[Discussion] The Middle East in Crisis

A place to post and discuss news related to the recent events in Israel, including the Hamas/Islamic Jihad incursion and repercussions.

Israeli Intelligence Has Deemed Hamas-Run Health Ministry's Death Toll Figures Generally Accurate

sraeli intelligence services have studied civilian casualty figures released by the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza and concluded the figures were generally accurate, despite earlier public claims by U.S. and Israeli officials that the ministry’s statistics are manipulated.

According to a story in Mekomit by Yuval Avraham, who last year broke news about the Israeli military’s use of AI for targeting purposes, the numbers were accepted for inclusion in briefings to senior Israeli officials after intelligence services conducted operations and analysis to monitor the health ministry’s information collection methods and its internal communications and determined the statistics were credible. An Israeli intelligence official confirmed the Israeli government's use of the Gaza ministry numbers to VICE News, while two officials from European intelligence services said they were widely used in official briefings internationally.

“The numbers are heavily relied up for official briefings on civilian casualties because with the exception of strikes on high-value targets, where senior officials are briefed on collateral damage, no civilian casualty figures or estimates are collected,” said the Israeli official, who cannot be identified in the media. “A lot of targets have been hit without prior analysis or estimates and there’s never any follow up collection.”

“You don't know exactly how many you killed, and who you killed," an IDF military targeter told Mekomit.

The Israeli official told VICE News that in the current military operation, which has destroyed most of Gaza’s infrastructure and displaced about two-thirds of its population, the rules of engagement for IDF’s artillery and airborne assets have been loosened, leading to thousands more strikes than typically conducted in past Gaza operations.

“The secret services looked at the health ministry’s collection methods and determined the numbers were generally credible, so instead of collecting their own information they decided to use the [Hamas] numbers.”

“There’s no possibility of collecting exact data in this situation but their system is generally transparent and credible,” said the Israeli official. “But only with civilian deaths, Hamas deaths simply aren’t reported.”

According to the Ministry of Health, which reports to Gaza’s Hamas-led government, at least 27,500 civilians have been killed and more than 63,000 wounded since Israel began military operations in response to the Oct. 7 attacks, which killed at least 1100 Israelis and left more than 250 people hostage.

In the first weeks of the invasion, as civilian casualty figures began to rise to levels never seen in prior Arab-Israeli conflicts, the numbers of dead and wounded released by the health ministry became a focal point of criticism because of the association with Hamas. Pro-Israeli political interest groups and even U.S. President Joe Biden questioned the impartiality of the toll.

On Oct. 27, he told reporters that he had "no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using.”

The top UN health agency defended its use of the data in a statement to Reuters.

​"We continue to include their data in our reporting and it is clearly sourced," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement in October.

In response to Biden’s claim, the health ministry released a list of 7,000 names of the dead that human rights researchers and journalists determined were credible.

Two intelligence officials from NATO countries told VICE News that privately the civilian casualty numbers released by the ministry in Gaza were accurate enough to be widely used in intelligence briefings throughout NATO.

“We brief these numbers… [Europe] plays a major funding role in the Gaza health system so we have visibility into these operations,” said one official on background. “The numbers cannot be perfectly accurate and there’s two caveats. First, [they] hold no insight into Hamas or other militant casualties. The second is that of course the true casualties are higher than any health ministry figures because there’s unrecovered bodies, half the strip is flattened by air strikes and there’s more dead under that rubble.”

The second official, who analyzes the Middle East for a NATO military intelligence service, said the use of open source health ministry data was “commonplace.”

“I’d be shocked if the Americans weren’t using the same data in all their briefings, everyone understands these numbers are our only way to judge the scale even if we know they won’t be precise,” said the official.

A senior U.S. official speaking on background refused to discuss the specific contents of top level briefings for U.S. officials on the situation in Gaza, but said intelligence analysis on the conflict used “all available data as part of the process.”

This should not be allowed to happen.

The Biden administration is close to approving the sale of as many as 50 American-made F-15 fighter jets to Israel, in a deal expected to be worth more than $18 billion, according to three people familiar with the matter. The transaction would amount to the largest US foreign military sale to Israel since the country went to war with Hamas on October 7.
Unlike the precision guided munitions, the new F-15s would need to be built from scratch and would likely not be delivered to Israel for 4-5 years.

But an $18 billion F-15 sale is large enough that it requires congressional notification, and the administration informally notified the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees of the F-15 sale in late January, according to two of the people familiar with the matter.

The informal notification gives lawmakers and congressional staff time to review the details and ask questions before the State Department sends a formal notification to all lawmakers.

If there are no objections, the State Department will send a formal notification to all lawmakers, who will then have 30 days to block the sale via a joint resolution of disapproval. Congress has never successfully blocked a proposed arms sale through such a resolution, which has to be passed by both chambers, according to the Congressional Research Service.

On the plus side, they're made by Boeing, which means something's liable to fall off.

Rat Boy wrote:

On the plus side, they're made by Boeing, which means something's liable to fall off.

Hopefully before their bombs fall off.

Rat Boy wrote:

On the plus side, they're made by Boeing, which means something's liable to fall off.

The bombs?

Rat Boy wrote:

On the plus side, they're made by Boeing, which means something's liable to fall off.

*laughs*

As slightly on an unrelated tangent... At what point does the US decide that Israel is on the wrong side of history? Sometime before we break our addiction to oil and the military industrial complex surely...

I get that we support Israel because if we don't China would.. But gosh is it hard to support a country actively engaged in pseudo genocide.

Breaking our oil addiction can't come soon enough.

JC wrote:

This should not be allowed to happen.

The Biden administration is close to approving the sale of as many as 50 American-made F-15 fighter jets to Israel, in a deal expected to be worth more than $18 billion, according to three people familiar with the matter. The transaction would amount to the largest US foreign military sale to Israel since the country went to war with Hamas on October 7.
Unlike the precision guided munitions, the new F-15s would need to be built from scratch and would likely not be delivered to Israel for 4-5 years.

But an $18 billion F-15 sale is large enough that it requires congressional notification, and the administration informally notified the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees of the F-15 sale in late January, according to two of the people familiar with the matter.

The informal notification gives lawmakers and congressional staff time to review the details and ask questions before the State Department sends a formal notification to all lawmakers.

If there are no objections, the State Department will send a formal notification to all lawmakers, who will then have 30 days to block the sale via a joint resolution of disapproval. Congress has never successfully blocked a proposed arms sale through such a resolution, which has to be passed by both chambers, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The same F-15's we promised to our old flame Ukraine?

US foreign policy is... Like your psychotic ex who slashes your bed, throws all your clothes out the window and sets fire to the the nice Mercedes convertible project that you just finished the paint on...

Then calls back in tears two days later.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese identified the Australian victim as Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom.

“This is someone who volunteered in Australia to help people during the bushfires. This is someone who was volunteering overseas to provide aid through this charity for people who are suffering tremendous deprivation in Gaza,” Albanese said.

“Australia expects full accountability for the deaths of aid workers, which is completely unacceptable.”

I'd like to win Powerball.

He said the Australian government has already contacted the Israeli government directly, and that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had requested a “call-in” from the Israeli ambassador to Australia.

Saif Issam Abu-Taha, a Palestinian driver and translator working with World Central Kitchen, was named as one of the victims by Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Gaza.

Hamas condemned the attack in a statement on Tuesday, urging the international community and the United Nations to “take action.”

So, based on that, which minister will say they're all Hamas first? I got $20 on Gantz.

Australia has it's own human rights issues, with asylum seekers being put into isolated camps and deprived of various things.

Israeli reporter for Axios says... well... see for yourself. (Twitter post.)

or, tl;dw -

Said the IDF clearly knew this was an aid convoy, that a high level officer must have approved the strike, this a common occurrence only receiving attention because of foreign victims, and any investigation will be a sham.

via Haaretz (subscription needed)

Israeli Army Sources: Gaza Aid Workers Killed Because 'IDF Officers on the Ground Do What They Want'

The IDF and defense ministry claimed that the aid workers' killing resulted from poor coordination. Israeli army sources later refuted their claims, saying the incident has 'no connection to coordination' and was caused by the fact that 'every commander sets the rules for himself'

I mean, if nothing else, I agree about the investigation. If we find out the truth, it'll be in 3-5 years, well after the end of the war and when it won't matter.

Channel 4 has more. I did not know that there were three vehicles, targeted three times in succession over an area of roughly 1.5 miles.

It is... difficult to believe Netanyahu's statement about this being "unintentional."

Prederick wrote:

It is... difficult to believe Netanyahu's statement about this being "unintentional."

maybe he just meant it was unintentional for this to get as much press as it did, he likely expected it to be buried like the many other times aid workers were targeted.

Prederick wrote:

It is... difficult to believe Netanyahu's statement about this being "unintentional."

Not difficult to believe at all.

He
doesn't
care

Exhibit A of his statement.

"This happens in war. We are conducting a thorough inquiry and are in contact with the governments. We will do everything to prevent a recurrence."

Give it time. In a matter of days he'll declare WCK a terrorist organization.

Strongest criticism from Biden yet.

(Although, as many will note, it really doesn't matter when you keep giving them bombs and don't hold them accountable in any way.)

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Some of Israel’s closest allies, including the United States, on Tuesday condemned the deaths of seven aid workers who were killed by airstrikes in Gaza — a loss that prompted multiple charities to suspend food deliveries to Palestinians on the brink of starvation.

The deaths of the World Central Kitchen workers threatened to set back efforts by the U.S. and other countries to open a maritime corridor for aid from Cyprus to help ease the desperate conditions in northern Gaza.

President Joe Biden issued an unusually blunt criticism of Israel by its closest ally, suggesting that the incident demonstrated that Israel was not doing enough to protect civilians.

“Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians,” he said, adding he was “outraged and heartbroken” by their killings.

“Incidents like yesterday’s simply should not happen,” he added. “The United States has repeatedly urged Israel to deconflict their military operations against Hamas with humanitarian operations, in order to avoid civilian casualties.”

I feel like there's a relationship between the strong statement and the White House Iftar all but getting canceled due to outrage from American Muslims over the war.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Last year, President Joe Biden hadn’t even spoken a word at the White House celebration of Ramadan before someone shouted out “we love you.” Hundreds of Muslims were there to mark the end of the holy month that requires fasting from sunrise to sunset.

There are no such joyous scenes during this Ramadan. With many Muslim Americans outraged over Biden’s support for Israel’s siege of Gaza, the White House chose to hold a smaller iftar dinner on Tuesday evening. The only attendees were people who work for his administration.

“We’re just in a different world,” said Wa’el Alzayat, who leads Emgage, a Muslim advocacy organization. “It’s completely surreal. And it’s sad.”

Alzayat attended last year’s event, but he declined an invitation to break his fast with Biden this year, saying, “It’s inappropriate to do such a celebration while there’s a famine going on in Gaza.”

After rejections from Alzayat and others, he said the White House adjusted its plans Monday, telling community leaders that it wanted to host a meeting focused on administration policy. Alzayat still said no, believing that one day was not enough time to prepare for an opportunity to sway Biden’s mind on the conflict.

“I don’t think the format will lend itself to a serious policy discussion,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

The refusal to break bread — or even share a room — with the president is fresh evidence of how fractured the relationship between Biden and the Muslim community has become six months after Israel and Hamas began their current war.

When the Democratic president took office three years ago, many Muslim leaders were eager to turn the page on Donald Trump’s bigotry, including his campaign pledge to implement a " total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

But now Democrats fear that Biden’s loss of support among Muslims could help clear a path for his Republican predecessor to return to the White House. This year’s election will likely hinge on a handful of battleground states, including Michigan with its significant Muslim population.

“There are real differences between the two,” Alzayat said. “But emotionally, there may be no differences for some folks. And that’s the danger.”

He added, “It’s not good enough to tell people Donald Trump is going to be worse.”

Oh, also:

Israel clears way to expel Al Jazeera. Channel says Netanyahu’s incitement claim is a dangerous lie

JERUSALEM (AP) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday vowed to shut down Al Jazeera’s operations in Israel, calling it a “terror channel” that spreads incitement, after parliament passed a law clearing the way for the closure.

Netanyahu’s pledge escalated Israel’s long-running feud against Al Jazeera. It also threatened to heighten tensions with Qatar, which owns the channel, at a time when the Doha government is playing a key role in mediation efforts to halt the war in Gaza.

The broadcaster condemned Netanyahu’s incitement claim as a “dangerous ludicrous lie.” Al Jazeera said late Monday that it holds Netanyahu responsible for the safety of its staff and offices, that it would continue what it described as its bold and professional coverage, and that it “reserves the right to pursue every legal step.”

The attack on the Iranian embassy in Damascus, the expulsion of Al Jazeera, and the strikes on World Central Kitchen on Monday were more messages from Netanyahu to the world: if you help the Palestinians in any way, shape, or form, you will be targeted.

AP News wrote:

“Incidents like yesterday’s simply should not happen,” he added. “The United States has repeatedly urged Israel to deconflict their military operations against Hamas with humanitarian operations, in order to avoid civilian casualties.”

"Deconflict" ROFLMAO. WTF Biden.

A tweet from The Hill that pretty much sums it up:

The White House called an Israeli strike that killed humanitarian workers in Gaza an “emblematic of a larger problem,” though officials signaled there would be no change in U.S. support for Israel in its war against Hamas as a result.

Also, The New Yorker's Isaac Chotiner did a interview with a former State Department official on Biden's policies and their inherent contradictions that, again, explains a lot (subsription may be required):

IMAGE(https://pbs.twimg.com/media/GKLjs7OW8AAtmEu?format=jpg&name=small)

Yeeeeeeeeeesh.

Genocidin’ with Biden 2024 “No child left intact.”

Could've tossed this into the AI thread, but it belongs here:

‘The machine did it coldly’: Israel used AI to identify 37,000 Hamas targets

The Israeli military’s bombing campaign in Gaza used a previously undisclosed AI-powered database that at one stage identified 37,000 potential targets based on their apparent links to Hamas, according to intelligence sources involved in the war.

In addition to talking about their use of the AI system, called Lavender, the intelligence sources claim that Israeli military officials permitted large numbers of Palestinian civilians to be killed, particularly during the early weeks and months of the conflict.

Their unusually candid testimony provides a rare glimpse into the first-hand experiences of Israeli intelligence officials who have been using machine-learning systems to help identify targets during the six-month war.

Israel’s use of powerful AI systems in its war on Hamas has entered uncharted territory for advanced warfare, raising a host of legal and moral questions, and transforming the relationship between military personnel and machines.

“This is unparalleled, in my memory,” said one intelligence officer who used Lavender, adding that they had more faith in a “statistical mechanism” than a grieving soldier. “Everyone there, including me, lost people on October 7. The machine did it coldly. And that made it easier.”

Another Lavender user questioned whether humans’ role in the selection process was meaningful. “I would invest 20 seconds for each target at this stage, and do dozens of them every day. I had zero added-value as a human, apart from being a stamp of approval. It saved a lot of time.”

The testimony from the six intelligence officers, all who have been involved in using AI systems to identify Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) targets in the war, was given to the journalist Yuval Abraham for a report published by the Israeli-Palestinian publication +972 Magazine and the Hebrew-language outlet Local Call.

Their accounts were shared exclusively with the Guardian in advance of publication. All six said that Lavender had played a central role in the war, processing masses of data to rapidly identify potential “junior” operatives to target. Four of the sources said that, at one stage early in the war, Lavender listed as many as 37,000 Palestinian men who had been linked by the AI system to Hamas or PIJ.

Lavender was developed by the Israel Defense Forces’ elite intelligence division, Unit 8200, which is comparable to the US’s National Security Agency or GCHQ in the UK.

Several of the sources described how, for certain categories of targets, the IDF applied pre-authorised allowances for the estimated number of civilians who could be killed before a strike was authorised.

Two sources said that during the early weeks of the war they were permitted to kill 15 or 20 civilians during airstrikes on low-ranking militants. Attacks on such targets were typically carried out using unguided munitions known as “dumb bombs”, the sources said, destroying entire homes and killing all their occupants.

“You don’t want to waste expensive bombs on unimportant people – it’s very expensive for the country and there’s a shortage [of those bombs],” one intelligence officer said. Another said the principal question they were faced with was whether the “collateral damage” to civilians allowed for an attack.

“Because we usually carried out the attacks with dumb bombs, and that meant literally dropping the whole house on its occupants. But even if an attack is averted, you don’t care – you immediately move on to the next target. Because of the system, the targets never end. You have another 36,000 waiting.”

According to conflict experts, if Israel has been using dumb bombs to flatten the homes of thousands of Palestinians who were linked, with the assistance of AI, to militant groups in Gaza, that could help explain the shockingly high death toll in the war.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run territory says 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict in the past six months. UN data shows that in the first month of the war alone, 1,340 families suffered multiple losses, with 312 families losing more than 10 members.

Responding to the publication of the testimonies in +972 and Local Call, the IDF said in a statement that its operations were carried out in accordance with the rules of proportionality under international law. It said dumb bombs are “standard weaponry” that are used by IDF pilots in a manner that ensures “a high level of precision”.

The statement described Lavender as a database used “to cross-reference intelligence sources, in order to produce up-to-date layers of information on the military operatives of terrorist organisations. This is not a list of confirmed military operatives eligible to attack.

“The IDF does not use an artificial intelligence system that identifies terrorist operatives or tries to predict whether a person is a terrorist,” it added. “Information systems are merely tools for analysts in the target identification process.”

Every time I check this thread it's like a list of all the mistakes and injustices committed by the US after 9/11 but shrunk down to an area the size of Rhode Island.

I heard a brigadier on BBC this morning clarify that the WCK aid workers were: 1) in a deconfliction area, 2) cleared both their path and their schedule with the IDF prior to traveling, 3) were in clearly marked vehicles, and 4) were traveling about 100m apart from one another so were hit by three separate missiles. He went on to say that he had very little confidence that any finding by any Israeli internal investigation would provide any meaningful insights or that any of the people responsible would be held to any meaningful account. And considering how callously Netanyahu and his mouthpieces are simply waving this away, I can't say I disagree with his assessment.

It is long overdue that we tell them that we cannot participate in their continued atrocity.

Prederick wrote:

Could've tossed this into the AI thread, but it belongs here:

‘The machine did it coldly’: Israel used AI to identify 37,000 Hamas targets

Two sources said that during the early weeks of the war they were permitted to kill 15 or 20 civilians during airstrikes on low-ranking militants. Attacks on such targets were typically carried out using unguided munitions known as “dumb bombs”, the sources said, destroying entire homes and killing all their occupants.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run territory says 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict in the past six months. UN data shows that in the first month of the war alone, 1,340 families suffered multiple losses, with 312 families losing more than 10 members.

So that means, using the high end of 20 civilians per militant. ~1650 militants have been killed. I only assume that the number of "acceptable civilian deaths" is higher if the target is a higher value.

I have no words...

Our operations in Iraq in the 00's should have made us an international pariah until we made amends, and the same is at least as much true of Israel today.

Robert McNamara was doing all that with an abacus and a slide rule calculator.

This is a month old, but it's a very interesting poll on American feelings about Israel.

I should note, it's imperfect because it asks Americans whether they have favorable feelings about Israel or the Palestinian Authority which A.) Is very much not Hamas and B.) Is not Palestinians. But, nevertheless.

Americans’ opinions of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have worsened in the past year amid escalating tensions between the two sides since last fall. Fifty-eight percent of Americans, down from 68% last year, have a “very” or “mostly favorable” view of Israel. This is the lowest favorable rating for Israel in over two decades. At the same time, positive opinions of the Palestinian Authority have dropped from 26% to 18%, the lowest since 2015.

I only mention it because I saw it in the replies to a tweet of someone talking about the despair they felt in how, despite the outrage, the world does not seem in any way interested in meaningfully forcing a ceasefire, and I think it's interesting to see how one can say that Israel has squandered a great deal of goodwill post 10/7, and that nevertheless, they've got approval from roughly 3/5 Americans.

Now, which Americans you're talking about does matter:

Young adults show the biggest decline in ratings of Israel, dropping from 64% favorable among 18- to 34-year-olds in 2023 to 38%. Middle-aged adults (those aged 35 to 54) show a smaller but still significant drop, from 66% to 55%, while there has been no meaningful change among adults aged 55 and older.

As a result, the modest age differences in ratings of Israel seen a year ago, when 10 percentage points separated young adults' and older adults’ views, have expanded. Older Americans are now nearly twice as likely as younger Americans to rate Israel positively, 71% to 38%, respectively.

Younger and older adults’ ratings of the Palestinian Authority haven’t changed much in the past year but were not very positive to begin with. There has been a sharp drop in favorability among 35- to 54-year-olds, from 30% to 15%. Middle-aged adults’ opinions are now closer to those of older Americans (11%) than younger Americans (32%).

This tracks with the protests and online discourse I've seen. The strongest opposition to the Gaza War online is very, very clearly among young people. Although that 11-point drop among middle-aged people is yeesh.

Anyway, despite all of that:

A separate question in the poll underscores Americans’ leanings toward Israel, as it finds 51% saying they sympathize more with the Israelis and 27% more with the Palestinians. The remainder say they sympathize equally with both sides (4%), do not sympathize with either side (10%) or do not have an opinion (8%).

The balance of opinion is similar to last year, when 54% were more sympathetic to the Israelis and 31% to the Palestinians. This suggests that the recent actions by both sides have done little to shift U.S. loyalties, even if overall opinions toward both sides are less positive.

While Americans have always sympathized more with the Israelis, the gap has narrowed in recent years, with last year’s 23-point gap the smallest measured to date and this year’s nearly the same.

Prevailing political patterns in Middle East sympathies remain in place this year. Republicans overwhelmingly sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians, independents tend to favor Israel, and more Democrats side with the Palestinians than Israelis. This is the case even as Democrats give Israel much higher favorable ratings than they give the Palestinian Authority. The Democrats’ movement has been recent; until 2022, Democrats were more likely to sympathize with Israel.

Among age groups, young adults are slightly more sympathetic to the Palestinians than the Israelis (after being equally divided last year), with the other groups sympathizing with Israel.

Which, yeah, not particularly surprised.

Although Americans say they are more sympathetic to the Israelis than the Palestinians, they divide almost evenly when asked whether the U.S. should put more pressure on the Palestinians (39%) or Israelis (36%) to resolve the conflict. Eight percent say the U.S. should put more pressure on both sides, 7% say it should put pressure on neither, and 9% have no opinion.

When Gallup has asked this question before, prior to the current war, the margin in favor of putting pressure on the Palestinians has been larger, ranging from nine to 23 points.

Majorities of young adults (53%) and Democrats (57%) believe the U.S. should put more pressure on the Israelis, while about half as many in each group -- 27% and 24%, respectively -- think the U.S. should pressure the Palestinians more.

Middle-aged adults and independents are divided evenly between wanting to put more pressure on the Israelis (37% for both groups) and the Palestinians (37% of 35- to 54-year-olds and 34% of independents).

By 64% to 14%, Republicans think the U.S. should pressure the Palestinians more than the Israelis. Older Americans are also more inclined to want the U.S. to put more pressure on the Israelis (49%) than the Palestinians (27%).

Again, yeah, I feel like that all tracks. I've seen some people citing polls online that the U.S. population overwhelmingly wants a ceasefire and honestly... my thinking is, and I know people hate hearing it, but it's likely quite a bit more complicated than that.

Getting really sick of US policy.

US recently authorized more bombs for Israel

The Biden administration recently authorized the transfer of over 1,000 500-pound bombs and over 1,000 small-diameter bombs to Israel, according to three people familiar with the matter, adding to its arsenal despite US concerns over the country’s conduct in the war in Gaza.

The transfer authorization of the MK82 bombs and small-diameter bombs, more than 2,000 munitions in total, occurred before an Israeli strike on a humanitarian convoy in Gaza on Monday that killed seven employees of the aid organization World Central Kitchen, a State Department spokesperson said.

We have one carrot/stick to use - refusing to give them more munitions. We need to use that power.