Within 24 hours from the beginning of the Pillar of Defense operation, it was clear that Israel and Hamas were fighting a war of information. The initial blows administered by the IDF were intended to pass an unequivocal message to the other side, namely: Your internal communications are entirely transparent to us. While the locations of the long range missile systems destroyed that evening were the result of painstaking long-term analysis and observation, the assassination of Ahmed Jabari was dependent on interception of real-time, probably encrypted, communications. Israel led with a tour-de-force display of information superiority.
Politicians within Israel also took pride in the deception, or mis-information aspects that led the Hamas leader to be exposed on the streets of Gaza. Haaretz reports that both Benny Begin’s calming statements to the press, and Barak and Netanyahu’s visit to the northern border were part of a subterfuge intended to draw the Hamas commander out into the open.
Since the opening volleys, information and its dispersal have become even more critical to the conduct of the war. One crucial advantage held by Israeli civilians over their Gazan counterparts is the early warning system of regional air raid sirens connected directly to the army’s radar network. Though the period of advance warning is short, the warning system greatly multiplies the value of the existing physical shelters by allowing residents to go about their business within a comfortable range of shelter, rather than being confined for the duration of hostilities.
Citizens of Gaza, on the other hand, cannot count on accurate warnings from their authorities. The IDF has a policy of trying to fill this gap with leaflets, phone calls, SMS’s and tweets, conveying information in order to reduce civilian deaths.
Improving our Approach
We can greatly improve on this information policy to the point where it is a strategic game changer in Israel’s favor.
Imagine, instead of conducting the information war on Facebook and Twitter, the IDF moves to Google Maps.
A comprehensive, zoomable map of Gaza would show each detonation of IDF explosives an hour or so BEFORE IT HAPPENS. Details like type of ordnance, radius of lethal damage, altitude of detonation, etc., would be provided to ensure that the civil defense authorities and the general population have ample information to make their decisions.
In addition, the same information would be disseminated by all other means available to the army including tagging the target with paint or lasers.
The IDF would be responsible for making sure that this information was 100% accurate and credible, and within a very short time would hold a powerful monopoly on life or death information within Gaza.
Strategically, this monopoly would prove far stronger than the fear and uncertainty which the IDF traditionally creates in enemy territory. A civilian population glued day and night to the one credible source of information, moving and making decisions based on it, would undermine the authority of Hamas and all of its information strategies.
In the greater war of information conducted through the media with the rest of the world, this strategy would give Israel an overwhelming advantage. In an age of full disclosure and transparency, readers can identify more strongly with an above-board and open approach to destroying infrastructure while protecting civilians. There would also be those who argue that it is a more moral way to conduct the dirty business of war.
But wait a minute. Wouldn’t the cynical local leaders be tempted to tie babies, puppies, enemies of the regime, and annoying relatives to the site of the next detonation? They might, but it would be in front of the whole world, and it would prove to be a losing proposition. Here our intelligence on the ground and from above is crucial, and we would always have the option of announcing that a particular detonation was cancelled.
Can the other side block or distort the messages? This is always a question in exchange of information, and would require careful monitoring on our part. We have seen regimes shut down access to all or part of the Internet, and, compared to Israel, Gaza is less connected to begin with. The IDF would have to send out clear messages over as many parallel media and channels as possible, and to remember that the civilian communications network is not one of their targets. Regardless of medium, the watchword has to be specific and reliable advance warning.
Can the Hamas respond in kind? Well, no. Their weapons are much less accurate, and the Israeli population is already served by an effective system of civil warning and defense. Israel has a huge advantage in the accuracy of weapons systems developed and purchased over the past decades with our tax shekels. Here’s an intelligent way to use it.