Sat, Nov 01, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Israel develops giant remote-controlled bulldozer

AP , JERUSALEM

The giant Caterpillar bulldozer, used by the Israeli military to destroy Palestinian homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, now comes with a controversial new feature: remote control.

Israel says its remote-control technology will lower risks to soldiers. But Palestinians fear it will lead to more frequent raids using the machines and make the three-year conflict even bloodier.

The remote-controlled D-9 bulldozer and a remote-control version of the Humvee, equipped with machine guns, were developed by the Israeli army and the Technion Institute of Technology. Both machines are US-made, with Israeli modifications. They are expected to go into service in the next few weeks.

The army refused to comment or reveal further details about the new equipment.

Israel has been a pioneer in unmanned weapons systems for nearly three decades, developing one of the first remote-controlled planes and more recently creating machine guns and grenade launchers that can be fired from afar. The weapons are equipped with cameras, so their operators can see what they are doing.

Describing a day of field trials, a Technion statement quoted an Israeli army officer as asserting the thousands of dollars invested in each machine would save lives.

"Today the bulldozer drivers are exposed to great danger when they knock down buildings that have militants hiding in them," the statement quoted the officer as saying.

But Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat warned the unmanned machines would lead to even more Palestinian deaths.

"The whole idea is despicable," he said. "If an unmanned bulldozer is used, human life is in much greater danger," Erekat said.

The Israeli military regularly demolishes suicide bombers' homes and other buildings militants are suspected of using for cover to attack Israelis.

For Palestinians, the name D-9 has become synonymous with destruction.

The gray, heavily armored machines, which stand as tall as a small house, already have turned hundreds of buildings into dusty rubble heaps and ancient olive groves into wastelands with their powerful shovel blades. Israeli commentator Nahum Barnea has called them "the terrifying beast of this war."

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