The next drone war is coming to Gaza

If Israeli defense forces launch a ground offensive into Gaza, they could use a mix of drone-enabled hacking tactics to find Hamas targets, coordinating cyber operations and tactical drones in a way that no other country has achieved.

But the conflict has already revealed unexpectedly sophisticated drone tactics—by Hamas, experts say. Since launching its cross-border assault on Oct. 7, the group has used small commercial drones to drop grenades on tanks, ambulances, border posts, and—importantly—communication towers, according to a report from drone analysis group Dronesec. Hamas also displayed an understanding of how to configure the settings on DJI Phantom drones to avoid electronic countermeasures.

“DJI drone icons appear on the left-hand-side of the screen, showing a ‘Land’ and ‘Home point’ icon, with the ‘Return to Home’ icon greyed out. This could signal the operator has disabled RTH-mode, a common counter-counter operational security measure,” the Dronesec report said.

Ukrainian and Russian forces have used similar tactics, but observers were struck by Hamas’ ability to evade close scrutiny and to target their drones so precisely and effectively. The intelligence was so good that it indicated an unexpected cyber-intelligence capability, said Dmitri Alperovitch, founder of the Silverado Policy Accelerator.

“When you look at the current atrocities that have been committed by Hamas, there’s still a lot we obviously don’t know, but the things that have come out, indicate that they have absolutely exquisite intelligence on the location of Israeli secret bases on their communications capabilities,” Alperovitch said Tuesday at a Washington, D.C., event.

“They knew exactly where to go, including things that weren’t marked in terms of side gates of bases and what have you. They knew where the critical communications nodes were that they were able to destroy with drones and other kinetic strikes to try to impede the response. So we don’t know how much cyber may have impacted that. But we know that Hamas and other terrorist organizations like Hezbollah have had significant capabilities,” he said. “It’s quite likely, I think, that cyber has played at least some role in that preparation work for them for an operation that probably took years to plan.”

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