Using OSINT to provide intelligence on conflict zones in Israel and Gaza

Media Thumbnail
  • 0.5
  • 1
  • 1.25
  • 1.5
  • 1.75
  • 2
This is a podcast episode titled, Using OSINT to provide intelligence on conflict zones in Israel and Gaza. The summary for this episode is: <p>Janes analysts discuss the ongoing situation in Israel/Gaza and discuss how OSINT can help us look at events in conflict zones, including analysis of what happened at the Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza.</p>
Israel Gaza conflict
00:36 MIN

Speaker 6: Welcome to the World of Intelligence, a podcast for you to discover the latest analysis of global military and security trends within the open source defense intelligence community. Now onto the episode with your host, Harry Kemsley.

Harry Kemsley: Hello and welcome to this edition of World of Intelligence at Janes. As usual, my co- conspirator is Sean Corbett. Hello Sean.

Sean Corbett: Hi Harry.

Harry Kemsley: And your host, myself, Harry Kemsley. Sean, we picked up on the last podcast on the terrible events that we're seeing rolling out in and around Gaza with Israel. We talked about, at the end of that podcast, coming back to look at what our colleagues have been doing, particularly from an open source perspective. And therefore I'm delighted to invite back Elliot Chapman.

Elliot Chapman: Hello.

Harry Kemsley: Lewis Smart.

Lewis Smart: Hi there, Harry. Great to be back.

Harry Kemsley: And also to invite Amael Kotlarski, another colleague from Janes. Hello Amael.

Amael Kotlarski: Hello. Thanks for having me.

Harry Kemsley: Lewis Smart is the manager of the Janes Country Intelligence Middle East and North Africa, MENA team. And given his background as a CBRN Analyst, you may remember we previously discussed with him the nuclear program in Iran. Lewis also covers CBRN issues across the MENA region. Elliot Chapman is a research analyst in the Janes MENA team, where he focuses on the close monitoring and analysis of Israeli security operations and Palestinian military activity. Before working at Janes, Elliot worked in a political risk analysis role and has also served in the British Army Reserves. Amael Kotlarski has been responsible for the Jane's Infantry Weapons Dataset for the last four and a half years, as well as recently becoming the Manager of the Weapons Team, which oversees the totality of the Janes' weapons dataset, which includes air, launch weapons, naval weapons, strategic weapons, infantry weapons, and the Janes Ammunition handbook. Amael has a bachelor's degree in International Politics and a master's in International Security. All right. So gents, let's go back to where we left off from the last podcast, where we had essentially started to understand a sort of a foundational understanding of what was going on, how the Israeli forces were responding, and that we said we would be moving on to other activities. And one of those activities, I think we mentioned in the last podcast, was moving towards the building of scenarios and how that might become one of those things that the open source environment can support. Before we go to those though, let's just get, from yourself, Elliot, a quick update on what has changed. What are the key insights you've seen since we last spoke about the situation? And in a brief sense, how have you managed to gain those insights from the open source environment? Elliot?

Elliot Chapman: Yeah, thanks Harry. I think the really big things that we've seen happening since our last conversation has been a general broadening of the conflict. Politically, it's become a very international issue. Right from the start, of course, it was an international issue, but there's been a lot of engagement by foreign leaders around the world in the issue directly with Israel and the Palestinian authority and other leaders in the region as well. But also alongside that political level, which in terms of open source is pretty easy to track, of course, because we're just looking at the news and statements, that type of thing. So alongside that, we're also looking at, for myself specifically, the regional actors in the immediate neighborhood of Israel and Palestine, looking at specifically what is going on in the north, in Lebanon, in Israel's north, and also of course, what's happening in the West Bank, in Gaza. And I think what we've been seeing, really key events in these areas, is a heightening of tensions across the board and the risks of, to use a commonly used phrase, a kind of contagion of violence throughout the region. And that's something that we've been tracking very closely. In terms of the actors in these areas. Open sources is a little more tricky than just reading the news. We'd have to delve into things like social media channels. It's little nooks and crannies of the internet where these groups, such as Hezbollah or militants in the West Bank like to freely disseminate their propaganda so that their signaling is a big part of how we gather information. And of course, we have our own events data as well, which is always very helpful to keep track of major events that are happening and allows us to step back and take a look at a broader perspective of events.

Harry Kemsley: Very good. And so Lewis, now taking a slightly wider aperture around this part of the world, what else are we seeing? What are the other insights that you've seen since we last spoke?

Lewis Smart: Yeah. As earlier mentioned, there is a wider kind of contagion here. And the regional picture is going to heat up and it is heating up. The interesting thing, how to track this via OSINT, is I think OSINT is increasingly able to give us a strategic and operational indication of where this regional picture and dynamic might emerge. So in one case, one of the big angles of this conflict will be Iran's influence and policy on the conflict. And that will generally be exercised through Iraq and through the sheer aligned groups and the popular mobilization forces and how these groups can, well, will probably likely start going through to Syria to support Hezbollah there. In terms of the OSINT, I think actually, as Elliot said, the place to start is sometimes the statements, the most obvious releases by governments. And it's interesting because PM Sudani released on the 9th of October a speech where he vigorously supported the Palestinian cause. But he said, to quote, " As a government, we have expressed opposition and the political forces have also expressed statements." Now that's almost certainly in reference to the manifold Shiite militia groups in the PMF, Kata'ib Sayyid al- Shuhada, Kata'ib Hezbollah, Badr Organization, Asa'ib Ahl al- Haq, they have all expressed strong statements saying that any involvement of the US in this conflict especially will trigger a backlash. So that sets the strategic picture. And then, so via OSINT, the task now is to say, " Okay. Well we know the broad, and we've got a good angle on the strategic intel picture here. How about the operational?" We can see, and we have seen that there have been a couple of drone attacks in Iraq, that was reported by OSINT accounts or on the social media. It was confirmed by a CENTCOM press release where there were two drones, and they defended against free drones, sorry, near US and coalition forces in Iraq, minor injuries by coalition forces. So, we can start to see that the PMF groups will probably start to go, maybe start moving material into Syria and they also may start to strike US targets in Iraq. Now that seems to be the broad strategic and operational angle, I think for those groups at the moment in how this regional picture might start to emerge. And in fact, Biden also called PM Sudani again, it was either yesterday or the day before, to explicitly in the White House press statement to prevent escalation of the conflict. So, that's how I'm starting to build the broad strategic picture for OSINT. At the operational level, it's using our foundation intel on these PMF groups that we have to assess, well what capabilities do they have? What are their leadership? What is their prior existing relationship with Hezbollah? A lot of these groups worked with Hezbollah in Syria during the Civil War, so we can start to build that picture. Tactically, at the moment there isn't as much OSINT, I expect any involvement by the IRGC- QF with these groups will be as secure as possible. They have preexisting comms channels that OSINT may struggle to get ahold of. But from the strategic and operational picture, we can start to say that it's likely that these groups will either increase their attacks within Iraq on US coalition forces or are likely starting to position material into Syria to support that northern front with Hezbollah.

Harry Kemsley: Okay, perfect. All right. So Sean, I'm going to just pivot the conversation slightly here. One of the things that I've detected and we've talked about before on these podcasts is the power of information in these environments and the mis and disinformation that will be flowing around now for a variety of purposes. What have you seen, what are your thoughts about the mis and disinformation work that's going on right now around this particular campaign?

Sean Corbett: Thanks, Harry. I think it's absolutely critical to what's going on right now. If you look at the strategic level and what we'd call the strategic center of gravity. So, what is the key thing that all the belligerents actually need? And that's the international support from governments, from partners, from allies. And the way to do that is through, yes, diplomacy, but also propaganda. Now, what we're seeing right now is a huge amount, an absolutely enormous amount of misinformation and disinformation. And just a reminder, disinformation is the deliberate sharing of information intelligence that is not true in order to support your case. And then misinformation, which can be anything from circular reporting of something that's wrong, misinterpretation, and to this case particularly, the all conflicts are polarized, but in this case the polarization from people that are outside of the immediate environment is absolutely massive. Now what that does is, you've heard again, we've talked about before, the echo chamber. People repeat what they like to see here or what they've heard because they're in the same sort of environment in terms of their friends and the people that they actually take social media off. And it reinforces, not necessarily the truth. And we're seeing that in absolute buckets right now. Now, what that does for me, is it validates entirely professional open source intelligence. Again, many times I've said that the first report is generally the wrong one, and once again this seems to be the case. So the tragic incidents at the hotel, of course, sorry, the hotel, the hospital, al- Ahli hospital. Now, people are still working on what exactly happened there, but there was some very, very quick and irresponsible judgments on who did what. And it's only now that some reputable people are starting to say, " Right, where is the evidence? Collect all the evidence." Whether that is imagery. Whether that is open source intelligence in terms of ground- based photographs imagery. Whether that is comms intercept, again at the unclassified level. Or whether it's just social media, and trying to get an objective view of what happened. And that's the layering, that's the multi- source, it's all the trade craft things that we've been talking about to come up with the most likely outcome. And again, of course, you've got to be careful then, this is where the professionalism comes in, because it's all very well taking a subset of social media, but if you are taking it from one part of the world or one of the perspectives, you're just going to reinforce unconscious bias. So you've got to step back and take that objectivity.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah. Thanks Sean. Now, when we spoke last time, unless I'm confusing a conversation we had after the podcast, I'm pretty sure we talked about how we might start to build scenarios to address what is going on in a variety of different ways. So Lewis, going to come to you first in terms of how we would use scenarios to start to build hypotheses and indeed compete hypotheses to start to find what we might describe as being, not necessarily" the truth", ground truth, but the more compelling, the more legitimate, the more plausible outcomes or events. How do you and your team go about building those scenarios?

Lewis Smart: It's sort a multidisciplinary approach typically involving various SMEs and we get our heads together and often we'll assess what available evidence is brought forward to us. Generally speaking, my team within Janes acts more in an advisory role. So, we spend, our day jobs are basically maintaining our equipment database records and make sure they're up- to- date. So typically we will get approached by other teams, such as the Country Risk team or sometimes external clients or organizations, recently obviously, we've been doing a lot of work with media organizations who have been providing us with evidence to assess, basically, and to give our opinion on. So it's a bit of a collegial approach. Each of my team members have their own domain of expertise, but of course, sometimes that overlaps a little bit, so we tend to share opinions. And we try to test our hypothesis, whether or not the evidence that's brought forward to us with obviously the full knowledge that it may be limited, it's only a small portion of what we can see, there's all these caveats that go around it. Is the evidence brought forward to us... Can we test... Does it match what the hypothesis is being brought forward to? And can we offer other alternatives as likely scenarios? The degree of which will depend on each scenario, that there's no, I'm afraid there's no hard rule on that particular front, but it's basically a lot of image analysis, for the most part for what we do. A bit of audio, oftentimes if we've got video that also brings up audio. We recently worked on a project for a few days before the attack on the hospital as well where one group was alleging a certain attack and we found that the available audio for some of the videos that were captured during the attack were, I think quite invaluable in trying to test that hypothesis and whether or not a certain type of weapon that was claimed to be used was in fact used. And it will vary and we'll oftentimes, we'll come back with various degrees of certainty or uncertainty as to what happened. But it's usually a discussion. It's rarely just one SME, subject matter expert that basically just is in charge of giving their opinion. Oftentimes there'll be a bit of a discussion and debate. And in the case, for example, of the hospital attack, we still haven't reached a conclusion yet that we've been able to perhaps disprove certain hypotheses, or it's not disprove, but set aside, thinking that the evidence does not support certain the hypotheses. But yes, as we say, there are still imagery and evidence coming out of that particular event, so we tried not to act too hastily. And oftentimes we waited for more of that footage to come out, as we suspect it would for such an event that would, and it's a serious event of course, but one that would drew a huge amount of media attention and international intention of course. And as Sean said, a lot of people reacting very, very quickly to very limited information at the time.

Harry Kemsley: Yes. So Elliot, let me come back to you then. So when we spoke last time, as I've said already in this podcast, we started to build that foundational exposure, we started to understand the foundational intelligence picture, we're moving on to scenarios. And now, Amael has just explained to us how we start to build those scenarios in that multifaceted way. What kind of conversations have you been having as the direct analyst directly involved in this with those colleagues around you to help you start to build out the more likely scenarios versus the ones that, as Amael has said, we set aside, how have you gone about doing that?

Elliot Chapman: That's a very good question. I'd say, I'm going to immediately go to the main thrust of our efforts at the moment, which is looking at Hezbollah in the north. There's a lot of interest on whether or not Hezbollah will attack Israel, to keep it blunt really, in the current scenario of this, potentially existential crisis for one of its, if not allies, at least one of its aligned interests in Gaza. So, there's a lot of questions around will or won't Hezbollah enter this conflict? And so what we're trying to build is, does Hezbollah desire entry into this conflict? What are its capabilities, if it does do that? What are its options? What kind of things is it said it would like to do in terms of describing its doctrine and that kind of thing? So the first port of call is always to review what we have, what know at Jane's. And of course, we have a lot of foundational information on Hezbollah. We have group profiles, lots of pieces of research that have been done over the years, lots of excellent analysis on their weapon systems that they have available. All that kind of stuff that people like Amael are very good at. So, we sort of initially just go into our own ecosystem and analyze our own information. And then, again, it's a matter of working with other experts in Janes to build possible scenarios within the constraints of what we know. And of course, there's always going to be elements to attacks or scenarios that we don't know, clearly as was demonstrated on the 7th of October, there's things that we cannot model. But I think from our perspective, what we're trying to do is say, " Here are the things that we know. And based on the things that we know, these are the most credible scenarios that could come from this and here's how they might play out." And so for Hezbollah, what we've really been interested in in exploring is, could it conduct an offensive right now? And I think there's a lot of questions for us around that, about the efficacy of an offensive it could conduct, let alone the kind of overall strategic thinking that might be going through Hezbollah's mind at the moment, which is, does it get involved and risk an existential crisis that it may not necessarily need to bring upon itself? And the same kind of calculus goes for a lot of the actors in the region, and I'm sure Lewis can speak to some of these other actors and in particular Iran as well. But with Hezbollah, especially in the context of a really heightened sense of awareness in Israeli defense forces and a large deployment along its northern border that the known, or at least what we understand to be Hezbollah's doctrine seems to be not well suited to the current level of Israeli forces in its north. So, what we're positing from that is that really Hezbollah is in a dangerous position actually, and it's put itself in a dangerous position from its rhetoric and the way it's essentially navigated the conflict since 7th of October. And what we've seen is this real desire to test the limits of what Israel is and isn't willing to do. Clearly Israel does not want to open up a second front at this time, but also if Israel feels that it has to, it may do that. And of course, Hezbollah doesn't want to put to itself in a position where it's under threat when it doesn't need to or feels it doesn't need to. And so, that's the kind of thing that we're modeling. Those are the ways that we're thinking at the moment. And of course, our own information and the social media channels that we monitor, monitoring the kind of cadence and scale of attacks that are happening along the borders. The Israel- Lebanon border is something that we're monitoring very, very closely. And of course, in an environment like this where there's a lot of ideological, religious and a lot of different actors as well, I mean, Hezbollah is not the only people operating in that region in Lebanon, there are a lot of other actors. I think early on we saw Hezbollah congratulating Islamic Jihad for an attack that they conducted in Lebanon into Israel. So, there's a lot of known unknowns, to put it in one way, about the things that are going on there. But as I say, to bring it back to the beginning, the best that we can do is say, " What do we know? What are we confident in?", and we go from there and build scenarios.

Harry Kemsley: Very good. Sean, I'm going to come to just a moment to go back to a question I asked you the last podcast about what's happening behind the Green Bays wall, what's happening inside the vault, inside those agencies that you know so well that might be different to what's happening in the open source environment. So, I'll come back to you in just a second with that, Sean. But Lewis, if I just turn to you for a second in that wider perspective that you gave us earlier. In terms of scenario development for the wider contingencies that may or may not appear, how do we do that in a open source environment?

Lewis Smart: Yeah, I don't think I actually need to go into specifics in terms of actors. Because I think actually, Elliot, what he talked about with Hezbollah applies across the field really. It's amazing how quickly, with OSINT information proliferating, it's amazing how quickly the online world and people can suddenly question themselves. I think a great example of this, I think it was a week ago, where there were reports in the online space about Hezbollah sending over people on paragliders to Israeli villages in the north. Quickly, everyone was exploding online, there was worry and panic and all sorts of commentary on it. But actually, as Elliot said, that information turned out to be incorrect to begin with, the first report was wrong. The second report is actually when we step back, that does not fit a model. So essentially when I'm seeing that information, I'm turning it into intelligence by going, " Well actually, that information is very out of the blue, it does not fit prior existing models of actually how we treat actors and what we know about these actors." And I think that's important to note, because we're quickly, when we see these events, people suddenly doubt themselves as to everything that existed before. And I think we need to integrate open source information into that intelligence cycle to go, " Actually, Hezbollah is a rational actor and it has this prior doctrine and it has this prior capabilities and it has these prior relationships and it has these prior interests.", and we have to fit the information into that model and the cycle, verifying, disseminate, all that stuff, that intelligent cycle. That wasn't done in the first half hour of those information reports. And actually it turned out, again, I think Elliot's analysis actually of this is quite spot on. He's talking about Hezbollah in a prior model that we know before the conflict, which does help us. Now, there's also irrational factors at play. This is a human conflict, it's full of human actors, that we've also talked about how actually the model that Hezbollah may want to enact is under pressure from irrational factors like pride, like performative need to actually enact as a protector for Muslims and Palestinians. Those irrational factors are a pull on the rational actor model. So for me, I think we need to, with a plethora of open source information, we need to make sure that the models and the intelligence cycle are adhered to so that it becomes OSINT. And we could say that when that reports of attacks happened, it's possible that we have a very low confidence that that is the case. That's where we need to be in a position and put it through our models and tradecraft and not just respond emotionally and think that everything prior to these information events doesn't matter.

Harry Kemsley: Got it. Very good. That's fascinating. I'm going to come back to that. Maybe we'll look again at the hospital incident. And Amael, at that point, maybe we'll have a look at how we might look at weapons effects knowing how weapons operate. We'll come back to it in a second. So Sean, take yourself back, if I may, to the DIA, to NATO, to any of the many intelligence agencies you've worked in at various levels, including very senior ones. What's going on inside those organizations right now?

Sean Corbett: Well firstly, there'll be a lot of very, very busy people, very focused and some of them who have to get themselves up to speed particularly, but it'll be happening at three levels as well, very much so. There's such a blur in between the strategic, operational and tactical, but again, it applies here. So at the tactical level, very much so formations and all the rest of it. There will be special forces that are getting ready or preparing or planning to deploy, for instance, hostage rescue or anything else they might be asked to do. Rapier like type activity. The operational level, obviously the UK has got a task force, a small naval task force going out that way, but they'll be looking at the protection for that and how they also integrate with other allies. But also looking wider in terms of UK footprint from a military perspective, where are we likely to see the contagion word as we keep talking about? So where would our own forces be at threat, whether that's embassies, whether it is deployed forces in places, and even at home actually. And then, a huge amount of effort will be at the strategic political level. The political leaders who are engaged in some pretty intense diplomacy right now will be wanting to know what other leaders are thinking, what other countries are planning to do, what they may do. How do we influence them, and how do we prevent the escalation that everybody's concerned about? So all three of those levels, there will be a huge amount of effort going on and a lot of intelligence sharing as well amongst trusted organizations. And again, this is, as was jus discussed before, somewhere that certainly for those that are less integrated in terms of intelligent sharing would be using the open source side of things. But the scenario planning is very, very critical here. And I'm pleased that you're doing this. The what ifs, the so whats, because the nirvana that we've always talked about getting to is predictive intelligence. Well, perhaps in another podcast we can talk about the intelligence failure that happened here and I think it is one of those few cases there was an intelligence failure. But how do we get to where we really want to get to in the entire community to predictive intelligence? And that's all about where you've got to be looking in the right place first, you've got to understand the intent and the capabilities plus also the opportunities. So it's the threat matrix, isn't it? And that means looking at all the factors that I know you guys have been doing. Develop your scenarios, look about what's the most likely versus the highest risk. Because those two are not necessarily the same thing. And then do your evaluation against each of those. And all of that will be going on right now.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah. I can only begin to imagine. So you've got teams of people looking at Ukraine, teams of people looking at the situation right now in the lavant. You've got doubtless teams looking at business as usual work going on around the world. Huge amounts of focus for some on the South China Sea and Chinese and so on and so forth. Dividing up your resources must be becoming a critical issue in terms of the intelligence picture we're building.

Sean Corbett: Yeah, absolutely right. And this is where the prioritization comes in. And at some stage there'll be, there is just too much going on, you've got to make best effort. Which again is down to a sort of federated approach, both within formations but also trusted partnerships and alliances. " Right, you look at that because we're looking at this." But everyone's going to have a look to an extent at everything because you've got to get a national perspective. But yeah, I can't overestimate how busy everybody's going to be. As an aside on that, and I'm sure you guys are doing that, but someone is stepping back saying, " Okay, what else is about to happen?" Because if I'm a bad actor right now, whether it's Iran, whether it's North Korea, whether it's China looking east, now is the perfect time to be doing something that you would not necessarily be doing deliberately over along the time and go, " Is this the opportunity?", whether or not it's a miscalculation.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, interesting question, isn't it? As we now all draw our eye to lavant as we've done with Ukraine, should we in the commercial sector be now starting to say, " Okay, our partners, our customers are now up to speed with the foundational stuff that we can support them with. We're giving them scenario support, now we're going to pivot and start looking around the perimeter because there's probably threats out there." An interesting point. All right, let me bring us back then to this horrific incident with the hospital. And Amael, at this point I'm going to bring you in again, as I said a moment ago, in terms of how open source analysts with the expertise you've got can look at the available evidence such as it is, it's not forensic, it's going to be at best at distance. I'm not going to be able to show you the fragments of the device potentially, not for a while yet, perhaps. How do you start to assess the damage seen or the weapons that might be used? How do you start to do that, Amael?

Amael Kotlarski: So, first as oftentimes we'll take basically some of the claims that are inaudible or being presented by various people. Typically, in this case it'll be initially the primary protagonists of this conflict. It'll be either the words of Hamas and then in this case the responsive of the IDF. And both had different claims about what exactly occurred during this event. Hamas, of course, were the first ones to present their claim that the hospital was struck by an IDF strike. I believe the original claims were an airstrike, but they weren't very specific, they just simply blamed this on the IDF. They don't have to be really specific in other cases, it doesn't suit their political needs. The IDF was a bit slow in responding, but the IDF basically prepared and then released a number of pieces of evidence, including drone footage that was also quite quickly on open source intelligence accounts that are diffusing videos filmed of that night of an apparent rocket launch or several rocket launches, and one in question appearing to suffer some kind of malfunction just after prior to launch. Obviously it's always made more difficult by the fact that it's happened at night and therefore the visibility is very low, so you're sort of having to sort of fill in the blanks somewhat a little bit with your own expertise of what could have happened. The IDF then presented the fact that the rocket launch nearby, basically one of the launches failed, the rocket fell back to the ground and potentially impacted the hospital. The footage at that time showed something happening to one of the rockets, almost immediately followed a few seconds later by a fairly large fireball that happened on the ground, which we assumed at the time would be sort of around the grounds of the hospital itself. It would have to wait until... I think it was only until yesterday, if memory serves, that we started having actual footage of the impact point or the alleged impact point on the grounds of the hospital itself. So obviously, we were treated to a scene of... It's not a particularly large compound, it was smaller than I thought initially. I've not been familiar with that particular hospital in Gaza, I only became aware of its existence just like perhaps the majority of people after the strike happened. A car park with lots of cars on fire, so suddenly you start to, or at least cars that were on fire and destroyed by fire. So that already begins to build a picture on the ground. Again, going into assessing weapon effects. What are we seeing? Can we see any evidence of damage on the buildings? What is the pattern of the damage on the buildings? What is the nature of the pattern on the buildings? So we're seeing fragmentation damage, basically holes just punched through windows and brick walls, some damage to roofing, some of the tiles on some of the roofs. One of the roofs seemed to be damaged by fire. Some fencings that were blown away. And then we had to wait a little bit more, and then we started seeing the actual crater itself. Possibly one of the most important pieces of evidence, because in the initial assessment that the IDF gave, they said there was no visible cratering. In the drone footage I believe that they overlaid with some symbology and they said that there was no apparent crater. It turns out that there is a small crater, not a particularly large one, which I understand had, it might've been obstructed by one of the wrecks of the cars that were in the carpark at the time, the footage on the ground shows one of the cars being overturned. So that again, that's an interesting piece of information. Was it overturned to make way so people could photograph the crater or was it actually overturned by the blast or by whatever hit the ground. What is clear, is something hit the ground. Something landed in that car park and detonated quite violently and set fires at the cars and probably created a sort of congregation with various cars basically catching fire. And cars don't typically explode, but a car catching fire can be quite a violent, it's unpleasant event to be around anyway. But some of the damage pattern didn't see, started making sense if we're thinking about a traditional airstrike, a traditional aircraft launched bomb. The damage seemed more limited than what we would expect from a, even a fairly small, a 500 pound class aircraft bomb. Now, the Israelis do have access to smaller, lower yield air launch ordinates. So you have to also kind of balance about what you're seeing with what you know, that one of, either protagonists have in their inventory to the best that you can. A country like Israel will often have weapons that aren't necessarily publicly known, such as the other states. So you always have to keep that in mind. You may be seeing something new that you haven't actually encountered before. Unlikely, but it is a possibility. And so yeah, by looking at the cratering, looking at the impact angle of the cratering, looking at the scoring on the grounds, you see basically like a splash. You sort of get to understand from which direction the impact occurred, which direction was fragments and debris sprayed across that particular yard, and does that match with the damage pattern you're seeing on objects around? Unfortunately, there's also the evidence of people being hit. By the time those videos were released, the people had been treated, had been removed. But you could still see blood patches, for example, so you got an understanding of actually where the victims stood and how potentially that correlates with how the fragments and debris was projected across that level. And so, you're basically piecing all these little bits together. In a way it is sort of analyzing... We said it, it's not quite forensics, we can't be there, we can't take accurate measurements. We can't take samples of explosives. But there is a bit of also just simply, and analyzing what you see and piecing together, a sort of a crime scene and understanding how does this all fit together. And then, what do we know that the Israelis have, what we do know potentially the Hamas has. Now we don't, in my team, we don't typically cover day- to- day non- state armed groups, but certain states, certain groups like Hamas or for example the Houthis have access to basically state grade weaponry in some cases, have been provided long range rockets and not including the homemade ones that they make by other states, and therefore it is something that we do keep an eye on. So, how do we compare, contrast the weapon effects we're seeing on the ground with what we know that the various belligerents are using or have been known to use in their inventory and thus basically this match up. So, that's more or less the process it. It's a bit painstaking, and again, it'll vary based on the evidence that we're provided and it's an ongoing process in this particular case.

Harry Kemsley: Awesome. Well, we're going to come back to this, gents, in another podcast, of that I'm sure. But Sean, you wanted to come in there. We're talking about weapons effects.

Sean Corbett: I was just going to reinforce what Amael said actually. And being a little bit modest, yeah of course we don't have the forensics. So, if you actually got bits of munition, if you could actually validate what they are, then very quickly we'd know. But greater analysis is a very well used tool. I'm targeted by background. So in terms of doing our battle damage assessment, crater analysis, some brilliant modeling out there, which will give you a really good idea, assuming that you are looking at the images that happened afterwards. So for example, I could tell you straight away that whatever impact, as long as that was the impact that we're seeing, was not caused by 500,000 or 2, 000 pound bomb, it just wasn't. So then that's, " Could it be a lighter munition?" Okay, possible if there's a drone. But it gives you a really good start point for what it wasn't, doesn't necessarily prove what it was. But then exactly as Amael said in terms of the angle of the blast, if you like. So you know which direction it came from, very, very important. And then the fragmentation damage as well will tell you what sort of explosion it was and generally something about the material. So, actually over time I think there'll be very good indication, assuming, as I said before, you've got the ephemeral data that says, " Yeah, that image actually was taken at that time and that place." Which I think, as the satellite imagery, even with satellite imagery, you can actually do some of that validation as well. So, we will be able to get there, but it's back to that case of, do the analysis properly and that takes a little bit of time. So yeah, that's all I wanted to say.

Harry Kemsley: Good. Amael?

Amael Kotlarski: Yeah, I wanted to emphasize as well, there is, crater analysis is one of the tools that we use. In this particular case, we've been struck by the lack, or at least lack of identifiable presence of any fragments or remaining debris from whatever hit the ground in that hospital, which makes analysis a bit more difficult. Whether or... I can't speculate as well or not that the debris is there, it's not visible on the photography we've seen or it was removed prior, potentially, that's not impossible to speculate on. We've been doing this work a lot in the context of Ukraine as well over the last two years. And in some cases a lot of munitions leave a lot of debris behind. They don't always... They don't necessarily get completely vaporized when they go off and they will leave a lot of stuff behind, especially missiles. And a good example, and this one is an easy example, is there was speculation that Ukraine's had used ATACMS for the first time against the Russian air base. A couple days later, someone probably from Russian sources photographs say, one of the, two actually, rocket motor sections of the missiles, which are basically discarded or they're jettisoned as part of its flight profile when it engages. And here you've got a big intact piece of debris with clear markings on the outer side, with exactly what it is, when it was manufactured. So that's a fairly easy one to be able to confirm and validate. In some cases, yeah, you will be able to bind some debris, little bits of what may to most people look like charred bits of metal, which can be identified as something helping you to narrow it down. But in this particular case it's very difficult because we've seen none of that, and there's quite a lot of debris strewn around the impact site, mostly because it was a middle of a car park. And most of the debris that we can identify are from the cars themselves. And I'm not an automotive engineer, so maybe I've confused some for homemade rocket parts, but it exemplifies just how it varies and how difficult it can be sometimes to really ascertain with any certainty as to exactly what caused this particular event. And as Sean said, sometimes it's about also, it's not necessarily knowing what happened, what exactly caused this event, but also finding the evidence that discards what didn't cause this particular event, or what wasn't used, can be also as equally important.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, elimination. All right gents, because time is now against us, let me do this. I'm going to come to you first, Elliot, and then onto yourself, Lewis. Clearly the work you've been doing has gone through a couple of phases, we've talked about that. We've gone through the foundational understanding, we've gone into scenario building. Elliot, you've been doing some of the wider perspectives. Amael, you've been looking at how we might start to eliminate certain scenarios around the event that happened at the hospital, as horrible as it was. What's next? What are you doing over the next period of days? I'll start with you, Elliot.

Elliot Chapman: I think the immediate concern for us is, now that we've identified areas of high interest, in my case it's Lebanon and the West Bank, it is the first thing that we're doing is continuing to refine our intelligence picture of those areas, because things are quickly moving. And as we mentioned, there's a lot of variables here that we might not be able to account for, there's a lot of things going on, tensions are very high. And so, if we can get a really, really clear picture of exactly what's going on. I mean, in the West Bank for example, there is, I think last night and the night before there's been a rioting. And something that we've seen is that actually the Palestinian authorities, security forces themselves are now being targeted by Palestinians in the West Bank, which is something that we don't really often see. And in fact, in these instances, the security forces are being targeted as almost accomplices with Israel for its war in Gaza. So, things are changing. The political landscape in the West Bank is very fragile as it is. And in a lot of ways it's a very, very tentative situation there. So, that's the first thing that we're doing. And the other thing that we're looking at, of course, is we're looking forward at scenarios in Gaza itself. That's primarily coming from other expertise in the business at Janes that have a lot more expertise in war fighting and that type of thing, who can speak to how a scenario in Gaza might play out, because there's still a lot of variables at play there and it's not necessarily set in stone that there's going to be a sort of sweep and clear through all of Gaza. Such an operation is going to take months and months and months. And of course, that then leads into this scenario where, okay, now we need to be aware of the, let's call it a land invasion into Gaza by Israel, it's going to trigger a lot of subsequent events around the world. A lot of actors are going to be compelled to act. Hezbollah of course is one of them, the PMFs that Lewis mentioned as well. So, continuing to have high fidelity as much as we can in monitoring those groups, understanding the events, how they might unfold in Gaza as well is a high priority for us.

Harry Kemsley: Perfect. Lewis?

Lewis Smart: Yeah, just to actually, obviously Elliot is the analyst for that, those particular countries and situation, as the Manager of the MENA team and Country Intel, I can speak to what Elliot said a little bit there is, now I have to task my broader analyst to start looking at the consequences and the ripple effects of these events in the broader region. I've just seen reports that Egypt's president has called for a day of rage and protests. There's also an election coming up in December, inaudible who is economically embattled, let's say, at the moment. Make no mistake, these events will change the region. Now, as to what degree and how, and how OSINT can start tracking that, and for us that's the key thing. And for the wider team, not just regionally, but also across country intelligence in Janes across the globe. How does this change America's calculation with Ukraine, maybe in terms of support, maybe it doesn't? But there's going to be a lot of questions on how this conflict in this region will impact as a ripple effect throughout the region. And that's something my analysts and my team need to start focusing on.

Harry Kemsley: Perfect, thank you. And Amael, what's your key task in front of you now?

Amael Kotlarski: So as I said before, we tend to be much more of a support role when it comes to supporting the other teams. My guys will keep badgering away at their own records and making sure everything's up- to- date. We do keep a sort of watch on what is going on. So we have various active groups at the moment monitoring Ukraine, have been so for almost two years now. And now, there's now a new group as well monitoring what's going on in Israel with, again, lots of different SMEs coming together, including myself and some of my team. So we keep an eye on this, but typically my role is to support anybody who comes at me with, " Hey, can you help me with this?" So yeah, we don't so much do the big picture stuff. Each one of our guys is focused on the small picture stuff that can help build the big picture stuff, if that makes sense.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, makes sense.

Amael Kotlarski: So yeah, we are very much a support role in, especially the monitoring that's going on in Israel and Ukraine, where if journalists and other elements for... We've been supporting consistently the OA Three team with equipment identification in Ukraine, for example. They cover the events, we help them identify what kind of kit is used in those events to help them with their reports. Those are the kinds of roles we do. So it's fairly ongoing all the time, but it is reactive in the sense that we only deal with stuff that's brought forward to us in that sense.

Harry Kemsley: Got it.

Amael Kotlarski: And we will continue to do so.

Harry Kemsley: Very good. Sean, I'm going to come to you in just a moment with your one takeaway for this for the audience. I won't go around the room because time is against us. Elliot, one final comment from yourself.

Elliot Chapman: Yeah, just to big up Amael and his team, that the people nagging him for support is often me. And so, they do great help, and that's not just an external support role, it's internal and much appreciated.

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, winning together. Thanks very much indeed, Elliot. So Sean, what's your one takeaway from today? I have one of course, but what's your one takeaway?

Sean Corbett: I'm going to give you a stiff ignoring and give you three. So firstly, is making sure that the timeliness versus the accuracy balance is achieved. There's no point in giving stuff out that's a 100% right but so late that it's not useful for anybody. But equally, as we discussed, the first reporting is generally not, at least not, if it's not wrong, it's not complete. So getting that balance is really key in the reporting. Linked to that is, and you've all mentioned it really, a collaborative approach within your own organization, because this is so huge now that one little input there could have a massive output somewhere else. Lewis mentioned Egypt, I think we're going to cover that another time, but keep an eye on Egypt as well as other parts of the world as well. And then third, that's linked with all that is, and it is back to what you're saying to me about what would I be doing. One of the key things I'd be doing is trying to work out how I can ensure sustainability with limited resources. This is not going away anytime soon. In fact, it's probably going to get significantly greater as and when the ground offensive starts and there's leakages and things happen elsewhere, people are going to remain busy and get tired. So, it's right, " Where are my resources? How do I prioritize, again? But how do I make sure I'm using most of my limited resources?"

Harry Kemsley: Yeah, thank you Sean. Well, mine actually dovetails quite nicely on the back end of that as a segue. So thank you for that segue, even though didn't know you're giving it to me. It's that I believe there is a role for the open source information and intelligence we derive from it, we've been talking about that for years, certainly on this podcast. I think there's also increasing evidence of the need for the commercial and government organizations to partner up on these things. The amount of resource tracking events around the world is taking up now as it becomes more and more multi- discipline, many, many more different types of SMEs being involved than just equipment intelligence, for example, demands the ability to bring those multiple resources together, of which we don't have many. So there's scarce resources and that's going to require us to prioritize. And whilst the agencies of the world quite rightly are looking very, very closely at Ukraine and Israel and probably one or two other places, the commercial world could be looking at the flanks. And that for me is what we should be focusing on. With that, I thank the listener for their time in listening to this podcast. We will, gents, come back to this in a week or so's time, just to track this right through from beginning to end. We might be doing this for months. But thank you all very much indeed for your contribution, which has been great. Amael, thank you for coming to the call and for your supports to Elliot and the team. And Lewis, Elliot, thank you once more. We'll come and speak to you again very soon, I'm sure. Thanks gents.

Elliot Chapman: Thanks Harry.

Lewis Smart: Thanks Harry.

Speaker 6: Thanks for joining us this week on The World of Intelligence. Make sure to visit our website, janes. com/ podcast, where you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts, so you'll never miss an episode.


Janes analysts discuss the ongoing situation in Israel/Gaza and discuss how OSINT can help us look at events in conflict zones, including analysis of what happened at the Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza.

Today's Host

Guest Thumbnail

Harry Kemsley

|President of Government & National Security, Janes

Today's Guests

Guest Thumbnail

Amael Kotlarski

|Lead Analyst, Janes
Guest Thumbnail

Lewis Smart

|Country Intelligence Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Team Manager, Janes
Guest Thumbnail

Sean Corbett

|AVM (ret’d) Sean Corbett CB MBE MA, RAF
Guest Thumbnail

Elliot Chapman

|Research Analyst, Middle East and North Africa team