Israel Trains Bomb-Sniffing Mice for Army

Developers from the Bio Explorers Company show mice, that are used to detect explosives through their sense of smell, in the company's new Bio-sensor based explosives detection system, in Tel Aviv on 13 November 2012. (Photo: AFP - Menahem Kahana)

By: Yahya Dbouk

Published Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The technology of security and warfare is drifting into the realm of the absurd as Israel trains mice to sniff bombs. What will the future of unmanned warfare look like if beasts of burden are sent to the frontlines?

It was interesting to note how Israel dealt with the penetration of its airspace by Hezbollah’s Ayoub drone. The reports that came out after the initial Israeli shock reveal the fallout from that operation and the efforts expended to hide it.

In an ostentatious propaganda report issued 48 hours after the incident, the Israeli army noted that it has a more sophisticated reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle than the Ayoub drone with a precise imaging system, a better ability to fly at high altitudes, and the ability to carry more combat and technical devices.

Since when did Tel Aviv ever feel the need to prove – perhaps to its own people before its enemies – that it is more technologically advanced than its adversaries? Post-Ayoub is indeed different from pre-Ayoub.

Despite the technological disparity between the Lebanese Resistance and Israel, it has become evident that warnings by Israeli intelligence in the past few years were not wrong. Israel’s enemies pose a technological challenge that Israel must be prepared to confront quickly, not only in technological terms but also from a psychological perspective in order to protect national morale.

Israel’s latest war technology comes from an unlikely source: mice. Bomb-sniffing mice, to be exact, which, according to Israeli media, have been developed by Israeli scientists to enhance their already acute senses for the purpose of detecting explosives.

The project has proven a success and dozens of mice have now been drafted into the Israeli army.

If the mice prove effective then it cannot be denied that Israel has accomplished an unprecedented scientific achievement. This achievement however remains dubious from a practical point of view on the battlefield.

This is not the first story about the Israeli military using animals. There have been reports of llamas being brought from Latin America to help Israeli soldiers carry supplies during long marches and infiltration operations into enemy territories.

There were also claims about remote-controlled robots that could be sent into Hezbollah’s tunnels to fight while human soldiers wait outside and observe the battle on screen. There were stories about navy robots, the electronic snake, Steve Austin’s Hands, and the Jet Insect, to name just a few.

Every army in the world is exploring technological alternatives to sending troops into battle – entire wars are fought with unmanned drones. This is particularly true in Israel, where military service is mandatory and where, especially after the failure of the occupation in Lebanon, the public is quick to turn on any politician seen as putting Israeli soldiers at risk unnecessarily.

This reluctance to put soldiers at risk has influenced the effectiveness of the Israeli army. The Winograd Commission that investigated the 2006 war on Lebanon found that the fear of casualties in the ranks of the Israeli army was one of the main reasons behind Israel’s military failures.

In the 2006 war, Israel changed its plan for a land invasion of Lebanon 12 times. The plan that was initially called “Changing Direction” by the end of the war had become “Changing Direction 12.” All this because a soldier was injured here and an officer was injured there.

The Commission concluded by warning against trying to fight ambitious wars without preparing for the inevitability of incurring losses.

“The weakest link in the chain of Israeli national security is Israeli society itself” whose leaders fear, to the point of deterrence, casualties within its ranks, the report said.

As Israel continues to develop new technology, it appears Hezbollah will have to prepare to fight robots, technological insects, mice, and beasts of burden. Will this force the Resistance to change its combat strategy and shift from rockets to insecticides and electronic cats?

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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