Unguided ‘Dumb Bombs’, according to a US intelligence assessment, about half of Israel’s weapons used in Gaza, since the war began, have been unguided bombs, a ratio that some armaments experts say helps explain the conflict’s massive civilian death toll. The disclosure comes as US and Israeli officials tighten their discussions regarding the sequencing of military operations in the two-month conflict.
Unguided ‘Dumb Bombs’ Used in Almost Half of Israeli Strikes on Gaza
Based on a recent assessment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Israel has launched more than 29,000 air-to-ground missiles into the Palestinian enclave since October 7, with only 55-60% of them being precision-guided. The rest were “dumb bombs,” according to two persons familiar with the assessment who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the topic.
The use of so many unguided bombs, originally reported by CNN, is causing worry among humanitarian groups and others, as there are mounting calls inside and outside the US for Washington to condition any future military help to Israel on the immediate decrease of civilian deaths.
So far, the Biden administration has refused such pleas, fearing a Republican backlash and political attacks from powerful pro-Israel lobbying organizations.
Instead, it has used high-level visits to persuade the Israeli government to narrow the target of its military campaign, including a meeting in Tel Aviv on Thursday between national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli Defence Forces did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the Gaza Health Ministry, about 18,800 people have been killed and another 51,000 have been injured in Gaza during the last two months. Weapons are considered indiscriminate under international law if they cannot be directed at military targets.
“It is difficult to distinguish between valid military targets and civilians in the best of circumstances,” said Brian Castner, senior crisis consultant and weapons inspector at Amnesty International.
“And so just under basic rules of discretion, the Israeli military should be using the most precise weapons that it can that it has available and be using the smallest weapon appropriate for the target.”
Israel has used “very, very large weapons,” according to Castner. “And so when you’re using that in a densely populated area, even if you hit your valid military target, you’re far more likely to kill civilians nearby.”
According to a US person familiar with the situation, Israel’s use of unguided munitions is less troublesome in some cases than in others. The Biden administration believes that hitting tunnel entrances or buildings in less-populated regions, where Israeli jets will fly at low altitudes and drop their payloads at close range – a practice known as “dive-bombing” – is more justifiable.
Overall, the administration deems the number of civilian casualties to be unacceptably high and has urged Israel to exercise greater prudence. According to a US person familiar with the situation, during a recent visit to Israel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Israeli authorities that they only had weeks, not months, to keep fighting at its current pace.
When asked about the deployment of “dumb bombs,” State Department spokesperson Matt Miller claimed he was not in a position to pass “judgment” on the topic.
“There are different ways you can use any number of munitions,” he went on to say.
Sullivan’s travel to Israel on Thursday was the first in a series of top officials’ visits planned in the following days. All are likely to send a strong message about Washington’s intention to slow Israel’s aerial operations. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Charles Q. Brown Jr., is slated to arrive in Israel on Friday, and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin is planned to visit on Monday.
“Netanyahu has gone way too far, and Jake Sullivan will be informing him that the bombing must be greatly limited or Israel will be without its last real friend,” Steve Cohen (Democrat, Tennessee) said in a social media message.
Sullivan “discussed the next phase of Israel’s military campaign” with Netanyahu, according to White House spokeswoman John Kirby, and “asked hard questions.”
“Jake also discussed efforts Israel is now undertaking to be more surgical and precise in their targeting and efforts that they are undertaking to help increase the flow of aid,” he said.
On Friday, Sullivan will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. Reports that Sullivan set a specific deadline for completing high-intensity clearance operations, including airstrikes and major ground movements, by the end of the month are “not entirely accurate,” a senior administration official said after the meetings, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to ground rules imposed by the administration.
While the administration has advocated for more accurate targeting, the official stated that the administration has not set a timeline for Israel.
“We’re still in the middle of the main phase [of] high-intensity clearance operations, which will shift over time to the low-intensity phase” of special operations forces searching out senior Hamas commanders on the ground and destroying military facilities, the official added. “We’re not there yet.”
When questioned if the war could end without Hamas commander Yehiya Sinwar being murdered, the official voiced confidence that he would be assassinated shortly.
“It’s safe to say that his days are numbered,” stated the official. “Justice will be served.”
President Biden told a fundraiser earlier this week that “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza was costing Israel support throughout the world, in some of the harshest US criticism of Israel’s approach to the war yet.
According to Kirby, the president’s remarks “reflected the reality of global opinion, which also matters.”
The international community has grown increasingly outraged and concerned over the number of casualties in Gaza, with 153 countries voting in favor of a UN General Assembly resolution demanding an urgent cease-fire in Gaza — an increase of more than 30 votes since a similar move in late October.
Frustrations are rising in Congress as well after the Biden administration used a rarely used emergency provision to allow the State Department to approve the sale to Israel of nearly 14,000 tank shells worth approximately US$106 million (NZ$170 million) without first going through the normal congressional review channels. Lawmakers are particularly concerned about the lack of information made public on US arms supplies, a process that has required a level of secrecy from the administration that contrasts with its approach to arming Ukraine.
“Do I have any reservations?” Yes, I do,” replied Gregory W. Meeks (Democrat, New York), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, adding that the administration informed him ahead of the tank shell trade.
“Not because it’s Israel or anyone else, because of any funding in that regard, it should come to us.”
Rights groups and even members of Biden’s party have been calling for closer scrutiny of US military support for Israel as well as actions to safeguard civilians.
“We have documented many what we believe to be indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks…” “I believe that the new information about the use of unguided bombs goes a long way towards explaining that,” said Castner, Amnesty International’s weapons investigator.
Even attempts to more precisely tailor the trajectory of such missiles, according to Armament Research Services analysis commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross, cannot eliminate the possibility of civilian injury.
“The predicted area in which they will fall is almost always larger than that of precision-guided equivalents,” according to the paper.
According to Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank, technology exists to help boost the accuracy of unguided missiles.
For example, Israel has F-16s outfitted with targeting pods that use laser designators to improve precision when executing dive bombing attacks.
However, accuracy can be influenced by factors like as aircraft height, wind and weather, and whether the aircraft launching the strike is being targeted from the ground.
According to several experts, the reported deployment of unguided munitions was inconsistent with US policy.
Former Defence Intelligence Agency military adviser Marc Garlasco stated that the US military depends “almost exclusively” on precision bombs.
This is especially true in confrontations in which American commanders pursue targets in urban areas, he added, “because of the likelihood of civilian harm as well as the potential for missing the target.”
“Israel has the most technologically advanced weapons in the world, and their [precision-guided munitions] have an accuracy of three meters,” he claimed, while projectiles can land up to 30 meters away from their intended target with unguided bombardment.
Mick Mulroy, a Marine Corps and CIA veteran who served in the Trump administration, believes Israel may be keeping some precision “smart” bombs in reserve since they are more expensive and difficult to obtain.
Mulroy stated at a Middle East Institute event that Israel looks to have taken a “heavy-handed” approach to its early operations in Gaza. He believes that the United States would have been more conservative and “not have taken many of the shots” that have been criticized.