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The art of war

Zafar Anjum | Jan. 8, 2009
In the Israel-Gaza conflict, the Israeli side has embraced the new media to relay its viewpoint with great success.

If you have been following the unfortunate Israel-Gaza conflict, you might have seen a video on YouTube in which several Hamas (Palestinians) members are seen loading short-range rockets into a truck moments before a massive explosion. According to media reports, this video, uploaded by a member of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on YouTube, is the most viewed IDF video on the channel.  It has been watched more than 360,000 times.

You get what you see, right? Not exactly. According to an investigation by the Israeli human rights group BTselem, the rockets seen in the video were not rockets but gas canisters; the victims were not members of Hamas but civilians moving welding equipment after their workshop had been damaged in the Israeli air strikes.

Chances are that you have not heard about BTselem or its investigation on the above-mentioned episode. And that precisely is the point.

If facts become the first casualty in a public relations war, then so be itthats realpolitik.

Like all wars, this one is partly about public relations, writes the Jerusalem bureau chief of The New York Times Ethan Bronner in a report. But unlike any war in Israels history, in this one the government is seeking to entirely control the message and narrative for reasons both of politics and military strategy.

Gaza crisis on YouTubeLike the conflict itself, many think this approach is unbalanced. But Israel is savvy enough to know that in todays world of instant media, wars on the ground merely culminate a situation created through the media. Thats why the Bush administration created the media hype of weapons of mass destruction in the media before attacking Iraq, even though Saddams regime had no direct connection in the 9/11attacks. But the hype ensured that the public was convinced and consent was manufactured before the Bush administration went ahead with the invasion of Iraq.

Taking a leaf from the Bush strategy, Israel has perfected this art of war and, if you will, has extended it to the cyberspace.

But this lesson has come at a price.

Lessons from past mistakes

The Israeli government had made some mistakes in the 2006 Lebanon warthey had lost the war and also failed to gain much public sympathy.

It was a lesson of strategic importance. Writes Bronner in his report: This is the result of what happened in the 2006 Lebanon war against Hezbollah, said Nachman Shai, a former army spokesman who is writing a doctoral dissertation on Israels public diplomacy. Then, the media was everywhere. Their cameras and tapes picked up discussions between commanders. People talked on live television. It helped the enemy and confused and destabilised the home front. Today, Israel is trying to control the information much more closely.

 

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