Israel Says It Fought World’s First “Artificial Intelligence War” Against Hamas

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have claimed the world’s first use of artificial intelligence (AI) and supercomputing in a war that ensued with Hamas earlier this month.

During its operation Guardian of the Walls, IDF said it relied heavily on machine learning and data gathering for a period of over two years.

“For the first time, artificial intelligence was a key component and power multiplier in fighting the enemy. This is a first-of-its-kind campaign for the IDF. We implemented new methods of operation and used technological developments that were a force multiplier for the entire IDF,” an IDF Intelligence Corps senior officer was quoted by Jerusalem Post as saying.

During the two-week-long war between the two rival factions, the IDF carried out pinpoint airstrikes against Hamas targets deep inside Gaza and killed at least a hundred of their top operatives.

Much of the infrastructure built by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip was destroyed by the Israeli jets, which were targets previously identified through military intelligence.

File:Flickr - Israel Defense Forces - Headquarters of the Military Wing of Hamas.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
File Image: Headquarters of the Military Wing of Hamas Wikimedia Commons

The Israeli military says it adapted the AI technologies already available in the civilian market to its needs in military intelligence. An advanced AI technological platform was established to centralize all data on militant groups in the Gaza Strip onto one system to aid in the analysis and extraction of intelligence crucial for the operations, the Israeli website adds.

Being at the center of highly unstable regions, Israel has heavily invested in AI and its applications in the military. The country has prioritized the concepts of machine learning and algorithm-driven warfare at the forefront of its research and development for years.

To employ the AI effectively in a war, the system must be fed with tonnes of raw data collected through satellites, aerial reconnaissance vehicles, field agents, ground intel and years of information.

IDF reportedly employed resources like signal intelligence (SIGINT), visual intelligence (VISINT), human intelligence (HUMINT), geographical intelligence (GEOINT) to collect data and feed it into its supercomputers to guide the military towards carrying out effective strikes.

According to the report by JP, it was IDF’s elite intelligence officers in Unit 8200, who pioneered algorithms and code to create advanced programs named “Alchemist,” “Gospel” and “Depth of Wisdom,” which were developed and used during the fighting.

“Gospel” was used by the IDF to evolve intelligent and effective recommendations for officers in the Military Intelligence wing to identify “quality targets” and, subsequently, pass them to the air force to strike.

IDF’s Military Intelligence Unit has dedicated research wings for exploitation of artificial intelligence in warfare, which predict enemy rocket launches, place, and time, helping soldiers on the ground to effectively defend against them.

One such example is the Israeli army’s J6/C4i Directorate’s Lotem Unit whose job is to create software for powerful AI and use machine learning in real-life applications, similar to what tech companies Google, China’s Baidu, or Facebook are doing.

One app created after Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in 2014 by this Unit helped soldiers on the ground predict rocket launches from Gaza using data from field sensors and other sources. It identified the most likely places of launch, approximate timing, and target areas for such projectiles, helping the Israeli troops be better prepared.

One application created by the Lotem Unit can identify suspicious objects from a video and describe the same in writing. The software can analyze dozens of videos simultaneously helping save manpower for the IDF.

In the latest war against Hamas and other Palestinian militant organizations, IDF says it created a multidisciplinary center that helped it produce hundreds of relevant targets, aiding its military to fight and target them all.

The vast information pool wasn’t gathered during the conflict; the data was collected over a period of two years, which helped the IDF in instant targeting. However, real-time data gathering was also underway to identify missile launches.

According to JP, “the military believes using AI helped shorten the length of the fighting, having been effective and quick in gathering targets using super-cognition.”

IDF Unit 9900’s satellites have also played an incremental role in collecting intelligence and helping aid operations against Hamas and PIJ, which helped the military target rocket launchers, rocket manufacturing, production and storage sites, military intelligence offices, drones, commanders’ residences, and other crucial installations.

One notable feature of the current operation has been Israel’s success in pre-identification and targeting of underground tunnel networks used by Hamas. IDF says it carried extensive mapping to identify the hundreds of kilometers of tunnel networks that Hamas has been using for years.

The mapping was again reportedly carried out using intelligence gathered through technological developments and the use of big data to fuse the available intelligence. IDF was able to fully picture the tunnels, their depth and width, the routes, and everything about them, so it knew exactly where to target.

Hamas’s underground tunnel network, called the “Metro”, has been very crucial to its operations against Israel, and now with Israel having the technology to identify and pinpoint them, the group has been deprived of a key combat strategy.

One video posted on Twitter showed Hamas digging out bodies from a tunnel destroyed by Israeli precision airstrikes. This unit was reportedly on its way to attack Israeli troops when a missile dropping from the sky destroyed it, burying the operatives.

The incident showcased Israel’s intelligent use of technology in inflicting heavy damage to the rival groups which, according to IDF, decisively shortened the span of the conflict.

Artificial intelligence is believed to have been used in many attacks in the past, but this is the most comprehensive demonstration of its ability to change the course of a battle.

The health ministry in Gaza claimed that at least 243 Palestinians had died as a result of Israeli bombings during the fighting, which included 66 children, with 1,910 people wounded.

IDF says the use of AI had significantly lessened the civilian casualties, however, the destruction of many civilian and commercial buildings in the airstrikes is being investigated by world bodies, including the UN.

Although a ceasefire has restored some calm to the fighting between IDF and Palestinian militant groups, experts believe that this may not last long.