Helicopter Footage Sparks Debate Over Israeli Friendly Fire Incidents

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by Tyler Durden
Thursday, Nov 09, 2023 - 07:25 PM

Disturbing footage from the early days of the Israel-Hamas war has become a topic of controversy over a month later, as one major Israeli newspaper strongly suggests it shows helicopter footage of Israeli forces firing indiscriminately on civilians "approximately an hour after the onset of the [Hamas] terror attack" on Oct. 7, while media fact checkers - including those dropping 'community notes' on X, insist the clip does not show the IDF firing on concertgoers - and that Israeli forces instead "mainly fired within Kibbutzim at the directive of IDF soldiers on the ground, precisely, as stated in the source, that they couldn't differentiate."

While it's documented that Hamas massacred the majority of the more than 1,400 Israelis who died in the attack, the implication is that Israeli forces tasked with repelling the Hamas assault may have contributed to the death toll, after IDF pilots firing from gunships had trouble distinguishing who was Hamas and who were civilians.

While the footage began circulating shortly after the attack, major Israeli daily outlet YNetnews appears to have been the first to delve deeper on the pilot cam footage from aboard one or more of the AH-64 Apache choppers which responded to the Oct.7 Nova attack. The IDF-produced footage (first published last month) shows the gunships firing on a multitude of targets - including vehicles and groups of people. Possible targets include Hamas and Israeli civilians alike, and perhaps groups of Palestinian civilians who were pouring across the breached Gaza border fence. When the footage was initially released, the IDF presented it as showing Hamas invaders being destroyed. Upon further analysis, coupled with the Ynet reporting, raises the specter of large-scale "friendly fire" which may have occurred. The below is only a short clip, and the fuller, five-minute video montage can be viewed here.

YNet's military correspondent Yoav Zitun described how the first helicopters over the scene were reliant on limited numbers of troops and security personnel on the ground, who were calling in targets to command centers utilizing cell phones and WhatsApp:

"As the pilots struggled to differentiate between terrorists and civilians, the decision was made to prioritize the immediate halt of the influx of Hamas terrorists and the potentially dangerous Gaza mobs breaching the border."

But what's clear from the now widely viewed on-the-ground Oct.7 videos which emerged almost in real time, masses of Israeli concert-goers were running, hiding, and seeking shelter in many directions. Others were whisked away on Hamas motorcycles as kidnappings ensued. But according to the report, Israeli pilots - unable to differentiate targets, unleashed heavy machine gun fire on people below, which may have included concert-goers.

In one scene from the harrowing footage - the date of which is also in dispute, a small car is seen speeding through an open field before the hovering gunship scored a direct hit on it. There's no way to know just from the footage whether it was full of Israeli civilians or Hamas fighters, or what level of confidence IDF ground sources had prior to the takedown (note: for clearer, fuller footage, go here):

As the footage is now going viral on social media (nearly a month after it first appeared via Israeli sources), some fact-checkers have sought to emphasize that it actually shows Israeli helicopters firing only on Hamas terrorists.

A "community note" on X has since claimed the following: "This video is from October 9, 2023 and shows Israeli AH-64 Apache attack helicopters engaging Hamas militants with 30mm chain gun fire and Hellfire missiles." But this community note itself is misleading, as it asserts the video is "from October 9". However, Oct 9 is merely when it was first posted to X/Twitter, and not the date the footage was captured aboard the Apache.

Crucially, the English-language YNet article published on Oct.16 by military correspondent Yoav Zitun captioned the footage in question as follows: "Footage of helicopters attacking on the first day of the war with Hamas." 

The original YNet Hebrew version of the article, published the day prior - Oct.15 - indicates the same. According to a machine translate from the Hebrew: "Documentation of the air force attack on the strip at the beginning of the war (Photo: IDF spokesman), "approximately an hour after the onset of the [Hamas] terror attack.":

YNet's own commentary is as follows [emphasis ZH]:

The Israeli Air Force started to piece together the events that triggered the start of the war with Hamas. The fog of war not only hampered the ground forces but also the aerial teams dispatched to the skies over the western Negev in the early hours of that black Saturday.

The first pair of attack helicopters, on immediate standby for the Gaza region, arrived in the area from a base in the north, roughly an hour or so after the terror attack began. This was even though the Apache choppers' main squadron was stationed closer to the Gaza Strip, at the Ramon Airbase.

At Ramon personnel sensed quickly that something extraordinary was unfolding. They acted promptly, but a combat helicopter only reached the conflict zone at 8:32 AM.

As the pilots struggled to differentiate between terrorists and civilians, the decision was made to prioritize the immediate halt of the influx of Hamas terrorists and the potentially dangerous Gaza mobs breaching the border. Throughout the day of intense combat, 28 combat helicopters reloaded their entire arsenal, including hundreds of 30mm artillery shells and Hellfire missiles.

The initial pace of the strikes against the thousands of infiltrators was staggering, with the pilots eventually slowing down their attacks and meticulously selecting targets.

Implicit is this latter sentence is the suggestion that the pilots were not so meticulous when they first unloaded their heavy guns at rapid pace.

YNet's military correspondent further emphasized that pilots were so confused at what they were seeing on the ground, they began essentially making educated guesses as to which were Hamas targets and who were civilians.

In some instances, the guesswork came down to whether people were walking or running from the scene: 

Hamas terrorists deliberately played a cunning game with the helicopter pilots and special forces operatives. Briefings revealed that the terrorists were advised to advance cautiously into the settlements and military outposts, to walk and not run, in order to appear like they were Israeli. This deception tactic persisted for some time until the Apache pilots realized that all constraints should be disregarded. It was only around 9:00 AM that some of them independently decided to use artillery shells against the terrorists without seeking approval from higher authorities.

Below: Is this a civilian car? A Hamas golf cart in the process of kidnapping Israeli civilians? Are civilians in the vicinity? What intelligence did the pilots have on this vehicle? It seems almost impossible to tell...

The possibility that many Israeli civilians could have tragically died due to friendly fire has been raised in several other investigative pieces

For example, Max Blumenthal of The Gray Zone previously compiled multiple interviews of Israeli tank operators and pilots whose testimonies are consistent with the aforementioned Ynet analysis. According to these sources:

Much of the shelling in Be’eri was carried out by Israeli tank crews. As a reporter for the Israeli Foreign Ministry-sponsored outlet i24 noted during a visit to Be’eri, “small and quaint homes [were] bombarded or destroyed,” and “well-maintained lawns [were] ripped up by the tracks of an armored vehicle, perhaps a tank.”

Apache attack helicopters also figured heavily in the Israeli military’s response on October 7. Pilots have told Israeli media they scrambled to the battlefield without any intelligence, unable to differentiate between Hamas fighters and Israeli noncombatants, and yet determined to “empty the belly” of their war machines.

“I find myself in a dilemma as to what to shoot at, because there are so many of them,” one Apache pilot commented.

Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian and pro-Hamas channels have begun to also to pick up on and echo these claims, asserting that many of the cars destroyed while fleeing the festival site were the result of an Israeli air assault or other heavy weaponry:

While we certainly don't expect the Israeli government or military to come out and admit to any large-scale friendly fire incidents, Israel's own media is asking questions.