Meet Ayoub: The Muslim drone

Israel has entered the airspace beyond the Lebanon border with impunity, yet is in uproar over the existence of Ayoub.

Israel has promised disproportional force and mass destruction if antagonised by Hezbollah [AFP]
Israel has promised disproportional force and mass destruction if antagonised by Hezbollah [AFP]

Beirut, Lebanon – Driving in south Lebanon last week, I stopped at the former United Nations compound in the village of Qana where 106 people perished under Israeli military attack in April of 1996.

An area resident offered me a small photograph album to peruse, containing relevant scenes from the massacre. First came pre-attack images of civilian families that had sought refuge in the compound from Israeli shelling; next came images of buildings on fire, followed by charred corpses and headless babies.

As The Independent‘s Robert Fisk revealed at the time, the operation was facilitated by an Israeli surveillance drone, captured in video footage recorded by a UN soldier. The presence of the drone naturally nullified Israel’s argument that the massacre had been a mistake. 

Introducing Ayoub

There has now been cross-border drone movement in the opposite direction, with Lebanon’s Hezbollah confirming responsibility for the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) shot down earlier this month over Israel’s Negev desert. According to Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, the drone was an Iranian model assembled in Lebanon and was called Ayoub after one of the organisation’s martyrs.

Of course, Ayoub’s flight resulted in nothing as nefarious as headless babies. Israeli officials speculated that the drone may have been dispatched to photograph the Dimona nuclear research centre, the euphemism for Israel’s illicit nuclear arsenal. It also enabled Nasrallah to deliver one of his signature lengthy speeches about the capabilities of Hezbollah and the vulnerabilities of the enemy, and provided fodder for those in Israel preparing for the next war with Lebanon.

 Qana remembers last summer’s massacre (2007)

As the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported in August of this year, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has warned Lebanon that any provocation by Hezbollah against the Jewish state will now merit retaliation against the nation as a whole. Given Israel’s horrific track record with regard to distinguishing between civilians and combatants – and its habit of directly targeting civilian infrastructure – we might be forgiven for failing to discern how Netanyahu’s warning constitutes an updated policy rather than a reiteration of business as usual.

Building on past wars

Casualties of Israel’s strategy in the last war with Lebanon in 2006 included major bridges and power plants, children obeying Israeli orders to evacuate their southern villages, and yet more residents of Qana – the victims of the second murderous “mistake” to have occurred in the town in just over a decade.

Various massacres of civilians in residential buildings also took place in the southern suburbs of Beirut – the Hezbollah stronghold known as Dahiya, vast swathes of which were flattened by Israel during the war – and established a useful precedent for future Israeli-Lebanese conflagrations. As Amos Harel noted in Ha’aretz this past summer:     

“For four years now, Israel is threatening to torch Lebanon should Hezbollah create a cross-border provocation. In October 2008, the Northern Command chief at the time, Gadi Eizenkot, presented what he called the ‘Dahiya doctrine’.

In the next confrontation, Eizenkot said at the time, Israel will expand the destruction capability it showed when it bombed Dahiya…

‘In every village from which shots were fired toward Israel, we will impose disproportional force and cause great damage and destruction. As far as we’re concerned, these are military bases,’ Eizenkot said in 2008″.

A provocation?

Considering Israel’s recent history in Lebanon, The Jerusalem Post‘s post-Ayoub editorial concerning the dangers posed by the “various… flying objects that have infiltrated our skies” functions as little more than an exercise in tragicomedy. Titled “The UAV lesson“, the editorial declares Ayoub’s trajectory “a major provocation and a blatant violation of Israel’s sovereignty, even if the drone’s mission was only to gather intelligence and/or test Israel’s defences. Espionage is a form of aggression too”.

Whether or not Nasrallah’s allegation that Israel has entered Lebanese airspace 20,468 times since August 2006 is precisely correct, there is no question whatsoever about which party takes the cake for blatant violations of sovereignty. A notorious fan of espionage itself, Israel repeatedly breaks the sound barrier over Lebanon with its jets – an activity that would seem to qualify not only as sovereignty violation but also as a form of aggression aimed at terrorising the population.

As for more direct forms of terrorism, Israel’s “flying objects” have killed, maimed, and dispossessed on a scale that no armed group in Lebanon has come close to replicating in Israel. In 2006, the UN General Assembly’s Human Rights Council documented Israel’s use of drones in Lebanon for purposes other than espionage, such as military bombardments of hospitals and farming communities.

Though The Jerusalem Post has proclaimed Ayoub’s voyage evidence of Israel’s “increasingly brazen and confrontational enemies”, rational observers might see it instead as part of an effort to deter a brazen and confrontational neighbour presiding over a cycle of murderous violence in Lebanon. Given the preponderance of the Israeli state lexicon, however, according to which self-defence against Israel is provocative terrorism and Israeli military slaughter is self-defence, the cycle is far from over.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the  London Review of Books blog, AlterNet and many other publications.

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