Thursday, January 26, 2012
Media Smokescreen Ties the IDF’s Hands
Here’s a classic example of media coverage tying the IDF’s hands.
The IDF’s debating the use phosphorus shells in future Gaza action. According to the Jerusalem Post, the debate focuses on PR damage, not operational considerations.
The shells — made in the US and approved for NATO use — are legal to use in populated areas to illuminate or mark targets and to create a smokescreen for troops. But that’s not what the army brass is concerned about. The JPost writes:
Images of the exploding shells – appearing like a white octopus – featured widely in the press during Operation Cast Lead and it took the IDF days before it confirmed that it was using shells that contain white phosphorus in Gaza . . . .
While the shell’s use is said to be critical in assisting ground operations in urban terrain like Gaza and Lebanon, there is an ongoing debate within the IDF whether it should be used in a future operation in Gaza due to the potential public relations damage it could cause Israel.
Earlier this month, The Jerusalem Post revealed that the IDF General Staff had instructed the Southern Command to complete preparations for a large-scale operation in Gaza within the coming months.
“There is no question that the use of the shell caused Israel’s image unbelievable damage, since a number of NGOs claimed that its use was a war crime,” one defense official said this week.
Let’s clear the air.
It’s legal to use phosphorus shells within proper procedures.
The IDF shot itself in the foot when it initially denied using phosphorus when the Times of London first raised the issue.
Media hype insisted that Israel deliberately used phosphorus shells on a wide scale to harm people and destroy buildings.
The army disciplined two senior officers for improperly ordering their use in one incident.
I often wish the IDF were more sensitive to public opinion. This isn’t one of those times. Using phosphorus shells should be a purely operational matter. Just streamline the system to allow IDF representatives to respond quickly and accurately.
Palestinians have no inhibitions about adding white phosphorus to their shells. As recently as this month, two phosphorus mortars struck the western Negev. Hamas wasn’t creating a smokescreen or marking a target.
Moral of the story: Media spin games can successfully tie the IDF’s hands.