Prof. Nino Levy, former CEO of Elta and head of the Systems Engineering graduate program at Tel Aviv University, argues that Israel is losing the media war. “Tactical response to threats in the media front must pass to the responsibility of the IDF”
Although it is hard to see the connection between war and media at first glance, Professor Nino Levy argues that the media front is not less important than other combat arenas. If the IDF were allowed to use its full strength, the result for the enemy would be disastrous. Therefore the enemy takes advantage of the media, and does all the manipulations to ‘tie our hands’. This creates a situation in which the IDF’s strength is far greater than the legitimacy it has to use its full force.
Since the media is looking for fresh news, and quickly loses interest in past events, it is a mistake to react in this arena. We should take the initiative into our own hands. Responses from the IDF Spokesperson, the Foreign Ministry and other officials come long after the media has lost interest in the event. Since IDF’s personnel are directly on the scene in real-time, there is no better alternative than to assign responsibility for winning the tactical media war to the IDF.
The shift of responsibility will require investing resources, developing weapons and technology to enable the IDF to meet the challenge. Some of the technologies, like long-range telescopes and cameras, are ready available. Other, like micro-UAV’s with high resolution audiovisual capabilities, are not hard to develop. These should allow the IDF to send a clear and sharp view of terrorist organizations’ activities in populated areas and to stream video in real-time for TV networks and websites such as Youtube. Every military action must be planned and carried out while considering media objectives along with the military ones.
Q: Why has the media become a combat arena?
Israel has been fighting for its recognition as a legitimate state in the Middle East since its inception. The enemy learns the lessons from past wars and changes its combat doctrine accordingly. After three decades of failed attempts to defeat the IDF on the battlefield, we are currently facing three integrated combat arenas: the first is still military warfare, the second guerrilla, terrorism and rockets, and the third is media warfare. Learning from its experience, the enemy is shifting more weight and resources from the first to the second and third combat arenas.
In the first arena, the IDF has achieved significant deterrence and doesn’t need media assistance. In the second arena, the main enemy achievement comes due the wide media coverage given to any terrorist act, whether in the form of a suicide bomber or a rocket attack against the civilian population. Therefore, investment in intelligence, precise weapons systems and interception, however important, will not suffice without proactive media efforts on our part. In the third arena, we absorb defeat after defeat. This encourages the enemy to increase Israel’s delegitimation not only in the eyes of the Muslim world, but now in the eyes of the free world as well. At the same time, they successfully limit the IDF’s freedom of action by shrewd use of misinformation and biased reporting.
Whether we like it or not, the enemy has imposed an effective media war on us. Take the First Lebanon War for example: it wasn’t decided in the battlefield. It was the media pressure, which became unbearable for the Israeli leaders, that determined the date and method at which the military evacuated Lebanon. This allowed Hezbollah to celebrate the expulsion of the IDF, and to gain unprecedented strength in Lebanon.
Looking at guerrilla warfare and terrorism, including the rocket threat – no one has the power to determine the result of the combat. The enemy knows that, and seeks maximum media exposure for its actions. Without the media, their actions have little effect with regards to the stress and shock on our public opinion, and no enthusiastic effect that helps recruit people and money for their cause. The enemy has learned far better than us to take advantage of the media, to photograph events and provide tapes, videos and articles in real time, so that its ‘truth’ is projected in the media and it is this ‘truth’ that forms the public opinion.
Q: What are the threats in the media arena?
One can distinguish between three types of threats: The long-term threat challenges the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state. The midterm challenges economic prosperity and the cultural and scientific integration of Israel in the family of advanced nations. Finally, the immediate term threat is intended to paralyze the IDF, limiting its freedom of action.
One could expect that after more than 60 years of independence, few would question the existence of Israel as a legitimate state. Instead, our legitimacy as a state has not improved in recent years and perhaps even declined. Over the years, Israelis have learned that in a battle, the part that takes the initiative usually wins. This doctrine has proved to be correct in the traditional battlefield. It is right in the media war too, but this time the enemy has the initiative.
In the first three decades the enemy imposed what was called the ‘Arab boycott’. It had a limited effect on Israel’s economic development, and practically no effect on the scientific and cultural cooperation with countries in the developed word. Intensive and well organized media campaign and demonstrations, in some of our most important trading partners, risks jeopardizing our trade and scientific relations with them. Despite the potentially severe consequences, Israel does not take the initiative in this arena either, and its response is reactive at best.
In the tactical media war theater, the enemy has shown exceptional creativity and talent to capture and select the most “incriminating” pictures and videos against the IDF. It does not shy from staging incidents specifically for the purpose of filming ‘brutal IDF behavior’. Children, ambulances, schools and mosques are among the favorite “decorations” for the fabrication of such movies. Not that the IDF has never caused “collateral damage” to innocent civilians, as any fighting force in densely populated areas, but its image has been defamed in the media far beyond proportion. The enemy’s success in this arena is such that the IDF is forced to limit its action to a fraction of its capabilities.
Q: What kind of weapons can you use in the media war?
For the tactical arena, the weapons should be adapted to the nature of modern media: fast, focused and dramatic. The media strives for scoops, for titles and photos. The one who provides the news first creates the headlines of the day. If you wait too long, you’re not relevant. It’s important to understand that the media is a business today. It sells its products the way its customers consume them. Most people read only headlines and seldom go any deeper. Reporters and commentators must be brief. In-depth analysis is read only after the mass public opinion is well established, and can marginally change it. We must learn to give the media what it needs, since the outcome of the battle depends on it. Without positive media coverage, there is no chance to win the media war. Often, like in Vietnam for the Americans, or in Lebanon for Israel, this means winning the war, full stop.
The basic weapons for the tactical media arena require modest investment compared the price of a single tank, let alone of a single aircraft. Cameras, camcorders and smartphones can be very effective as media war weapons, especially if quick distribution of their materials is well organized. Hezbollah, Hamas and other hostile organizations are much better equipped, better trained and much better organized than the IDF in this arena. They master in quick editing and distribution of only the parts they want to be transmitted. The vast majority of the audience has no means of investigating what really happened in any given event. The public sees only the images transmitted and listen to the interpretation given by the source of the information.
The IDF must realize that its image and eventually the outcome of its operations critically depend on the results on the media arena. The military must accept responsibility for the media coverage in the field. Like the availability of a gun, a camera must also be available as standard equipment for every unit operating in the field. No other body has real-time access to the action in the field as the military does. The IDF must train reporters to accompany the fighting units. It must create a media war center coordinating the immediate transfer of photos, videos and correspondence. The center should be well equipped with editing and distribution measures under the supervision of the IDF Spokesperson and representatives of all other relevant agencies. It should be fully empowered to distribute and broadcast our version of the events before the other side has a chance to transmit its version to the media.
Q: Can technology create or improve weapons for use in the media arena?
Definitely! Today, the IDF shows blurred and jumpy video of rocket launchers, taken by the operational payload of RPV’s. These pictures, as good and useful they may be for the professional operator, are hard to apprehended for the general public. What is needed for the media war is well focused, clear images of enemy’s rockets fire from school yards, near a mosque, or from “innocent” homes full with children. Such a material is a weapon in the media war. The necessary technology exists. Today, telescopes can see the color of the eyes of someone from miles away. The technology needs some adaptation and should be made available to the fighting units.
Today’s technology allows for alternative approaches. Instead of telescopes for taking pictures from a long distance, one can develop micro-RPV’s, often called “insects” that can land and hide near the area of interest. Such special-purpose RPV’s are capable of transmitting high definition video to nearby RPV’s which serve as relay stations.
Technology is not sufficient. Successful use of technology requires appropriate military doctrine. The doctrine should include setting specific goals for the media results of any operation, and planning how to present it to the world. Sometimes we may have to plan and carry out operations whose sole purpose is winning a media goal.
If we know that Hezbollah or Hamas plans to fire rockets from crowded places, we can initiate action designed to cause the other side to open fire precisely when we are ready to film the event with the best possible means. Public disclosure of enemy’s practices will not only free the military from the chains that limit its power, but will also deter the enemy from operations under the sense of immunity that it has today.
Q: In your opinion, what should Israel do in order to win, not only in the tactical arena, but also in the mid- and long-term media war arenas?
As things are today, one can ask if the Israeli authorities have noticed that the enemy is waging a full-scale media war against the county. First thing should be to shake and wake up the authorities. This too is a role for the media! Once the threat is recognized, it shouldn’t be too difficult to organize the efforts in a logical and effective way.
In the long-term strategic arena against the denial of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, the existing unit in the foreign ministry should be upgraded and organized as a well-funded task force. This unit should strive to gain support of the best journalists, writers, film directors and specialists on forming public opinion. It should be responsible for achieving well-defined and measurable shifts in public opinion on three fronts: public opinion in Israel, opinion of the public supporting the enemy, and the international public opinion. Each front requires a targeted and focused material specifically adapted to the target public. Israel’s achievements in agriculture, water treatment, science, medicine, music and art should be presented as contributions to the universal wellbeing.
In the mid-term media arena, a separate task force should concentrate on exposing the damage that boycotting Israel inflicts on the countries participating in such boycotts. It should mobilize the public opinion in this countries against the boycotting bodies. This task force may operate as a separate unit within the same “media war” organization in the foreign ministry.
However, the third, tactical media warfare, must be separated from the two longer term activities. As explained above, immediate tactical issues should be the responsibility of the IDF. Only the IDF can provide the initiative and quick response time necessary to win the tactical media war.
In systems engineering, we teach our students to design complex systems in a way that gives the customers the best performances at a most economic allocation of resources. From this perspective, the investment size in each scene of warfare must be adapted to the size of the threat posed by each of them. There’s no sense in continuing to invest enormous amounts of money in order to achieve marginal improvement in the classical warfare arena, while our hands are tied from exercising the full power we already have there today.
Taking a look at the investment forecast for the development of weapons in the next decade, one finds that about three quarters of the budget is designated for acquiring aircraft, tanks and measures for the traditional military arena. Another one third is to be invested in the fight against rockets and missiles. There is hardly any budget formally designated for the media front, even though it has enormous leverage for the outcome of any future war.
It is clear that there is a huge gap between the needs and the investments in the media warfare arena. This gap is responsible for the results we have had so far. We are winning the military war, we’re about to win the war on terrorism, rockets and missiles – but we are significantly losing in the media arena.
Source Israel Defense