Unguided ‘dumb bombs’ used in almost half of Israeli strikes on Gaza

Unguided ‘dumb bombs’ used in almost half of Israeli strikes on Gaza

Almost half of the munitions Israel has used in Gaza since the war began have been unguided bombs, a U.S. intelligence assessment has found, a ratio that some arms experts say helps explain the conflict’s enormous civilian death toll. The revelation comes as U.S. and Israeli officials engage in intensifying conversations about the sequencing of military operations in the two-month conflict.

The Israel Defense Forces has fired more than 29,000 air-to-ground munitions into the Palestinian enclave since Oct. 7, and only 55 to 60 percent of them have been precision-guided, according to a new assessment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The rest were what are known as “dumb bombs,” said two people familiar with the assessment who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter.

The use of so many unguided bombs, first reported by CNN, is a concern among humanitarian groups and others amid growing calls inside and outside the United States for Washington to condition any further military aid to Israel on the immediate reduction of civilian deaths.

The Biden administration has thus far rejected such calls, fearing a backlash by Republicans and political attacks from powerful pro-Israel lobbying organizations. Instead, it has attempted to influence the Israeli government to sharpen the focus of its military campaign using high-level visits, including meetings in Tel Aviv on Thursday between national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The IDF did not respond to a request for comment.

Nearly 18,800 people have been killed and almost 51,000 wounded in Gaza over the past two months, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Under international law, weapons are considered indiscriminate if they cannot be directed at military targets.

“It is challenging in the best of circumstances to differentiate between valid military targets and civilians” there, said Brian Castner, senior crisis adviser and weapons investigator 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 been using “very, very large weapons,” Castner said. “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.”

In some instances, Israel’s use of unguided munitions is less problematic than in others, said a U.S. official familiar with the matter. Hitting tunnel entrances or buildings in less-populated areas, when Israeli planes will fly at low altitudes and release their payloads at close range — a tactic known as “dive bombing” — is viewed as more defensible by the Biden administration.

Overall, however, the administration considers the level of civilian casualties unacceptably high and has implored the Israelis to take greater caution. In a recent visit to Israel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Israeli officials they had weeks, not months, to continue fighting at its current pace, said a U.S. official familiar with the matter.

When asked about the use of “dumb bombs,” State Department spokesman Matt Miller said he was not in a position to provide “judgment” on the matter. “There are different ways you can use any number of munitions,” he said.

Sullivan’s trip to Israel on Thursday marked the first in a string of visits planned by senior officials in coming days. All are expected to bring a stark message regarding Washington’s desire for a change to the pace of Israel’s aerial campaign. Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is scheduled to arrive Friday, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is due in Israel 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,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said in a statement on social media.

White House spokesman John Kirby said Sullivan “discussed the next phase of Israel’s military campaign” with Netanyahu 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,” Kirby said.

Sullivan plans on meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank on Friday. Reports that Sullivan laid down a specific timeline 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 told reporters after the meetings, on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the administration.

While the administration has pressed for more precise targeting, the official said the administration has given Israel no deadline.

“We’re still in the middle of the main phase [of] high-intensity clearance operations, which over time will shift to the low-intensity phase” of special operations forces seeking out senior Hamas leaders on the ground and destroying military infrastructure, the official said. “We’re not there yet.”

When asked if the war could conclude without the death of Hamas leader Yehiya Sinwar, the official expressed confidence that he would be killed soon. “It’s safe to say his days are numbered,” the official said. “Justice will be served.”

Earlier this week, President Biden told attendees at a fundraiser that “the indiscriminate bombing that takes place” in Gaza was beginning to cost Israel support around the world, in some of the sharpest U.S. criticism yet of Israel’s approach to the war.

Kirby has said the president’s comments “reflected the reality of global opinion, which also matters.”

There has been growing international condemnation and concern over the scale of casualties in Gaza, with 153 nations voting Tuesday in favor of a U.N. General Assembly resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire in Gaza — an increase of more than 30 votes since a similar motion in late October.

Frustrations are rising in Congress too, after the Biden administration invoked a sparingly used emergency provision to allow the State Department to approve the sale to Israel of nearly 14,000 tank shells, worth roughly $106 million, without first going through the normal congressional review channels. Lawmakers are also uncomfortable with the dearth of information made public about U.S. arms transfers, a process that has entailed a level of secrecy from the administration at odds with its approach to arming Ukraine.

“Do I have concerns? Yes, I do, in regard to that,” said Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who added that he was informed by the administration ahead of the tank shells sale. “Not because it’s Israel or anyone else, because of any funding in that regards, it should come to us.”

Pressure has also been growing from rights groups and even within Biden’s own party, with calls for greater scrutiny over U.S. military support for Israel as well as the measures taken to protect civilians.

“We have documented a number of what we would argue are indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks. … I think this new information about the use of unguided bombs actually goes a long way to explain that,” said Castner, Amnesty International’s weapons investigator.

Even attempts to more precisely engineer the path of such missiles can’t necessarily mitigate the potential for civilian harm,  » …
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