Israel’s use of AI in the Israel-Hamas war will redefine for history the term killing machine. In a sprawling 8,000-word investigation, journalists with the Tel Aviv-based magazines +972 and Local Call revealed last week the existence of an AI program called Lavender designed to compile kill lists of Palestinians suspected as operatives of the military wings of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  

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The idea behind the AI program, which has been widely embraced in the Israeli military, is to bring efficiency to assassinations by removing the “human bottleneck” in assessing the intelligence that points to a possible target.  

In the Israel-Hamas war, the Israeli army has given “sweeping approval for officers to adopt Lavender’s kill lists, with no requirement to thoroughly check why the machine made those choices or to examine the raw intelligence data on which they were based,” according to the investigation’s author, Yuval Abraham. Human personnel “served only as a ‘rubber stamp’ for the machine’s decisions,” typically devoting only about 20 seconds to each target before authorizing a bombing, and this only to ensure the Lavender-marked target was male. 

“This was despite knowing that the system makes what are regarded as ‘errors’ in approximately 10% of cases, and is known to occasionally mark individuals who have merely a loose connection to militant groups, or no connection at all,” said +972.  

A related automated program whose existence was also revealed last week by +972 is called “Where’s Daddy?”, which tracks the Lavender-targeted individuals to carry out bombings specifically when the individual enters his family residence.

Deploying AI for the first time as the decider of who lives and who dies, the Israelis have pioneered a new era for warfare, unleashing a monstrous machine apparatus of mass murder.

The team of reporters interviewed six Israeli intelligence officers who spoke anonymously and who had served in the Israel-Hamas war and had firsthand knowledge of the use of the AI-powered targeting systems. “Once you go automatic, target generation goes crazy,” said one source.  “Most of the people [we] killed were women and children,” said another.

According to the sources, the Israeli army decided early on in the war, in what +972 called “an unprecedented move,” that “for every Junior Hamas operative that Lavender marked, it was permissible to kill up to 15 or 20 civilians.” That was a sea change from protocol in past conflicts, when the military authorized no collateral damage during assassinations of low-ranking militants. In the case of senior Hamas officials ranked as battalion or brigade commanders, the Israeli army during the Israel-Hamas war “on several occasions authorized the killing of more than 100 civilians in the assassination of a single commander.”

Another source, an intelligence officer, told +972, “We were not interested in killing [Lavender-targeted militants] only when they were in a military building or engaged in a military activity.  On the contrary, the IDF bombed them in homes without hesitation, as a first option. It’s much easier to bomb a family’s home. The system is built to look for them in these situations.”

Cost accounting was a key factor in the decision to use unguided missiles in the targeting of alleged junior militants marked by Lavender — “dumb” missiles which, in contrast to “smart” precision bombs, tend to level entire buildings.  “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],” said an intelligence officer. Another source told +972 they “had personally authorized the bombing of ‘hundreds’ of private homes of alleged junior operatives marked by Lavender, with many of these attacks killing civilians and entire families,” presumably with the added benefit of the cost-savings of using dumb bombs.  

All this may help explain the appalling number of civilian casualties in the war. Deploying AI for the first time as the decider of who lives and who dies, the Israelis have pioneered a new era for warfare, unleashing a monstrous machine apparatus of mass murder.

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