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What weapon hit the World Central Kitchen convoy in Gaza?

On the night of April 1st to 2nd, seven employees of the NGO World Central Kitchen were killed in Gaza. The NGO is known worldwide for its work. It is considered independent and apolitical, with no hidden agenda and no dubious funding. After leaving a camp in Deir al-Balah, roughly in the middle of Gaza, with three vehicles, they drove west to the coast and followed the coastal road south towards Rafah. Their trip was coordinated with the Israeli security forces. Nevertheless, their convoy was hit, presumably by Israeli weapons. 

Destroyed World Central Kitchen vehicle in Gaza. EPA-EFE/MOHAMMED SABER
Destroyed World Central Kitchen vehicle in Gaza. EPA-EFE/MOHAMMED SABER

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was an “accidental strike” on the convoy. The Israeli army said it was “clarifying the circumstances of this tragic incident.” It said the air force was to blame. A drone with small missiles is suspected. Some media suspect that the attack a high-ranking Hamas terrorist, who was in the camp but never got into one of the vehicles.

The exact circumstances have not yet been clarified. This article is not about the political dimension of the incident, but about the vehicles and their destruction.

Which vehicles were used?

Three vehicles were used. Two armored pickup trucks, one unarmored SUV. While one armored vehicle burned out, the other and the unarmored vehicle were destroyed.  

The Armor of the vehicles correspond According to the pictures, at best class B6, possibly only B4+ (“Kalashnikov class”). The roof is probably 5 to 6,5mm thick steel with a hardness of 500 Brinell. These are common values ​​for simple, armored NGO vehicles in war zones. These do not have the same protection as the much more expensive vehicles in which top politicians are transported. They have smaller vulnerabilities that can be specifically exploited. But they provide acceptable protection against common threats in these areas, such as hand grenades at a distance or fire from regular assault rifles. 

An American R9X Hellfire?

What is noticeable is that there is a large hole in the roof, but the slides are undamaged and the interior appears to be partially burned, but not destroyed by a large explosion. This indicates an impact from above, where some kinetic energy was applied but only a small explosion occurred. Attacks with American R9X Hellfire missiles show similar patterns, such as the execution of Iranian officer Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad in 2020. As far as is known, Israel does not have these missiles, but has similar ones of its own. 

Dense/Inert DIME?

In general, the effect of the weapon used looks like a DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosive) or rocket fire with a shaped charge. In a DIME, for example, tungsten powder is mixed with a binder to form a jacket on the outside of the actual explosive charge. In the near field, this increases the mass acting on the target and can result in greater deformation. At a distance, however, the danger and explosion are reduced because the powder slows down more quickly when it hits the air. So any non-flammable (“inert”) powder propelled by an explosive mixture or device can be used to achieve this effect. The goal of these methods is to increase damage to the intended target while limiting collateral damage further away from the target. That would fit the theory that they wanted to eliminate a Hamas terrorist in the vehicle. 

Exact paper on this

Screenshot from the paper by Marcílio Alves
Screenshot from the paper by Marcílio Alves

It was not until 2024 that Marcílio Alves explained in his paper “Penetration of ballistic gelatin by explosion-driven inert metal particles“How such weapons work. His finding: “Results obtained from high-speed video recordings of ballistic gelatin show the uniformity of the particle cloud created by the detonation-driven particle ring of PTFE and tungsten powder. It was observed that the metal particles neither sintered nor agglomerated under the conditions of high temperature and high pressure detonation.”

Result

It remains to be seen what military and political decisions led to this tragic event. Technically, there are many indications of a DIME weapon. However, this analysis does not help the victims and their survivors. It shows how dangerous the work of NGOs is, even if they adhere to all precautionary measures in these areas. Even a better armored vehicle would hardly have been able to withstand such a weapon. Such an incident will hardly be able to be prevented technically or through armor - one can only hope that measures will be taken to prevent something like this from happening in the future. 

EPA-EFE / MOHAMMED SABER

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