Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The IDF and the Liberal Media

Jpost editor David Horovitz has an op-ed today about Israeli defense policy. The gist of his argument is that Israel needs to better explain its actions to media outlets, and comes with a long explanation of the dangers of house-to-house clearing operations in the Gaza strip.

Horovitz's recommendations are themselves spot-on. He calls for increased transparency in Israeli war zones and limited access for media outlets. He also calls for independent Israeli investigations of war crimes allegations. However, his article reflects a key oversight in Israeli defense thinking. Horovitz's entire article discusses the change from conventional to non-conventional warfare and Israel's struggle to adapt to the new threat. Yet this threat has been present since at least the first intifada in the late 1980s and arguably long before that. Horovitz suggests that one of Israel's biggest problems is that "the challenge of explaining the moral legitimacy of those military answers, for a world inclined to rush to superficial judgment, is not being adequately met." This is accurate but it hints at the idea that this explanation, or hasbara, is the only flaw.

Israel's PR problem is not only poor explanation of tactics, but use of the tactics themselves. An Israeli defense establishment that thinks it can use Youtube videos or better talking points to explain away the use of white phosphorous in civilian areas is seriously mistaken. The issue is not that journalists in Israel simply don't understand that Israel is in an asymmetric conflict. It's that they do understand, but still expect Israel to react humanely. Israel's hasbara also needs to be a two-way street. The idea that journalists just "don't get it" or are just anti-Israel to begin with overlooks a deeper dialogue which for the IDF may be worth having. Understanding journalist's concerns and hearing from them is a key way for the IDF to better get to know its audience.

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