The New Observer Uncategorized Who was responsible for the Al-Ahli Arab hospital bombing?

Who was responsible for the Al-Ahli Arab hospital bombing?

I’ve been trying to assess claim and counter-claim. I can’t find a story which fits what appear to be the known facts.

There was an explosion of some kind in the car park or grounds of the hospital

A number of people died. The Health Ministry in Gaza claims nearly 500. I am not sure who controls the Health Ministry in Gaza. This could be an exaggerated death toll though there does seem to be considerable evidence of “scores” of casualties. For example; the BBC reported that they have “verified” video which shows “scores” of people injured with catastrophic injuries which sounds like shrapnel injuries. This is consistent with at least one report I have seen based on what doctors on the scene have said. [1] (Update: the US is reporting 100-300).

The footage broadcast on Al-Jazeera is a big part of the story. It shows a rocket launched from the Gaza strip either “failing and breaking apart mid-air” or “being intercepted” – depending on whose narrative you are listening to. This happened just before an explosion at the hospital.

The current Israeli suggestion is that that the explosion was caused by a failed rocket launch by a group affiliated with Hamas – Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The other explanation is that this was the result of a deliberate Israeli strike on the hospital. In support of this Al-Jazeera and others point to what is claimed to be a Tweet made by a person who they say is a digital adviser to the Israeli government who allegedly said: “Israeli Air Force struck a Hamas terrorist base inside a hospital in Gaza“. [2] The Tweet was subsequently deleted. The adviser does appear to be working for Netanyahu.

The BBC’s page is interesting. But it does not come to a definitive conclusion.

The problem with the failed or even intercepted rocket narrative is this; the same evidence which is being used to say it was not an Israeli strike also applies here. The argument against an Israeli bomb is that there is no evidence of the kind of large crater that an Israeli bomb would have caused. There is photographic evidence of a small crater in the hospital grounds which the BBC seems to accept was at the centre of the explosion. But multiple experts say this is too small to have been caused by a bomb. However; if the warhead of an unusually powerful rocket from Gaza had fallen in the hospital grounds we would also have expected a large crater. And it would have to have been an unusually large rocket because it seems unlikely that the normal kind of homemade rockets which are fired from Gaza could have caused “scores” of casualties. One theory put forwards is that the engine of the failed/intercepted rocket fell in the grounds of the hospital. Because the impact was kinetic and not explosive this explains the small crater. But – would a falling rocket engine and a fire cause the kinds of multiple shrapnel type injuries which seem to be being reliably reported? The way to save this theory is to posit that the warhead fell separately – but again; there is no (yet) evidence of a crater caused by an explosion. (And, while I am not an expert does not the Al-Jazeera video of the mid-air rocket failure/intercept show an explosion – and is this not the warhead?)

The BBC floats a third explanation; a Hellfire missile fired by an Israeli drone. Apparently, according to the BBC’s expert, Hellfire missiles leave small craters. They would also have the power to destroy people in the vicinity and (I believe) with shrapnel. However, the expert says that the evidence of multiple fires at the site at separate locations is not consistent with a Hellfire missile. Channel 4 also suggests the possibility of a munition which bursts mid-air. (I don’t know if this would be a Hellfire missile or something else).

(I don’t think we can take into account the IDF claimed audio with two Hamas operatives allegedly discussing a failed rocket launch by Islamic Jihad. It could easily be faked. Channel 4 has used Arabic experts to cast doubt on the authenticity of this recording). Channel 4 also points to another inconsistency in the IDF’s story about the location of the supposed rocket launch.

Channel 4 also casts doubt on the falling rocket theory based on the trajectory.

So; all the explanations seem to have some problems. The Israeli bomb theory does seem weak absent a crater. However; there seem to be problems with the failed/intercepted rocket theory as well; chiefly, to make it fit with the small crater a kinetic impact has to be proposed, for example the engine; but would this really cause what seem to be undisputed “scores” of casualties? (Plus Channel 4’s claim about the trajectory being wrong; which I cannot assess). The variant of this theory proposes the warhead fell separately but, again, where is the crater?

The Hellfire missile theory does fit very neatly with the alleged deleted Tweet; a Hellfire missile fired from a drone might well be a method used by the IDF to strike a Hamas “terrorist”. Their engagement protocol seems to allow unlimited collateral damaged if they are going after a Hamas target. We can speculate that they believed a high-value Hamas target was in the hospital grounds. The expert’s comments that the evidence of the localised fires is not consistent with a Hellfire missile would then need to be explained. But this seems less of a problem than some of the other problematics and could (I don’t know) be dealt with by positing some kind of mid-air exploding munition as Channel 4 suggest could be an explanation? However, I am not sure how the small crater in the hospital grounds can be explained in this case.

As Channel 4 point out the coincidence in time between the rocket failure/intercept and the explosion in the hospital does not prove causal linkage. One can even speculate that had Israel military-intelligence been planning some kind of attack with a drone and a missile they could have also been involved in a planned intercept of a rocket to provide cover. (In this case the alleged deleted Tweet would have been written by someone not in the loop in this plan). But this is very speculative.

I think it is clear there is not enough data available in the public domain to be sure about what happened. The absence of a large crater does seem to make the Israeli bomb unlikely. But the failed rocket story seems quite problematic. The deliberate attack with a cluster munition missile of some kind which exploded mid-air is consistent with the accepted facts; a large causality count, shrapnel type injuries and very limited damage to the structure of the hospital buildings but there is no especial evidence for this. (The Hellfire missile theory seems to be a variant of this). As Channel 4 point out there is no “independent” investigation taking place (though I have seen reports that some UN staff in Gaza have been trying to investigate); for example – it should be possible to locate and then examine some of the metal fragments which caused the shrapnel injuries; however their provenance cannot be relied on unless the independent experts were on the ground soon after the event, so this avenue is not looking promising.

Based on the publicly available information it seems too early for politicians to be making definitive claims.

Update 20-10-23

This is a follow-up to the Channel 4 report mentioned above. Channel 4 has conducted both audio and visual research using experts in the relevant fields. Their experts say that the direction of travel of the rocket is other than what Israel has claimed. Significantly both the audio analysis and visual analysis of the supposed crater agree. This is further evidence undermining the Israeli claims.

Nonetheless, it is not proof. And the crater analysis here seems possibly to follow a different track than the other suggestion by an expert consulted by Channel 4 about a munition which exploded in the air. At any event; it seems there is enough doubt for it to be incorrect to be reporting this event as unambiguously a “failed rocket strike by Islamic Jihad” that is to be taking the Israeli story at face-value.

Update 25-10-23

The New York Times has published an investigation which indicates that the well-known video showing the failed/intercepted rocket cannot be connected to what happened at the Al-Ahli Arab hospital.

The New York Times has a good record doing this kind of investigation. In August 2021 they did an investigation into a US strike in Kabul. Initially the US told the world that no civilians had died but in the end and following the NYT investigation they had to admit that the strike had been a mistake (wrong target) and had killed several children.

The story told by the Israel military apparatus and the US and UK leaderships about the failed rocket launch is looking rather tenuous.


  2. This is one source for the Tweet story. But I cannot find it referenced in any mainstream Western outlets (which can be taken to mean it is not reliable or that they are excluding it as too damning)