The need for a civilian maestro to command the media and diplomatic efforts

Hezbollah seeks to shatter our nerves and break the national morale by challenging the political and defense establishments to protect our people.

December 20, 2018 22:00
4 minute read.
IDF discovers the third tunnel since the announcement of Operation Northern Shield from Lebanon.

IDF discovers the third tunnel since the announcement of Operation Northern Shield entering Israel from Lebanon.. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)


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Since the 1973 Yom Kippur War the State Comptroller has been critical of the government and the IDF. Not only for its military failures, but for the IDF media prominence. There are always too many military fatigues on camera. Not enough suits.

Every war, the government institutions have been criticized for letting the military lead and always control the spotlight of the media battle ground.

Since the IDF dramatically revealed Hezbollah’s strategic conspiracy to establish a strategic network of penetrating tunnels to inject its fighters behind Israel’s fortified positions and border, the IDF has been running the media show.

Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz called war the continuation of political intercourse by other means.  Classic warfare was fundamentally a contest of wills fought to impose so much stress on the enemy that he loses the will to fight.

The wars of terror we face today, the asymmetrical warfare, has the same intent. Hezbollah, the enemy, can be anywhere. Their weapon is fear. They have no legal constraints. Internationally they are not accountable. Hezbollah seeks to shatter our nerves and break the national morale by challenging the political and defense establishments to protect our people. The terrorists’ primary target is the people watching. The entire plan of action to “conquer the Galilee” is a media plan with an operational addendum.

This reality creates a symbiotic relationship between the media, social media and terrorism. They depend on one another for the drama, they depend on one another for the images, they depend on one another for ratings.

This is what Israel must plan for on the media and diplomatic battlegrounds.

In the diplomatic and media apex this week was the UN Security Council’s gathering in order to discuss the latest developments on the frontier between Israel and Lebanon. The Security Council was an astounding opportunity for Israeli diplomatic domination, for bringing Hezbollah aggression to the top of the hour.

The media work that took place prior to the UNSC weighed mostly on the IDF. Over the last two weeks the IDF has been distributing, briefing and announcing materials and information. On social media, before the UNSC convened, the talented Maj. Keren Hajioff declared in a video that “the world must realize that they have the power to prevent a war.” The 2:20-long video was retweeted 2,912 times. This is a noble message. The right message. The message that should have been extended online, on camera and in print across the diplomatic landscape. It should not have been conveyed by the IDF. The message of the IDF is: we are prepared to fight if we have to.

The Foreign Ministry tweeted the words of the prime minister, which were retweeted 269 times, and distributed an over-produced video that was retweeted 85 times. The prime minister’s comments on his own Twitter feed got retweeted 359 times. Not too impressive.

Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held briefings in the field and a press conference on Wednesday to the domestic and foreign media. He didn’t use the message that the world must stop the next war. Probably because it could be perceived as a weak domestic message. As if calling on the world to protect Israel from terrorists is a bad thing.

Sometimes lip service is important. Our number one diplomat in New York also didn’t demand that the world leaders prevent war for Israelis and Lebanese alike. He, like Netanyahu, demanded a condemnation.

What was missing from the effort was the feelings of the civilians in Metulla. Nobody organized them in a media or social-media effort to amplify the message for their yearning for normal life.

Why isn’t there a coordinated orchestra with the IDF contributing rather than leading the effort? Perhaps it is a result of the sometimes anemic Foreign Ministry. Perhaps it’s a result of the institutionalized prominence of the IDF within Israel and that we have difficulty letting the diplomats rather than the officers lead.

The world media, like the exclusive tunnel tour given to CNN, should have been granted extensive access to the military operation, in depth, visual and talking heads. The military needs to be told what to do and at what priority. The IDF is an auxiliary effort to the diplomatic intercourse that must distance the war, encourage UNIFIL to do its job unhindered and vocally, and the effort to lay the foundations for the diplomatic legitimacy if Israel does get dragged into another war in Lebanon.

When we give the stage primarily to the uniforms and not the suits we look like a militant society. Yes we are strong, we are powerful, and we know it. So does the world. So it’s time for the suits to step up, lean in and push the uniforms to the rear guard. Because when war happens they will have our back. Now is the time for diplomacy.

Lt.-Col. (ret.) Peter Lerner is a communications and strategy consultant, Israel advocate and a former IDF spokesperson.

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