Gaza: one of the most intense bombardments in history?

On 7 October, the Hamas militia attacked Israel. Since then, the Israeli military has bombarded Gaza in an effort to “obliterate” Hamas’ military infrastructure. [1]  Dr Philip Webber and Dr Stuart Parkinson, SGR, assess the scale of the Israeli military assault in comparison with other wars, and consider the possibilities for peace.

Article from Responsible Science journal, no.6
Original version published online: 20 December 2023; updated version published online: 13 March 2024

The horror of the latest war in Gaza has dominated international media coverage since it began on 7 October, not least because of the very high intensity of weapons use in such a small geographical area and over such a short time-period. These factors have unsurprisingly led to a huge casualty rate.

The purpose of this article is to critically examine key data, technical information, military analysis, and related evidence on the war to date, making comparisons with other conflicts as appropriate, and informing efforts to find a peaceful resolution.

Events of 7 October

There has been a long history of conflict between Israel, Palestinian armed groups, and other nations in the region over many decades, encompassing religion, human rights, land rights, and other related issues. [2]  Of particular note in the current situation are the asymmetric power relations between the state of Israel and the Palestinian territories, not least Israel’s longstanding and illegal military occupation of those territories (including recent expansion of its ‘settlements’ within them), and its ability to rapidly deploy cutting-edge weapons technologies at scale.

The latest spiral of violence began on 7 October when Gaza’s Hamas militia attacked Israel. Approximately 840 civilians and 350 soldiers and security personnel were killed, and 240 hostages were kidnapped. [3]  The scale and brutality of this attack – which involved deliberate targeting of civilians, including children, and led to the largest loss of life in an attack on a Jewish community since World War II – led to widespread condemnation.

Israel – which has an extensive military intelligence network intended to discover and prevent such attacks – was caught unawares. However, it had well-developed military plans for retaliation, and these were quickly brought into action as ‘Operation Iron Swords’.

Israel’s military offensive: how destructive has it been?

Israel’s military operation began with heavy aerial bombardment of Gaza. After five days of this attack, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) posted on social media [4] that it had dropped “about 6,000 bombs against Hamas targets” – 1,200 bombs a day. This amounted to 50 bombs dropped every hour, roughly one every minute of a 24-hour day – a huge rate. A separate source reported, on the same day, that these 6,000 bombs comprised 4,000 tonnes of munitions. [5]  A figure of 4,000 tonnes is consistent with the use of US-made Mk80-series bombs, of weight 227 to 907 kg, as well as some use of M117 ‘demolition’ bombs, of weight 372 kg. (Typically, about half the weight of these bombs is explosives.) Assuming that each target is struck by two bombs, these figures imply that 600 targets a day were hit each by an average total bomb weight of approximately 1,300 kg (1.3 tonnes). Also notable is that at least 5,000 Mk82 bombs had previously been supplied to Israel by the USA. [6]

The IAF also posted graphic images of the destruction caused by this bombardment. [7]  They show whole neighbourhoods, including high rise structures completely flattened consistent with very heavy bombardment with the heavier Mk80-series bombs and M117.

Image   Image

Images from Israeli military post on X, 12 October [note 7]

By 2 November – 26 days into the bombardment – the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor (EHRM) estimated that Israel had dropped 25,000 tonnes of bombs on 12,000 targets. [8]  Whilst the number of targets struck is consistent with IAF updates, the estimate for the tonnage of bombs would mean an average of more than 2 tonnes of bombs per target which is higher than estimates based on a range of other sources. EHRM makes a comparison with the power of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb (equivalent to about 15,000 tonnes of TNT) and suggests that by this date Gaza had been bombarded with the equivalent of two nuclear weapons over an area of 360 square km - far smaller than that of Hiroshima at 900 square km in 1945. This source also refers to the documented use of banned cluster and white phosphorus munitions, with the latter capable of causing severe burns.

However, even if 25,000 tonnes of bombs were used, it is problematic to make a direct comparison because the damage mechanisms are very different. For example, a nuclear weapon produces a persistent fireball and blast wave together with radiation. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the enormous scale of the Israeli assault.

On 10 November, the IAF posted [9] that: “More than 15,000 targets … in the Gaza Strip have been attacked since the beginning of the fighting … Hundreds of targets are targeted by the infantry forces and by the intelligence wing in real time, and are attacked in a short time by the Air Force and the Navy.” This works out at about 430 targets a day, continuing the very high average bombing rate. The IAF also posted intermittent daily numbers of targets hit ranging from 250 to over 750 in a day over this period.

Even using the most conservative estimate of 500kg of bombs per target (2 x 250 kg weapons per target), this would amount to 7,500 tonnes of weaponry over this five-week period (approximately 3,750 tonnes of explosives). Using the 10 November IAF data combined with other sources – which seems more consistent – the total weight of bombs could be up to 20,000 tonnes.

A measure claimed to reduce civilian casualties was the Israeli military’s setting up of what they called ‘evacuation corridors’ to move people south away from areas being targeted. [10]  In reality, these routes were widely reported to be themselves subject to attacks by air and ground forces. To date, around two million Gazans have been displaced, many multiple times, due to their homes being destroyed in the intense bombardment. Also, after moving south, those same Gazans then experienced further attacks as Israeli forces shifted their attack.

By 6 December, analysis published in the Financial Times (FT) [11] stated that “Gaza will also go down as a place name denoting one of history’s heaviest conventional bombing campaigns.” It cited a study by US-based academics using satellite radar data which suggested that over 60% of buildings in northern Gaza had been severely damaged. By 29 January, the devastation across the whole of Gaza was approaching this level. [12]  This is comparable to the Allied ‘carpet-bombing’ of the German cities of Dresden, Cologne and Hamburg during World War II in 1943 to 1945.

The bombing of Gaza has also been much more severe than the most intense periods of the US-led air campaign in Mosul in Iraq in 2016, when roughly 600 munitions were dropped in a week, while the tonnage of explosives expended during the first week of bombardment is higher than one year’s use by the USA in Afghanistan. [13]

Israel’s very high bombing rate is only made possible by using a targeting system called ‘Habsora’ (which translates as ‘The Gospel’), which harnesses the speed and computational power of artificial intelligence (AI). [14]  Habsora was created in 2019 by the Israeli military’s Targets Administration Division to ‘accelerate target generation’ and ‘shorten kill chains’.  “It really is like a factory. We work quickly and there is no time to delve deep into the target.”

As the Israeli military operation has continued, increasing numbers of ground troops, helicopter-borne forces, artillery and naval munitions and forces have been increasingly involved.

The impacts of this intense bombardment and the combined air, land and sea attacks have been stark. By mid-March 2024, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in the occupied West Bank and other agencies, over 31,000 persons in Gaza had been killed, including 12,300 children – hundreds of them, infants. Over 72,000 people had been injured, some very seriously, with more than 8,000 others missing. More than half of Gaza’s homes – 360,000 – had been damaged with over 46,000 completely destroyed. [15][16]

Historical comparisons – comparing ‘Operation Iron Swords’ with other recent Israeli military offensives

Table 1 compares the bombing rates, using figures from Israeli military sources. [17]  The increase in bombing rate and total ordnance used is stark. A previous attack rate of 100 to 200 targets a day has more than doubled to over 400 and – in the first 5 days – was over six times larger.

Table 1 – Comparison of bombing rates of recent Israeli military offensives 


Israeli military operation

Total number of targets

Time period of bombardment (days)

Bombing rate (targets hit per day)


Cast Lead





Pillar of Defense





Protective Edge





Guardian of the Walls





Iron Swords


(first 5 days only)




Iron Swords


(first 35 days)



NB Some figures are rounded


The deliberate use of ‘disproportionate force’

International humanitarian law demands that militaries take steps to minimise the civilian casualties that may be caused by any military attack. As such, these casualties should be ‘proportionate’.

According to Jeremy Binnie, [18] a Middle East security specialist at Janes, a London-based security think-tank, “The sheer pace of the campaign does raise questions about the Israeli rules of engagement, its targeting process, and the levels of civilian casualties it is prepared to accept.” In other words, there can be no effective oversight of targeting to hit more than 15,000 targets within 5 weeks, and the use of an adequate legal check that each target is consistent with international humanitarian law is not possible. 

Further evidence of the legal shortcomings comes from analysis of the casualty rates. Israeli analysis suggests that over 60% of casualties have been civilians. [19]  This seems to be an under-estimate. From the widely reported Gaza casualty figures, [20] 72% of those killed (21,700) are children and women. Even if half of the remaining 8,000 men were Hamas militants, meaning a further 4,000 male civilians were killed, the civilian death rate would be around 86% – a shockingly high level. A similarly high civilian death rate was reported by the Times of Israel [21] where only 11% of those killed in 2014 ‘Protective Edge’ air strikes on high rise targets in Gaza were confirmed as ‘terror operatives’ – in other words, an 89% civilian death rate for this type of air strike. A CNN report refers to Israeli sources claiming that they had killed 7,000 out of 30,000 ‘Hamas terrorists’ by 10 December. [22]  This figure was larger than the total reported deaths of men on this date and appears to be an over-estimate. It also highlights that most Hamas fighters were still operative.

In fact, a disproportionate response, attacking civilian areas and infrastructure, has been a key element of current Israeli military strategy since 2006, as part of the ‘Dahiya’ doctrine. [23]  According to the Israeli-based +972 news outlet, [24] which has interviewed government officials in the country, “the doctrine – developed by former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot – … part of the current war cabinet – in a war against guerrilla groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah, Israel must use disproportionate and overwhelming force while targeting civilian and government infrastructure in order to establish deterrence and force the civilian population to pressure the groups to end their attacks.”

Confirming this, Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, stated as early as October 2023 [25] that Israeli forces may kill 600,000 civilians and repeatedly invoked the Allies’ bombing of German cities in World War to justify Israel’s military objectives in Gaza.

Breaching international humanitarian law

There seems little doubt that international humanitarian law has been breached – both in the Hamas attack of 7 October and in the ensuing Israeli military offensive.

In late October 2023, over one thousand of the UK’s most senior lawyers and former judges, signed a series of letters to the British Prime Minister, [26] making the case that “we are witnessing clear violations of international humanitarian law… in Gaza.” After pointing out the breaches committed by Hamas, they stated that these attacks cannot “justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.” The lawyers quoted nine UN Special Rapporteurs warning that Israel’s “wilful and systematic destruction of civilian homes and infrastructure” is “resulting in crimes against humanity in Gaza.” 

In November, the World Health Organisation warned that untreated disease and malnutrition could kill even more people than the intense bombardment. [27]

In the face of no ceasefire and an escalating toll of deaths, injury and destruction including medical facilities and staff, the South African government filed a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) under the Genocide Convention. US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, stated that the case was meritless, while the UK Foreign Secretary, David Cameron, urged South Africa not to “bandy around terms like genocide”. [28]

Nevertheless, in January 2024, a preliminary ruling [29] of the Court found by an overwhelming majority that there was a “plausible case” to answer and resolved to investigate in depth – which could take several years. Importantly, the Court also issued an immediate ruling ordering Israel to take “all measures” to avoid inflicting bodily or mental harm on the Palestinian people, prevent and punish incitement to commit genocide by Israel’s officials, enable humanitarian aid, and report back to the Court on its progress within one month.

The ICJ ruling exposed a split between countries strongly supporting Israel and many who did not. Whilst the USA and UK present themselves as following the international ‘rules-based order’ they opened themselves to a clear accusation of hypocrisy by not strongly supporting the ICJ ruling. Israel rejected the ICJ ruling, simultaneously accusing UNWRA (UN Palestinian Refugee Agency) of complicity in the attack of 7 October. Despite “no evidence” of this, [30] several nations including the USA and UK severed their UNWRA funding, whilst other countries including Spain and Ireland, increased their UNWRA funding due to its vital role in supplying humanitarian aid in Gaza. Many countries including Sweden and Canada have since reinstated UNWRA funding. [31]

No less than the Director of the Chatham House think tank, Bronwen Maddox, raised the issue of western hypocrisy. She stated: “the West cares about democracy, but not when it wants to install leaders it likes in other countries. It respects sovereignty except when it does not, as in Iraq. … It supports human rights, but not in countries from which it needs oil. [Or] when it gets too difficult, as in Afghanistan”. [32]

The search for a ceasefire and beyond

There have been repeated, urgent calls for a ceasefire by many national governments, UN representatives, human rights groups, and humanitarian organisations, as well as by large sections of civil society. But not by the UK and US governments.

At the United Nations in December, 153 nations supported a non-binding UN resolution for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. [33]  In February, the USA used its veto at the UN Security Council blocking for the second time a resolution for an immediate ceasefire, despite 13 members of the Security Council voting in favour. The UK abstained. [34]

At the time of writing, Israel rejects the legitimacy of the ICJ [35] and the establishment of a Palestinian State. [36] Negotiations continue on a ceasefire – but only a limited one – while Israel still makes preparations for a full-scale military assault upon Rafah in southern Gaza, where over one million refugees are sheltering in makeshift tents or in the open having fled the destruction of their homes. Humanitarian agencies such as UNICEF and MSF describe the situation in Rafah as catastrophic, with shortages of food and water, lack of medicines, large numbers of orphaned and traumatised children, and with cases of cholera and gastroenteritis rising. Evacuation of such huge numbers is regarded as impossible with no ‘safe’ area to go to. Across the whole of Gaza, the UN estimates that at least 576,000 people – one quarter of the population – face catastrophic levels of food insecurity. [37]

Professor Paul Rogers, University of Bradford, amongst other commentators, terms the Israeli approach ‘liddism’[38] – trying to keep a ‘lid’ on a security problem with a very aggressive military response. Israel’s repeated justification for its continued military assaults is the ‘elimination’ of Hamas – in practice, an unachievable aim. The conflict can only be resolved through solutions based on social justice, fair political representation, and economic development.

Moreover, the experience from recent invasions and bombing campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen for example, repeatedly show the failure of intense military force as any kind of a solution. In fact, such actions are disastrous, more likely to strengthen or create new or continuing paramilitary groups embedded within civilian communities. Indeed, support for Hamas is growing amongst Palestinians. [39]  Independent monitoring groups such as Iraq Body Count, Airwars, and Brown University’s Costs of War project find that post-9/11 wars have killed at least 900,000 people through direct violence and a further 3.5 million indirectly, with 38 million people displaced. [40]  None of these wars has produced peace. Armed conflict continues within Iraq, Libya, and Syria, while Islamic State and al-Qaida-linked militias have dispersed across the Sahel region of Africa and beyond.

In the wake of the extreme and systematic levels of destruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza, combined with intense trauma of millions of survivors, any longer-term peace must now be even harder to achieve. It also represents a tragic mistake for future Israeli security as the conflict widens to include Lebanon and the Houthi in Yemen.


Scientists for Global Responsibility viewpoint

Following from the analysis above, Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) views the Israeli bombardment of Gaza as disproportionate, unlawful, and counterproductive. While we condemn the Hamas attack of 7 October, we cannot support the Israeli response. We join others in calling for an immediate ceasefire, the urgent delivery of humanitarian relief, the release of all hostages, and for a new peace process to be pursued that addresses historical injustices and lays the foundations for a secure future for everyone in the region. As a UK-based organisation, SGR also calls on the UK government to recommit to international humanitarian law by supporting an immediate ceasefire and by ending its provision of arms and military aid to Israel. These actions will help safeguard civilian life, and end the UK’s current enabling of likely war crimes and crimes against humanity, and possible genocide. 


Dr Philip Webber is Chair of Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR). Dr Stuart Parkinson is Executive Director of SGR. Both have written widely on science, technology, and security issues.


[2] A useful summary of the history of the regional conflict can be found at: Council on Foreign Relations (2023). 4 December.

[4] IAF (2023a). Post on X, 12 October (translated from Hebrew).

[7] IAF (2023a) – as note 4.

[9] IAF (2023b). Post on X, 10 November.

[10] IDF (2023). Post on X, 13 November.

[11] Financial Times (2023). 6 December. [subscription only]

[14] +972 Magazine (2023) – as note 3.

[15] Multiple sources summarised by: Al-Jazeera (2023). (which gives data attributions) [accessed 12 March 2024]

[17] +972 Magazine (2023) – as note 3.

[18] FT (2023) – as note 11.

[20] As note 15.

[24] +972 Magazine (2023) – as note 3.

[25] Talk TV (2023). Video clip, YouTube, 19 October. ; BBC Radio 4 (2023). Audio clip, Yahoo News, 16 October.

[26] UK Lawyers (2023). Open Letter Concerning Gaza, 26 October. and

[28] Foreign Affairs Committee (2024). Oral evidence session (Q659), 9 January.

[33] UN News (2023b). 12 December.

[34] UN News (2024). 20 February.

[35] Netanyahu (2024a). Post on X, 19 February.

[36] Netanyahu B (2024b). Post on X, 21 February .

[39] Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (2023). Public Opinion Poll No. 90, 13 December.

[40] Brown University (2023). Costs of War project.

A bombed street in Gaza - image by the Israeli military on X

Filed under: