Prof. Ron SchleiferThe writer is an Israeli expert on the topic of Information/Psychological Warfare and military-media relations. He heads the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication. His recent book on psychological warfare was published in English by Sussex Academic Press. The upcoming cease fire with Hamas is the beginning of the real war – the political one. This is a good time to assess the psychological dimension of the operation and prepare for next phase. In the recent launch of Operation Pillar of Defense, psychological warfare was playing a critical role in the conflict. taking lessons from the last major operation of Cast Lead (c. 2008), the Palestinians are using some of their best PSYOPS abilities that are essentially non-violent, yet clearly destructive. The Palestinians are adroit at using the Internet, considered their main channel. The Islamic Jihad was also able to obtain phone numbers of Israeli citizens, sending them morale-lowering text messages. Notably, this is exactly what the Israelis were doing in Operation Cast Lead, indicating the Palestinians’ ability to learn and implement IDF tactics from the last conflict outbreak. At the same time, the Israelis have hijacked Hamas television and radio stations in order to inform Palestinians what areas to avoid in the event of a planned military bombing, thus helping reduce civilian casualties. Much of what Hamas and Islamic Jihad do over the Internet involves forging clips and other lies that do not adhere to the Western maxim that PSYOPS messages must be true, or at least partially true. Besides reports on false events( our missile hit the Knesset) Hamas and Islamic Jihad also use short pseudo-documentaries exploiting the credibility of the genre to disseminate outright lies to further their cause. What groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad ultimately desire is to harm the psychological well-being of the Israeli population. The Palestinians aim to showcase the incapability of the Israeli government. They aim to burden the economic cost of the war, part of which they are already doing to great effect by launching Qassem rockets without explosive warheads. One Qassem that costs a few dollars forces the Israelis to expend $35,000-50,000 on an Iron Dome missile. In addition to outstretching Israeli military and diplomatic efforts, they provoke a response that causes minimal damage due to Israeli technology while gaining international attention and sympathy. Hamas is meanwhile gaining political status to the point where Western countries are willing to negotiate a ceasefire – not with a terrorist organization, but with what they are treating as a legitimate government. One must keep in mind that this attack is not an isolated incident – it is one event in a long succession of events. These techniques started being used mainly beginning with the First Intifada, throughout the Oslo period, and then continuing with the Second Intifada, the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, and now during Operation Pillar of Defense. The main idea is to erode Israeli cohesion, in every possible way. According to revolutionary ideology doctrine which Hamas has adopted thoroughly, civilian casualties of their own people are an acceptable price. Hamas is working according to the revolutionary principle of “yanking the chain”: if one cannot defeat the stronger enemy outright, he must degrade the enemy through a series of seemingly minor blood-lettings until, over a long period of time, the enemy has effectively lost the battle – without realizing it right away. For Hamas, this is the ideal campaign. Israel is constantly under the danger of losing its legitimacy if it causes Palestinian civilian casualties. This is why, it should also be noted, that the Israeli informational messages throughout the operation so far have tended to revolve around the Iron Dome and its effectiveness. The Palestinians have clearly learned their lessons from Operation Cast Lead and other conflicts of the past. They learned how to distribute the message and how to appeal to Israelis and foreign audiences alike. The Palestinians will then play on western and Israeli guilt – an age-old PSYOP technique. Israel is facing now a barrage of visual images of
As far as Operation Protective Edge is concerned, things should be placed in perspective, and an academic approach can be useful in doing just that.
It is imperative to differentiate between a psychologically conducted war, in which the armed forces of a nation are used to influence the other side – take the bombing of London in WWII, for example – and psychological warfare in general, which is a non-violent campaign, using mainly public relations techniques, that goes on while a war is taking place.
Confusing the two leads to a failure in achieving a correct understanding of the situation at hand. Hamas does not have an army in the conventional sense of the word as it is only a guerilla movement that gained control of an area and runs it. Since its resources are limited, it must rely on external aid, in this case, from Iran.
But Hamas is engaging in "Revolutionary Warfare", a form of conflict whose rules were laid down by the Communists and polished by Mao Tse Tung. They entail several basic principles:
1. Attack your enemy's soldiers by nibbling at them bit by bit, hit them and retreat in order to save your strength.
2. The Art of the Yanking Chain: The above "nibbling" tactic must be acted on slowly and patiently, so that the enemy becomes accustomed to the situation. Add strength to the attack in small, almost unnoticeable increments so as not to alert the enemy to what you are doing, so that he does not strike back at you powerfully.
3. Sabotage. It is imperative to cause damage to the enemy's efforts and bring about his collapse due to external and internal pressures.
4. Create the impression, especially in your own ranks, that you have an alternative to the present government. For that reason, create the impression of bureaucracy, law-enforcement and military entities.
5. This process demands extreme cruelty towards all other forces. All who are not "with us" are considered against us.
6. The impression left by your activities must be magnified in every way possible. For this reason, it is advisable to use propaganda via a vis the home front and the enemy as well as towards neutrals.
Propaganda aimed at the enemy is called "psychological warfare" today.
Its principles are:
-Solidify support from within the ranks
-Convince the enemy that he hasn't got a chance no matter what he does
-Convince him that he is wrong, that he is immoral, that he has no future.
There are specific ways to accomplish this:
1. Create guilt feelings, especially by demonstrating the terrible effects of the war on civilians. That means seeing to it that many civilians are injured in order to create political pressure from without and ethical pressure from within. Guilt sells.
2. Lower the morale of the citizens and soldiers of the enemy
3. Demonize the enemy
How to get the information across? Mainstream media, such as newspapers and television, will do it, as will alternative media such as leaflets and microphones. They are all the same today, now that internet includes newspapers, television, radio and twitter.
That is the reason that for the last 30 years, Hamas has developed a relationship with the foreign press. TV and radio stations have been established and every major city in the world has a Hamas representative. Much efforts were invested in students.
Hamas' psychological warfare contains nothing new. What is surprising is the organization's ability to adapt to a new reality, especially its ability to copy Israel's methods. In the Cast Lead Operation, Israel used text messages and phone conversations. Hamas has expanded this model. It came prepared with lists of phone numbers of journalists and sent text messages. Texting is not so terrible in and of itself, but it gives the feeling that "we know about you".
They also have increased the number of good quality clips, despite various errors, and of whatsapp.
Pretending to be ISA and other sources also causes confusion.
In sum, the psychological warfare is intended to lead to heightened uncertainty and tensions in the wake of the rockets.
The strategic goals are manifold:
-Increase economic fallout, such as tourist and trade losses, empty IDF storehouses.
-Cause political fallout in the case of injuring civilians.
-Bring about a split in Israeli society, causing controversy, argument and mutual accusations with regard to the pros and cons of a land invasion.
-Raise fears of a land invasion – "we are waiting for you"
There is a straight line leading from the "disengagement" and going by Gilad Shalit and Cast Lead to Protective Edge. It consists in trying to make life unbearable for Israelis, showing them that it is impossible to live here, with the main goal being to prove that Israel cannot win against Islamic forces, that it is we, the Hamas, who dictate the agenda even though we are weak for the time being.
Written for Arutz Sheva, translated by Rochel Sylvetsky