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Israel is tracking Gaza’s cellphone data to inform military operations

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The Israeli army is utilizing cellphone data from Palestinians as part of its military operations to monitor the movements of the population within Gaza. According to recent reporting from The New York Times, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have been granted access to the military’s surveillance system, allowing them to carry out real-time monitoring of over 1 million Gazan cellphones with the goal of reducing civilian casualties.

Following terrorist attacks by Hamas on October 7, which targeted civilians and resulted in over 1,400 casualties, the IDF launched daily airstrikes across the Gaza Strip. By October 11, the Israeli Air Force had dropped a striking 6,000 bombs. Additionally, on October 10, Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari reportedly stated, “The emphasis is on damage, not on accuracy.”

The timing of The New York Times’ report and the access granted to the journalist may indicate an intentional adjustment of the IDF’s messaging and tone ahead of a potential ground offensive into Gaza. With 3,000 reported Palestinian casualties in the past 10 days and over 500 individuals killed in a hospital explosion, questions arise about how the IDF’s extensive monitoring of Gazans is actually reducing civilian casualties given the current situation in Gaza.

Cellphone data in Israel’s military strategy

Last Friday, Israel instructed approximately 1.1 million residents of northern Gaza to relocate to the south within 24 hours for their safety. Meanwhile, in southern Israel, soldiers are tracking the location data of over 1 million cellphones, which is displayed on a live map of the Gaza Strip. This information is used by the soldiers to monitor the movement of residents from northern Gaza to the south.

According to The New York Times, the data-tracking system revealed that by midday on Monday, around 700,000 of the 1.1 million residents of northern Gaza had moved to the south. IDF officers stationed in the control room reportedly called the remaining 400,000 residents individually to urge them to evacuate.

The IDF asserts that this cellphone data is a crucial tool for assessing civilian presence and adjusting military actions accordingly. As neighborhoods turn green on the map, it indicates that at least 75% of the population has relocated.

While the primary goal is to minimize civilian casualties, a depopulated urban environment would likely serve the IDF’s military operations. On the contrary, Hamas is encouraging residents to remain in the north, arguing that nowhere in Gaza is safe. However, the true motivation behind Hamas’s call for residents to stay may be to facilitate the assimilation of militants into civilian populations when necessary.

Implications and reactions

The landscape of warfare has significantly evolved with the integration of technology. In the Israel-Hamas conflict, the IDF’s use of data-tracking system underscores how digital tools have become integral to military strategies. Similarly, the war in Ukraine witnessed extensive use of drones, which reshaped reconnaissance and combat tactics.

While the Israeli military presents the use of this data as a measure to minimize harm to civilians, critics have expressed concerns. The relocation, intended for safety, has led Gazans to areas still vulnerable to airstrikes. Additionally, the broader ethical implications of using personal data in military operations have raised issues among human rights advocates. This is particularly concerning in regions like Gaza, which many residents refer to as an “open-air prison.” Such surveillance programs also raise questions about privacy rights and data security. While Western democracies view these rights as fundamental, they are denied in Gaza due to military necessity.

The Israeli military’s strategy of utilizing cellphone data underscores the evolving nature of modern warfare. As the situation in Gaza unfolds, the global community will closely monitor the implications of such data-driven military strategies.

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