The Israeli armed forces have installed a remote-controlled gun turret for crowd dispersal in the Palestinian city of Hebron, Westbank, reported Israeli media outlet Haaretz.
The system is installed on Shuhada Street, over a checkpoint in an area that has been a hotspot for protest and clashes between Palestinians and Israel’s military.
According to Haaretz, the system is in its pilot stage. The Israeli Army is testing the possibility of using it to employ approved methods of crowd dispersal, which does not include firing live bullets.
“As part of the Army’s improved preparations for confronting people disrupting order in the area, it examines the possibility of using remotely-controlled systems to employ approved crowd dispersal measures. This does not include remote control of live gunfire,” a spokesman for the Israeli Army told Haaretz.
The Israeli Army has also clarified that during its pilot stage, the system will only use sponge-tipped bullets. However, there have been several instances where sponge-tipped bullets have caused permanent injuries to people in the West Bank and Israel, with some even losing their eyes.
Issa Amro, a Palestinian human rights activist from Hebron, expressed concern that the failure of the new system could impact many people, noting that the system was placed in the center of a heavily populated area, with hundreds of people passing by.
“I see this as a transition from human to technological control. We as Palestinians have become an object of experimenting and training for Israel’s military hi-tech industry, which is not accountable for anything it does,” Amro told Haaretz.
Hebron, split into areas under the control of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, is home to a population of over 210,000 Palestinians and several hundred Israeli settlers living in enclaves, mainly close to its old city area.
‘SMASH’ Fire Control System
The remote-controlled gun turret was created by Israeli defense firm ‘Smart Shooter,’ a company that has developed an autonomous Fire Control System called ‘SMASH’ that can be attached to assault rifles to follow and lock in on targets using image processing based on artificial intelligence.
Its website marketing calls this ‘One Shot—One Hit’ and boasts that the company “combines simple to install hardware with advanced image-processing software to turn basic small arms into 21st-century smart weapons.”
The company says that the SMASH technology overcomes challenges faced by soldiers at battles, such as physical exertion, fatigue, stress, and mental pressure to aim accurately and ensure the shooter’s success.
“Our goal is to enable all infantry corps to benefit from precision weapons. Whatever the soldier’s experience or mission, our system allows him not to make mistakes when he fires and to “hit the target without fail. Any soldier becomes a real sniper,” Michal Mor, founder and CEO of Smart Shooter, told i24 news in 2020.
While the turret seen in Hebron is not advertised on Smart Shooter’s website, there are two other automated turrets, ‘SMASH HOPPER’ and ‘SMASH HOPPER P,’ shown outfitted with assault rifles and the Smart Shooter system.
“The HOPPER can be mounted in several configurations, including a tripod, fixed mast, surface vessel, and vehicles,” says the company website.
A drone is listed on the company’s website as a “SMASH Dragon.” Overall, the SMASH technology is said to enhance mission effectiveness by engaging accurately and eliminating ground, aerial, static, or moving targets during both day and night operations.
Israeli Military’s Reliance On Automated Systems
Over the years, Israel has been increasingly adopting automated systems for military purposes, some of which are controversial.
Last year, the Washington Post revealed that Israel had deployed an elaborate system of cameras in the West Bank to monitor and surveil Palestinians. These cameras are linked to a database called ‘Blue Wolf.’
The database comprises details and photos of Palestinians, including identity numbers, age, sex, address, license plate numbers, ties to other individuals, work status in Israel, and negative impressions soldiers have of a Palestinian’s conduct when encountering them.
Hebron was one of the first cities to utilize the system. In 2018, the Israeli military began using a drone capable of launching tear gas to disperse the demonstrators in the Gaza Strip. In 2021, even the Israeli police began employing such drones against demonstrators in Israel. In addition, a system that allows the firing of live ammunition from a distance has also been installed in Gaza