Sky drones claims not true, say defence chiefs

January 20, 2011
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An American UAV in Afghanistan, similar to those used by the British and Israeli troops

An American UAV in Afghanistan, similar to those used by the British and Israeli troops

Both the Ministry of Defence and the Israeli Embassy in London have hit back at claims that British troops were trained by the IDF to fly unmanned aerial drones.

The allegations were made by Sky News defence correspondent Niall Paterson last week and picked up by organisations including the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, War on Want and Amnesty International.

It was claimed that the British government had been criticised for purchasing technology "field-tested on Palestinians".

Sky also speculated over the possibility that IDF officers who took part in Operation Cast Lead may have subsequently trained British troops.

The Ministry of Defence dismissed the claims, saying Britain had "no involvement in the tasking and operational use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in Israel".

In a statement, the MoD added: "Small numbers of British forces travel to Israel for contractor-provided pre-deployment training. Their presence in Israel is for training purposes only."

Britain has a £1 billion contract with Israeli firm Elbit to buy 30 Watchtower WK450 UAVs. The surveillance system can be used in all weather conditions, around the clock, and is similar to UAVs already used by British troops in Afghanistan.

During Operation Cast Lead two years ago, the IDF used unmanned drones over Gaza for targeting operations.

Tim Hancock, Amnesty International UK's campaigns director, said: "There is already growing international concern over the use of drones in remote unlawful killings, sometimes amounting to extrajudicial executions.

"It would seem wholly inappropriate for UK forces to be trained in the use of drones by a country with a track record of applying this technology in grave abuses of people's human rights."

But a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy said: "We note Amnesty's 'growing concern', and wish such concern was replicated when it comes to Israeli citizens under fire."

    Last updated: 2:12pm, January 20 2011