Why IDF's swift response to fabricated ‘kidnapping video’ surprised Hamas

Israel's immediate response to Hamas's claim of kidnapping an IDF soldier was almost as if it had been expecting these claims.

 Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip, May 26, 2024 (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip, May 26, 2024

On Saturday night, Hamas spokesperson Abu Obeida issued a statement alleging that radical Hamas militants managed to kidnap more Israeli soldiers from the northern Gaza Strip. This announcement was accompanied by a video allegedly portraying bodies of soldiers being dragged inside Hamas’s underground tunnels. While some Israeli analysts had already begun to cast doubt regarding the authenticity of the video within minutes of its release, based on the attire and weapons displayed, the IDF spokesperson soon denied that any such incident had happened.

“Israel affairs experts” in Gaza admitted that the swift IDF response to Abu Obeida’s speech surprised them. “This is something we were not accustomed to in all previous instances, in which the Israeli army would wait, analyze the (video) scenes, and only then come out with a statement.”

The IDF expected Hamas's 'kidnapped soldier' claim

According to sources, the IDF was expecting such an announcement, following early signs of an imminent event. Already late last night Gazan social media outlets were bustling with rumors about an alleged kidnapping of over a dozen soldiers from Jabalya and Beit Lahiya, coinciding with the announcement of an approaching speech by Abu Obeida.

Some online accounts were claiming that the speech was going to feature an important announcement around 10:55 p.m., stressing that the last time Abu Obeida made such a late announcement was when IDF soldier Oron Shaul was captured in 2014.

This was not the first time Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza have waged psychological warfare against Israel. Only two days after the massacre, Abu Obeida threatened in a recorded message that Hamas would murder civilian hostages for every Israeli attack from the air. While hostages have been murdered Hamas has preferred to say they were killed in Israeli air raids.

Another case involved Islamic Jihad, which claimed that the kidnapped elderly hostage Hannah Katzir had died in custody, while Katzir was later released in the November exchange deal.

‘Hamas are in distress'

Dr. Ron Schleifer, an expert on psychological warfare from Ariel University, explained that these instances are referred to as “black psychological warfare,” or “black psyops,” which involve impersonations as a method to sow conflicts, divide and conquer and drive wedges within enemy ranks.

“The idea with this fabricated video was to show military achievements, to lower enemy morale, whether within military or civilian ranks. For the creators of this video, the IDF reaction wouldn’t matter that much as their goal is to undermine the enemy’s entire trust system making it impossible to believe anything anymore, not Hamas, nor the IDF spokesman – a win-win situation for them. For them it’s about keeping the enemy busy at all times; and even a hoax is uncovered, if it is at all – a new story will come and try to keep us busy again,” he added.

Was Hamas's soldier kidnapping video fake?

Schleifer explained that “For these things to work, they must be well planned, the correct accessories must be acquired, and reliability must be established. Here, however, there was no time for any of that. From this, we can learn that Hamas are under great pressure.”

“One must also commend their perseverance... since they are well aware that Israel is superior to them in this field.” added Schleifer.

Schleifer called on Israel to establish a body of professional photographers and editors who could easily identify hoaxes and provide a contact address and thus limit damage. Until that happens, Schleifer warned online users to pay attention to small details that could arouse suspicion.

“This time the IDF reacted quickly,” he said. “They recognized the dangerous potential and acted swiftly before the rumors began to spread. Kudos to them for this,” he concluded.