Nagmachons

Policemen with truncheons in Ferguson, Missouri, bash African American protestors. A Predator drone bombs a Muslim wedding party in Afghanistan. Israeli soldiers raid a village in the occupied West Bank. Links among such apparently unrelated events are not obvious, but each of these books in differing ways confronts us with evidence that domestic policing, international warfare and global surveillance have become joint elements of a mushrooming system that curtails liberty, violates privacy and takes human life by executive fiat. In two new books the Israeli academic and activist Jeff Halper and Andrew Cockburn, the America-based Irish writer whose previous books include a critical analysis of the Soviet Army, both contend that crowd management, counter-terrorism, drones, “securitised” law enforcement and military intervention comprise elements of a structure of control that has gone, well, out of control.

America’s armed forces, intelligence agencies, cyber-war experts and arms manufacturers lead the world in bringing the latest technology to bear on enemies foreign and domestic, while Israel provides key components of equipment and doctrine to the US. Israel’s security innovations are tested in what Halper calls the “laboratory” of the Palestinian Territories; in some specializations, it supersedes its benefactor and occasionally, as with its weapons sales to China, it works against American interests. For the most part, however, the private and public security sectors in the two countries work in harmony to regulate the ambitions of those who would disrupt the status quo.

The mass migration of war refugees that seems tragic to most of humanity represents a gold rush to the “back room boys”, as Philip Jones Griffiths characterized napalm scientists in his classic book Vietnam Inc. (1971). “The refugee crisis in Europe is causing a renewed interest in Israeli intelligence and surveillance systems”, wrote Gili Cohen in a recent article in Haaretz. She reported that Israel’s Elbit Systems won a €230 million contract to supply six Hermes 900 drones to Switzerland for monitoring its borders, while Hungary and Bulgaria were looking at Israel’s refugee-proof border fence with Egypt as a model to deter Syrian asylum seekers. This is one among many instances of a crisis boosting the market for hi-tech security gizmos.

Halper begins his book with a question: “How does Israel get away with it?” As the head of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD), he has waged a constant and losing battle against Israel’s razing of Palestinian houses with massive Caterpillar D-9 bulldozers. For Halper the influence of the Israeli lobby in Washington fails to explain American tolerance of and sometime connivance in Israel’s demolition of almost 50,000 Palestinian homes over the past forty years, its seizure of land, building of settlements, placing of 800,000 Palestinians in administrative detention since 1967 and practice of routine torture. The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee praises Israel as “America’s surrogate in the Middle East”, an update on Theodor Herzl’s promise to the West of an “outpost against Asiatic barbarism”. More important than any mythic Zionist influence in America, Halper concludes, is the security co-operation on which both the US and Israel thrive. He writes,

The Occupation represents a resource for Israel in two senses: economically, it provides a testing ground for the development of weapons, security systems, models of population control and tactics without which Israel would be unable to compete in the international arms and security markets, but no less important, being a major military power serving other militaries and security services the world over lends Israel an international status among the hegemons it would not have otherwise… Where would it be without the Occupation and the regional conflicts it generates?

The answer he offers is that Israel “would resemble Finland or Vietnam, small countries facing significant military challenges yet able to balance military preparedness (symbolically at least) with the security afforded by broader diplomatic and military alliances”. While Israel ranks ninety-ninth worldwide for population size, Halper notes, it stands at fifteenth in military expenditure. War spending, much of it subsidized by the American taxpayer, yields export dividends and underwrites Israel’s technological edge in the civilian sphere. Israeli arms sales of $8.7 billion between 2003 and 2010 made it the seventh-largest exporter of weaponry to the developing world. Customers include countries, like Algeria and the United Arab Emirates, whose non-recognition of Israel has not impeded military purchases. Israel’s success at reducing Palestinian resistance to insignificance has made its methods and weaponry paradigms of excellence in the security field, especially after 9/11 and the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq escalated demand for advanced counter-insurgency and antiterrorist expertise.

Israel’s Export and International Co-operation Institute boasts on its website:

What grew out of a direct military need with a high tech edge has developed into a core element of the Israeli economy and placed Israel at the forefront of the global security and HLS [Homeland Security] industry… With the military providing a fertile breeding ground for future generations of engineers and entrepreneurs, many non-defense-related, high quality technologies and solutions have been developed.

Among the wheezes Israel’s security boffins had come up with are:
1) The Sentry-tech “Spot and Shoot” from Rafael Advanced Defence Systems: the only weapon system operated exclusively by women, who employ video screens and joysticks to fire remote-controlled machine guns from watchtowers at Palestinians approaching the Gaza frontier fence.
2) Nagmachon: a combat engineering vehicle modelled on the Centurion tank, which transports troops though minefields and hostile fire. It often accompanies the Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer when it’s knocking down buildings. The Israeli companies Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Zoko Enterprises are developing a driverless D-9 to reduce Israeli casualties when demolishing Palestinian houses.
3) The Protector SV: Israel’s original unmanned stealth naval patrol craft, known locally as the Death Shark.
4) The IAI-developed Miniature Autonomous Robotic Vehicle (MARV), which weighs 20 grams, looks a little like a butterfly and carries a camera for remote surveillance in small spaces. Technion’s Faculty of Aerospace Engineering has pioneered a similar device, the 9-inch “Dragonfly”, to go into houses and transmit video to base.
5) Technion’s squadron of assorted small robots that look like snakes and are able to survey and then explode in contested areas.
6) The ingenious CornerShot, which won this praise from America’s Police magazine as: “a combination of an articulating gun mount and a video camera sighting system . . . . It’s not a weapon, merely a cradle, if you will, that holds a duty semi-auto pistol and allows an operator to literally ‘shoot around corners’ while staying behind cover”.

I came across Halper for the first time during what became known as the Second Intifada in 2002, when he gave me a tour of the Occupied Territories. The Israeli settlements, police fortresses, settler highways and checkpoints constituted a comprehensive network that he called the “Matrix of Control”. In War Against the People, he expands on that notion: “Exporting the Matrix has become central to Israeli security politics, offering as it does an effective model of counter-insurgency and long-term pacification”. Israel, in his words, became “the go-to country in the war against terrorism and insurgency”. Those who “go to” Israel to expand their counter-terrorist arsenals include China, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Angola, Guatemala, Honduras and Zimbabwe. The Israeli company Beit Alfa Technologies advertised the riot control vehicles that it sold to Robert Mugabe as “proven in combat” – that is, in combat against the Palestinian population.

Nothing symbolizes contemporary combat more than drones, both the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and the Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicle (UACV) that move through the skies like birds of prey locating and destroying enemy targets without risk to their “pilots” at consoles miles from the field of conflict. In Kill Chain Andrew Cockburn traces the history of technology’s latest contribution to the art of killing.

Cockburn attributes the militarized drone’s invention to a Jewish Iraqi, Avraham Karem, who emigrated to Israel, joined the Israeli Air Force, and worked for IAI. Karem settled in California in 1977 to work full-time on pilotless aircraft for the US. When the US Navy, Karem’s original sponsor, dropped the project, his company went bankrupt. He and his designs then fell into the hands of General Atomics Corporation as it was cashing in on the largesse of Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars program. “Karem’s design suddenly became a CIA program”, Cockburn writes, “and a prototype was dispatched to Albania to fly over the battlefields of the burgeoning Balkan civil wars.” It was not a success. Most of the flights failed, and the rest “yielded no useful intelligence of any kind”.

With dry humour, Cockburn relates the story of winged Predators brought down by light winds, fuzzy video images that were less clear than racecourse binoculars and range-limited to the line of radio waves from a base control. The drone foundered until it was rescued from an unexpected quarter: Roger L. Easton’s invention of the Global Positioning System (GPS) that, with satellite relays and increased bandwidth, allowed “pilots” to guide the drones beyond the horizon. Soon, the US Navy, Army, Air Force and CIA were competing for drone ownership.

Cockburn notes that Allied strategic bombing during the Second World War did little to disrupt the Nazi war machine. Allied planners earmarked for destruction 154 targets critical to the German economy – such as power plants and arms factories – in the belief (in the words of Cockburn) that this “would bring the enemy war machine to its knees after six months”. The bombs took out the targets but the enemy still “had to be defeated the old-fashioned way, by massive armies slogging across Europe”. Similarly, America’s destruction of North Vietnam’s supply lines to the south did not deprive the North Vietnamese Army of its victory in April 1975. Yet the belief has persisted that heavy bombing, now from pilotless aircraft, can win wars. The US appears to be repeating its past mistakes with drone attacks in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, which, despite their manifold successes in taking out intended targets, merely galvanize resistance, inspiring outraged volunteers to join the country’s enemies. David Cortright and Rachel Fairhurst write in Drones and the Future of Armed Conflict – a collection of philosophical essays on drone warfare – that even General Stanley McChrystal, the former US commander in Afghanistan, conceded the blowback effects of drone bombings in January 2013: “What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world. The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes . . . is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one”. Cockburn’s fascinating and original investigation into the workings of the military machine underlines what Bertolt Brecht wrote in Mother Courage and Her Children: “War is like love, it always finds a way”.

War is also affecting policing. “From here”, Halper writes of the globalized war on terror, “it is but a short distance from the Matrix of Control to domestic securitization.” He adds: “The fact that officers in the different police forces dealing with the Ferguson protests, who chose a confrontational approach backed up by heavy military equipment, were trained in Israel has led to a feeling that the people of Ferguson have been ‘Palestinianized’”. In 2002, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs taught 9,500 police officers worldwide. The New York Police Department maintains a liaison office in Israel. Israeli companies have trained and worked with police departments throughout the United States, coinciding with the US federal government programme to supply local police forces with military equipment that has escalated tension between police and communities. Israeli security advisers hold up the siege and conquest of the Palestinian village of Jenin in April 2002 as a model for operations in other countries. Halper quotes Stephen Graham in Cities Under Siege (2011) on Israeli tuition of overseas police forces in the art of creating “security zones” and “perimeter defences” around “financial cores, government districts, embassies, venues where the G-8 and NATO hold their summit meetings, oil platforms and fuel depots, conference centers in ‘insecure’ Third World settings, tourist destinations, malls, airports and seaports, sites of mega events and the homes and travel routes of the wealthy”.

Much of what the public knows about schemes to control their lives and monitor their behaviour comes from US government and corporate documents that disgruntled civil servants and contractors provided clandestinely to WikiLeaks. In his introduction to The WikiLeaks Files, WikiLeaks’s founder Julian Assange claims that his organization “has published 2,325,961 diplomatic cables and other US State Department records, comprising some two billion words”. This represents the largest trove of Washington’s secret records made public against government wishes since the “Students Following the Line of the Imam” pieced together thousands of shredded documents they looted from the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979. The US government impounded thirteen bound volumes of the documents from the journalist William Worthy when he arrived from Iran at Boston’s Logan Airport in 1981. This was the government’s attempt to bar American citizens from reading communications that Soviet spies could buy in any Tehran bookshop, an argument the courts accepted when they ordered their return to Worthy.

A court victory for WikiLeaks, however, seems less likely. Assange observes that the government bans the 5.1 million Americans with security clearances from reading the documents on WikiLeaks that they are legally cleared to read in-house, a policy the courts have yet to test. He writes,

Publicly, the US government has claimed, falsely, that anyone without a security clearance distributing “classified” documents is violating the Espionage Act of 1917. But the claims of the interior “state within a state” campaign work in the opposite direction. There, it orders the very people it publicly claims are the only ones who can legally read classified documents to refrain from reading documents Wikileaks and associated media have published with classification markings on them lest they be “contaminated” by them.

This absurdist logic is, Assange maintains, “a kind of religious thinking” that he likens to the serving of a fatwa. Documents that anyone can read online cannot be accessed at the Library of Congress, America’s foremost repository of published works. Assange’s reputation has suffered in many media outlets that publish his WikiLeaks documents while simultaneously decrying him for having exposed them in the first place, or condemn him for alleged sexual offences in Sweden despite the fact that the Swedes have yet to charge him with any crime. This book goes some way towards explaining the significance of the WikiLeaks exposures for our understanding of American foreign policy.

Cablegate, the Afghan War Diary and other WikiLeaks exposures have made little difference to public policy and thus are surely not a threat worth the strenuous efforts the US government has made to put the genie back into his bottle. The authors of the essays in The WikiLeaks Files make clear that the public has access to information about what their governments are doing. If their electoral choices are an indication, however, the revelations do not affect them. Among democracy’s many frustrations is the electorate’s tendency to overlook government delinquency. When the Second World War ended, most Germans pleaded ignorance. Like us, they knew. Like us, they didn’t care.

Jeff Halper
WAR AGAINST THE PEOPLE
Israel, the Palestinians and global pacification
352pp. Pluto Press. £60 (paperback, £14.99).
978 0 7453 3430 1

Andrew Cockburn
KILL CHAIN
Drones and the rise of high-tech assassins
368pp. Verso. £20.
978 1 78168 946 2

David Cortright, Rachel Fairhurst and Kristen Wall
DRONES AND THE FUTURE OF ARMED CONFLICT
Ethical, legal, and strategic implications
288pp. University of Chicago Press. £31.50 (US $45)
978 0 226 25805 8

WikiLeaks
THE WIKILEAKS FILES
The world according to US Empire
Introduced by Julian Assange
624pp. Verso. £20.
978 1 78168 874 8

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