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A year after the Kafr Kana bombing during the Second Lebanon War and the IDF's failure to speedily produce video footage justifying its attack, the IDF Spokesman's Office has implemented a number of lessons aimed at preventing future operational failures from having detrimental diplomatic consequences.
On July 30, 2006, a bomb dropped the night before by an IAF fighter jet exploded inside a building in the southern Lebanese village of Kafr Kana. Initial reports spoke of more than 60 casualties - half of them children - and almost every international news network connected to the live feed Al-Jazeera was providing from the rubble. The final casualty count was actually 28, 16 of them children.
While Israeli spokespeople claimed that Kafr Kana was a launching pad for Katyusha rockets, they failed to present proof until an IDF press conference was held 12 hours later. That same day, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Israel and under mounting international pressure, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acquiesced to a 48-hour suspension of all Israeli aerial activity over Lebanon.
Immediately following the accidental bombing, international support for Israel's campaign against Hizbullah began to lose steam, leading many media experts to the conclusion that the IDF Spokesman's Office had been negligent in handling the incident by not releasing the rocket-fire footage earlier in the day, a move that may have minimized diplomatic damage.
The Kafr Kana bombing has not been forgotten by the IDF and serves today as a key case study for the IDF Spokesman's Office during training for field commanders on the importance of correctly utilizing the media.
According to a number of senior IDF officers interviewed by The Jerusalem Post, the failure to quickly release the rocket-fire footage was due to a misconception and under-awareness by the Israel Air Force of the event's far-reaching consequences.
According to a high-ranking military source, shortly after the bombing an IAF general dismissed a number of requests by IDF Spokeswoman Brig.-Gen. Miri Regev to receive the footage, claiming that it was classified and could not be released to the public.
Since the war, the IDF Spokesman's Office under Regev has worked hard at training field commanders to better interact with the media. Last week, she laid the cornerstone for a military media school next to the National Defense College at Glilot that will provide compulsory classes on the media to high-ranking officers.
"The most important lesson learned from the Kafr Kana incident was that there needs to be better awareness throughout the IDF about the importance of cooperating with the Spokesman's Office and to keep it in the operational loop," a senior IDF officer said Sunday.
The lack of media awareness was not limited to IDF officers but was also seen in government officials, including a senior politician, involved in the decision-making process throughout the war, who said there was no point in releasing the footage earlier in the day since, according to him, the networks would not have broadcast it.
To improve this, the IDF Spokesman's Office provides regular lectures teaching field commanders the importance of releasing footage and information about operations as quickly as possible. In addition, the IDF has recently made technological upgrades to some of its systems that allow for quicker collection, retrieval and release of media-worthy material.
The IDF Spokesman's Office has also been working to train its reserve officers, particularly those from the Foreign Press Section, to better recognize events that could have diplomatic consequences and to more assertively state their case before field commanders.
One successful example came earlier this month after IDF troops shot and killed a 15-year-old Palestinian holding a toy gun in Hebron. Less than two hours after the accidental shooting, the IDF Spokesman's Office released pictures of the toy gun next to a real M-16 rifle showing how the fake was an exact and real-looking replica.
"We now know how to get material out quickly to the media when it serves our purposes," said an officer who is involved in formulating the IDF's media strategy.
The IDF Spokesman's Office has also significantly upgraded is relationship with the Foreign Ministry. According to the officer, the two offices interact daily and now have a better understanding of each other's needs.