Gedalyah Reback

Operation Protective Edge: Naming this War was a Mistake from the Start

You know, if the IDF hadn’t had to name their military actions against Hamas over the last 50 days, the world would not have paid attention. “Operation Anything” is a signal for reporters to come take up their usual positions and conduct themselves with routine reporting which, sadly & predictably, will go in one direction.

As made apparent by many reporters’ criticism for their own industry, Israel had no chance to win a PR war during an operation like this, no matter their tactics. This photo was from July 9th, just one day into Operation Protective Edge. (illustrative photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Operation Protective Edge Shouldn’t Have Had a Name at All

Seriously, consider the PR strategy here, because Netanyahu’s government clearly had one. “Operation Protective Edge” is hardly close to the actual Hebrew name of the operation; “Tzok Eitan” for you non-Hebrew speakers means “Mighty Cliff,” which is suppose is kind of close to edge. Israel’s done this before, where “Operation Pillar of Defense” was actually from the Hebrew term for the Biblical Pillar of Fire God blocks the Egyptians with to protect the Hebrews’ passage through the sea.

They are playing to an international audience with these names, rather amateurishly too. Remember the US played a similar game with “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” But the name is meaningless. There should have been no name. Unfortunately, declaring an operational name signifies that there is going to be a full-scale war, something Israel hasn’t had any PR luck with in years.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press during Operation Protective Edge
Netanyahu’s command of English doesn’t mean he’s, well, telegenic. (Photo credit: Haim Zach / GPO/Flash90)

By the looks of things so far, this truce is only going to last a few months or a couple years, since nothing has changed from this latest battle. And “battle” might be a more appropriate term here, since Israel and Hamas (or should I just refer to the other side as “Gaza” since it functions as an independent country) have been fighting the same conflict since 2006! Seriously, four operations in the last nine years have been essentially over the same thing. Israel’s blockade of Gaza came in response to Hamas’ 2007 coup against Fatah, given that Hamas at that point then had total control of Gaza to use it for the same sort of campaign of attrition that prompted the 2006 fighting between Israel & Hamas, Operation Summer Rains.

So if this is one long war, then Israel should understand how to fight it by now. Hamas launches attacks of attrition, baiting Israel into a full-scale assault that won’t look good for the cameras. The entire strategy, not just how “telegenic” Israel’s war strategy looks, assumes that these battles are going to make a strategic difference when the gains made are predictably minimal. Neither side has the stomach for a full-scale war, nor can either afford such a thing.

For Hamas, they should have learned by now that they can’t use Gaza as a fighting platform because it has no physical depth. It’s also in a highly-concentrated residential area, making civilian casualties not only inevitable, but also removing Gazans from any legal protection if Israel were actually being reckless, since the proximity of fighters to civilians makes it impossible for any investigation of shelling and airstrikes to demonstrate negligence.

Smoke rises over Gaza after an Israeli airstrike following several rockets attacks into southern Israel, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

For Israel, this is a long cold war with periodic battles. The only way to fight it is to keep Hamas off balance, without the risks of conventional warfare. Periodic raids by special forces units are the only real way to protect against civilian casualties in such a dense urban zone. The war cannot be allowed to go full-scale, because the diplomatic pressure to hold back would close any window Israel has to defend itself. It’s strategically misplaced to launch such a major operation and consider its deterrence power if Hamas only needs a couple years to regroup.

Perhaps Hamas will need extra time to recover from this operation, but Cast Lead was also intense and there was war within four years. I don’t put it past a Hamas government to make that a goal going forward.

The only way to prevent Hamas from gaining enough strength to provoke that sort of fighting again is to increase pressure on them and constantly take jabs at their organizational infrastructure. It’s also the only way to protect Gazans, since their own government plans for a certain level of destruction with each round of conflict, assuming that other countries will pick up the tab for reconstruction.

Clandestine tactics, which are probably already a major part of Israel's repertoire, should probably be given more emphasis in the future.
This image made from video shot through a night vision scope released by the Israeli military on Friday, July 18, 2014, shows troops during the early hours of a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. (photo credit: AP Photo/Israeli Defense Forces)

It also protects Israel’s soldiers, particularly less-experienced infantrymen, to operation clandestinely on a wider scale.

It’s a bit of a luxury to say all this about the future since the IDF pretty much pulverized Hamas in this round, the Battle of 2014. Their current weakness makes a wider strategy of raids and counter-attrition more viable since Hamas has even less capacity to retaliate than it had previously. Basically, keep them down. Don’t let them get back up. It doesn’t matter if Mahmoud Abbas is given control of the Gaza Strip, Hamas cannot be trusted to let him keep it as they proved in 2007. The pressure, militarily, must be kept on the Qassam Brigades. It’s also true of diplomatic pressure, which poor PR would prevent Israel from applying.

Israel’s diplomatic comfort zone was squeezed, to say the least, partially by its own doing, leading to scenes like John Kerry’s meeting with Turkey’s and Qatar’s Foreign Ministers. (photo credit: US State Department)


I don’t want to lose perspective of what happened. It’s cold to speak about public relations in the midst of a very brutal war. It should be lost on no one that so many people lost their lives. Fighting war is an unfortunate necessity, but going forward a better strategy isn’t just good for Israel’s reputation, but a sure way to save lives and prevent large operations like these from being necessary in the future.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.
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