraft employed by the Palestinians “another example of the continuous attempts to strike us in any possible way,” but its immediate downing constitutes an example “of the readiness of the Israeli armed forces.”
The flight of the Palestinian UAV triggered the highest level of air alarm over the southern city of Ashod, and the creation by the Israeli military of an off-limits area around the Kibbutz Mordechai (just north of the Gaza strip) could be related to that.

For some time now, the threat represented by the UAVs employed  as flying bombs by Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia has gotten the attention of the Israeli military command. In November 2012, a military spokesman divulged a video shot by an Israeli UAV in which a Palestinian remote-controlled could be seen taxiing on the runway of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. At that time, the armed forces of Jerusalem had announced they had quashed Hamas’s attempt to build a fleet of unmanned airplanes.  But, last March, General Shachar Shohat, the air defense chief, expressed anew the fear that Hamas and Hezbollah could add a fleet of UAVs to the arsenals of unguided rockets.
“We will have to face dozens of unmanned airplanes, on both the northern and the southern front,” said the general during a March 11 conference in Tel Aviv in which he prefigured the risk of mass attacks, intended to saturate the air defenses, with dozens of mini-drones armed with a few pounds of explosives as well as larger ones carrying a greater war load.
Since the end of the 2006 war, Hezbollah has employed many UAVs for reconnaissance missions over Galilee, that were lost when intercepted by fighters or hit by antiaircraft fire. The Israeli estimate that the  Hezbollah’s fleet consists of 200 Ababil and Mohajer remote controlled aircraft of Iranian origin; and, last March, the Saudi newspaper al-Watan reported that Hezbollah had 14 Iranian drones based at its new military airport in the region of Baalbek.  
Supposedly, several disassembled drones reached the Gaza Strip through clandestine channels; and they were reassembled in the hidden workshops of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, in which the relatively small Kassam rockets and the large M-302 rockets are also manufactured.

The UAVs are much slower and vulnerable than the rocket projectiles, but they are much more accurate because they can be remotely guided to the target, of which they can also transmit images up to moment from the impact. 
The Israeli air defense systems, like Iron Dome and Patriot, are capable of intercepting the drones, although at a very high cost. Within two years, Israel will also deploy a new laser-based air defense system, known as Iron Beam, which should be effective against rockets, artillery projectiles and small aircraft, at the cost of about $ 1,000 a shot, compared to the $ 20,000 of an Iron Dome’s Tamir missile and the $1,000,000, minimum, of a Patriot.

The images of the drones in the three-picture panel are from a video produced by Hamas. The image of the drone on the truck mounted launch rail depicts an Ababil UAV, and it's of Iranian origin. The last image shows Syrian vehicle launching unguided M-302's.

I'd like to thank J.J.P. for reviewing the English text.
L. Pavese  

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Homemade War of the Ukrainians

As if facing the aggressive pro-Russian secessionists were not enough, the Ukrainian armed forces have to deal also with the inefficiency of their government, which is failing them, even at the most basic level. To cope with the failures of the state institutions that are supposed to back them, the soldiers have to rely on civilian organizations that citizens have set up to gather and distribute what the troops need. 
But is it really just ineptitude, on the part of the Ukrainian state, or is this state of affairs intentional?

The Homemade War of the Ukrainians
Di Valentina Cominetti
(Translated and edited by Leonardo Pavese)

From the outside the Donbas looks like hell. From Donetsk it is less frightening. One walks on eggshells, that’s for sure. The city is in the hands of the pro-Russian separatists, even though they took over just four buildings: two seats of the SBU (the Ukrainian Security Forces), the regional government building and the television headquarter.
To the north, south, and west are the points that secure the control of of the city because to the east it is not necessary.
The wisdom of this approach is not attributable to the pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists, who have often been even guilty of looting. For that reason, many supermarkets have closed, as well as all the automobile dealerships, which have very wisely stored their show cars in safer places.
The true strategists of the “separation” are the Russian, Ossetian but most of all Chechen fighters, who control the key points and very often have to restrain the pro-Russian Ukrainians.
We were present on June 2nd when the Vostok battalion had to clear a building occupied by the secessionists, taking away, to who knows where, in armored vehicles without markings, the Ukrainian militias that had taken over the Regional government seat.
According to father Vasily, of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic cathedral of Donetsk, a change of leadership is taking place in the separatist forces, because dozens of Chechens keep coming to the occupied SBU seat, just fifty yards from the church. Many Chechens are also being buried in the Muslim cemetery behind the cathedral: on June 4, father Vasily counted twenty-six caskets.
The fighting takes place far from the inhabited areas, around the perimeter of the city. The pro-government forces surround the pro-Russians, but, to avoid civilian casualties, they do not attack them. This is the case in almost the entire war zone, with the exception of the tormented cities of Slavyansk and Luhansk, against which on June 16 an offensive was launched from many directions. But the problem remains, because the separatists concentrate in the residential areas.
The anti-terrorism operation (ATO), launched on April 13 by the Kiev government, to preserve the territorial integrity of the Ukraine, proceeds by fits and starts. On June 16, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense of the Ukraine, Andrij Parubiy, finally announced the creation of units of snipers within the DPSU (the equivalent of the U.S. Border Patrol), to enforce the control of the frontier with Russia: a measure that had been approved a long time ago.

The offensive operations of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the National Guard are sporadic and badly coordinated. The soldiers complain that the orders are not precise, when they’re not totally lacking.This is confirmed to us by a Captain from Crimea, who refused to join the Russian army and now lives in a refugee center in Kozubinski, near Kiev. The soldiers that returned home also confirm it, but especially many of the wounded we met at the military hospital in the capital: “We knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, but those were the orders,” they say, or “We had no idea about what we were supposed to do.”

They were not just lacking orders. The Ukrainian army is also being sent to fight without the proper equipment: the troops have guns, but they lack flak-jackets and even helmets. The kids who patrol the border zones have no logistical support. They are forced to spend weeks in the woods with no rotation, without sleeping bags or even a tent. Sometimes even food is scarce, which is the reason why many soldiers (but even the battalion commanders) have begun to ask their families and their friends for help.
Some, in the Ukrainian civil society, have organized to respond to the emergency. Many associations have been created to gather, purchase, and deliver supplies to the war zone. Armiya SOS is one of the largest ones, and they cooperate directly with the Ukrainian Department of Defense, whose bureaucratic procedures are too convoluted and rigid to face an emergency. The founder, Kostyantyn Ostrovskyy, has set up a Facebook page on which he posts a list of what is needed at the front-line and on which he collects the offers of assistance. The association’s contact in the combat zone is Yuri Kasyanov of the 1st Battalion, National Guard, who collects the requests of the various commanders and then delivers personally the material. Every day Kasyanov eludes the enemy check-points to take the packages to their destination, departing from the base in Izyum; which is a good sorting point, since it is situated right in the center of the combat zone, between Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk and Slavyansk.

Even as far as taking care of casualties is concerned, the civil associations, more than the state, play a center stage role. Volonterska Sotnya (the Century of Volunteer Women) is an association that has taken under its supervision twenty hospitals in seven cities of the Ukraine, demanding adequate care for the wounded, sending eighty of the most serious cases to foreign hospitals, organizing legal and psychological assistance for the men, and finding and providing medications.
More than 1000 of the wounded have received assistance from this organization, which has also provided help to the troops at the front-line, where it sent more than 660 pounds of drugs, 400 first aid kits and 1500 flak jackets. “Because if we didn’t take care of it, many of the kids would die,” says the founder of the group, Natalia Sokolova.
The Ukrainian government does not even take care of the Reserve: the Defense Department can count on a small number of reservists, but it does not have the money to train them, let alone to train new members.
Therefore, the Ukrainian civil society is also getting more militarized, because the citizens are convinced that the national army is too weak, and they are afraid that, in the case of an invasion of other areas of the country, they would have to take up arms themselves. There are many newly created non-governmental courses that promise to instill military discipline in a short time; a few charge tuition, others do not.
We have spent two days at the Ukrainian Reserve Army, which is an association based in the countryside near Kiev. Regular people like white collar workers, students and small business owners, spend a weekend here to learn the fundamentals of military art, and they are charged only the price of ammunition (200 Hryvnias, about $ 12).

“Our goal is not to create a paramilitary militia, to be mobilized in case of a large scale invasion” explains Yura Gulei, one of the three founders. “We want communities that can react independently in case of attack. The Department of Defense authorized us but, unfortunately, that does not mean that they recognize the importance of having a well trained reserve.
We asked them for their help in designing a training program, but no one gave us any feedback, so we have to proceed on our own, imitating what they do in Switzerland, in America or in Israel. We do what we can, but we really feel let down by the government.”
The lack of confidence in the Government and Parliament is a very widespread feeling in the Ukraine, to the point of turning into distrust or even into suspicion. Many people, for example, think that a prolonged instability in the east of the country might even benefit the Ukrainian government. That is because, after the Maidan revolution, all the energy was focused on the renewal of the institutions. For example, many civil committees for the “Lustrazia” had been created, which were only waiting for a political legitimization through legislation introduced last March and never discussed in Parliament.
(The Lustrazia is a process of gradual rectification of the inefficiencies of the political system which create corruption. The promoters of Lustrazia also envision the expulsion from the administration of the people involved with the procedures that permitted the shooting in the crowd of protesters). But nothing has really changed, because the state and the society are bogged down, dealing with the contingency of warfare and counting their dead (135, on June 18). 
From this point of view, this “homemade” (in every sense) Ukrainian war has taken on the character of a diversion; at least according to many members of society that suspect that someone is trying to divert their attention from change, but at the same time cannot believe it, or, more simply, do not have time to even entertain the idea.

Valentina Cominetti is a young Italian reporter, who graduated from the Luiss Guido Carli University in Political Science and Communications and writes mainly about foreign affairs and geopolitical issues. Ms. Cominetti blogs at polemicafertile.
The article was first published on the Italian on-line magazine Analisi Difesa, and was translated and posted here with their permission. 
I'd like to thank J.J.P. for reviewing the English text. 
You comments will be greatly appreciated. Thank you,
L. Pavese