MoD crit­i­cised over test flights in Galilee

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - By An­shel Pf­ef­fer

the UK Min­istry of De­fence has stirred lo­cal op­po­si­tion by de­mand­ing that tri­als of a £317 mil­lion air­craft fleet it is buy­ing from Is­rael should take place over Galilee.

the Army’s new un­manned aerial ve­hi­cle sys­tem, which it is buy­ing from an Is­raeli firm, must now be moved from an air­field on the Golan heights.

el­bit Sys­tems’ her­mes 450 UAV, al­ready in ser­vice with Is­rael’s IDF and the US home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment, is to be the cor­ner­stone of the Bri­tish Army’s £700 mil­lion Watch­keeper pro­gramme.

In 2005, Bri­tain signed an or­der to build up to 99 UAVs over eight years, with ini­tial de­vel­op­ment of the Bri­tish ver­sion to take place in Is­rael.

the first flight of the new Watch­keeper 450 took place in April from Megiddo air­field in the Galilee and most of the ini­tial flight-test­ing has been car­ried out at Pik Air­field on the Golan heights.

the next stage of tri­als in Is­rael will test the Watch­keeper’s pay­load be­fore flight tests move to Parc Aber­porth in Wales in early 2009. this is the largest de­fence con­tract ever won by an Is­raeli com­pany from the UK.

But over the past few weeks, the MoD has de­cided that it can­not be a part­ner in tri­als tak­ing place in an area that Is­rael cap­tured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

It de­manded that el­bit move them and the tri­als will now take place at the Rosh Pina air­field in the Galilee, de­spite op­po­si­tion by the lo­cal coun­cil and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups over noise and safety con­cerns.

Last month, the shadow se­cu­rity min­is­ter Baroness Neville-Jones vis­ited the air­field on the Golan, as part of a visit or­gan­ised by the Con­ser­va­tive Friends of Is­rael.

CFI chair­man Richard har­ring­ton, who was also on the visit, said: “We were very im­pressed by what seemed to us an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of co-op­er­a­tion be­tween the Is­raeli de­fence es­tab­lish­ment and her Majesty’s armed forces. ev­ery­thing seemed to be work­ing well and there was no in­di­ca­tion that any­one was plan­ning a change of venue.”

the Is­raeli For­eign Min­istry de­clined to com­ment.

A spokesman for the Min­istry of De­fence said: “It is the long-held po­si­tion of the UK gov­ern­ment that the Golan heights are oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory.

“In this con­text, the Min­istry of De­fence would con­sider it in­ap­pro­pri­ate to use the fa­cil­i­ties on the Golan heights as part of the Watch­keeper pro­gramme.”

Un­manned: One of the orig­i­nal Is­raeli Her­mes UAVs in flight

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