The age-old struggle between Israel and Hamas has entered a new digital age, albeit on lopsided terms.
Israel has one of the most technologically advanced armies in the world, and the largest defense budget if measured as a percentage of GDP. Hamas, on the other hand, has fewer resources and older technology, despite receiving military and financial aid from supportive Muslim organizations.
From the low-tech role of social media, to the high-tech Israeli missile-defense system, we took a look at how innovation and technology are shaping modern warfare in the Middle East.
The Digital War
Cyberspace has become an increasingly important battlefield, even in old conflicts.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) recognizes the importance of social media, and has taken its fight online to Facebook and Twitter accounts published in English, Arabic and French.
Social media is also used by civilians who want to show support for the war effort. Since the ground operation began on July 8, an Israeli blogger known as “DoubleTapper” started a crowdsource fund-drive to raise money for pizza deliveries to the front line on the Gaza border. He collects donations of $18 on PayPal, then personally delivers pizzas to soldiers awaiting deployment.
The soldiers express their gratitude with shout-outs and pizza selfies on the IDF Facebook page. “Thanks for the treats! IDF Armour troops enjoying a midnight pizza treat!”
But it’s not all pizzas and smiles. The Israeli army’s Twitter handles have been targeted by hackers in what has become an increasingly common form of social-media cyber warfare. Several weeks ago, @IDFSpokesperson, an English-language account of the Israeli army with 309K followers, was breached by the pro-Assad Syrian Electronic Army, which posted a fake tweet “#Warning: Possible nuclear leak in the region after 2 rockets hit Dimona nuclear facility.”
The Twitter breach was quickly spotted and corrected, preventing widespread panic. The Israeli military apologized for the incident and promised to fight terror on all fronts, including Twitter terrorism.
Israeli and Palestinian Internet users are also getting involved in online battles, with hacktivists on both sides of the border scheming to create user-generated viral propaganda to use against their enemy.
Hamas has created instructional jingles about how to commit terror attacks, and has managed to hijack the signal of Israeli cable networks and broadcast their warnings.
Israeli family watching TV:
Israelis have produced their own viral content on Youtube, including the video “Hamas using children as human shields.”
It was later discovered that the video was actually taken from Syria, and is five month old.
Israel’s Iron Dome
Israel owns the world’s most advanced and battle-tested missile-defense shield, called “The Iron Dome.” Operational since 2011, the Iron Dome is largely funded by the United States, which has given $720 million to pay for the system. Last week, the U.S. Senate subcommittee voted to double the Pentagon’s $175 million request for Iron Dome next year.
The Iron Dome is an “anti-missile umbrella” system designed to protect an urban area of almost 58 square miles (about the size of Washington, D.C.). The system consists of nine mobile batteries that operate across Israel; their locations change according to security needs. Each battery consists of a radar, a control unit and a rocket launcher: The radar tracks incoming rockets as they are fired at Israel, then transfers that information to the control unit, which acts as the “brain” of the Iron Dome.
The control unit calculates where the rocket will strike. The system is pre-programmed to prioritize the protection of residential areas, army bases, and other targets, while ignoring rockets fired into unpopulated areas.
The air-defense system is deployed when the control unit sends a signal to the launcher, consisting of 20 Tamir missiles, which are fired automatically to intercept incoming missiles.
The Iron Dome was developed after the 2006 war with Lebanon and previous conflict with Gaza, when more than 4,000 rockets were fired into Israel.
Today the Iron Dome manages to intercept the majority of missiles and rockets—86 percent, according to the IDF —aimed at residential areas inside Israel. Each Iron Dome unit costs $50-60 million; the price of intercepting each missile is about $50,000.
The Innovations of War
War begets innovation. In the case of Israel, the constant threats from Hamas have helped to spawn new generations of technology in defense, IT and medicine.
Most of innovation occurs in Israel’s biggest military unit, Unit 8200, which is the equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency. Thousands of soldiers serve in this unit, gathering intelligence and developing code decryption.
According to a publication in Le Monde in 2010, the unit operates a “spying network that taps undersea cables…and has covert listening posts in Israeli embassy buildings abroad.”
The technological knowledge accumulated by Unit 8200 over the years has led to dozens of start-ups and security companies, such as Check Point, an international provider of IT security solutions with some 3,000 employees worldwide.
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the company that created the Iron Dome, also invented Protector USV, the world’s first remote-controlled inflatable gunboat.
Israel also devised The First Care Emergency Bandage (also known as the “Israeli bandage”), which is used to stop bleeding in trauma situations. The Israeli bandage is used by military medics around the world, and is believed to have saved the life of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in a 2011 shooting.
Photo: First Care Products
Another cutting-edge technology tested in Israel is freeze-dried blood powder. The army is taking soldiers’ blood samples and condensing it. In the battlefield, it can be mixed with water to give transfusions to wounded soldiers.
The Israeli injured personnel carrier (a strap that allows rescue workers to carry wounded persons on their back) is used by firefighters, rescue teams and hikers throughout the world.
Other Israeli inventions include the USB flash drive and the Waze and Viber apps, have become commonly used consumer goods around the globe.