Israel’s Shifa Tunnel Footage Shows a Drone-Dog Approach to Exploring


Footage of a Hamas tunnel the IDF asserts is underneath Gaza’s Shifa Hospital suggests a combination of drone and animal penetration.

The Israel Defense Forces released the tunnel video as well as security camera videos from inside Shifa (Gaza’s largest hospital) on Monday. The latter purportedly show footage from October 7 wherein hostages abducted from Israeli territory are seen surrounded forcibly ushered into the hospital and through a corridor.

The tunnel footage appears to have been shot more recently, possibly last week, and is described by the IDF as “filmed using two different technological assets”. The release does not specify what these are but a look at the second of two videos provided offers clues.

It begins with what is clearly footage from a UAV above the debris-strewn site of the Shifa Hospital complex noted in graphics added to the video by the IDF. The drone pivots to the right and flies toward what is labeled an “operational tunnel shaft”. As it descends toward the tunnel entrance, the forward structure of the UAV can be seen at the edges of the wide-angle view ahead.

Also notable is a grouping of Israeli soldiers kneeling to the left of the shaft the drone is heading toward. One of the soldiers is clearly operating a remote control for the UAV, looking at a display, possibly head-mounted. The other soldiers appear to be providing cover, alert to any possible threats in the area.

The drone in question may be one of those I detailed in an earlier report on the use of drones in Gaza streets and tunnels. Israeli firm, Xtend’s Skylord Xtender could be the micro ISR drone being used judging by the camera angle, illumination, and the necessity for an enclosed-rotor configuration in the tight confines of the tunnel.

Xtend was awarded a U.S. Department of Defense contract in 2021 for the Xtender at which time the Israel Defense Forces appear to have introduced the micro-ISR UAV to service.

As the drone descends into the tunnel, it pivots and yaws to avoid obstructions. At the lower right of the screen an IDF-provided graphic shows its progress inside a representation of the tunnel. What appears to be the remains of a stairway is evident as is debris kicked up by the rotor-wash of the drone’s propulsion system. It continues down the shaft, pauses and tilts back upward to view the entrance from below.

Descending further into low light, obscured graphics are evident near the bottom of the screen view. These are likely the user interface cues displayed to the operator either via tablet or a headset. At this point (1:24 into the video) the shot appears to change, signaling a shift to what may be the second “technological asset” used to explore the tunnel.

The camera view now has greater illumination and shows the tunnel walls from what appears to be a low vantage. As the camera begins to progress through a corridor as shown on the graphic, the movement of the picture seems reminiscent of some sort of gait, as if the view is on a legged creature.

Israel has used dogs extensively in Gaza to perform inspection, reconnaissance and sensing missions. The video footage (including a previous video) indicates a dog-mounted camera could be in use here. The IDF’s assertion that two technologies were in use does not preclude one being carried on the back of a Belgian Malinois like those pictured below.

The view that opens the previous video is also from a low angle at what looks like soldier-thigh height. Some kind of repelling gear is being affixed to the camera platform and, very briefly, a muzzle looks to be removed. In the video above the camera moves through the tunnel until it reaches a blast door. Here again, the low angle – below a graphically labeled blast door and firing hole – combined with the rocking movement of the camera and the way it runs around suggest a dog.

Could it be a robotic dog? Israeli defense prime Rafael Advanced Defense Systems co-developed a robotic dog with Philadelphia-based firm, Ghost Robotics, which it demonstrated in 2021. It appears to be similar to Ghost Robotics’ Vision 60 system which has remarkably dog-like movement capability and can operate in a range of environments though it is not specifically shown in a tunnel.

It is possible that the IDF is making use of these unmanned ground vehicles (UGV’s as the robots are sometimes called) but the movements associated with the videos the IDF has released to support its claims of Hamas infrastructure underneath Shifa Hospital look more as if a drone-dog combination is at work.

It’s also important to note that the IDF has specialist combined teams made up “Sting” dog units (Oketz) and “Weasel” (Samur) subterranean commandos that have been operating inside Gaza. The units are reported to have trained in a specially built tunnel complex in the Negev Desert to take on the many kilometers of tunnels built by Hamas.

One of these teams may in fact have been shown in the video footage given both the importance of providing evidence of Israel’s claims regarding the Hospital and the continuing fluid situation around its campus.

The use of Sting and Weasel teams with such a drone/animal combination affords the kind of location-to-location mobility that might be more difficult with a ground robot. The useful sensory cues that dogs offer also remain unmatched in many instances by robots.

The drone-dog approach is a powerful, practical mixing of technology and the age-old teaming of soldiers and canines. Where its purpose is to illustrate Israeli claims regarding Hamas it is indeed ample illustration of the courage of dogs.

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