Israel, Hamas, and AI’s religion problem?

Israel’s failure to understand the threat posed by Hamas, leading up to the October 7 attack, has been attributed to many factors, but the role of artificial intelligence and the technology’s blind spot toward Palestinian Islamic jihadism should not be discounted, writes Ofira Seliktar in the foreign policy journal Orbis (Spring). Israel’s leaders were of the view that Hamas had moderated in recent years, supporting the paradigm that it was a “rational group transitioning from its jihadist roots to a ‘good governance’ entity. This paradigm was so popular that over time it became the basis of the Gaza policy of ‘peace through prosperity’ that Israel, with the support of the United States, adopted,” Seliktar writes. The paradigm also became firmly entrenched in the Israeli intelligence and security establishment, and ideas about the normalization of Gaza were espoused by experts affiliated with Ivy League schools and prestigious think tanks, such as the Carnegie Foundation for Peace, with “the algorithms trained to privileged sources of authority and quality embellish[ing] the ‘good governance’ qualities of Hamas.” But the data about Hamas being fed into the AI systems was unbalanced or had other biases that tended to muddle search results, she argues.


Prior to the October massacre, the absence of critical data about Hamas’s true character created a bias that led to its portrayal as a national resistance movement virtually on par with Fatah, the leading member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Such major databases as LexisNexis, JSTOR, and Google Scholar made no link between Hamas as an Islamist group and the extremist Islamic State. But this connection could be found in its own “discursive universe of the more rhetorical variety,” showing close associations between the military arm of Hamas, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Al-Quds Brigades, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the early leader of the Islamic State. Subsequent brigade commanders have strengthened extremist Islamic elements in the military and the calls for jihad against the Jews and Israel. The Religious Scholars Association of Palestine in Gaza brought together a hardline group of clerics who had close ties to Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his anti-Semitic agenda. Even up until October 7, an official of the association, Saleh al-Raqab, was involved in indoctrinating the Hamas military and is said to have issued a fatwa prior to the attack. Seliktar notes that October 7 was the first catastrophic intelligence failure in which “AI protocols shaped the controlling paradigm.”