Special report: Israel unprepared for terror, domestic drone threats

The IDF “has not developed a complete response” and “needs to immediately carry out more preparatory work” to address the issue.

Fully-automated drone has Israeli firm reaching for the sky (credit: REUTERS)
The country is extremely unprepared to address the multiple threats presented by drones, either from cross-border terrorism or from unregulated and dangerous domestic use, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira reported on Wednesday.
Regarding cross-border terrorism- style drone threats, Shapira said that the IDF “has not developed a complete response” and “needs to immediately carry out more preparatory work” to address the issue.
Shapira also wrote that “gaps exist in regulating drone use” domestically and that his report is highlighting those gaps “in order to improve the response to the threat and to reduce the danger” posed by that threat.
According to estimates of the Civil Aviation Authority, by the end of 2017 there will be a staggering 20,000 drones being operated domestically for a variety of business and recreational uses. That number is expected to grow to many tens of thousands in only a few years. Around one million drones are currently bought globally per year.
Drone use has expanded at a stunning rate as drones have become cheaper, easier to use and more local stores have started to sell them.
The comptroller jumped on this issue quickly, having noted that the state often lags behind in addressing developing threats stimulated by new technologies and concepts – such as its slow response to the Hamas tunnel threat.
An Israeli Air Force 2017 intelligence estimate said that the drone threat is part of a technological area moving forward at an extremely fast pace and “is expected to become an integral part of the battlefield during peacetime and wartime.”
It added that the ease of access to drones and jumps in technology “are expected to transform it into a key part of the enemies’ building of its capabilities.”
The report covers the period of September 2016 to September 2017.
It noted that some of its sections have been kept secret by the Knesset State Control subcommittee on classified materials, but that there was more than sufficient unclassified material in the report to make it clear to the public what the overriding issues were.
It appeared that the IDF’s current and experimental responses to defending against drones were part of the censored draft because they were not found in the public draft – even as the IDF is being criticized as not being ready.
Since 2016, two Israeli defense industry businesses have developed anti-drone measures, mostly using jamming technologies to disrupt enemy drones’ abilities to continue receiving instructions from their operators.
In November 2016, Elbit Systems unveiled its ReDrone system for defending against some enemy drones.
Elbit has said that the new system is designed to identify, track and jam unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV s) that enter restricted and sensitive airspace.
In April 2016 and June 2017, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems announced its development of a Drone Dome system.
The system uses a directed-energy and hard-kill intercept capability to detect and neutralize UAV s used by terrorists to perform aerial attacks, collect intelligence, and other threatening activities.
But some of these systems have recognized limitations and others are still relatively untested.
Israel has also used fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles to defend itself.
On Saturday, an IDF patriot missile intercepted a drone that approached the Golan Heights border from Syria, believed to have been gathering intelligence for the Assad regime.
In other instances, drones have successfully penetrated Israeli territory from Gaza and Lebanon while the IDF’s patriot missiles missed. It is also unclear how well the above solutions would fair when dealing simultaneously with multiple rocket and drone attacks.
On a related issue, Shapira slammed the National Security Council, the IDF and the police for a failure to delineate responsibility for the drone threat between them, despite two-anda- half years of work on the issue.
He said: “The security cabinet must review this report and act without delay to fix the deficiencies noted in it.”
Though deputy chiefs of the IDF and the police, as well as multiple NS C chiefs, have all agreed that the drone issue is a major and escalating threat, none of them have succeeded in bridging the fight between the IDF and the police over who must face down the drone threat.
The report said that both the IDF and the police agree that the IDF is responsible for cross-border drone terror. But, whereas the IDF is adamant that the police are responsible for the domestic drone threat, especially drones that disrupt public order but are not aimed at violence, the police said they are not equipped and that the IDF must handle all drone-related issues.
From an economic perspective, the report said it was crucial for the IDF to engage the Shin Bet and the police as part of its preparations so that all agencies could advance their readiness and the state would not be funding parallel overlapping efforts.
On the domestic-threat side, the report said that current aviation laws stemming from a 2011 law do not comprehensively address the problem, leading to a 70% jump in dangerous accidents caused by drones, from 14 in 2015 to 24 in 2016.
The report shares two instances: one in January 2016 when an aircraft came within 50 meters of colliding with a drone near Herzliya and a second in May 2016 when a drone landed at an airport in Eilat causing the control tower to redirect air traffic.
Part of the gap in oversight stems from the fact that 98.6% of drones are not even required to be registered under existing laws, said the report.
Furthermore, the Civil Aviation Authority, which is part of the Transportation Ministry, is limited with regards to imposing fines on persons using drones on an unregulated basis or for causing accidents or danger.
According to the report, new legislation must be passed to allow the Civil Aviation Authority to impose wider registration and much larger fines to deter unregulated and irresponsible use of drones.
In addition, the report said that there are only two members of the authority assigned to oversight of drones and that even they are not full time.
The report noted that the authority responded to criticism of the small number of inspectors saying that even 100 inspectors could not possibly effectively oversee the massive number of drones in the country.
There is also no clear line of authority on who is responsible to rein in non-terrorist but criminal use of drones.
Shapira said that the Transportation Ministry must devise a more effective mechanism for oversight, though he did not offer alternate suggestions.
Responding to the report, the Prime Minister’s Office said, “The issue of drones is known and being handled by the State of Israel which is among the world’s pioneers in finding a solution to the problem.”
“On May 14, 2017, the prime minister held a meeting about the issue and on June 28, 2017 there was a cabinet discussion of the issue – those were in addition to professional-level meetings held by the NSC,” it continued.
The statement concluded that, “The prime minister has directed the NSC, along with the Defense Ministry and the Public Security Ministry, to advance national readiness... and has already connected with other nations who face the same problem.”
In its response, the IDF said it “praised the report, will carefully review its findings and will act to fix the deficiencies.”
It said that the challenge was “complex and constituted a technological challenge to many of the world’s armies to which the available solutions are not sufficient.”
The IDF commented that it has had to defend the country from drones in recent months, including some successful attempts. It mentioned two intergovernmental teams it was working with on building force capabilities and developing technologies tailored to the threat as well as on a conceptual approach to defending against the threat.
Moreover, the IDF said it would contribute significant resources to the effort.
The Public Security Ministry and the police pointed out that they had never dealt with any kind of aerial threat before.
Accepting that the trend appeared to give them some domestic responsibility for the drone issue, they said that they have worked in recent years to study what types of new personnel and resources they will need to handle it.
Further, they noted that the Civil Aviation Authority has not turned to them to deal with the issue of investigating the criminal use of drones and that responsibility for the issue is still up in the air.