Pilotless planes emerge as a top Israeli weapon in its aerial war with Hamas

>GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Palestinians say they know when an Israeli drone is in the air: Cell phones stop working, TV reception falters and they can hear a distant buzzing.

They also know what’s likely to come next – a devastating explosion on the ground.

Palestinians say Israel’s pilotless planes have been a major weapon in its latest offensive in Gaza, which has killed nearly 120 people since last week.

“Our experience is that the drone missile is successful in hitting its targets, and it’s deadly,” said Dr. Mahmoud Assali, a Palestinian physician who works in the emergency room of a northern Gaza Strip hospital that has often treated Palestinian gunmen hit by Israeli drones.

“The drone has a zone of around 15 meters where it decimates everything. It targets people and leaves them in pieces,” Assali said.

Israel is at the forefront of the drone technology that is increasingly being used in hotspots around the world. The unmanned craft provide a deadly and cost-effective alternative for armies to target enemies, without risking their own pilots’ lives and reducing civilian casualties in heavily populated areas.

They are guided by remote control from the ground. Because of their small size and relatively low speed, their low-yield missiles can be aimed precisely.

The use of drones is shrouded in secrecy, and Israeli defense officials refuse to comment publicly on whether they are being used in airstrikes in Gaza. However, Israeli officers in private conversations have confirmed use of the weapons.

A militant from the southern Gaza Strip who belongs to the Islamic Jihad group said drones were mostly used to target individuals, and not structures. He said they often hovered at much higher altitudes than manned aircraft and their missiles were frequently more destructive, leaving deep gashes where they landed.

The militant said the drones usually targeted slow-moving targets, like people walking, or cars slowing down to avoid potholes in a road.

Damian Kemp, an aviation desk editor at Jane’s Defence Weekly, said Israel is probably the first country in the world to use unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, for both surveillance and to fire missiles. Israel is a world leader in the field and “capable of doing everything from the very small to the very large,” he said.