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Israel's 2,000-pound SPICE bombs are highly accurate but could be overkill in Gaza

An Israeli air force fighter aircraft releases flares as it flies over along the border with the Gaza Strip near southern Israel on November 12, 2023.
An Israeli air force fighter aircraft releases flares as it flies over along the border with the Gaza Strip near southern Israel on November 12, 2023.Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images
  • Israeli forces have been using SPICE kits to convert unguided bombs into precision munitions.

  • Even though they kits are highly accurate, there's still potential for lots of collateral damage.

  • Weapons investigators say the large bombs dropped have wide area effects and can harm civilians.

Israel's bombing campaign of the Gaza Strip is back on following accusations last week that Hamas violated the fragile truce between the two warring sides, and in the days since, visual evidence has emerged showing the use of massive, 2,000-pound SPICE bombs in densely populated areas.

Multiple videos shared to social media over the past week show the employment of SPICE, which stands for "Smart, Precise Impact, Cost-Effective. This system is an Israeli-developed guidance kit that converts air-to-ground unguided bombs into precision-guided munitions. Bombs outfitted with SPICE are generally considered to be highly accurate, but weapons investigators say the very large munitions create serious risk for civilian harm because of the "extreme" wide area effects from a blast.

Open-source intelligence accounts published videos on December 2 and 4, respectively, showing two separate incidents where a munition can be seen slamming into a building in Gaza and causing an explosion. Another video from October 11, just a few days after Hamas launched its terror attacks against Israel, appears to show an attack with a similar-looking projectile, indicating an ongoing use since the early days of the conflict.

Marc Garlasco, who led United Nations war-crimes investigations in Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, identified the munitions as 2,000-pound Mark 84 bombs outfitted with SPICE kits, which gives the weapon a stand-off range of just under 40 miles when dropped from an aircraft.

SPICE kits use an advanced electro-optical guidance and the inertial navigation system/global positioning system (INS/GPS) to perform mid-course navigation on its own. Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which manufactures the kit, says in a fact sheet that SPICE can enable "fully autonomous attack missions with pinpoint accuracy." The circular error probability, it asserts, is less than 10 feet.

Garlasco, who served as the Pentagon's chief of high-value targeting during Operation Iraqi Freedom, said that the system is useful in GPS-denied environments, although its employment in Gaza is surprising because jamming doesn't seem to be an issue there. He also noted that while weapon equipped with SPICE may be extremely accurate, the bigger issue is the broad area effects and the potential to cause civilian harm.

"When you're talking about a densely populated area like Gaza, there's going to be certain concerns about collateral effects, particularly widespread collateral effects," he told Business Insider, adding that the blast overpressure at the site of a Mark 84 explosion can kill out to 100 feet.

The aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on December 1, 2023.
The aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on December 1, 2023.Photo by Fadi Alwhidi/Anadolu via Getty Images

"That's pretty much instant death," he said, adding that "no one's going to survive that."

Lethal fragments, meanwhile, can spread as far as 1,200 feet, although that's ultimately influenced by the terrain — a building adjacent to the blast site might prevent shrapnel from traveling farther. Still, there's the possibility of secondary fragmentation, or pieces of a building such as metal and cement that fly out.

Israel has been dropping other large large bombs on Gaza in other forms as well. The 2,000-pound Mark 84 bomb can, for instance, also be outfitted with the US-provided Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) kit, which is similar to SPICE in that it converts unguided bombs into smart, precision munitions that work in any weather condition. There are also indications Israel has used unguided "dumb" bombs on Gaza.

Brian Castner, a senior crisis advisor and a weapons investigator for Amnesty International's Citizen Evidence Lab, said the employment of larger weapons is causing greater damage and civilian casualties in Gaza.

Israeli Air Force personnel working with a JDAM
Israeli Air Force personnel working with a JDAM. Israeli Air Force

"The use of explosive weapons generally in populated areas can be really problematic because they just have wide area effects," Castner, a former explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) officer in the US Air Force, told Business Insider. Even if Israel identifies and hits an intended target, "the surrounding damage that they do either to infrastructure or to civilians is much greater with a larger weapon."

Both Castner and Garlasco acknowledged that there are some targets that may warrant the use of a 2,000-pound bomb, like an underground tunnel belonging to Hamas' vast network, but the issue is that widespread use of large munitions in such a densely populated area can spell trouble and raise concerns that the choice of weapon, while accurate, is not as protective of civilians as the munitions selected should be.

It's unclear how widespread the use of the SPICE kits have been. Even if a 2,000-pound Mark 84 leaves a large crater, it might not necessarily determine whether that bomb was guided by a SPICE or a JDAM kit. The weapons investigators explained that identifying which was used involves looking for key features like fragmentation and remnants.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) declined to comment on its apparent use of the SPICE kit.

Smoke rises in the northern Gaza Strip following an Israeli airstrike on November 8, 2023.
Smoke rises in the northern Gaza Strip following an Israeli airstrike on November 8, 2023.Reuters

As the short-lived truce fades further away, Israel's bombardment of Gaza and the concurrent ground invasion continues. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesperson, said at a Tuesday briefing that the military has struck over 20,000 targets in the coastal enclave since the beginning of the war two months ago. In that time, more than 16,000 people have been killed there, according to figures from the Hamas-run health ministry.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials continue to signal — as they've done since the Hamas massacre that killed over 1,200 people — that the war has no end in sight.

"Lately, I have been asked whether we have the legitimacy to continue fighting, and to that I answer: we do not have the legitimacy to stop," Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a translated statement on Tuesday. "There is only one legitimate thing to do: to win against Hamas, to strike them and eliminate them — destroying their governing and military capabilities, and bringing the hostages home."

Read the original article on Business Insider