Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) will host trial sessions for Israeli arms technology used to kill Palestinians and maintain apartheid and occupation during a three-week “sandbox” event in Alberta next month.

From May 27 to June 21, DND is giving a select group of military suppliers the chance to test products that are designed to counter aerial drones, with direct assistance from Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) staff and experts. Among those selected is a company called “Twenty20 Insight Inc.,” which is testing the “Smash Hopper counter-drone weapon station.”

The “Smash Hopper” is a remote control weapon system developed and manufactured by Israeli arms company “Smart Shooter,” whose technology is deployed by the Israeli military in fortifications that are used to suppress Palestinian dissent in the occupied West Bank, as well as in military hardware currently being used in Israel’s assault on Gaza.

As reported by AP News in November 2022, Smart Shooter developed remote control turrets deployed by Israel that fire tear gas, stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets at Palestinian protesters in the occupied West Bank.

Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, told AP: “This system will only [...] further grave Israeli human rights abuse and further the Israeli army’s abuses and the Israeli government’s crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians.”

Multiple international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have accused Israel of maintaining a constitutionally entrenched system of apartheid over Palestinians. These findings echoed what Palestinians have long said about the reality of their lives under Israeli occupation.

That system is partly maintained through what Palestinians have described as an omnipresent and psychologically exhausting apparatus of high-tech Israeli surveillance.

Mount Royal University sociologist Muhannad Ayyash, a Palestinian originally from Jerusalem, told The Maple that the kind of technology developed by Smart Shooter and other companies is used to control Palestinian lives “24 hours a day, seven days a week, from birth to death.”

“This is not an exaggeration or hyperbole,” he said. “Countless numbers of Palestinians have never known freedom. They were born under Israeli occupation, and many of them have already died, often at the hands of the Israeli forces, without knowing life outside of this constant, continuous surveillance and control over every little aspect of their lives.”

“Any country that is either selling Israel weapons, or importing weapons from Israel, is complicit in this continuous, constant and total surveillance and control over Palestinian life.”

The occupied West Bank is currently witnessing an upsurge in attacks by Israeli settlers with support from Israeli troops against Palestinian civilians, with at least 466 Palestinians killed since last October when Israel began its attack on Gaza.

Arms Tech Used In Gaza

Last December, Smart Shooter CEO Michal Mor, a former employee of Israeli missile maker RAFAEL, boasted that her company’s goods, which include high-tech rifle optics as well as remote control turrets, were being used by the Israeli military in Gaza in both face-to-face combat and to take out drones. 

Israel’s attack on Gaza to date has killed at least 34,000 Palestinians, inflicted a humanitarian catastrophe on the besieged enclave and is currently being examined as a “plausible” case of genocide by the International Court of Justice.

In an interview with Israeli media outlet Ynet News last December, Mor said of her company’s products: “The goal is to allow soldiers, certainly reservists who do not train regularly, to hit the target precisely at the first shot.”

The outlet explained that every Israeli military unit has at least one soldier equipped with Smash rifle optics, with thousands of troops reportedly using them in the ongoing attack on Gaza.

The company’s technology is explicitly marketed for its lethality, with Smart Shooter’s product brochure describing the Smash Hopper as providing operators with “increased lethality by presenting the best accuracy level in its weight class.”

Screenshot of Smart Shooter brochure.

Besides countering drones, the Smash Hopper is also designed to attack “dismounted hostiles and moving vehicles.”

The Israeli military, meanwhile, issued a statement claiming that Smart Shooter’s rifle optics technology quadruples its soldiers’ chances of hitting their targets in Gaza.

According to IsraelDefense, Smash rifle sights were used in Gaza by an Israeli commando brigade to raid a house and underground shafts “near a school.”

In the first months of Israel’s assault, Smart Shooter’s LinkedIn page shared photos of Israeli soldiers using Smash-equipped rifle scopes, with a caption reading: “SMASH 3000 is utilized by the [Israeli military] Special Forces of Sayeret Maglan during Close Quarter Combat (CQC) operation scenarios.”

In a more recent post, the company said: “One of the most useful new items being demonstrated on the battlefield is the Smash sight targeting and firing system for small arms developed by Smart Shooter.”

Smart Shooter’s marketing of its products as battle-tested on Palestinians during the latest war is a typical practice among Israeli arms companies.

The December Ynet interview described the war on Gaza as “good” for Smart Shooter, with Mor telling the outlet: “This is the finest hour of the defense industries that provide solutions so that we can live here [...] Our goal is to increase the safety of the soldiers and reduce injury to innocent bystanders.”

Ayyash said the Israeli arms sector’s claimed focus on reducing harm to civilians and taking out terrorists is nothing more than “propaganda.” He noted comments made by Israeli state officials, including President Isaac Herzog, that elided distinctions between Palestinian civilians and alleged combatants.

“The dehumanization of Palestinians has been going on for decades,” Ayyash explained. “It is done partly through this discourse of terror, where there’s this idea that Palestinians are always guilty of being terrorists, until proven otherwise, as opposed to it being the other way around.”

“The whole label of terrorism is a purely political concept. It does not actually describe the reality on the ground. It’s a concept that can be used by the Israeli state in such a way where it’s so malleable, they can call anybody who they kill a terrorist.”

Ayyash noted that this frequently happens after such killings of unarmed civilians occur as a way of concealing Israel’s responsibility. According to Gaza’s health ministry, at least two-thirds of those killed by Israel since last October were women and children, despite Israel branding the operation as being intended to “eliminate Hamas.”

In addition to being used by the Israeli military, Smart Shooter’s technology has also been purchased by the United States, India, the Netherlands and Germany.

Besides rifle optics and remote control turrets, Smart Shooter also reportedly makes technology for the “David” armoured vehicle, from which an Israeli soldier deliberately shot and killed Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May 2022. 

The U.S. supplied new David vehicles to Israel in the early stages of its latest Gaza campaign.

Testing In Canada

DND’s “sandbox” event is to be held in Suffield in southern Alberta, as part of the ministry’s “Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security” program, which is aimed at nurturing what it calls a “defence innovation ecosystem.”

The program offers military contractors the chance to “help solve a challenge faced by the Canadian Armed Forces and get funding to advance your research,” and “get feedback on your technology from military experts and build your network.”

The Suffield event promises participants “on-site one-on-one continual interaction with Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), United States (US) Government - Irregular Warfare Technical Support Directorate (IWTSD), Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) end-users, and science experts.”

Cash prizes of up to $1 million and other funding opportunities are available for select participants, according to the event’s website.

The company “Twenty20 Insight Inc” appears to be a Canadian intermediary for various military suppliers. The company’s website states that it was founded in 1998 to provide “top-quality products to the defence and security market ever since.”

Twenty20 Insight Inc did not respond to questions from The Maple about the company’s relationship with Smart Shooter and human rights concerns about the Israeli company’s products.

In an emailed statement, DND told The Maple it is “deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” and repeated the government’s call for a ceasefire.

The ministry said the “sandbox” event is being held “in response to an urgent need to keep pace with the rapid advances in drone technology and tactics,” and stressed that the event is “focused on detecting and defeating drones in a defensive context.”

“Canada must make sure that counter drone capabilities are well-understood, and that we are equipped to deal with rapidly evolving technologies to protect Canadians and our Allies,” the statement added.

Another Israeli-based company participating in the sandbox event is Sentrycs, which offers a “autonomous and integrated counter-drone solution providing detection, tracking, identification, and mitigation.”

A Bloomberg report published in December stated that Hamas’ makeshift attack drones were outsmarting Israel’s high-tech defense systems. Israel reportedly had a Sentrycs anti-drone system at the border with Gaza on October 7, but it was not yet operational at the time when Hamas initiated its attack.

According to the Israeli publication +972 Magazine, the October 7 attack initially prompted a reckoning in Israel’s military establishment about its reported over-reliance on high-tech military systems.

“Yet it appears that this reckoning has quickly run its course: no lasting changes to Israel’s military-industrial complex seem to be in store,” according to +972.

“The Israeli army is once again marketing itself as a high-tech superpower, talking up the automated weaponry and supercomputing surveillance tech being ‘battle-tested’ in its war on Gaza.”

Alex Cosh is the news editor of The Maple.