Palestinian militant sources in Gaza claimed today that it “shot down” an Israeli Skylark drone (manufactured by Elbit) flying over Gaza. This is a small, slow-flying vehicle used by field artillery units for advance reconnaissance.
Israel claimed the UAV had not been shot down, but had a “mechanical malfunction” which felled it. This is the same excuse the IDF has used every one of the six times its drones have crashed over the past two years.
According to my highly-placed Israeli source, neither story is true. The Gaza militants didn’t shoot down the drone nor did it suffer a technical mishap. Instead, forces in Gaza took control of it by hacking the navigation system. This is the same method my source has claimed in the past has led to a rash of failures of Israeli drone vehicles in the northern sector. You’ll note that despite the fact that after past crashes flights were cancelled until the security breaches were fixed, that hasn’t stopped the hacks.
The source said:
“IDF always uses the same cover story – technical failure – but it doesn’t hold water anymore. So many technical failures in drones in such a short period of time?!”
If you examine the accompanying photo of the downed drone you will not see any damage to it. It cannot have been shot down, otherwise it would’ve suffered extensive damage. If, as Israel claims, the drone had a technical failure it likely would’ve crashed. Israel would certainly not have wanted it to land in Gaza and would’ve destroyed it if possible. The fact that the vehicle was captured apparently intact supports the idea that it was hacked and brought down safely by Palestinian militants.
My source believes (though he didn’t claim to have evidence to support this) that either Hamas or Islamic Jihad has secured the technical knowledge from either Iran or Hezbollah to sabotage Israel’s drone fleet. If that’s the case, then this has to be a further worrisome development. It means that Israel’s drones are vulnerable not just on the northern front (Lebanon, Syria) but in the south as well.
Considering that Hamas is in the deep freeze with both Iran and Hezbollah (which is allied to a Hamas enemy, Syria), it seems highly unlike either would share their hacking skills with that Palestinian group. But Islamic Jihad has cultivated good relations with Iran since the break with Hamas. Though I haven’t heard reports of IJ previously engaging in such a significant technical feat, it seems more likely for a group like IJ to have been the authors of this exploit. If true, it would indicate that Iran has developed extensive technical and intelligence contacts with that group which led to this “success.”
You’ve got to feel some sympathy for Elbit, one of Israel’s most important military contractors. Every time one of their drones is hacked the value of their drone sales worldwide plummets. Though never fear, there is much more Elbit military hardware left to sell the world’s dictators and most corrupt governments!
UPDATE: My source reminded me that Hamas’ military-intelligence partners likely shared their knowledge about hacking Israeli drones long before they had the falling out referred to above. This report (Hebrew) documents an earlier 2007 Hamas hack of an Israeli drone. So it’s entirely possible that the Islamist group was the author of this attack. Hamas’ media outlet says (Arabic) that it “took control” of the Israeli vehicle. It doesn’t say that it shot it down. This is further support for the hacking version of this story.