It’s all defense, all the time

Because Israel’s story is compulsively defensive, the IDF is set up to offend the ordinary person even when it executes its mission flawlessly.

IDFsoliderbeatenOnFlotilla311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson.)
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson.)
Why do decent, ordinary people support Hizbullah? Because Hizbullah has a winning story. Why can Hamas fire rockets at Israel with impunity? Because Hamas has a winning story. Why are Turkish blockade runners international heroes? Because they, too, have a winning story.
In each case the winning story is a variation on a single theme: “Israel, Israel, big bad Israel.” In each case, the winning story is an example of a public relations offensive, where the interested party talks exclusively and mercilessly about the other side.
Were they not playing public relations offense so well, Hizbullah, Hamas and, yes, the we-are-the-world blockade running terrorists – clubs in one hand and Twitter posts in the other – would obviously offend ordinary citizens.
But well-meaning people don’t get offended when public relations offensives really work. That is why, under the cover of a 24-7, globally propelled, public relations machine that is airtight, unchanging and playing unrelentingly on offense, terrorists get away with murder and more, over and over and over again.
Why, on the other hand, does the IDF repeatedly offend the ordinary, well-meaning person? Because when the IDF acts, Israel’s spokespeople provide not a winning story but a whining story. Israel refuses to talk about anything but Israel. (1) Israel explains: “At 22:00 hours, a group of flotilla passengers began to...” (2) Israel pleads: “But they really did beat us up before we shot them.” (3) Israel apologizes: “We regret the loss of life.” With much fanfare, (4) Israel promises to investigate, reports on her investigations and self-flagellates.
And when all else fails, (5) Israel plays her most prized defensive cards – anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. It’s all defense, all the time.
Because Israel’s story is compulsively defensive, the IDF is set up to offend the ordinary person even when it executes its mission flawlessly. Soldiers kill people. That’s what they do for a living, so to speak. Without the cover of a strong counternarrative, any military action can descend into an international incident. Israel’s present strategy of post facto, defensive hasbara (literally “explanation”) will simply not do. There can be no IDF military victory on the ground, in the air or at sea without an equally winning story on the broadsheets, in the airwaves and inside the blogosphere.
Without Israel’s spokespeople laying down a wall-to-wall narrative about the other side, the IDF will forever be starring in the enemy’s script; and make no mistake, in that script the IDF always, always, plays the villain. The ordinary, well-meaning person will not permit villains to kill people. Period.
WHAT WOULD a public relations offensive for Israel look like? The goal would be for Israel to avoid the headlines. The word “Israel” would be banned from the lexicon of its spokespeople – no more explanations about Israel, no more facts about Israel, no more pleading Israel’s case. Instead, it would uniformly, unequivocally, relentlessly, and without sparing the gory details, focus on the enemy. Hasbara would become ha’ashama (accusation).
Diplomacy would shift from outraged, after-the-fact post mortems into a continual, spirited, pregame rally promising the enemy’s defeat. Intelligence services would coordinate the assault against Arab propaganda the way the Cold War’s CIA underwrote the case against communism. The Defense Ministry would never again put the IDF on offense without the Foreign Ministry’s first softening the public relations battlefield with an unrelenting barrage of stories, images, videos and tweets about the adversary pounding into the heads of foreign leaders, journalists, and ordinary citizens worldwide.
How might a public relations offensive have prevented flotillagate? Here are some things the Foreign Ministry and the intelligence services might have made sure the world was buzzing about these past several months: (1) The Free Gaza movement: Who are these people? Who funds them? What else do their funders fund? How do Free Gaza and al-Qaida cooperate? Why are nice little Anne Montgomery, Hedy Epstein and Lauren (sister-in-law of Tony Blair) Booth consorting with the world’s most wanted terrorist sympathizers? (2) The Arab superwealth: What is day-to-day life in Gaza really like? What’s on the shelves in Gaza supermarkets? What do the luxury homes of Gaza’s Hamas leadership look like? (3) Turkey: Why is Turkey so friendly to the Palestinians while so ruthless to the stateless Kurds under its boot? How and why is Turkey supporting global terror networks? How dare the nation which taught Hitler about genocide (in Armenia) accuse anyone of trampling on human honor? The flotilla public relations fiasco was not a failure of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his top brass. Flotillagate was the failure of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, his foreign minister and his intelligence chief, who, once again, allowed the State of Israel and its IDF to be swift-boated.
If Israel wishes to win militarily, its spokespeople must stop whining. As the world’s first-responders to global death-cult terror, the IDF deserves more room to maneuver than Israel’s limp public diplomacy currently provides. The country has a winning story that has nothing to do with anti-Semitism or the Holocaust. It has to do with the degeneracy of globally coordinated fanatics who seek their own death and wish to take the world down with them.
The civilized world is hungry for Israel to tell, propel and lead with that story. It is unbecoming for its intelligence services to miss so straightforward a story, and for its prime minister and foreign minister not to drive this story hard until decent, ordinary citizens everywhere understand. It is, in fact, inexcusable.
The writer is director of strategy and evaluation at the Avi Chai Foundation