Israeli-deployed AI in Gaza likely helps IDF reduce civilian casualties, expert says

After loudly touting the use of artificial intelligence (AI) during their 11-day conflict against Hamas in 2021, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have been fairly tight-lipped about the AI systems they’ve employed in the post-Oct. 7 Gaza battlespace. 

Numerous media outlets have speculated that Israel’s AI platforms are being used recklessly, but Blaise Misztal, Vice President for Policy at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), told Fox News Digital that he believes Israel is using AI-powered drone swarms, mapping drones and targeting systems as a means to minimize civilian casualties as they seek out Hamas terrorists hiding among the populace or holed up in tunnel systems laced beneath civilian architecture.

Misztal says that available evidence implies drones are a “near constant companion for ground troops as they’re maneuvering through Gaza,” with the IDF telling JINSA researchers that “each unit has its own mini-Air Force” supporting troop movements. 

A number of AI-powered drones may be mapping the underground tunnels built below Gaza, or protecting those who are traversing them as they seek out terrorists or hostages. Iris, a ground-based, throwable unit manufactured by Elbit Systems “can enter small and confined spaces, above or underground, to explore hazardous areas while relaying intelligence and reconnaissance information in real-time.” 

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Ghost Robotics manufactures the Vision-60, a ground drone that it says can “continuously push the limits to improve its ability to walk, run, crawl, climb, and eventually swim in complex environments” to “keep our warfighters, workers, and K9s out of harm’s way.” 

Xtend UAV systems are also deployed in the Gaza theater after initially being developed to target Hamas’ incendiary balloons attempting to enter Israeli airspace. Xtend’s Griffon Counter UAV can be used to find and kill rogue drones, an important task as Iran and its proxies have deployed or trained to deploy drones against Israel. 

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The capability to “be deployed in parallel” may be a reference to the utilization of drone swarms, groups of drones which communicate with one another to carry out a directive using AI rather than human operators. Drone swarms were used in 30 sorties during Israel’s 2021 war, the Times of Israel reported. They helped Israel identify rocket launch sites used by Hamas. 

The main AI-empowered devices helping Israel avoid unnecessary civilian casualties are targeting systems known as “Gospel” and “Lavender.” While numerous media outlets have reported on these targeting systems, Misztal says many have “fundamentally misunderstood” how they work. Onlookers have described these AI systems as having the ability to both determine and engage targets. Misztal says that the targeting systems have a “man-machine loop,” in which first a human analyst, and then an IDF lawyer, decide whether a target receives final approval. 

Jonathan Conricus, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former IDF spokesman, also told Fox News Digital that “while the reliance on AI and technology is growing, Israeli policy mandates human decision-making at main junctions.” 

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According to Misztal, the “Gospel” system identifies hard targets like “buildings, weapons storage facilities, and rocket launchers,” while the “Lavender” system utilizes facial recognition to identify Hamas leaders and fighters.

The real boon in utilizing these targeting systems is their ability to sift through the “constant streams of data” collected by Israel’s multitude of air and ground assets, including the new AI-enabled Oron spy plane. Learned patterns help the systems determine likely targets. “If you can bring in the precision that machine learning enables you to do rather than just having human eyes on it, that is helpful in narrowing down what are likely targets, and minimizing mistakes,” Misztal said.

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Data from Gospel and information derived from AI-powered mapping drones have likely allowed the IDF to avoid situations like one Misztal said they encountered in 2021 while fighting Hamas from the air. According to Misztal, an Israeli bomb strike on a poorly-constructed tunnel resulted in the collapse of the residential building built atop the tunnel, causing civilian casualties.

With ground troops now engaged and tunnel networks better understood, Misztal says the IDF is able to “find strategic intersections between tunnels” that they can “block so that they become unusable” without causing possible collapse of civilian structures atop the terror hideouts. “That mapping process allows them to be much more precise,” Misztal concluded.

Misztal believes Lavender’s utilization shows how much care Israel takes to keep civilians from the battlespace. “We’ve heard of Israel using facial recognition technology as they’re screening people, civilians who are moving between different parts of Gaza” when the IDF “is creating safe zones and telling people to evacuate, and guarding them while they evacuate because Hamas wants to keep them from leaving their homes so that they can remain as human shields,” he said. Facial recognition in these situations allows the IDF “to make sure that those protection measures are not being exploited by Hamas fighters.”

Despite remaining mostly quiet about their use, Misztal said Israel’s use of its array of AI-powered systems has “become a normalized part of their operating process” since 2021. When facing a new kind of war after Oct. 7, Misztal said the IDF “told JINSA researchers about how they were uncertain of what they would find on the ground” in Gaza, “but as they got better at understanding the layout, as they got better at deploying their assets, like drones and other surveillance capabilities, they became much more capable of operating surgically.”

The Associated Press last week released a report that corroborates Misztal’s observation that utilizing AI has led to lower civilian casualties. Through an analysis of Gaza Ministry of Health data, long questioned by researchers, the AP found that the “proportion of Palestinian women and children being killed in the Israel-Hamas war appears to have declined sharply.” The AP admitted that the shift “went unnoticed for months by the U.N. and much of the media.” 

In addition to reducing casualties, AI has enabled a high level of operations that would otherwise require vast amounts of human capital. According to Conricus, “Without the extensive use of tech and AI to automate and streamline complex or resource intense processes, Israel would need to multiply its intelligence collection and control infrastructure, which is frankly not a viable option. Thus, AI and advanced tech allows Israel to face the multitude of threats within existing manpower and resource limitations.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Israeli Defense Forces’ use of AI has helped them to minimize civilian casualties while operating in a war zone where Hamas terrorists are located within and beneath civilian structures.

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