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Israel’s Double-Edged Sword (Part II). Military Tactic / Media Strategy.

Actualizado: 11 jul

This is Part II of a three-part series on the dilemmas posed by Israel’s Iron Dome. Read Part I here. Stay tuned for Part III.

Israel will survive even the heaviest barrages—broken, perhaps, traumatized, and bankrupt—but unvanquished.

Israel’s enemies—Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—do not have a military strategy. They have, rather, a military tactic designed to serve media, diplomatic, and legal strategies. They succeeded stunningly in the past. Now, they are triumphant.

Between them, the terrorists are estimated to have about 250,000 rockets, missiles, and drones of various payloads and ranges. Hezbollah is also assumed to possess at least one hundred cruise missiles. In contrast to the stand-off Qassams, Grads, and Fajrs fired by the terrorists in Gaza—rockets that go up and down in a static trajectory—cruise missiles are guided by joysticks and can be directed to hit vital Israeli installations. They are far more difficult to intercept, though the United States and Israel have developed an anti-cruise missile system, David’s Sling (Hebrew: Sharvit Q’sammim, Magic Wand), which destroyed two rockets during the May 2023 fighting with PIJ and, during the current war, downed missiles as well. Now, however, with a vastly larger conflict looming with Hezbollah, no system or combination of systems can be expected to withstand what the IDF estimates would be as many as six thousand projectiles daily.

That firepower can cause Israel extensive if not strategic damage. It can shutter our airport, ignite the Haifa refineries, and perhaps even hit the nuclear reactor in Dimona. But what all the rockets, missiles, and mortars at the terrorists’ disposal can’t do is destroy the Jewish State. Israel will survive even the heaviest barrages—broken, perhaps, traumatized, and bankrupt—but unvanquished. The terrorists know this and do not particularly care. They know they cannot annihilate Israel even with twice as many projectiles. What they can do, however, is potentially even more destructive.

This is the military tactic: to win both with the launching of rockets as well as Israel’s reaction to them.

Rockets and missiles serve several functions—to gain prestige among the Palestinian and broader Arab and Muslim publics, to deter an Israeli preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities—but their long-term goal is more sophisticated. It is to kill as many Israelis as possible, sowing demoralization and weakening resilience, but, more importantly still, to provoke Israel into killing a great many Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. This is the military tactic: to win both with the launching of rockets as well as Israel’s reaction to them.

Accordingly, the terrorist organizations which, in addition to their Jihadist role also act as sovereigns, invest nothing in civil defense—no bomb shelters, no early warning systems. Within its estimated 400 miles of tunnels, Hamas could hide the entire population of Gaza—if it wanted to. It doesn’t. On the contrary, the terrorists take pains to place their launchers, headquarters, underground embattlements, and arsenals deep within civilian areas. Israeli forces take extraordinary measures to minimize civilian casualties, but cannot avoid causing rising numbers of them nevertheless.

While in Gaza there is little room for civilians to escape, in Lebanon, villagers could have fled the 2006 fighting but were prevented from doing so by Hezbollah. It will certainly repeat this practice in any future war as the IDF, pressed to stem the massive rocket barrages, moves swiftly to conquer the two hundred Lebanese villages under which Hezbollah has hidden its launchers. Many thousands of civilians are liable to be killed. 

As in Gaza, Israel will again decry the terrorists’ cynical use of civilians as human shields. But the terrorists not only defend themselves by hiding behind living civilians, the terrorists use dead civilians as the primary weapon in their ultimate campaign to destroy Israel.

Thus, the military tactic of firing rockets and launching drones serves the media strategy. The 2006 Second Lebanon War lasted nearly two months but during that entire time the press struggled to produce photos of Hezbollah terrorists firing anything, rockets or even guns. Over the course of five Gaza conflicts (2008-9, 2012, 2014, 2021, 2023), only two images of Hamas rocket crews emerged—one taken by an Indian and the other by a French film crew, both of which were immediately banished by Hamas from the Strip.

By contrast, countless pictures were published of Israeli tanks, planes, and artillery firing and IDF soldiers bearing arms. Instantly, the impression was created of a passive, peaceful society being ravaged by a bloodthirsty juggernaut. 

That impression is then reinforced by the terrorists’ manipulation of the foreign media. Far from gaining free access to battle zones, war correspondents are directed to hospitals and placed in front of wards teeming with civilian wounded, women and children especially. Blood and screams fill TV screens worldwide. The terrorists have also perfected the art of manufacturing news. In Lebanon in 2006, IDF Spokesmen identified “the guy in the green hat,” a man who played a corpse sprawled atop multiple ruins alongside teddy bears and upside-down baby carriages. Other cadavers were borne in funeral marches on stretchers from which they subsequently rose and ran. During the first four Gaza conflicts, Hamas posted internet images of bodies allegedly dismembered by Israeli bombs but in fact extracted from zombie movies. 

The international press never protests the terrorists’ restrictions and rarely questions their “news.” Generally predisposed to believe the worst about Israel, they will take at face value casualty figures published by, for example, the Hamas Health Ministry, though these are almost always inflated. My own experiences include the IDF’s purported mortaring of an UNRWA school in 2008 in which, according to Hamas and repeated by the European media, fifty-one civilians were killed, most of them children. In reality, the mortar shells fell outside the school; twelve people were killed, ten of them Hamas terrorists, none of them children. In 2012, the Washington Post devoted its front page to a photo of a Palestinian man wailing over a shrouded objected. Mourners gathered in a half-circle around him. The caption was: Palestinian father cries over the body his infant son killed in an Israeli airstrike. When I protested to the Washington Post editor that the image seemed too symmetrical, he responded that the photo was acquired by the Associated Press which vouched for its veracity. Three weeks later, the UN—the UN!—determined that the photograph had been staged.

The Gaza War, Israel’s Operation Iron Swords, has produced a slightly different paradigm. Hamas, itself, has posted videos of terrorists firing at Israeli troops inside the Gaza Strip—i.e., in defense of their homes. The gruesome footage of evisceration, immolation, and rapine captured by the GoPro cameras worn by the barbarians of October 7 was designed for Middle Eastern and Muslim audiences, not Fox and CNN. Still, throughout eight months of war, the only images of Hamas rockets being launched at Israel were posted by the IDF Spokesman’s Office. Videos of Israeli soldiers in combat, destroying Palestinian houses, sometimes even with glee, proliferated.

The result has been not only a replication of the previous iterations of the D Word but their incalculable, devastating, magnification. A nation ruthlessly attacked by an avowedly genocidal organization has, in defending itself, been almost globally accused of committing genocide. The unprecedented efforts of its troops, often at their own risk, to reduce the combatant-to-civilian fatality rate to the lowest in modern military history, have been transformed into a deliberate campaign of civilian annihilation. A racist, misogynist, homophobic organization that shoots from behind and under its countrymen has been widely hailed as the valorous champion of equal rights and human freedoms. 

Enter Iron Dome. The images of the suffering and destruction purportedly wrought by Israel are sufficiently horrific. But then those pictures are contrasted with those of an Israeli public which, with relatively few exceptions, is weathering the war unharmed. The fact that Israel cannot play by the same rules as Hamas and Hezbollah, it cannot cherry-pick journalists’ dispatches, fabricate the news, or post photos of military and civilian casualties, only accentuates the contrast. The terrorists’ media strategy has met its goals; now on to the diplomatic strategy.

Broadcast instantaneously and incessantly over every medium, the horrific images ignite a firestorm of public rage. If, in the past, Israel used to worry about the impact of its operations on the “Arab street,” that street is no longer restricted to Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf; it also teems in Europe and the United States. Violent protests break out in London, Paris, and other Western European capitals, on elite American campuses and high-profile public events. Confronted with these demonstrations, decision-makers find themselves under intensifying pressure to act. And they do by turning to the international organizations where Israel, even in the most pacific times, cannot easily defend itself. 

Though the severest of the condemnations can be blocked by a US veto—what I call our diplomatic Iron Dome—some eventually pass. These, then, become the basis of the deadliest of the terrorists’ strategies: the legal.

Adducing UN resolutions, international criminal courts in the Hague and elsewhere can impugn and gradually chip away at Israel’s right to defend itself. From that ruling, there is only a short distance to the next, the ultimate achievement of negating Israel’s right to exist as an independent Jewish state. This, then, is the terrorists’ real objective—the missiles are merely a means—and they are patiently pursuing it clash after clash, war after war. Each round of fighting, not in spite of but rather thanks to the devastation the IDF inflicts, brings the terrorists closer to realizing their dream of an Israel that can be wiped off the map with impunity. 

Iron Dome plays a central role in the terrorists’ pursuit of a military tactic that serves media, diplomatic, and legal strategies. By assuring disproportionality and wildly contrasting press images, the system is, in many ways, a key terrorist asset. Iron Dome may, as I once wrote in Politico, prevent large-scale wars and promote peace, but it also provides Israel’s enemies with some of their deadliest weapons. 

The downsides of Iron Dome don’t end with the media, diplomatic, and legal threats, though. There are other reasons why the system acts against Israel’s short and long-term interests. These will be discussed—and solutions suggested—in the next installment of “Israel’s Double-Edged Sword.”

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