U.S. Intelligence Attributes Fatal Hospital Explosion in Gaza to Rocket Malfunction by Palestinian Militants

On Tuesday, representatives of U.S. intelligence stated that they utilized intercepted signals, numerous video sources, photographs, and geolocation technologies to arrive at a "highly credible" assessment that Israeli munitions were not the source of the deadly explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza last week, providing new details on the incident that escalated tensions in the Middle East.

Instead, according to official sources, the explosion was most likely caused by a rocket launched by Palestinian militants that experienced a "catastrophic engine failure," which resulted in the rocket breaking apart and subsequently directing its warhead towards the hospital grounds.

Based on intercepted signals, analysts with low confidence concluded that the extremist group "Palestinian Islamic Jihad" was responsible for the launch. Officials describing the analysis spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

According to officials, during the interception, Hamas militants were contemplating who might have launched the weapon.

"We cannot confirm who they are. We cannot confirm that what they were discussing in the interception actually took place," a representative of U.S. intelligence said.

Officials provided two key reasons for their more compelling conclusion that Israeli forces were not responsible for the explosion on October 17th. Firstly, they stated that the minor structural damage inflicted on the hospital aligns with the characteristics of a rocket and is "incompatible with larger craters and more extensive blast effects" associated with air-dropped munitions or artillery shells.

Secondly, they claimed that numerous video recordings of the launch indicate that the rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip and headed northeast. According to officials, seconds after launch, the rocket's trail exhibited "oscillating intensity," indicating an unstable engine burn, followed by the fall of one object to the ground, with a much more substantial explosion shortly afterward.

"Our assessment is that a catastrophic engine failure likely occurred, resulting in the separation of the engine and the warhead," one official said. "The warhead fell on the hospital grounds, causing the second, much more powerful explosion."

There have been no updates to the initial, less probable estimate by U.S. agencies that 100 to 300 people perished in the explosion, which is lower than what Hamas claimed.

"It's very difficult to understand what happened, especially in the fog of war," one official remarked.

Officials stated that the rate of failure for domestically produced rockets in the Gaza Strip is "quite high."

The aftermath of the strike on Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza Damage seen after the shelling of Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, on October 18, 2023. ALI JADALLAH / ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES

"[T]his really fits a long-standing, multi-year pattern in terms of the rocket characteristics," another official added. He stated that there are "no indications" that the hospital was a planned target for the militants.

Officials mentioned that intelligence analysts examined images and videos from open sources depicting any debris resulting from the explosion that could have originated from Israeli munitions, as claimed by Palestinian forces, but found no corroborating evidence. They also stated that they ruled out the possibility of an Iron Dome interceptor causing the breakup.

"We are confident that the videos we analyzed show a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip that experienced a catastrophic failure and then landed back in the Gaza Strip without being intercepted by the Iron Dome," one official said.

Officials stated that the intelligence community cannot rule out the possibility of new information emerging that could alter their assessment.

A senior intelligence representative participating in Tuesday's briefing also noted that independent scrutiny of extremist activity in Gaza by intelligence agencies had been "limited."