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The future of warfare? Israel harnessing AI for future wars

The future of warfare? Israel harnessing AI for future wars

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Politics History The Truth

Friday 8 September 202304:09 pm
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Israel is always fully prepared for war, and recently, discussions about a multi-front war involving Syria and Lebanon to the north, Gaza to the south, and the West Bank have been gaining momentum. With the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) in the military domain, Israel has turned its focus toward cutting-edge technology, devising plans to leverage it while also guarding against its potential risks. The full scope of the Israeli military's operational use of AI remains largely classified to this day. However, this report aims to shed light on this topic by addressing key questions such as: How does the Israeli military employ artificial intelligence? How will the nature of future conflicts and battles evolve? What challenges does Israel confront in the face of this technological revolution?

Israel's interest in military preparedness for impending conflicts is intrinsically linked to its emphasis on modern and advanced technology. Over the decades, Israel has displayed keen interest in fields such as hi-tech and cyber warfare. More recently, it has begun exploring the integration of artificial intelligence into its military capabilities.

Despite being regarded as a global leader in technology and information security, as evidenced by a report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies in June 2021 and a ranking of 11th globally in September 2022 by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, Israel continues to grapple with challenges in the field of artificial intelligence, despite its strong interest in it. This challenge is underscored by the presence of numerous startups operating in this sector and the establishment of development centers for international companies within Israel (amounting to 1,206 startup companies in the field of artificial intelligence).

One of the primary hurdles inhibiting Israel's advancement in the field of artificial intelligence is the lack of requisite infrastructure

While Israel ranks a commendable sixth globally in the Global AI Index, it occupies a modest 51st place concerning government strategy in this sphere. This divergence highlights a deficiency, which was brought to the fore on July 30, 2023, during a conference hosted by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) on generative artificial intelligence and its implications for national security. The conference outlined a set of challenges that Israel faces in maintaining its competitiveness on the global stage in terms of investment and the development of AI projects. The competition with neighboring states and other nations in the Middle East has become increasingly fierce.

The United Arab Emirates stands as one of the leading nations in the Middle East and the world in terms of investing resources in the development of AI capabilities. Similarly, other countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are channeling resources into AI technologies. According to the Institute for National Security Studies, one of the principal obstacles hampering Israel's progress in the field of artificial intelligence is the lack of infrastructure and the need for greater investment in hi-tech and cyber domains.

Refusal to "regulate" military use

Israel regularly publishes information regarding its armament, latest deals and acquisitions, and modern technologies. Nevertheless, the use of artificial intelligence remains cloaked in secrecy. What's more, Israel has refused to sign a document regulating the military use of artificial intelligence. While over 60 nations, including China, the United States, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority, have signed the first international treaty governing the military use of artificial intelligence, Israel has refrained from signing this non-binding document, as reported by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in February 2023.

While over 60 nations, including China and the US, have signed the first international treaty regulating the military use of AI, Israel refused to sign, sending a clear message about its intent to leverage AI without external oversight, constraints, or bounds

Against the backdrop of a growing interest in services like ChatGPT and their applications in warfare, the first International Summit on Responsible Artificial Intelligence in the Military Domain, also known as REAIM 2023, convened in the Netherlands. While Israel was a participant in the conference, it refrained from endorsing the presented document. The United States took the lead in unveiling this document, which, as of now, lacks legal standing. It comprises 12 key points, including the commitment to subject the use of artificial intelligence to the realm of international laws governing armed conflict. Additionally, the document pledges that there will always be a "human element" in control when it comes to nuclear weaponry. This context unfolds amidst concerns related to the deployment of unmanned aerial and drone technology in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.

There is a rising apprehension regarding the potential future deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for identifying, selecting, and attacking targets, all without direct human intervention. This trajectory could usher in the era of the first fully autonomous combat robots in the world. The signatory nations have pledged to develop and deploy military artificial intelligence within the confines of "international legal obligations without undermining global security, stability, and collective responsibility." Israel's decision to abstain from signing sends a conspicuous message about its intent to leverage AI without external oversight, constraints, or bounds.

How does the army use it?

In 2014, an Israeli television program aired on Channel 7 delved into artificial intelligence technologies and the attempts to adopt them in the Israeli military. Prior to this, there were no concrete reports detailing such endeavors. In recent years, the Israeli military has witnessed an accelerated digital transformation journey. In 2019, the Digital Transformation Administration was inaugurated within the Information and Communications Technology Department, with a mandate to coordinate and synchronize this transformation across all military units.

Israel's foray into military AI traces back to the military campaign in Gaza during May 2021, famously dubbed "Operation Guardian of the Walls". This marked Israel's first use of artificial intelligence in the theater of warfare, earning it the moniker of the "First Artificial Intelligence War". As per a study conducted by researcher Liran Antebi for the Institute for National Security Studies, the principal applications of AI in the Gaza conflict encompassed intelligence operations, precision strikes against targets, and the advanced utilization of aerial force.

According to a report authored by Yossi Altouny and published on the Hebrew platform "Enshim V'mahshevim" on August 1, 2023, Israel's military journey with AI is not new, but the emergence of generative artificial intelligence, also known as creative artificial intelligence, is what is considered as the new frontier. With its advent, the military aspires to unlock latent capabilities to bolster its prowess on land, sea, air, and space.

"One notable shift compared to the Second Lebanon War in 2006 is the heightened operational efficiency achieved faster with fewer resources, like more accurate bombing of targets, and identifying and engaging enemy forces in specific locations much faster"

In the past, the realm of artificial intelligence was predominantly concerned with managing large data. However, in the present day, new systems rooted in generative (creative) AI, known within military circles as "Generative Knowledge Warfare", have emerged. These systems rely on AI generating information that directly contributes to combat operations. They delve deeper and more comprehensively into the accumulated databases within the military, thereby enhancing the ability to leverage latent potential in information analysis and operational effectiveness. They also facilitate coordination among diverse units.

As part of this transformation, the Israeli military has established what it terms an "Information Factory". This concept encompasses the collection and processing of information from a multitude of sources, the integration of data to obtain insights, and, ultimately, the formulation of recommendations or actions. Within the purview of the "Information Factory" lies the "Fire Factory", a specialized component dealing specifically with military offensives and executed through artificial intelligence.

Concerning the use of AI in combat, the Israeli military says, “Digital technology has revolutionized all aspects of combat, and supports all operational and administrative procedures. For example, among the things that have changed in the army compared to the Second Lebanon War in 2006 is the heightened operational efficiency achieved faster with fewer resources, like more accurate bombing of targets, and identifying and engaging enemy forces in specific locations much faster".

Effectiveness in defense operations

According to a report by the "Maariv" newspaper, published on July 17, 2023, the Israeli military deploys artificial intelligence in aerial strikes and logistical management during combat. Officials in Tel Aviv claim that AI utilization can dramatically reduce the volume of data needed to identify targets for attacks. It enables the rapid planning of subsequent strikes through another AI model known as the "Fire Factory". This model employs militarily validated data to calculate ammunition quantities, determine priorities, assign thousands of targets for both manned and unmanned aircraft, and propose a timeline.

Proponents of the use of artificial intelligence on the battlefield argue that advanced algorithms outperform human capabilities and can aid the military in reducing human casualties. Nevertheless, critics warn against the severe consequences of excessive reliance on autonomous systems.

Colonel Yoav, the commander of the Artificial Intelligence Center of Unit 8200 within the Israeli military's intelligence division, disclosed in February of the previous year that during "Operation Guardian of the Walls", artificial intelligence was harnessed to identify leaders of Hamas cells. He unveiled a system capable of pinpointing "high-risk" individuals based on a list of known individuals entered into the system. This system accomplishes this task in mere seconds, a feat that previously demanded the efforts of hundreds of researchers and several weeks to achieve.

"Operation Guardian of the Walls" in Gaza marked Israel's first use of artificial intelligence in the military field

This aligns with statements made by Ronen Bar, the director of Israel's internal security agency, the Shin Bet, during the annual Cyber Week conference at Tel Aviv University. He affirmed that "the agency effectively employs artificial intelligence technology to thwart security threats."

Concerning the integration of artificial intelligence into decision-making processes, Alon Stopel, Vice President and Chief Scientist at Elbit Systems, expressed in an interview with "Israel Today," published on August 8th of the previous year, that the capabilities of artificial intelligence can transform a less-equipped force or army into a triumphant one. He emphasized that the true revolution is the way in which force will be used against the threat or enemy, that is, how artificial intelligence is applied to decision-making, extending beyond data compiling and subsidiary functions.

He clarified that precise military leadership, enabling accurate decisions in difficult and uncertain circumstances, has always been the cornerstone of military success and can compensate for disparities in resources or size of forces.

Artificial intelligence techniques are also used in border surveillance. Video cameras are strategically installed along the perimeter, transmitting real-time footage to control centers manned by observers. This task is widely regarded as one of the most challenging in the Israeli military. As reported by "Israel Today," it entails hours of monitoring dimly lit screens and attempting to identify potential threats. However, with the integration of artificial intelligence, which autonomously analyzes video feeds, identifying individuals, vehicles, or even weapon-bearing individuals or specific car models, the surveillance and threat detection processes have become notably easier and faster.

How will it alter the landscape of warfare?

Israel faces an array of threats along its northern and southern borders. While it faces Hezbollah and Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Lebanon, it also contends with the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements in Gaza along its southern border. Given these evolving challenges, artificial intelligence may well play a pivotal role in reshaping the nature of anticipated conflicts and wars.

Alon Stopel, Vice President and Chief Scientist at the Israeli defense corporation Elbit Systems, asserted in statements to "Israel Today," published on August 8th, that an army that relies on artificial intelligence would possess the capability to swiftly analyze thousands of data points and rapidly derive conclusions. Such an army would also boast advanced robotic capabilities, impervious to issues like fatigue, shock, stress, and sorrow over the loss of human lives. All of these enhancements would complement the roles of human warriors, for which there will be no substitutes.

"Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform a less-equipped force or army into a victorious one," this is what Israel believes, as evidenced by its refusal to commit to an initial agreement delineating its "military uses"

Stopel further expounded, stating that "decision-making according to artificial intelligence is a complex process. The database on which artificial intelligence relies is exceedingly limited, primarily constructed from simulated operations rather than real events and event predictions. This could complicate the decision-making process because a significant part of decision-making hinges on our understanding of the adversary, not merely their past responses. This means that artificial intelligence might prepare for a battle resembling a previous one, rather than a new battle with fresh parameters."

On another note, Brigadier General Eran Niv, head of the Information Technology, Communications, and Cyber Defense Division in the Israeli military, declared during his attendance at the 2023 "Cyber Week" conference in Tel Aviv: "In a few years, all wars will be based on artificial intelligence. Without a strong and effective digital system, waging war in any domain will be unfeasible. Lacking a strong digital foundation, we won't be able to execute major events."

According to available information, Israel does not currently envision overseeing an entire war through artificial intelligence, given that the requisite technologies have not yet reached maturity, and the infrastructure remains underdeveloped. Nonetheless, it is anticipated that the Israeli military's reliance on artificial intelligence will progressively intensify in the forthcoming years. Presently, artificial intelligence is integrated into certain operations such as target identification and destruction. Although the human factor continues to wield substantial influence in Israel's wars and attacks, particularly in decision-making, artificial intelligence predominantly dominates the execution mechanism. Consequently, future battles can be anticipated to become faster, more lethal, and bloodier affairs.

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