Living in the Situation Room

On May 2nd 2011, US President Barack Obama announced that the United States Army had killed Osama Bin Laden, leader of el-Qaeda. Soon after this announcement was made, the White House began circulating images showing President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton huddled together in the White House Situation Room from which they monitored the military operation to capture Bin Laden in real time.

Until recently, only a select few were ever allowed entrance to command and control centers such as the White House Situation Room or the IDF’s “Pitt”. Yet over the past two weeks, as Israel launched operation Protective Edge, Israeli television viewers have been granted nonstop access to the Situation Room through continuous televised newscasts on all three major channels.

At the moment, television viewers know whenever a rocket has been launched from Gaza at Israel and even the destination of each rocket thanks to warnings that appear on the screen. Viewers in Tel Aviv now know that a rocket has been launched at their city before sirens are can even be heard. TV audiences are also able to watch the actual launching of rockets at Israel in real time thanks to news crews deployed along the Gaza border. Once a rocket has been fired, and televised, cameras located near Iron Dome launchers capture the moment in which an interceptor missile is fired while other cameras televise the actual interception of Hamas rockets in the skies of Israeli cities.

Such live images are often supplemented by footage released by the IDF spokesperson of military operations. During operation Protective Edge, Israelis have watched Navy ships firing at terrorists attempting to enter Kibutz Zikim, the identification and bombing of thirteen terrorists who crossed into Israel through an underground tunnel, Israeli Special Forces firing at a Hamas terrorist ready to launch rockets not to mention endless clips of Israeli Air Force bombardments of Hamas infrastructure. Often, these clips include the actual dialogue between IAF pilots and lookout personnel who have “eyes on the targets”.

It’s fair to say that never before have television viewers been granted such unfettered access to armed military conflict. Our living rooms are now situation rooms from which we can track the violent clash between Israel and Hamas across all fronts. However, the question that remains is what effect does this have on Israeli television viewers?

One possible effect of our residing in the situation room is the gamification of the violent clash with Hamas. Like players of the “Call of Duty” or “Command and Conquer” video games, we too are linked to military units fighting in the field through the television screen and we too are able to leap from mission to mission while seeking out the enemy. Yet unlike players of such video games, we have only viewed military accomplishments. Television viewers have not been privy to footage from all instances in which soldiers are injured or even killed and thus the reality we see on television is a partial one, one that almost enables us to forget the cost of war.

Another possible impact is a sort detachment from the horridness of war. While watching thermal imagery released by the IDF spokesperson, one is ushered into a world of fifty shades of gray in which there are no houses or neighborhood in Gaza but only gray rectangular objects which soon turn into black infernos. Likewise, civilians or inhabitants of Gaza are transformed into small black dots running across a gray screen. There are no colors coming out of Gaza at the moment.

Finally, one has to wonder if we are better informed than we were only a few years ago when our living rooms were still just living rooms. Surly the fact that viewers are immediately warned of impending rockets has saved many Israeli lives. Yet the real time footage of operation Protective Edge may have actually lessened our awareness to that which currently taking place. There are people in Gaza, and homes and even playgrounds. And the soldiers sent into Gaza are real life human beings. We should not lose sight of that even in the name of non stop live war reporting.

About the Author
Dr. Ilan Manor (PhD Oxford University) is a diplomacy scholar at Tel Aviv University. Manor's recent book, The Digitalization of Diplomacy, explores how digital technologies have reshaped diplomatic practices. Manor has contributed to several publications including The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz and the Jewish Daily Forward. According to his Twitter bio, Manor is the inventor of the ashtray. He blogs at