Security and Defense: Combat boosts

Realizing Hamas is waging war on propaganda front, Foreign Ministry deploys its own fact disseminator.

nir press 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
nir press 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Hamas fights Israel not just with Kassam rockets and roadside bombs, but also in the international arena by manipulating events that happen in the Gaza Strip. One example was in late January when Hamas staged a Gaza-wide blackout to protest the Israeli blockade. Israel at the time tried but failed to convince the world that there was in fact enough diesel fuel in Palestinian tankers to provide for several more days of electricity, and that anyhow Israel was continuing to supply more than 70 percent of Gaza's power. In the face of the pictures of candlelight vigils led by children in downtown Gaza City, however, IDF claims had no effect on international public opinion, and Israel was once again accused of collectively punishing the Palestinian people. Hamas tried to pull the same stunt last week, when - following the Islamic Jihad terror infiltration at the Nahal Oz fuel depot, during which two Israelis were killed - Israel stopped the flow of diesel fuel. Hamas immediately claimed that the sole power plant in Gaza would shut down within a day, and heads of Palestinian universities threatened to shut down classes, claiming that, without gasoline, students would have no way of getting there. Israel insisted that the tankers at Nahal Oz were full, and that all the Palestinians had to do was come and take it. In the end, the Gaza power plant worked for more than a full week until a new supply of diesel fuel was transferred via Nahal Oz into Gaza on Wednesday. In response to Hamas's manipulation of the media, the Foreign Ministry decided last month to pull out a new hasbara weapon to make its case at the United Nations. It turned to Col. Nir Press, commander of the IDF's Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration, whose job is to find the right balance between ensuring the security of Israelis working at the crossings and maintaining a continuous flow of supplies - including food, medicine and fuel. Press traded in his green uniform for a suit and tie, boarded a plane and found himself in meetings with UN delegates from Turkey, Japan, Australia, Canada, Egypt and Jordan. He met with Jewish groups, as well - such as the Anti-Defamation League - and briefed UN officials from the Security Council, UNRWA, the World Food Program and the World Health Organization (WHO). He prepared a detailed Powerpoint presentation which he used during the meetings. On one slide, Press presented figures on the humanitarian aid that is transferred into Gaza - from an average of 100 trucks a day to the more than 2 million liters of diesel fuel transferred weekly to operate the power plant that provides 30 percent of the local electricity. The bulk of the rest of the electricity is provided by Israel. On another slide, Press showed an aerial image of his office at the Erez crossing covered with red dots, each one corresponding to a mortar shell that was fired at the crossing. His message was that, as a time when the crossings are continuously under attack, Israel has not stopped transferring humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people. What Press tried to impress on his audience was Hamas's manipulation not only of public opinion, but also of the Palestinian people. The attacks on the crossings, he explained, were aimed at getting the IDF to shut them down, which would then lead to an increase in international pressure on Israel. THIS CLAIM has been reinforced over the past two weeks, with an unprecedented increase in Hamas attacks against the crossings, in addition to the daily mortar attacks. Two weeks ago, it was the attack at Nahal Oz. Last Thursday, an infiltration into Kerem Shalom was foiled. And on Saturday, Hamas detonated two car bombs - packed with 300 kilograms of explosives each - inside the crossing. On Tuesday, three terrorists were spotted on their way to infiltrating the Erez crossing. Since the infiltration at Kerem Shalom, the crossing has been closed. It is only scheduled to reopen next week, after security arrangements have been improved. "Hamas attacks the crossings because it knows that we will then shut them down," Press says. "It then gets to say that it is Israel and not Hamas that is responsible for their being closed, and the international community also turns against us." Several weeks ago, the WHO published a report blasting IDF policy about allowing sick Palestinians into Israel for medical treatment. In a meeting with WHO officials, Press rejected the report, which he said was not only mistaken, but ignored the fact that of the five case studies presented by the WHO, two of the sick Palestinians were treated in Israeli hospitals, and two others were issued entry permits which were never used. Since his visit to the UN, Press, a former naval officer, has begun working not just with the Israeli and foreign press to get his message out, but also with the Palestinian media in Gaza. When Hamas recently claimed that Israel was not transferring gasoline and that, as a result, ambulances would have to stop operating, "We contacted the Palestinian press - the Ma'an News Agency and the Al Quds newspaper - and told them that the tankers in Nahal Oz were full of gasoline, and the ambulances could just come there and take it," Press recalls. While he admits that his hasbara attempts will not turn the Palestinians into Zionists, they can, he says, have an impact on public opinion in Gaza. "You don't see the entire population in Gaza rising up against Israel," he says. "I think that the people there understand that Hamas's policies are harming them. When Hamas cars are the only ones driving on the streets, the people understand that they are being cheated."