Among the worst of Israeli journalism there’s a sort of gung-ho, testosterone-infused reporting style about military and security stories that makes my blood curdle. It’s super-credulous about virtually anything and everything offered by security sources. Examples of this sort of journalism can be found in the reporting of Eli Lake, Ami Issacharoff, and now Amir Mizroch. He’s the editor of Yisrael HaYom’s (Bibiton) English edition, who does some freelancing for Wired.
He’s pumped out a piece of breathless boilerplate boosterism about an IDF exercise to envision the air force of the future, IAF 2030. It includes nano-drones the size of butterflies,robot-piloted helicopters, flight simulation and training using a helmet in your office–the sky’s the limit. Most of this is blue-sky hasbara: the joys of drone warfare and all the rest. The primary theme is how to create the air force of the future to better protect our boys in uniform from taking unnecessary risks, but still being able to get the bad guys.
However, the following passage really caught my attention. It deals with the IAF’s supposed mission to decrease harm it causes to civilians. Laudable stuff, right? Maybe not:
[Maj. Nimrod] Segev did open about one of the more controversial ideas that came up…the notion of “mathematical formulas that solve even the difficult ethical dilemmas in place of human pilots.” The air force has been developing technologies for quite some time now that can divert missiles in midair if all of a sudden a civilian pops up near the target, but often this kind of thing happens too quickly even for the most skilled operators. It’s part of an uneven, decade-long IAF effort to try to bring down collateral damage — a necessity, since the air force fights asymmetric enemies in densely populated areas. But this is something the IAF is keen to develop even more.
The concept of a computer taking over almost all the functions of this kind of thing is very tricky, though; you can’t very well say at a war crimes tribunal that you’re not responsible for unintended deaths, or tell the judge it was all the algorithm’s fault.
Now I’ve heard everything. As it is, Israel causes a massive amount of harm to civilians through its attacks. Now they plan to “assist” pilots to make “more humane” decisions by allowing ethical algorithms to determine when and whether to fire on targets. This sounds like a sure-fire recipe not for superior ethical decisions, but for an even greater toll in human suffering. The notion that a major portion, or any portion of the IDF’s mission engages with issues of ethics or the value of human life (of the enemy, that is) is patently false and an element of Israel’s ongoing hasbara war for hearts and minds of the international community.
Of course, everything is in the execution. If a computer can sense after a rocket is fired that a civilian has come into the impact zone and abort the missile’s mission, then that would serve a humane purpose. But how and why would we presume, given the IDF’s poor record of protecting civilians, that a computer coded by those who are so willing to risk the lives of civilians, would indeed offer more protection to them than is now afforded?
Mizroch’s article also offers up the Tom Terrific notion that the IAF is going to recruit teenagers to write code for it. The idea seems to be to take kids who would otherwise turn into hacker/slacker types and turn them into heroes of the nation. Instead of breaking into e-commerce sites, they’ll develop code for the next big thing in electronic warfare:
Another off-the-wall idea: farming out complex coding and other technical tasks to a network of six technical high schools run by the IAF across the country. These technical schools already exist. But by 2030 — when today’s infants will be enrolled — these teenagers could be at the core of a revamped Israel Air Force.
I did a double-take when I heard that the IAF has its own farm team in the form of high schools (here’s another promotional website, both in Hebrew) where it can get kids at an early age and turn them into stick jockeys. If the U.S. armed forces tried anything like this there would be an uproar. But not, apparently in Israel. The idea of the technical high school is nothing unusual. But the idea of beginning to train children at the age of 13 , 14, or 15 how to become the best air warriors Israeli shekels can buy seems troubling at best. There are twelve such schools in Jerusalem, the Golan, Nahariya, Haifa, Eilat, the Carmel and other locations.
The IAF website makes clear that it has created special programs to recruit Druze students, who serve with distinction in other branches of the service. Presumably their knowledge of Arabic would make them especially valuable in the war against Israel’s Arab “enemies.” One has to wonder though, what will Israeli society offer these same Druze when their military service is done. Will it offer them the same opportunities available to Jewish personnel once they leave the service? Or will it send them back to the same impoverished communities offering little in the way of opportunity or upward mobility? It’s particularly cruel that the IDF exploits its Arab minorities on behalf of the nation’s security, but when it’s done with them it offers little or nothing in return.
Danger Room, which published Mizroch’s article, also features some decent reporters like Spencer Ackerman and Noah Shachtman, who just broke the story of the Navy War College instructor who taught a course advocating all-out war against Islam. But why would Wired bother publishing self-promoting hasbara like this? Not to mention this bit of piffle Mizroch published in Wired touting the IAF latest rocketeer-ace who owns the record for most downed Palestinian rockets: eight. His claim to fame? He learned everything he knew from playing Warcraft. Some serious bit of hasbara flackery!