Hamas militants has successfully demolished the complex border security systems of Israel on 07 Oct 2023 and then attacked the neighboring towns killing hundreds of people and then took around 200 Israelis as hostages
Border surveillance and protection have become the sine qua non of territorial defence of a nation and have gained vital importance for governments worldwide. Many complex challenges like cross-border terrorism, unauthorized immigration, and drug and arms trafficking are plaguing government agencies now and they are looking for high-end technologies to tackle these issues and address inevitable gaps. This quest has led to the development of numerous new technologies and their deployment. However, recent events in Israel have brought out the disadvantages of over-dependence on high-tech border surveillance and protection technologies. This article aims to examine how current technologies, including biometric identification and artificial intelligence (AI), have revolutionized border surveillance and protection as well as the advantages and disadvantages of deploying the same.
Comprehensive Integrated Border Management Systems (CIBMS) have emerged as robust and integrated solutions, for addressing the perceivable gaps in the arduous task of managing border security. But in today’s complex environment, these systems essentially need to operate by seamlessly integrating human resources, remotely operated weapons, and high-tech surveillance equipment.
It would not be out of place to reiterate the importance of properly interfacing modern-day high-tech solutions with adequately trained personnel and ground operatives. Without such interfacing the high-tech systems may be ineffective in achieving the goal of foolproof border surveillance & protection, besides draining the exchequer of precious resources. The 07 Oct 2023 happening in Israel has starkly brought out this aspect. Accordingly, instead of a high-cost- high technological solution (which warrants extensive technical expertise), a combination of optimally trained manpower coupled with an affordable and tested technological solution could yield optimum results.
To present a brief but holistic picture, his article attempts to examine the historical perspective related to border management, high technology border security solutions available today, their advantages and disadvantages, explore the necessity of human interface with the security systems- taking the Israel incident as an example and finally touch upon the scenario in Bharat.
The concept of border control historically dates back to the 3rd century BCE. In Asea, evidence for existence of the border controls is available in classical texts of India. The ‘Arthashastra’ makes mention of passes issued at the rate of one ‘Masha’ per pass to enter and exit the country. In medieval Europe, the ‘borders’ consisted of the fortified walls that surrounded towns and cities, used by the authorities to prevent undesirable or incompatible people from entering the area. One of the modern-era examples refers to the border control policies adopted by Canada, Australia, and America, in the later part of the 19th century, for restricting entry of specific groups in their countries (Lockwood,1964 and Roger, 2003). We have come a long way since then.
Today the Border Control efforts aim towards restricting territorial access to hostile forces or keeping out perceived undesirables or clandestine transnational actors (CTAs), defined as nonstate actors who operate across national borders in violation of state laws and who attempt to evade law enforcement efforts, for varied motives like: –
- Drug trafficking or migrant smuggling
- Conducting politically or religiously inspired acts of violence (terrorists).
- Bringing other nation’s land/assets under their control
All the above aspects have changed the global outlook for border surveillance and security (Andreas, 2003).
High-Tech Border Security: Current Situation
It is evident that the modern-day border security issue is no more a stand-alone matter. Rather, it has become important to view border security through an ecological systems framework. This is essential for organizing varied and voluminous data/inputs into discernible patterns, making it easier to interpret the risks and act with appropriate measures.
Currently available systems help in analysing and deciphering complex data, at three distinct levels (Manjarres, 2022): –
- The operational level components help in recognizing the subtle nuances for making required operational changes. An earlier recognition of changes thus provides a forewarning to reallocate resources, with a view to mitigate the perceived risks.
- Border security operational components help in determining the right mix of personnel, technology, and infrastructure (barriers, access, lights, remotely operated weapons, etc.) to monitor the areas of interest and reduce the risk that is created by vulnerabilities and threats.
- As the above is still not enough, the system also facilitates a deeper strategic level insight to provide an overall understanding of the push and pull factors, which greatly influence border security.
A plethora of technologies are now available to assist in effective border control. In ancient times effective border security was mainly based on good physical strength and observational skills. However, with contemporary adversaries becoming faster, smarter and tech-savvy, border control agencies need not only to use advanced imaging and identification techniques but also to understand and use data from interconnected sensing systems. Additionally, these agencies also need to closely work with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies, share information and coordinate efforts, to control potential conflicts.
Some of the currently available advanced technological tools are being used by the concerned agencies for: –
- Preventing a Single Point of Failure at Border Checkpoints– Though the border technologies and operators’ skills have been keeping pace with the times, a critical intent of the new generation technologies is to reduce the ‘single point of failure problem’ These technologies are expected to generate centralized real-time data, for enabling multi-point intervention.
- Use of Artificial Intelligence in Border Security Technology– Integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is enhancing the potential of the security systems. However, AI is still a developing technology and a report issued by the European Parliament has outlined several challenges in the use of AI technology in border control and security systems. The said concerns reflect inconsistent accuracy, data protection, privacy risks etc. Therefore, AI usage needs to be monitored and regulated.
It has been observed that the latest technologies which are now available (and have their own advantages and disadvantages) broadly fall into five categories: –
a) Physical barriers: – Physical barriers like border walls and fences are effective in densely populated regions but these are expensive to build and maintain, susceptible to demolition, and may be breached through unavoidable gaps.
b) Technologies to detect Illegal Intrusions: – Many advanced sensors (movement/ pressure/heat etc) are now available for deployment. The biometric sensors are also available. But these are expensive (to acquire and maintain) and require extensive operator training for effectively using them. They are also susceptible to the limits of the power sources and weather conditions.
c) Effective Border Surveillance: – These technologies help in purposeful surveillance of vulnerable areas, including remote areas of interest. These devices include fixed ground sensors, buried in the ground, and may use seismic, acoustic, or infrared technology to detect people or vehicles crossing the border. The in-ground sensors allow a wide range of coverage and can be used in rugged terrain. But these sensors are susceptible to false positives (e.g., animals crossing the border); require maintenance and regular replacement of batteries; and could be easily vandalized. Other connected detection devices include fixed surveillance towers equipped with radar and high-resolution and infrared cameras, to monitor areas extending up to a five to seven-mile radius. These technologies are highly effective in identifying people and vehicles from long distances and are relatively low-cost. But terrain lay may block the radar/camera views. They are also highly visible and could be avoided by unauthorized border crossers, with some expertise.
d) Surveillance Aircraft, Helicopters and Drones: – Though aircraft and helicopters can cover large areas much faster and are effective in tracking the borders, they are expensive to operate and maintain and are limited by weather conditions. In recent years, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) have become an increasingly favoured tool for surveillance of vast stretches of rural borderland, at a relatively low cost, but they get constrained by battery life and range.
e) Remotely Operated Weapons: – Many modular Remotely Operated Weapons are available today. Some systems utilize the Palletized Autonomous Weapon System (PAWS) – a self-contained autonomous armament package scalable for specific mission requirements. The system employs a weapons station, which has the capability of mounting different types of small and medium-calibre cannons. The US Army and Marine Corps use CROWS and CROWS II remote weapon stations (RWS) for their armoured fighting vehicles, while their patrol vehicles are commonly equipped with much heavier, taller and more vulnerable Gunner Protection Kit (GPK). The European armies- on the other hand, are adopting versions of the RWS Protector produced locally by several European manufacturers. However, such RWS are susceptible to weather conditions, inadequacies in surveillance systems and other vulnerabilities.
In view of the above, the planners are faced with a considerable dilemma, in choosing the best means for effective border surveillance and security. The debate over border security generally gets divided between two camps – believers in physical means and those who believe in the use of advanced technologies. To further complicate the matters, both sides present different cogent factors to support their preferred choice, finally forcing the planners to rely on the available data and their experience for arriving at an optimised decision.
Regardless of the decision, the policymakers need to recognize that border security does not exist in isolation but is subject to the dynamic constellation of forces like changes in global economies, military situations, and climate changes. Thus, the focus has now shifted towards technological advancements enabling ‘smart’ or ‘virtual’ borders. Such systems easily integrate data collected by advanced cameras, sensors, biometric identification devices, and other conventional and AI-enabled detection systems, thus helping in effective border management (IEEE, ND, Defence Update, 2008, Rooks, 2023). However, even the entities against whom such systems are being deployed have also started using advanced technologies to beat the systems, thus making the feasibility of finding an ideal technological solution remote.
It could, therefore, be surmised that the current cat-and-mouse game may push high-tech border security technologies to become more sophisticated and widespread, in the coming years. Despite that, it would become difficult to exclude the HUMINT element from the equation. The policymakers accordingly would need to critically monitor the development and ensure that deployment of such technologies would not be done without adequate integration with the human element.
Case Study: Israel- 07 Oct 2023 Episode
Border Security Management
Israeli Defence officials had described Israel’s surveillance apparatus deployed on the Gaza border as one of the most sophisticated in the world. The borders were equipped with hundreds of sensors, cameras, robotic machine guns, automated drone swarms, biometric databases, and spyware, to make an amalgamation of formidable high-tech systems. These systems helped Israel enforce a more than 16-year blockade of Gaza and its 2.3 million Palestinian inhabitants. These systems were also deployed on borders with the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as part of a broader control regime.
Israeli investments in high-tech security and surveillance systems began in the early 2000s, as a response to increasing Palestinian suicide attacks and other violence perpetrated by the Second Intifada. As time passed, Israel came under increasingly right-wing leadership, which spent billions of dollars to develop more technological ways to manage regional violence and secure its borders.
Senior Israel Defence Forces (IDF) officials, who deployed these high-tech systems on its borders, were confident of their efficacy and they assured the world that biometric cameras, automated drones, targeted spyware, and smarter border walls could effectively quell Palestinian militant groups across the region. Post-retirement many of these senior officials were inducted on boards of the technology building companies, and they effectively propagated these technologies, as a magic solution for enhancing global security. In addition, the notable success of Israeli technologies on its own borders- in thwarting all but a handful of breaches of its border fence, with deadly aerial bombardments, sniper fire, and dragnet surveillance attracted the world’s attention. All this helped in creating many opportunities for the Israeli defence firms to promote and export automated reconnaissance and strike systems, around the world. But such success is fraught with its own side effects. It is now evident that the long and successful deployment of high-tech systems, on its borders, made the Israel Defence Forces somewhat overconfident and complacent, making it a great lesson for other countries to learn from.
Probable Reasons for Systems Failure
As it is well known now, on Oct. 7, 2023, the sophisticated and expensive Israeli intelligence apparatus failed to work as desired, shocking not only Israel but the whole world. Reasons for Hamas’s audacious operations and their ability to defeat Israel’s sophisticated technology, including a $1.1 billion border wall, fortified with underground and aerial remote sensing technologies, were not clear and are still being investigated.
Early indications, however, show that the Palestinian militia operated right under Israel’s nose. Hamas effectively managed to compile troves of information about Israel’s intelligence capabilities and security infrastructure for months- undetected. Hamas trained its operatives, many times in broad daylight, for the onslaught, at a sprawling base near the Gaza-Israel fence, for more than a year. On D-Day, Hamas operatives simply drove through the barriers at multiple points, using trucks and motorcycles, flew over it- using bright beach paragliders, and motorboated up the Mediterranean coast, shaking Israel to its core. Words of Yohanan Tzoreff, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, speak a lot about this situation: –
They (the Gaza militants) studied us very well. They knew what kind of technology we had on the fence. They knew what needed to be destroyed before getting through the fence. They also knew where the army units were, the tanks, and the bases. Nothing alerted us that something was wrong along the border. Nothing gave us a picture of what happened in this area
Israel had been controlling and limiting access to telecommunications and internet facilities across the Gaza territory and had deployed automated drones, for almost 24/7 aerial reconnaissance of densely populated urban areas. Yet somehow, Hamas managed to map the sensors, cameras, watch towers, and military bases along the borders, planning its sabotage without triggering a single alarm.
The group managed to hide its preparation by avoiding digital communications altogether while planning for the attacks. Hamas moved its operations to underground bunkers equipped with hardwired phones, outside the range of communication networks monitored by the IDF. They also rehearsed some parts of the attack, in broad daylight and in plain view of Israeli military personnel. IDF officials somehow failed to detect the enormity of Hamas preparations and even wrote off a September propaganda video of Hamas exploding the border fence; simply assuming that the borders were impenetrable. As a consequence, Israel paid a very heavy price for this complacency.
Interestingly, IDF relied on spy networks, embedded informants, and secret agents on the West Bank borders, but its tactics on Gaza borders largely depended on digital and automated systems, almost eliminating the HUMINT factor, which could be one of the important reasons for the failure.
Many members of Israel’s security establishment have now publicly denounced the IDF’s overreliance on technology to contain Gaza, in the wake of the attack. Some others have sombrely lamented about the fact that resources were directed away from ground troops- on the Gaza border- towards high-tech systems, by the tech-obsessed military, which had become, in the words of retired IDF Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Barik, “swollen with arrogance.”
Another retired official- Ami Ayalon, the former head of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, while commenting on the failure stated “If most of your intelligence comes from SIGINT (signals intelligence), then I suppose you’re in a way blind if anyone is operating without cell phones or digital communications. We just assumed they (Hamas) wouldn’t attack now.” Ayalon also stated that the military used technology as a ‘bandage,’ focusing on quick fixes to regional volatility, while the government abandoned any possibility of bringing about a lasting peace.
In the same vein, another reputed analyst has pointed out that an attack by more than 1,000 Hamas militants on Israel, their merciless operations largely against the civilians and taking more than 200 people as hostages, not only exposed the worst security and intelligence failure in the country’s 75-year history but also set in motion turn of events much beyond Israel’s own control.
(Sources: Goodfriend, 2023, Buccino, 2023, Chellaney,2023).
In summary, it could be said that Israel’s belief that technology can act as a salve to geopolitical volatility mirrored global trends. Many NATO member militaries and police forces worldwide have touted high-tech innovations like drone warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, to predictive policing algorithms in the United States, as a silver bullet to quell chronic insecurity. Yet precision strikes and algorithms have failed to address the root causes of violence in all these places. The latest Israeli experience surely adds to it. The time has now come to dispassionately review ‘over-reliance’ on expensive high-tech systems and adopt a combination of reasonably priced and optimised tech systems and traditional human intelligence.
Scenario in Bharat
This article would remain incomplete without a brief focus on the situation in Bharat. Jammu and Kashmir’s sector has many times witnessed successful infiltration by terrorists for many years now, leading to attacks on strategic installations – prominent among these being the Pathankot and Uri terrorist attacks in 2016. These incidents not only raised serious concerns about the efficacy of the existing border security systems- in thwarting such breaches but also brought forth a demand by the BSF, for the deployment of high-tech border surveillance equipment.
The use of high-tech solutions for border security has been under consideration by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) since 2012, starting with the release of an Expression of Interest (EOI) for a Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS). Based on the EOI analysis, BSF had submitted a detailed report to the MHA in 2014, but no decision on it was taken until January 2016. The trigger for implementing the CIBMS came in the form of the Pathankot terrorist attack, on the intervening night of January 1-2, 2016.
In addition, the Union Home Ministry took serious note of the arrest of several intruders, with large consignments of heroin and fake Indian currency notes, and the discovery of a cross border tunnels in these stretches, The MHA, in 2016, sanctioned the implementation of CIBMS through two pilot projects. The aim of the pilot projects was to evaluate the CIBMS on various parameters such as the requirement of manpower, user-friendliness, technical training, and ease of repair and maintenance. At present, the CIBMS is being implemented along two stretches in the Jammu sector of the India-Pakistan border. The two stretches were selected for their difficult terrain characterised by several cross-border streams and dense growth of elephant grass (Das, 2017). The projects are ongoing.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has also brought up that the Border Infrastructure and Management (BIM) Scheme is an important Central Sector Scheme, comprising projects aimed at infrastructure development on India’s international borders. The MHA approved a budget of Rs. 13,020 Crore for the scheme during the period 2021-22 to 2025-26. The scheme aims at enhancing the security along the borders of the country and implementing a number of projects for the development of border infrastructure viz. Border Fences, Border Roads, Border Floodlights, Border Outposts (BOPs), Helipads and foottracks along the international borders of Bharat. It also involves the deployment of technological solutions in such patches of the borders, not amenable to the erection of physical barriers.
MHA has also accorded priority to improving situational awareness at various hierarchy levels, to facilitate prompt and quick response to emerging situations along the India-Pakistan Border (IPB) and India-Bangladesh Border (IBB). A ‘Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System’ (CIBMS) has also been conceptualized which is the integration of manpower, sensors, networks, intelligence, and command control solutions (MHA, 2023). Thus, Bharat seems to be moving in the right direction. However, it needs to take serious note of what has happened in Gaza Borders and learn appropriate lessons from the same.
Historical records show that the Concept of Border Surveillance and Security has existed in Bharat since the 3rd century BCE. With advancements in transportation technologies and economy-boosting trade, the necessity for protecting the nation’s borders took stronger roots. Today, with the increase in terrorist activities, illegal trafficking, and land grab tendencies ‘Border Surveillance and Security’ has assumed the utmost importance.
In the olden days countries relied mostly on physical barriers. However, advancements in technologies related to weapons and systems have made physical barriers less effective. Accordingly, technologists have been forced to develop sophisticated means for effective border surveillance and security. This has made the required systems more expensive for acquisition and maintenance and they also need a well-trained workforce- to exploit their full potential. Many technologically advanced surveillance systems, and remotely operated weapons systems are available today, and many countries have deployed them, believing in their prowess, at the cost of HUMINT.
Israel/Israel Defence Forces (IDF) also relied heavily on high-tech surveillance systems, physical barriers, facial recognition systems, remotely operated weapons et al, at its Gaza borders. The systems functioned well for more than 16 years, resulting in both strengthening the belief in the prowess of the said technologies and setting in some inevitable complacency.
But Hamas took big advantage of this situation and prepared well for the 07 Oct 2023 attack on Israel. The attack was executed with a surgical precision, which created a mayhem in its wake. This attack beat every high-tech system deployed by IDF and proved that over-reliance on high-tech systems could spell a sure disaster and the price to be paid could be exorbitant. This Hamas attack has shaken not only IDF but other countries too, ringing alarm bells regarding over-dependence on high-tech border surveillance and security systems.
The attack unambiguously highlighted the fact that high-tech systems cannot replace the HUMINT. It also clearly brought out the fact that a combination of optimally trained manpower and affordable and tested technology solutions could yield better results.
Israel is currently analysing the reasons for the catastrophic failure of intelligence and high-tech systems and is expected to come up with the requisite remedial measures. All countries need to learn a lesson from this dastardly episode and watch further developments carefully for instituting corrective measures in their own areas.
Bharat has also been affected (for a considerable time) by cross-border terrorism, illegal trafficking, and land grab attempts. It has, therefore, started putting in place high-tech systems for border surveillance and security. It would be advisable for Bharat to thoroughly analyse the circumstances leading to the daring attack by Hamas on Israel, draw appropriate lessons from it and modify its border surveillance and security plans accordingly.
It would be appropriate to end this article with the words of the acclaimed writer Mr. Brahma Chellaney (Chellaney, 2023a): –
More broadly, the Hamas surprise attack on Israel holds lessons for other countries on the frontlines against international terrorism, including India. The first lesson is to never rest on one’s oars as terrorists will innovate by crafting new means for launching surprise attacks. Too often, counterterrorism strategies seek to prevent a repeat of past types of attacks without looking ahead at innovative new techniques that may be applied by terrorists. Another lesson is to impose sustained costs on state sponsors of terror
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies
Title image courtesy: CBS News
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