Israel Facing Scrutiny Over Reportedly Using AI For Gaza Targets—Top UN Official Says He’s ‘Deeply Troubled’ – Forbes

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A report from an Israeli magazine claiming Israel uses an artificial intelligence program to identify potential targets in its war against Hamas in Gaza—a claim that Israel has denied—is drawing scrutiny from world leaders, particularly in the wake of the Israeli military’s killing of World Central Kitchen aid workers that Israel called a “grave mistake.”

Key Facts

The report, from magazine +972 and Hebrew-language outlet the Local Call, cited six Israeli intelligence officers who claimed that Israel used the program, called “Lavender,” to identify up to 37,000 Palestinians allegedly linked to Hamas and their residential homes as potential military targets with little human oversight.

On Friday, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply troubled” about reports that Israel was using artificial intelligence to identify targets in densely populated residential areas, adding “life and death decisions” should not be “delegated to the cold calculation of algorithms.”

The United States has not independently verified the report, White House national security spokesman John Kirby told CNN on Thursday—but officials are looking into it, he said.

The reports have also drawn concern from experts—Adil Haque, for instance, a law professor at Rutgers University, tweeted the report was “the nightmare of every international humanitarian lawyer come to life.”

But the Israel Defense Forces has strongly pushed back on the reporting, denying it uses artificial intelligence to identify targets, but rather uses a multitude of tools in the “target identification process,” and that analysts must independently conclude whether a suspected target is relevant.

What Did The Report Say?

The +972 report alleged Israel used the AI system to develop a list of thousands of Palestinian targets—with little oversight to ensure that the system’s decisions were accurate. The IDF then allegedly used additional automated systems to target the suspects while in their homes, increasing the number of civilian casualties, according to +972. The report also claimed that Israeli officials determined it was acceptable to kill between 15 and 20 civilians for every target—a claim that Ben Saul of the University of Sydney, an independent expert to the U.N. on human rights and counterterrorism, said could make Israel liable for war crimes “if true.”

Contra

In a lengthy response to the Guardian, which also had access to the testimony of sources who spoke to +972, the IDF said the system referred to in the reports was “simply a database whose purpose is to cross-reference intelligence sources, in order to produce up-to-date layers of information on the military operatives of terrorist organizations.” The IDF said for each target, it must assess the potential collateral damage for each individual strike, noting “the IDF does not carry out strikes when the expected collateral damage from the strike is excessive in relation to the military advantage.” The IDF maintains it follows all international law and “outright rejects the claim regarding any policy to kill tens of thousands of people in their homes.”

Key Background

Israel’s military policy has come under intense international scrutiny in recent days following a strike that killed several aid workers with the World Central Kitchen. José Andrés, the celebrity chef who founded the organization, has accused Israel of “systematically” targeting the vehicles that carried the workers. The IDF released its preliminary investigation into the strike Friday, calling the incident a “grave mistake” and alleging Israeli forces believed they were targeting Hamas operatives. President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, demanding Israel do more to protect civilians in its war against Hamas, which started after Hamas killed more than 1,200 and took hundreds hostage in an attack on Israel on Oct. 7. More than 30,000 people have since been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry—most are believed to be civilians.

Further Reading

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