AI used for first time in major Gaza battlefield role

Hamas suffering under onslaught but its units remain capable of mounting deadly ambushes

Palestinians check a half-destroyed building after an Israeli bombardment on Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP
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Artificial intelligence is in widespread use for the first time in warfare with Israel using it to seek and prioritise targets, military analysts have disclosed.

A huge amount of intelligence is fed into the secret artificial intelligence systems from electronic surveillance, aircraft, drones and satellites.

The systems are far beyond anything Hamas can rely on, but the advantage on the ground is not yet one-sided. Hamas fighters routinely stage counterattacks with just two or three fighters.

Hamas is also capable of stand-up battles on its territory. As recently as Wednesday in Shujaiya, an area of Gaza city, the group attacked using co-ordinated small-arms fire and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) against a four-man Israeli team in a building.

When Israeli commanders lost communications with the fireteam they sent in their QRF (quick reaction force) from north and south of the buildings.

Israeli press reports said the next stage was a bruising encounter for their forces. The troops were ambushed, with IEDs, hand grenades and gunfire killing a further five Israelis, including a battalion commander, another colonel and three majors.

“Hamas’s Shujaiya battalion remains capable of executing its defence mission in Shujaiya, indicating that it is not combat ineffective,” the Institute for the Study of War think tank reported .

This was despite Israeli military officials claiming earlier this month that the unit had been dismantled.

The “complex, multi-part nature” of the ambush required “significant co-ordination between multiple Hamas tactical units”, the ISW added.

The Israel command headquarters believes the attrition it can impose on Hamas is being aided by two systems – known as Gospel and “Alchemist – understood to have severely affected Hamas’s command structure, making them less able to conduct significant assaults in Gaza.

Artificial Intelligence

The AI distils the mass of information, that will include human movements, potential rocket launch sites and unusual activity, and comes up with at least 100 targets a day. In addition, signals interception, local informants and open source intelligence are also absorbed by Gospel.

Before the system came in Israeli could generate about 50 targets in Gaza a year, but can now do that in a matter of hours.

Gospel prioritises targets with the Israelis understood to now be conducting more precise attacks with the 110kg GBU-39 small diameter bombs rather than the 900kg devices that caused such devastation at the start of the war.

Gospel combines with Alchemist, which monitors the Gaza border, and data is fed into the “Israeli knowledge factory” that sifts through the intelligence.

“Gospel fuses together all intelligence that the entire Israeli services gather to provide targeting solutions,” said Sam Cranny-Evans, a military analyst at a security company. “It is playing a significant role in the way the Israelis conduct operations, because it enables them to hit rocket launch sites within minutes of being set up.

“In terms of the application of a modern AI targeting system, this is the first time it has been done to this scale in warfare.”

“Gaza is ideal for AI as you've got such a small area and the Israelis have got so many assets focused on it so that every blade of grass is covered,” said former tank commander Hamish de Bretton-Gordon.

The co-ordinated attacks are thought to have had a significant effect on Hamas’s ability to conduct operations across Gaza.

“It appears that Hamas is quite shocked by the firepower that's deployed against them because their resistance is quite fractured,” Mr Cranny-Evans said.

Hamas fight back

Until the mass ambush on Wednesday that cost nine Israeli lives, the military had suffered 105 fatalities since the Gaza operation began, which is considered low for the difficulties involved in urban warfare.

Brig Ben Barry, of the IISS think tank, said Hamas will exploit their tunnel system and terrain knowledge to find opportunities to mount large-scale ambushes.

“But heavy targeting of Hamas’s military leadership will make that co-ordination more difficult,” he added. “However, Hamas can safely employ a very decentralised style of leadership, which means if they have a battalion commander taken out, those companies under his command will probably continue to fight fairly effectively.”

Accepting risk

Hamas fighters have also used six explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) against Israeli armour but to date it appears only a large armoured personnel carrier has been destroyed, although a number of vehicles have been damaged.

But the Al Qassem Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, are using several other tactics including firing a thermobaric rocket at Israeli special forces in a building

Hamas snipers have also attacked Israeli soldiers behind the front line and conducted three mortar bombardments from the southern Gaza stronghold of Khan Younis. They also continue to rig buildings with explosives – what is called “house-borne IEDs”.

“It could be that Hamas fighters in Shejaiya are more determined and willing to accept risk when backed into a corner.” Mr Cranny-Evans said. “They are also learning from the IDF as they’ve been in contact for a relatively long time now and should be adapting their tactics.”

Israel’s military is also devising new tactics in the Gaza operation. Merkava tanks are being used as “sniper” weapons to take out Hamas positions identified on the ground or by AI.

“They are using the tank's suite of infra-red and high-grade optics to fire its 120mm gun very accurately on to target,” said Col de Bretton-Gordon.

“There has been a lot of tank action, which is a bit surprising in an urban setting, but the Israelis are also operating mainly at night, because that's where they have the advantage with night-vision capabilities.”

The Israelis have also begun using seawater to flood Hamas’s extensive tunnel system and drive its fighters above ground, although this tactic is still in the assessment stage.

They are also likely to be using special drones to fly in the tunnels to find people and armouries.


Most analysts expect the hard fighting to continue to mid-January as long as the US does not make a major political intervention beforehand.

It is expected the fighting will be grim until then. “There is a degree of sheer attrition in all this,” Brig Barry said.

Col de Bretton-Gordon suggested that the more “attrition Hamas suffers, then the harder it is to co-ordinate and mount attacks”.

“Urban warfare is notoriously difficult but the Israelis had a lot of time to prepare for it and they've got an immense amount of firepower and smart intelligence,” he added.

Updated: December 16, 2023, 9:27 AM