On July 8, eight family members were killed after an Israeli air strike targeted the Kaware family’s home in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Over two dozen were left injured, and at least half of the deceased were children.
Facing condemnation so early in their latest campaign against Gaza — dubbed “Operation Protective Edge” — the Israeli military conducted a preliminary investigation to determine whether or not the Israeli Air Force was at fault.
The investigation’s findings were disclosed on Wednesday, with Haaretz reporting on the Israeli military’s conclusion.
According to the investigation, the Israeli military elected to target the home of Odeh Kaware who, according to Israeli officials, is a ranking Hamas officer based in Khan Younis. Haaretz’s report mentions that his home served as “his headquarters” although no evidence or context is given as to what this means.
Before leveling the house, the Israeli military contacted the Kaware family by phone to announce their intention to bomb the house. The family is understood to have left immediately.
The investigation further discusses the use of a warning missile by the Israeli Air Force. In military jargon, this “knock on the roof” is a small missile without an explosive warhead that is allegedly intended to stress the seriousness of the Israeli military’s threat.
The Israeli military claims that the larger missile was fired once the home was clear. By the time family members began returning to the building, the missile could not be diverted.
The investigation concludes that the casualty count is, essentially, the result of Palestinian irresponsibility. Had the Kaware family stayed far from their home, the investigation implies, they might not have suffered so many deaths and injuries.
Therefore, the investigation shifts accountability from the Israeli military to the Palestinian family members who were killed and injured — all of whom were confirmed noncombatants.
Suspicious findings and reasonable doubt
Three things make this investigation particularly suspicious. First, its conclusion absolves the Israeli military of any wrongdoing, despite the fact that four children and four adults were killed and many more were left with injuries and psychological trauma. The alleged target of the air strike, Odeh Kaware, was not on the scene. The fact that his home was targeted and demolished without any regard for the rest of his family who also identify their home as their “headquarters” is a punitive measure that seems to be downplayed by the investigation’s findings.
Second, the investigation, undertaken by the party responsible for the deaths no less, was conducted and completed very rapidly. It is in the military’s best interest to clear its name of any crime, so it makes sense that it publicly absolved itself so quickly. But this starkly contrasts with previous investigations commenced by the Israeli military. Normally, investigations into Palestinian civilian deaths are either promised and never delivered or delayed until condemnation for the circumstances surrounding the deaths dies down. What details did the Israeli military overlook? What statistics, testimonies, and data did the Israeli military manipulate to clear itself of any responsibility?
Third, and most importantly, missiles are only in the air for a short period of time before they make impact, especially in the Gaza Strip where targets are densely bunched into an area no larger than a medium-sized American city. How can almost three dozen people, including children and the elderly, manage to enter or surround a home in such a short period of time? Remember, the investigation alleges that the Kaware family returned to their home after the larger missile had been launched.
These three issues provide enough reasonable doubt for me to look deeper into the incident. The following data is part of my cursory investigation of the information provided. For reasons that I will soon reveal, I find it highly unlikely that the larger missile was fired when the house was still empty or when members of the Kaware family had not yet already started making their way back to the targeted building, as the Israeli military’s preliminary investigation suggests.
I set out to determine roughly how long it would take for a missile to hit its target once it launches. To be as fair as possible, I am taking a variety of variables into account.
Initially, I must establish which types of aircraft could have been used in targeting the home in Khan Younis. This will be useful later on when determining how far the missile has to travel, as different aircraft operate at different altitudes.
There are three main aircraft types normally responsible for air strikes in the Gaza Strip: fighter jets, attack helicopters, and armed drones.
Presently, the most common fighter jet in use by the Israeli Air Force is the F-16I, the Israeli variation of the popular Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon. I have chosen the F-16I to represent scenarios involving fighter jets.
The most common assault helicopter used by the Israeli Air Force is the Boeing AH-64 Apache. I have chosen the Apache to represent scenarios involving attack helicopters.
Lately, Israel has been shifting away from manned air strikes to strikes carried out by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones. Israel specializes in the development and production of drones and uses a variety of UAVs for reconnaissance, patrolling, and assault purposes. The IAI Heron-1 is one of the more popular drones and is frequently armed and put to use for air strikes on the Gaza Strip. It saw heavy action during Israel’s 2008-2009 invasion of the Gaza Strip and is being used in much the same way over Gaza today. I have chosen the Heron to represent scenarios involving unmanned drones.
In order to estimate the time between launch and impact, it is crucial to identify the type of missile that is used since this will reveal the speed at which the munition travels. This is the most difficult part of the analysis since there are so many possible air-to-surface missiles to consider and also because their use depends on the kind of aircraft deployed to complete the operation. For the sake of the report, I have considered the most common missiles used against ground targets in the Gaza Strip.
F-16I fighter jets have the capacity to carry and launch two kinds of air-to-surface missiles: the AGM-88 HARM, which travels at Mach 1.87 speed (634.797 m/s), and the slower AGM-65 Maverick, which travels at Mach 1.08 (318.65 m/s). I have elected to consider both missiles in this analysis. I will note, however, that the AGM-88 HARM is actually an anti-radiation missile that detects and targets radar installations. Since the Kaware family’s home was not a radio source, the AGM-88 HARM was not used. Still, I have chosen to include the AGM-88 HARM to represent faster air-to-surface missiles launched from the F-16I.
The Apache assault helicopters are normally equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, which travel at Mach 1.30 speed (442.377 m/s).
The Heron UAV I have chosen to represent drones can also be equipped with AGM-114 Hellfires or variations of the missile.
This leaves me with four possible aircraft and missile pairings. F-16I jets are not normally fitted with Hellfire missiles.
I have settled on five locations and three ranges from which the lethal missile might have been launched. This data serves as my x-value and is reported as the distance, in meters, to the city of Khan Younis, where the missile made impact.
The 1-mile, 3-mile, and 5-mile ranges are chosen as reasonable areas for a launch to occur. Israeli air strikes are normally carried out by aircraft physically within the Gaza Strip’s airspace, and these range estimates place the missile-toting aircraft exactly where they would be expected to be.
The Sufa border crossing represents the Gaza Strip’s southeast border with Israel. This location was chosen to represent the albeit unlikely scenario that the missile was launched from an aircraft within the Gaza Strip’s airspace but as close to the nearest border with Israel as possible.
The Erez border crossing represents the Gaza Strip’s northeast border with Israel. This location was chosen to represent another unlikely but plausible scenario, which is that the missile was launched from an aircraft within the Gaza Strip’s airspace but as close to the further border with Israel as possible.
The final three locations — Hatzerim, Nevatim, and Ramon — represent three of the four Israeli air bases under Israel’s Southern Command, the regional command of military forces assigned primarily to the Gaza Strip. The fourth Israeli air base, Ovda, now doubles as a commercial airport. As the furthest of the four air bases and least likely to actively engage the Gaza Strip, I have chosen to leave Ovda out of this report.
The air bases are chosen to represent the scenario in which an aircraft taking off from any one of their runways launches a missile without leaving the general zone of the air base.
The distances between Khan Younis and each of the two border crossings and three air bases have been determined by the use of GPS coordinates. The distance takes into account the spherical shape of the earth, although this has very little effect on the relatively short distances between Khan Younis and the predicted launch sites.
The height at which the missile is launched depends on the aircraft from which it ejects. This data serves as my y-value and is reported in meters directly above the launch site.
Ceiling heights are most commonly achieved when the aircraft are running light. Loading missiles to the aircraft weighs them down. Although I consider three different heights, my focus is on the ceiling height as well as the height that is 2/3 the ceiling height. The air-to-surface missiles listed earlier are not notably heavy, so I will assume that an aircraft will most likely be flying at either of these two heights when launching the munition.
Distance missile travels
Now that I have working estimates of the distance, x, and the height, y, of the missile launch, I can determine the distance the missile travels by using the Pythagorean theorem, where x² + y² = (distance the missile travels)².
With eight total locations or ranges, four possible aircraft and missile pairings, and three possible heights for each missile launch, I am left with 96 different possibilities ranging from as short as 2,672 meters to as long as 73,262 meters. To better understand how greatly these values differ, consider them in miles: 1.66 versus 45.5.
As a reminder, missiles launched from around the three Israeli air bases travel the furthest distance to Khan Younis and are also the least likely to happen. The more likely scenarios, which involve missiles launched from the 1-mile, 3-mile, and 5-mile ranges, narrow the range tremendously. The missiles in these scenarios travel between 1.66 to 7.58 miles.
This will become more clear in the following section, but I want to underline one point, which is that although these ranges present daunting distances, missiles are designed to cover these distances very quickly.
Time of missile flight before impact
Now that I know how far the missile in each possible scenario travels and since I also know how fast each missile travels (see: Missiles), I can calculate the time between launch and impact. The values are recorded in seconds.
Again, with 96 variations, I am left with a very large range of times. The shortest time from launch to impact is 6.04 seconds, which is what is expected when an Apache attack helicopter fires a Hellfire missile one mile away from the target and roughly 2,100 meters or 1.3 miles in the sky.
The longest time from launch to impact is 229.91 seconds, or almost four minutes. This is expected from one of the most unlikely scenarios: An F-16I firing a slow Maverick missile from the Ramon Air Base roughly 12,000 meters or 7.5 miles above the target.
Once again, because missile launches from the three Israeli air bases are the least likely to happen, this allows me to narrow my focus to the remaining five locations and ranges. To further narrow my focus for now, I will consider just the 1-mile, 3-mile, and 5-mile ranges, not the two border crossings, Sufa and Erez. Under these conditions, the fastest missile assault takes 6.04 seconds. The longest takes 45.84 seconds. Under either of these circumstances, the Israeli military’s claim that the Kaware family made its way back inside the home in the short time after the missile had been launched seems very unlikely.
Analysis of the data
This analysis considers all kinds of variables, from the aircraft and munitions used to the possible position of the aircraft in the sky. I also elected to consider very far and unlikely launch sites — the three Israeli air bases — to give the analysis more weight and to counter any claims that the variables and conditions I have chosen to consider favor my hypothesis.
For the purposes of this cursory investigation, however, certain variables such as wind speed and the aircraft’s velocity at launch were not accounted for as these data cannot be accurately ascertained and would otherwise drastically complicate calculations.
Of the 96 possible scenarios, I have narrowed the data down to twelve scenarios that I consider to be the most likely. Because the Israeli military’s preliminary investigation was not released to the public, and because no footage of the assault on the Kaware family’s home is available, it is not yet possible to know for certain the operational details of the air strike. The conclusion of this analysis, therefore, rests largely on the twelve most predictable scenarios.
The brief explanations below show that none of these scenario possibilities are arbitrary.
Here, a Lockheed Martin F-16I fires a Mach 1.87 speed AGM-88 HARM from one mile (1,609 meters) away and approximately 8,000 meters above the Kaware family’s home in Khan Younis. This scenario makes sense because it places the aircraft in the Gaza Strip. Because of the proximity of the target, because the Gaza Strip has no operational anti-aircraft defense systems, and because the aircraft is equipped with armaments which add weight to the fighter jet, I estimate that the plane fires its missile at a reasonable height: 2/3 its ceiling height. As a reminder, however, an AGM-88 HARM could not have been used since the Kaware residence was not a radar installation. But because I have chosen this missile to represent fast-flying missiles launched from the F-16I, I consider this scenario a reasonable possibility. Considering all of these figures, 13.1 seconds passed from the moment the missile was launched to the moment it made contact with the building.
In this scenario, a Lockheed Martin F-16I fires a slower Mach 1.08 speed AGM-65 Maverick from the same location as the jet in Scenario 1. Considering the use of a different missile, I estimate that the missile spends 26.0 seconds in the air.
Here, an IAI Heron-1 UAV fires a Mach 1.3 speed AGM-114 Hellfire from one mile (1,609 meters) away and approximately 6,700 meters above Khan Younis. This scenario is logical because it places the aircraft within the Gaza Strip’s airspace and also because it employs the use of the Hellfire missile which is used very frequently as an air-to-surface munition to take down concrete structures. This scenario positions the drone at 2/3 its ceiling height when the missile is fired, which is a reasonable guess considering the proximity of the Kaware family’s home to the drone. This scenario suggests that it takes 15.5 seconds for the missile to hit its target.
This scenario uses a Boeing AH-64 Apache firing a Mach 1.3 AGM-114 Hellfire from one mile (1,609 meters) away and nearly 4,300 meters above Khan Younis. Once again, due to the proximity of the target as well as the added weight of the munitions stocking the helicopter, I place the aircraft at 2/3 its ceiling height. The data suggests that 10.3 seconds are all that is needed for the missile to hit its mark.
In this scenario, a Lockheed Martin F-16I fires a Mach 1.87 speed AGM-88 HARM from three miles (4,828 meters) away and roughly 8,000 meters above the city of Khan Younis. Although the distance to the target is increased from one mile to three miles, the aircraft is still positioned within the Gaza Strip’s airspace. Because of the relative proximity of the target and because of the absence of anti-aircraft defense systems, I estimate that the aircraft launches its missile at 2/3 its ceiling height. Once again, the AGM-88 HARM would realistically not be used against a concrete home, but because this missile serves to represent faster missiles ejected from the F-16I for the purpose of this analysis, this scenario is still acceptable. Considering these numbers, I calculate that it takes 14.9 seconds from missile launch until missile impact.
Here, a Lockheed Martin F-16I fires a Mach 1.08 speed AGM-65 Maverick from the same location as the jet in Scenario 5. Modifying the values to take into account the slower speed of this missile, I estimate that the missile spends 29.7 seconds in the air before making impact.
In this possible scenario, an IAI Heron-1 UAV fires an AGM-114 Hellfire from three miles (4,828 meters) away and 10,000 meters above the Kaware family’s home. The drone operates at its ceiling height. Because Israel is moving more towards the use of drones when striking the Gaza Strip, I am considering a greater array of scenarios with the IAI Heron-1. Additionally, the frequent use of drones in the Gaza Strip and the fact that the drones carry less inherent risk to the Israeli military since they are unmanned means that they are more likely to be operated in a variety of conditions and for a variety of purposes. It is increasingly possible to find an armed drone operating near the UAV’s ceiling height in the Gaza Strip. For this case in particular, I find that it takes 25.1 seconds for the missile to make contact with the building.
Here, an IAI Heron-1 UAV fires an AGM-114 Hellfire from the same range as the drone in Scenario 7 but at 2/3 its ceiling height. This scenario suggests that it takes 18.6 seconds for the missile to reach its mark.
Here, a Boeing AH-64 Apache fires an AGM-114 Hellfire from three miles (4,828 meters) away and 6,400 meters above Khan Younis. In this scenario, the attack helicopter is operating at its ceiling height. Because this aircraft’s ceiling height is lower than 2/3 the ceiling heights for the F-16I and the Heron drone, I have elected to include it as a likely scenario since the Apache would be positioned at about the same point as the F-16I figher jets in Scenario 5 and Scenario 6 as well as the Heron UAV in Scenario 8 when firing its Hellfire. I estimate that 18.1 seconds pass between the moment the missile is launched and the moment it makes impact.
This scenario uses a Boeing AH-64 Apache firing an AGM-114 Hellfire from the same range as the helicopter in Scenario 9 but at 2/3 its ceiling height. The missile takes 14.6 seconds to hit its target, according to the calculations.
In this scenario, an IAI Heron-1 UAV fires an AGM-114 Hellfire from five miles (8,047 meters) away and 10,000 meters — its ceiling height — above the Kaware family’s home in Khan Younis. For the reasons listed in Scenario 7, this scenario is very appropriate and is among the likeliest to have happened. Based on the conditions of this scenario, the missile takes 29.0 seconds to reach its target.
Here, an IAI Heron-1 UAV fires an AGM-114 Hellfire from the same range as the drone in Scenario 11 but at 2/3 its ceiling height. I estimate that 23.6 seconds pass once the missile is launched before it makes impact.
Discussion of the data
Out of these twelve scenarios, the shortest time between missile launch and impact is 10.3 seconds and the longest is 29.8 seconds. The average time of the missile’s journey is 19.9 seconds. The most likely scenario, which I believe is Scenario 8 and which I highlight in Table 5, reveals that the missile takes 18.6 seconds for it to reach its mark.
Fitting this data to the Israeli military’s conclusion, members of the Kaware family allegedly made their way back into the home within the twenty seconds following the launch of the missile. Because the missile could not be diverted, many were killed and even more were injured.
To test the validity of this conclusion, I will need to consider the blast radius of a standard AGM-114 Hellfire to estimate how far the Kaware family might have distanced themselves from their home after learning that it would soon be destroyed. I will also need to take into account the average speed of a human during a sprint, a jog, and a walk.
According to a report published by New York University and Stanford University, the blast radius of a Hellfire missile can extend up to 20 meters. Shrapnel may travel even further.
The Kaware family is based in the Gaza Strip and has, by default, lived through years of air strikes in their immediate surroundings. It is safe to assume, then, that they understand how dangerous and irregular these missile blasts can be. Additionally, the family includes many children. Keeping all of this in mind, it is very reasonable to assume that the family distanced itself far enough to protect itself from the shrapnel and to ensure the safety of the children, at the very least. After all, overestimating the radius of the missile blast is in the family’s best interest.
With the blast radius measured to 20 meters and shrapnel frequently extending very far beyond that, I place the Kaware family 60 meters away from their home. This value represents the 20-meter blast radius, an additional 20 meters to avoid shrapnel and debris, and an additional 20 meters of distance for safe measure.
Now that I have an idea of the distance the Kaware family must cover, the next task is to estimate how long it will take the family members to walk, jog, or sprint the distance.
According to a study published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, the average human being walks at a pace of 1.4 m/s or 3.1 mph. Assuming that everyone in the three-dozen-large Kaware family walked the distance to their home, it would take them 42.9 seconds to reach the building.
According to a report by The Telegraph, the average man jogs at a pace of 3.7 m/s or 8.3 mph. The average woman jogs at a pace of 2.9 m/s or 6.5 mph. The average pace between both is therefore 3.3 m/s or 7.4 mph. This is corroborated by a study published in the journal Gait & Posture, which puts a jog between the pace of a walk and the pace of a fast run (measured at 4.5 m/s).
Assuming that every individual member of the Kaware family jogged back to their home, it would take 18.2 seconds for them to complete the 60 meter trip.
According to a study published in the Journal of Biomechanics, the average person sprints at a pace of 6.75 m/s or 15.1 mph. Assuming that everyone was capable of reaching this spring speed, which is highly unlikely, it would take the family 8.9 seconds to reach their home.
At face value, this data seems to confirm the Israeli military’s conclusion. Earlier I calculated that it most likely took the missile 19 seconds to reach its target. If the Israeli military’s investigation is indeed accurate, over thirty members of the Kaware family would have had to jog or sprint moments after the missile was launched to reach their home in time for the explosion. However, such a conclusion rests on faulty premises.
To assume that everyone in the Kaware family travels at the same pace is a poor assumption to make. The blast killed eight and injured over two dozen more. Among the victims were children of various ages and elderly men and women. It is highly unlikely that the children or the elderly were able to maintain a jogging or sprinting pace, especially for 60 meters.
This is best illustrated by footage of the immediate aftermath of the missile strike. At the 0:16 second mark, and older woman can be seen moving away from the blast. She is certainly not sprinting. Her gait can best be described as a shuffle — slightly faster than a walk but not a jog either. At the 0:28 second mark, a woman carries two children as a third holds on to her arm as they also move away from the blast site. Arms full with the children, the lady is walking briskly, but she is clearly not sprinting or jogging.
Considering the context of the footage, these observations are anything but arbitrary. In a scene as urgent and as chaotic as this one, where instinct activates the autonomic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response and adrenaline rushes drive everyone to clear the area as quickly as possible to preserve their lives, this is as fast as these individuals can go. In essence, not everyone is capable of a jog, much less a full sprint.
Keeping this in mind, when the Kaware family begins returning to their home after the first “warning” missile hits the building’s roof, the scene is much less urgent. Though there may be some confusion about whether or not the warning missile was in fact meant to be the actual air strike, it is highly unlikely that dozens of family members sprinted two-thirds the length of a football field to check.
Realistically, members of the Kaware family most likely would have already been within range of the blast radius or were in the process of making their way toward it when the missile was launched. It is worth remembering that the confirmed blast radius is 20 meters, notwithstanding the distance sprayed by shrapnel.
The Israeli military’s preliminary investigation of the air strike on the Kaware family’s home on July 8 finds that the deaths were accidental. Arguing that the home in Khan Younis was targeted because it belonged to Odeh Kaware, a ranking Hamas officer, the Israeli military absolved itself of any responsibility over the deaths of eight unarmed civilians and the injury of at least 25 more.
The results of this self-investigation depend entirely on the claim that the air strike was done purely out of necessity and that the missile had been launched at a time when there was no indication that unarmed civilians would inevitably be maimed or killed.
But the house posed no active threat to Israel. Lives were on the line.
In this analysis, I review an assortment of possible scenarios that closely match with the events that unfolded in Khan Younis on Tuesday. The fact that there are so many variables to consider, from the kinds of equipment used in the operation to the position of the aircraft in the sky, makes this analysis very tricky. For the sake of clarity, ease, and expediency, factors including the acceleration of the missile and aircraft radar visibility are not taken into account. Nevertheless, every fact and figure used in this analysis is independently validated and presented only after careful consideration. Until the facts are made clear and until unaltered footage of the air strike is made public, this report is intended to withstand rigorous critique. This is not, however, a scientific, peer-edited, or professional investigation. The goal is to test the Israeli military’s assessment of the air strike.
Through these calculations, I have reason to doubt the accuracy of the Israeli military’s investigation.
I estimate that the missile in question took as little as 18.6 seconds to hit its target, which is based off of the missile strike in Scenario 8, or as long as 19.9 seconds, which is the average time until impact of the twelve likeliest scenarios. In order for so many individuals to be in the house or at least within range of the house at the time the missile hits its target, each of the nearly three dozen dead or injured Kaware family members must have jogged or sprinted nearly 60 meters back to their home. Considering the number of children and elderly individuals who were directly affected by the blast, it is entirely unreasonable to believe that this was possible. In other words, the missile could not have been launched before the family made its way back home. Rather, because the family must have taken longer than twenty seconds to reach their home, the missile must have been launched after the family showed signs of returning. By the time the missile was released from the aircraft, the Kaware family had already begun its movement back toward or even into the house.
If that was not the case, then the family must have already been in or around the house by the time the missile was fired. In either case, the family must have begun to make its way back to the building well before the missile was ever launched.
Logically, the Israeli pilots and officers responsible for firing the missile that destroyed the house are also responsible for the eight civilian deaths and 25 civilian injuries that could have been entirely avoided.
Israel’s self-investigation comes as a surprise to those who are aware of how Israel normally handles inquiries into wrongful Palestinian deaths. Typically, these investigations are either ignored entirely or delayed until the attention dies down and the incidents become old news.
But for the Kaware family massacre, Israel’s self-investigation cleared itself of any violation or crime well before the international community had a chance to ask questions. This move appears to serve two purposes: to relinquish accountability and responsibility, and to set the record on Israel’s own terms. This sends a very dangerous message, which is that Israel can target civilian populations with impunity so long as it quickly identifies the deceased as “accidental” consequences or unfortunate byproducts of the assault.
It is worth mentioning that the Israeli military has released footage in the past showing pilots allegedly holding back for a few moments on an air strike when civilians unexpectedly walk into the crosshairs. The fact that this kind of footage was not released to supplement the military’s preliminary findings is exceptionally suspect. The concern now is whether or not the Israeli military will present doctored, edited, or miscontextualized footage to support its claim of innocence in the targeting of the Kaware family.
In conclusion, this analysis raises questions about the validity and accuracy of the Israeli military’s preliminary investigation into the air strike on the Kaware family’s home on the first day of Israel’s latest offensive against the Gaza Strip. The thorough calculations and valid estimates provided in this write-up discredit the Israeli military’s findings and hold Israel accountable for striking the building while knowing that civilians would be harmed.
I call on an independent party to rigorously investigate the circumstances surrounding the air strike on the Kaware home in Khan Younis, and I call on the international community to condemn the Israeli military — the responsible party — for targeting civilians.