Insight into Israeli propaganda to sell its “civilised” onslaught

What does it say about a military policy that requires so many lies and distortions to try and convince a very skeptical if not hostile world? Here’s Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz:

The photograph of the wounded baby daughter of Mira Sharf, one of the three civilians killed this morning (Thursday) in a missile strike on Kiryat Malachi, being carried out from her wrecked home, covered in blood, fitted like a glove to the Hasbara policy of Israel’s government. Throughout the day, the photo featured on thousands of websites and throughout the social networks. Israel’s supporters posted it on their Facebook pages and it was even tweeted on the Prime Minister’s twitter account. “Hamas deliberately targets our children” wrote Benjamin Netanyahu. In the early afternoon a group of foreign journalists were brought to the house so they could feel the threat on Israel’s home-front “through their feet.”

Operation “Pillar of Defense” is accompanied by a no less well-planned and orchestrated media operation. The National Information Directorate in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Information Ministry, the Foreign Ministry’s press operation, IDF Spokesman Unit and a long list of governmental and private volunteers are working together to mold the public perception of the operation in Israel and around the world. The Hasbara directors were informed in advance to prepare for a large military offensive, though only a small handful of them were aware of the operational details. Contingency plans had already been prepared and the PR teams had carried out exercises in recent months. The lessons of Operation Cast Lead and the Mavi Marmara commandeering had been learnt.

The national PR operation has a number of main components.

Swift transfer of visual materials from the battlefield – IDF Spokesman Unit is still scarred by the lengthy delay in supplying the footage of the rioting on the decks of the Mavi Marmara in May 2010. While wild rumors circulated and the supporters of the Turkish IHH controlled the narrative, it took the IDF fourteen hours to release the video to the media. To streamline the process, IDF Spokesman set up as special war-room that quickly receives that surveillance footage from air-force and intelligence units and immediately begins editing. Information security officers and military censors are there to authorize the material’s release to the Israeli and foreign press and simultaneously it is posted on the IDF website and Youtube with links to the army’s Facebook page and Twitter account.

That’s how the world saw within a few hours the aerial video of Ahmed Jabari’s car bursting into flames, which became an instant Youtube classic. The footage of attacks on Hamas Fajr missile sites was also released quickly, while the targets were still smoking. The swift and efficient process was created mainly in preparation for a situation in which a strike may cause also multiple Palestinian civilian casualties and Israel will have to quickly prove that it was attacking a legitimate military target.

Emphasizing the Civilian Side of the Operation – while the bombing videos are being distributed, the PR strategists are trying to deflect the world’s gaze from Israel’s military might towards the suffering of Israel’s citizens from the Palestinian missiles. This attempt to “civilize” the conflict began in the days before the operation when Prime Minister Netanyahu made two consecutive visits to the towns of the south with full media attendance. The hasbara apparatus located in advance dozens of articulate and multilingual civilians down south and prepared them with the approved messages for interviews with foreign reporters. The Information Ministry’s Government Press Office (GPO) organized today (Thursday) an organized tour of Kiryat Malachi and Ashkelon for international media crews, including a visit to the stricken house and an emergency command post. The group viewed a battery of the Iron Dome missile-defense system but the visit was focused on the human story. They met many civilians, under the auspices of Information Minister Yuli Edelstein and only a few IDF officers. The PR operation chalked up a major success when missile warnings went off during the tour of Ashkelon.

“The tour brought home to the foreign journalists, some of them just arrived in Israel for the first time, the complexity of the conflict,” said GPO Director Nitzan Chen, “and the fact that no country can allow missiles to fall on its citizens. They felt on their own flesh.”

The message of the harm caused to Israeli citizens will be sharpened tonight when a new website, “Israelis Under Fire” will go online, under the aegis of the Foreign Ministry. The fact that until now, Palestinian civilian casualties have been relatively few and that for the first time in a long while, Israeli citizens have been killed in a missile strike has bolstered the Hasbara operation’s efforts.

Quick response to developments – “We are all scarred by the various Qana incidents,” says one veteran spokesman referring to the severe criticism on Israel following bombs falling on civilian centers in Lebanon and Gaza. Despite the IDF’s attempts to carry out “surgical” strikes and prevent collateral damage, the PR people are constantly aware that as the Gaza operation continues, the chance of major civilian casualties grows exponentially. For this case they have prepared contingency plans with multiple options for responses to evolving events.

In addition, “rumor squelching” teams are continuously monitoring Arab media, especially Palestinian sources, to prevent hostile elements turning stories into facts. Earlier today, when Islamic Jihad claimed to have launched a missile against Tel-Aviv, they were ready with an immediate denial.

Relative openness – In addition to the rich variety of material being offered by the hasbara machine to the international media, the decision was taken to allow foreign journalists based in Israel to move freely through the Erez Crossing into the Gaza Strip and report from the other side. This is the exact opposite of the policy during Operation Cast Lead when there were no international reporters in Gaza and Israel would not allow the hundreds that arrived to cover the fighting to cross over. “The policy is to show that we have nothing to hide since we are not bombing civilians or the local infrastructure” says one of the spokesmen.

In the first 24 hours following Jabari’s assassination, around thirty foreign journalist arrived in Israel, reinforcing the hundreds permanently based here. The GPO has opened a 24-hours facility to issue them press-cards. “This isn’t yet an airlift of journalists such as we had in Cast Lead and the Second Lebanon War,” says a senior official in the The National Information Directorate. “But if the operation continues much longer, hundreds will arrive and we will be prepared for them.”