U.S. Air Force Confirms Drone Operations Over Gaza: How Involved Will the Pentagon Become Supporting Israel?

The U.S. Military has confirmed that it is carrying out drone operations over the Gaza Strip, as part of much broader support being provided to Israeli forces since October 7 for their ongoing operations against local Palestinian militia groups. Confirming the drone operations, Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder stated on November 3 that drone flights had begun on October 7, and occurred alongside “providing advice and assistance to support our Israeli partner as they work on their hostage recovery efforts.” MQ-9 Reaper drones had previously been seen circling Gaza on flight tracking websites, with this marking their first operation over Gaza. U.S. officials cited by the New York Times stated that the drones would “pass potential leads to the Israel Defense Forces” should they locate hostages being held by Palestinian militia groups. It has been widely speculated that other data collected by the drones is also likely to be passed on to Israeli forces.

Alongside unexpected successes against Israeli armour during ground operations, Palestinian militias are reported to have neutralised a number of Israeli aircraft in recent weeks, with American Reaper drone operations potentially putting the aircraft at risk. Reaper drones have operated widely over the Middle East for years, and have been intercepted multiple times this year by Russian fighter aircraft when violating Syrian airspace. A CIA operated Reaper drone was also used in the assassination of Iran’s most decorated military officer General Qasem Soleimani in January 2020. 

A number of Middle Eastern media sources reported in late October that the U.S. Military had deployed 5000 personnel to participate in Israeli operations in Gaza, although this was denied by American officials. It was confirmed, however, that senior American officers with expertise in counterinsurgency and city fighting had been deployed as advisors to Israeli forces. Retired U.S. Army Colonel Douglas MacGregor on October 25 stated that Israeli special forces raids into Gaza had been accompanied by American special forces, highlighting: “In the last 24 hours or so, some of our Special Ops forces and Israeli Special Ops forces went into Gaza to reconnoiter, to plan for where they might want to go to free hostages and make an impact, and they were shot to pieces and took heavy losses, as I understand it.” Member of the Hamas political leadership Ali Barakeh indicated that the party perceived the United States as becoming increasingly involved in the war effort, stating that the Palestinian political group: “didn’t expect this much of a response” from Washington. “An Israeli response? Yes, we expected that… But what we’re seeing now is the entrance of the U.S. into the battle, and this we didn’t count on.” The U.S. has moved to expand military facilities in Israel, struck Hamas aligned forces in Syria and Iraq, and massively escalated its regional military presence while replenishing Israeli military stocks. America’s NATO ally Turkey has also seen jihadist militia groups under its influence such as the Al Nusra front escalate attacks on Hamas’ ally Syria since Israeli-Palestinian hostilities broke out.