Israel says planning ‘massive’ drone acquisition to counter Iran threat

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Israel is to buy and develop drones on a “massive” scale to increase its military edge over its enemies - Iran and its allies - the army said Thursday.

“This plan will improve the lethality of the Israeli armed forces, in terms of precision and reduction of the duration of military campaigns,” army chief Aviv Avikom said in a statement, unveiling the military’s 2020-2024 work plan.

Entitled “Momentum” the program has been approved by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will next go to Israel’s security cabinet for approval.

An outline of the plan shows that the defense establishment continues to see the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, Palestinian militant group Hamas and Iran’s al-Quds forces as its most pressing threats.

“We have before us organizations which have the capacity and structure of an army” and are preparing for a “massive and unprecedented barrage of rockets and missiles against the civilian population of Israel and its infrastructure,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an army spokesman.

Speaking in a teleconference he added that such attacks could come from “two or three fronts” simultaneously.

Israel is currently relying on its Iron Dome missile shield to intercept short-range rockets fired mainly from the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian enclave controlled by Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

For medium-range threats it has a missile defense system named David’s Sling and for high-altitude, long-range attacks it has the Arrow.

Last month it said it was developing a new laser-based defense system capable of neutralizing all types of threats.

A 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war was the “first in history” in which the number of operational hours flown by unmanned aerial vehicles was greater than that of piloted aircraft, according to a study by Tel Aviv University.

At that time the drones were mainly Israeli but Israel has steadily seen its foes acquire drones of their own, narrowing the technological gap between the sides.

“We want to create a greater gap between our capabilities and those of our enemies,” said Conricus, speaking both in terms of anti-drone defense systems, but also the development of drones capable of precision offensive strikes in “urban environments.”

“We are going to acquire a quite massive amount (of drones) - acquire and develop and adjust and refurbish... in order to have the ability to deliver... very precise fire power against an enemy that is entrenched or embedded in urban terrain,” he added.

The army did not reveal the projected cost of Momentum.

Israel is already one of the leading producers of drones in the world, along with the United States and China.

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