Israeli fortifications in the West Bank are becoming a bit more faceless, as the military has reportedly deployed robotic turrets capable of firing stun grenades, less-than-lethal bullets, and tear gas at Palestinians protesting their presence.
The remote-controlled auto guns were recently spotted at the Al-Aroub refugee camp in the southern West Bank, and in the city of Hebron, where locals speaking to the Associated Press told tales of weapons that fire without warning and frequently coat hillsides in tear gas.
“We don’t open the window, we don’t open the door. We know not to open anything,” shopkeeper and Alp-Aroub resident Hussein al-Muzyeen told the AP.
The news service reported that residents expressed fear that the weapons could be hacked, but it isn’t immediately clear if the weapons have connectivity that would make that possible. Palestinian activist Issa Amro, who articulated those fears, said the deployment of the systems should stop immediately. “We are not a training and simulation for Israeli companies,” Amro said.
The deployment of such weapons will undoubtedly fuel controversy in the West Bank, where clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli military and settlers recently reached a five-year high.
According to the United Nations, Israeli settlers injured at least 170 Palestinians last year and killed five, while Palestinians injured 110 settlers and killed two. According to the AP, 130 Palestinians have been killed this year, while ten Israelis have died in recent attacks.
The violence has continued to escalate, leading to the US State Department issuing a statement earlier this week condemning the attacks and urging both sides to take action to defuse the situation.
Are remote turrets really the best de-escalation method?
Israeli company Smart Shooter, which manufactures a number of products that add assisted aiming and target tracking to infantry weapons, is behind the turrets and their technology. Smart Shooter has confirmed to The Register that the weapons deployed in the West Bank are its Smash Hopper systems.
Smart Shooter describes the Smash Hopper as “perfectly suited for complex urban areas, borders, and sensitive infrastructure and situations where a low signature is required,” and said the system uses Smart Shooter’s SMASH Fire Control locking and tracking technology to identify a target and maintain a fix even if it (or the gun) is moving.
“The significant improvement in target hit probability enables the user to avoid hitting innocent bystanders, uninvolved ones, and anyone who doesn’t pose a danger. It also enables the operator to use only minimal and controlled firepower, with maximum precision,” A Smart Shooter spokesperson told us.
We asked Smart Shooter about the turret’s connectivity, and whether any network or wireless protocols pose a cyber security risk, but didn’t get a response. Questions about whether the turret could be operated independently of algorithmic guidance in a “free fire” mode were also posed to the company without response.
In an Israeli news report demonstrating the Smash Hopper, the system is shown as being controlled from the passenger seat of a pickup truck. The demonstrator shows the gun locking onto different targets, aiming and firing with the push of a button. Smart Shooter said its weapons aren’t fully autonomous and require a human controller. The turrets are also not capable of firing lethal rounds.
The Israeli military has described the weapons as a way to reduce both Israeli and Palestinian deaths. That may be true, but let’s be frank about where those weapons are pointed: At a refugee camp, and at a checkpoint that’s frequently the site of anti-Israeli protests.
“The system was placed in the center of a heavily populated area, with hundreds of people passing by. Any failure of this technology could impact many people. I see this as part of a transition from human to technological control,” Amro said. ®