israel puts bulldozers on remote

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    Israel puts bulldozers on remote
    By AFP correspondents in Jerusalem
    November 01, 2003
    The giant Caterpillar bulldozers used by the Israeli military to destroy Palestinian homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip now come with a controversial new feature: remote controls.

    Israel says its remote-control technology will reduce the risks to its soldiers, but Palestinians fear this will lead to more frequent raids on their homes using the machines, making the three-year conflict even bloodier.

    The remote-controlled D-9 bulldozers, and a remote-control version of the Humvee military vehicle equipped with machineguns, were developed by the Israeli military and the Technion Institute of Technology. Both are US-made, with Israeli modifications, and they are expected to be brought into use soon.

    Israel has been a pioneer in unmanned weapons systems for nearly three decades, developing one of the first remote-controlled planes and more recently creating machineguns and grenade-launchers that can be fired from a distance. The weapons are equipped with cameras, so their operators can take aim at their targets.

    The Israeli military was reported this week to be trialling a US-designed rifle that can shoot around corners, also using video technology.

    Describing a day of field trials, a Technion statement said an Israeli army officer had claimed the thousands of dollars invested in each remote-controlled bulldozer would save lives.

    "Today the bulldozer drivers are exposed to great danger when they knock down buildings that have militants hiding in them," the Israeli officer said.

    But Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat warned the remote-control machines would lead to more Palestinian deaths.

    "The whole idea is despicable," he said. "If an unmanned bulldozer is used, human life is placed in much greater danger."

    The Israeli military regularly demolishes Palestinian homes and other buildings belonging to the families of suicide bombers or suspected of being used by militants to attack Israelis.

    For Palestinians, the D-9 bulldozers are synonymous with destruction. The heavily armoured machines, which stand as high as a house, have turned hundreds of homes into rubble and ancient olive groves into wastelands, using their powerful shovel blades. Israeli commentator Nahum Barnea has called them "the terrifying beast of this war".

    Ramadan Nawaf, 52, watched his house and groves of olives and oranges flattened by a D-9 four months ago, during a large-scale army raid on the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. "It was moving like a monster," said Mr Nawaf. "It was huge and destroyed everything in front of it."

    No D-9 driver has been killed in the three years of Israeli-Palestinian violence, despite operating in the densely populated Palestinian cities as they bulldoze the houses. But Israel is concerned the drivers could fall victim to roadside bombs, which have destroyed three Israeli tanks.

    The Israelis also use remote-controlled machineguns and grenade-launchers. The guns are used from military outposts and placed on top of armoured personnel carriers, so the troops inside, or in a control room, can aim and fire them with joysticks.

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