U.S. Adopts Israeli Tactic Employed in Gaza War in Fight Against ISIS

'Roof-knocking,' commonly employed during past few Gaza military operations, uses small missile strikes to notify civilians of larger impending missile strikes.

Gili Cohen
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A ball of fire rises from an explosion on al-Zafer apartment tower following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 23, 2014.Credit: AP
Gili Cohen

The U.S. military has adopted the Israel Defense Forces' technique of firing small missiles above buildings to warn civilians of an impending strike, commonly referred to as "a knock on the roof," in its fight against ISIS.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter E. Gersten, deputy commander for operations and intelligence for the anti-ISIS Operation Inherent Resolve, described an operation in Mosul targeting an ISIS finance operation.

Gertsten said that in order to avoid killing women and children in the same building, the U.S. "went as far as actually to put a Hellfire on top of the building and air-burst it so it wouldn't destroy the building, simply knock on the roof to ensure that she and the children were out of the building," he recounted. "And then we proceeded with our operations." One woman did indeed flee the building after the 'knock', but ran back after the attack order was given and eventually died of her wounds as a result.

Gersten acknowledged the Israeli military's influence, saying, "that's exactly where we took the tactics and technique and procedure from." However, he did not say whether the Israel Defense Forces briefed the U.S. on the roof-knocking operations.

Israel's 'roof knocking' captured on video.

The IDF frequently employed the method during the past few Gaza wars. The procedure was first exposed in 2009 and has since become common practice during operations in Gaza, the most recent of which in 2014's Operation Protective Edge. The method also involves calling the house about to be attacked to inform civilians inside in advance.

After the 2014 summer conflict, a group of U.S. military experts from the Pentagon arrived in Israel to learn about the operation and the IDF's attempts to minimize civilian casualties. The procedure has been put on hold in the past after Palestinians began congregating on rooftops to prevent attacks on buildings.

A UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry's report on 2014's Operation Protective Edge concluded that while the method "may have been effective" in minimizing civilian casualties in specific instances, "'roof-knocks' cannot be considered an effective warning given the confusion they often cause to building residents and the short time allowed to evacuate before the actual strike."

The method has also faced criticism from human rights groups, who have voiced doubts at its efficacy. The Israeli group B'Tzelem also said that the warnings provided by the IDF were insufficient, and claimed that its investigation revealed that 70 percent of those killed in aerial attacks during Operation Protective Edge were civilians. A report by human rights group Amnesty International said a number of Palestinians who fled their house after receiving warning by the IDF were still killed in the attacks in Gaza and cited instances in which no prior warning was given.