An Israeli-made Heron unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flies over Porbandar, during its commissioning into the Indian Navy, January 17, 2011. REUTERS/Amit Dave (INDIA - Tags: MILITARY TRANSPORT)

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs): Modern day colonialism’s strongest weapon

By Viswesh R

In the year 1999, while India and Pakistan were engaged in a conflict in Kargil, there was a strengthening of a certain friendship. The Kargil conflict and the time just after, was the time when India-Israel relations peaked. One of the key components of this friendship was based on the fact that Israel had been a reliable military partner during the conflict. A part of this military partnership involved elements known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Israel agreed to speed up the shipment order for Israeli Heron UAVs for high altitude surveillance this despite growing pressure by the international community. UAVs have ever since been the crucial factor in India-Israel relations.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have now become a defining factor in the military and security discourse and reports have highlighted that while 41 countries possessed UAVs in the year 2004, this has increased to 76 by the year 2011. The proliferation of UAVs however, is not the only cause of concern. Amnesty International has highlighted that drones are being used by countries to kill, with utter disregard for legal provisions or human rights. Even though claims are made that drones help in achieving target killings, this has hardly been the case with the number of causalities being highly disproptionate to the numbers targeted. The legality of the use of drones has always been under serious scrutiny and very often, countries have managed to hide under the jargon of “national security” to find a way to continue the deployment of UAVs.

One of the major producers and exporters of UAVs today is Israel.  Since 1985, Israel has accounted for nearly 60.7% of the drone exports worldwide  and is thus the source for the greatest amount of proliferation of UAVs in the world. The defence industry is at the core of the idea of Israel, which is built around the excessive use of violence and exclusion of the native Palestinians, and continuing to fuel the exclusivist ideology of Zionism. The Israeli economy is closely tied to this idea and the idea of “national security” and Israel’s “right to defend itself against Palestinian terrorists” has led to a bourgeoning defence industry. UAV technology has been a crucial element in furthering this narrative and UAVs have been the crux of Israel’s defence capabilities as well as its view of itself, right from the late 1960s.

This was around the time that Israel built settlements and consolidated its control over the Sinai. Israel used the Scout drone as early as 1982 during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. This was also the first instance of a country employing drones in warfare. A large number of technical refinements were made to UAVs through the 1980s, in an attempt to continue the occupation of Lebanon. The usage of UAVs by Israel increased substantially during the second intifada and ever since, UAVs have played a major role in continuing the occupation of the Palestinian people and employing violence against them.  This was the case in 2004, when Israeli UAVs were being used in military operations in the Gaza strip and again in 2006, when Israel launched a ground and air offensive called ‘Operation Summer Rains’ which killed nearly 400 Palestinians.

As of today, the Palestinians in Gaza are subjected to perpetual surveillance and the constant fear of death from the UAVs. Human Rights Watch has time and again highlighted the use of UAVs by Israel on the Palestinian population. In addition, there is an element constant fear due to the UAVs which has led to trauma and psychological problems in the Gaza strip, particularly in children. At the end of ‘Operation Protective Edge’ in 2014, Israel organized conferences, which often showed off the UAVs and their technology that were used on the Palestinian population, leaving more than 2,200 Palestinians dead.

As mentioned earlier, Israel is the major exporter of UAVs, globally.  India is the biggest importer of UAVs from Israel. This process started in the 1990s and was initiated by the procurement of the Search Mark I and Searcher Mark II of the Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI)  the mid-1990s. This was followed by more recent deals for the Heron TP of the IAI. India is said to have around 100 UAVs procured from Israel alone along with the indigenous ones made by DRDO. In addition, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) along with Elbit systems of Israel has embarked on a Joint Venture to produce Elbit’s Skylark UAV. This comes at a time when the entire international Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movements against Israel are calling for a boycott of Elbit systems for its role in profiting from the occupation of the Palestinian people. India’s deployment of UAVs is along similar lines of Israel. India has deployed UAVs in Naxal stronghold areas with a UAV base being set up in Chhattisgarh, to take sorties over the forests of Dandakaranya. These forests are home to the adivasis of India and using the Naxalite movement and the violence committed by it as cover, the Indian state continues to oppress the indigenous population. In addition, UAVs are being used in Jammu and Kashmir for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.

There are tenders for mini-UAVs which can be deployed to help “fight insurgency” in Jammu and Kashmir. In this case as well, the Indian state uses the excuse of insurgents and terrorists to continue the oppression and occupation of the Kashmiri population. Some reports have also highlighted that UAVs could be used in future, for crowd control.

A Hunter Joint Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in flight during a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) training exercise at Fallon Naval Air Station (NAS), Nevada (NV), during exercise DESERT RESCUE XI. The Hunter is an Israeli multi-role short-range UAV system in service with the US Army (USA). The exercise is a joint service Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) training exercise hosted by the Naval Strike and Warfare Center, designed to simulate downed aircrews, enabling CSAR related missions to experiment with new techniques in realistic scenarios.
A Hunter Joint Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in flight during a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) training exercise at Fallon Naval Air Station (NAS), Nevada (NV), during exercise DESERT RESCUE XI. The Hunter is an Israeli multi-role short-range UAV system in service with the US Army (USA). The exercise is a joint service Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) training exercise hosted by the Naval Strike and Warfare Center, designed to simulate downed aircrews, enabling CSAR related missions to experiment with new techniques in realistic scenarios.


There is something striking about the friendship that was forged between India and Israel. In many ways, the friendship is almost a natural one.  These two nation-states have a similar ideology built into them. While Israel continues to colonize, occupy and oppress the Palestinian population, India does the same, in Kashmir, parts of the north-east and the adivasi population present in central India and elsewhere. The role of UAVs and related technology in maintaining and propagating this process in Israel and in India cannot be stressed enough. UAVs allow for the nation-states to maintain surveillance over these oppressed groups at all times and by creating the rhetoric of these oppressed groups “producing terrorists”, India and Israel have both managed to dictate the terms of the narrative. Thus, UAVs as a result of this narrative can be deployed according to the whims and fancies of the state, almost unchecked. This results in severe human rights violations, disregard for international legal norms and very often, becomes the easiest way by which excessive violence can be deployed against the oppressed groups. In addition, the usage of UAVs also reduces the damage of manpower of the state. Losing a few robotic vehicles in the process of eliminating “security threats” is seen as a win-win scenario for the state.

The use of UAVs also severely undercuts the right of self-determination under the UN charter. Constant surveillance and the fear of being watched is an Orwellian tactic which is used by states in multiple ways. This impinges on the rights of population to self-determination and by suppressing this right; India and Israel continue colonialism as a practice and all attempts to intimidate, survey and keep a watch on the populations using UAVs are intended to prevent the decolonization process from happening. The neo-liberal economics and capitalist practices espoused by India and Israel when it comes to UAVs is another striking factor. Israel uses the lack of international standards in regulating UAVs to continue exporting them in larger numbers, thereby leading to greater proliferation. Most of the financial gains made in this process directly feeds into oppressing and continuing the occupation of the Palestinian population. India on the other hand, after liberalizing its economy in 1991, is able to procure UAVs from Israel easily, very often at exorbitant amounts. In doing so, the Indian state contributes to the oppression and occupation of the Palestinian people. In addition, the deployment of UAVs in the Indian context mirrors the context in which Israel deploys it.

The relationship and nexus between colonialism, capitalism and oppression is one that has been well documented. India and Israel have learned the lessons well from European colonialism. As nation-states, they are able to use technology and capitalism to their advantage to continue oppressing populations. The narrative thus begins by viewing these oppressed groups as “terrorists” and something that the state needs to be protected from. UAVs have a special role in this. They are very often, the most economical, easy to use method by which excessive violence can be easily employed against populations, in addition to the psychological violence they propagate. The fact that the state does not lose any manpower in the process makes the usage of UAVs even more appealing. UAVs also give the state great flexibility and robustness in how they can be used. Viewing them as next-generation technology and essential for the progress and development of a society has meant that very few questions are asked about their need and deployment. There is a great amount of secrecy surrounding this, which aids the state.

The lack of international norms on regulating or curbing UAVs hasn’t helped in any way, either.  All this taken together had blinded us to what UAVs truly are: indiscriminate killing machines which are the modern era’s strongest agent of colonialism. Israel and India’s UAV programs are living testimony to that.



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