Information warfare in Gaza The Excelsior 28 May 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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Information warfare in Gaza

Information warfare in Gaza The Excelsior 28 May 2024

          China, in the latest reorganization of its armed forces, scrapped its Dec 2015 raised Strategic Support Force and from within it created an independent Cyberspace force, Aerospace force and a new Information Support Force (ISF). Off the three, the ISF was most crucial, whose raising was personally attended by Xi Jinping. The PLA daily mentioned at its creation, ‘In modern warfare, victory hinges on information. The struggle is between systems, and whoever commands information superiority holds the initiative in war.’ The force is tasked to project Beijing’s perspective in conflicts, winning global public support.

The impact of information warfare is equally evident in the ongoing Gaza conflict. The world had maintained silence or possibly even backed Israel as it suppressed Gaza for decades. Everything changed with 07 Oct. Israel held the cards in the initial stages of the war when it projected the Hamas attack as brutal. It released videos of the assault, kidnapping of innocents and inhuman killings, while Hamas released images of celebrations in Palestine at their brutal handling of captives.

The entire world backed Israel and any countermeasures it promised to take to regain its citizens and destroy Hamas. For the world it was a terrorist attack on Israeli soil which must be responded to. The world expected Israel to extract revenge for what its innocent citizens had gone through. There was not a single voice of caution or of limiting damages. Israel had won the information war.

          As war progressed, destruction of Gaza as also loss of innocent lives, largely women and children came to the fore. Images from Israel displayed mass employment of tanks, identification and demolition of Hamas tunnels and other military facilities. Its warning to Gazans to vacate populated areas resulting in increased hardships began working against it. Gaza is the most densely populated region in the world.

Images in media networks, obtained by air or from Hamas, displayed destruction of built-up areas and hospitals, while reports mentioned mass sufferings, deaths of innocent women and children, as also lack of food, humanitarian aid and medical facilities.

Media outlets in various countries gave daily figures of the dead in Gaza, how true, remains unknown. Reports mention that over 36,000 Gazans have been killed. Added are comments from the UN as also its Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) painting a gory picture of humanitarian crisis and lack of resources. As per UNRWA, hospitals have ceased to function, there is no electricity and clean drinking water. UN staffers have also been killed by indiscriminate Israeli military action.

No neighbour of Palestine is willing to accept refugees, even temporarily, yet none was criticized. Only Israel is judged responsible. The information war had shifted from Israel, in favour of the Palestinians. 

To further damage Israel’s global standing is Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli PM, mentioning that unless Hamas is defeated Israel will continue to fight, irrespective of losses or casualties. He believes that despite global perception, western nations would continue backing him. Further, he assumes that displaying a tough man image could save his plummeting political career. On the contrary, he faces pressure from within and outside.

Views of the populace in democratic western nations, especially those heading for elections, places current governments in a quandary, the US being the foremost. Increased protests in universities are an indicator of which side the current leadership should support. The impact on Biden’s campaign is visible.

Israel losing global support became further evident when multiple resolutions for a ceasefire were moved by nations from different continents, South Africa, Brazil, UAE and Algeria, largely Israel’s supporters. These were vetoed by the US. In the UN Security Council, Israel has unstinted support of the US and UK.

It was only when Norway, Ireland and Spain announced recognition of Palestine as a state did Israel wake up and release videos of the condition of its citizens still captive in Gaza. It also released confessions of rape and killings by Gazans, currently under Israeli custody. It hoped for changing global views. Possibly too little, too late. Tel Aviv mentioned that it delayed releasing these videos in deference to families of victims. Israel’s threat to nations which announced recognition of Palestine, including withdrawing its ambassadors, further damaged its image.

A US State department memo mentions that Israel is, ‘facing major, possibly generational damage to their reputation.’ Even Biden stated that Israel was losing global backing over its ‘indiscriminate bombing.’

Donald Trump, an ardent fan of Israel, in an interview to an Israeli newspaper, warned that it is ‘losing a lot of support’ on its handling of the Gaza war. He added, ‘I think Israel made a very big mistake,’ as images of bombardment coming out of Gaza create ‘a very bad picture for the world.’ Apparently, displaying a strong-arm approach against a hapless population, intending to pressurize Hamas, has had a negative impact.        

The ICC (International Criminal Court) considering issuing arrest warrants for the Israeli PM and defence minister alongside Hamas leaders led to Netanyahu coming on media networks criticizing the institution. Possibly Netanyahu believed that a warrant being issued would bring Israelis to his side, saving his political career. Putin already has an arrest warrant against his name from the ICC, but he maintains silence, letting others speak.

The ICJ (International Court of Justice) joining the fray and demanding Israel stop its Rafah offensive has further dented its image. Netanyahu has no intention of adhering to ICJ’s directions, after all Russia has ignored it too. However, the negative impact will be immense.  

In Oct, Hamas was accused of indiscriminate killing and considered a global pariah. Today, Israel is being accused of genocide, which Tel Aviv and Washington decry, while others nations quietly admit. This adds credence to the fact that Israel is losing global support largely because it failed in projecting the right justification for its actions. It has a fixation that all nations of West Asia are against the only Jewish state and would desire to ensure its collapse.

Global demand is that Israel fights a ‘just war’ minimizing civilian casualties and humanitarian disasters, something Israel refuses to accept. At the end of the day, Israel may suppress Hamas but for the world Israel is now a pariah, not Hamas.

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