Analysis: Bad timing for the IDF's PR battle

Sometimes in life it is all a question of timing and on Tuesday it didn't work right for the IDF.

peretz halutz press 88 (photo credit: Channel 1)
peretz halutz press 88
(photo credit: Channel 1)
Sometimes in life it is all a question of timing and on Tuesday it didn't work right for the IDF. Just hours before the military planned to exonerate itself as a result of the investigation into the explosion that killed seven Palestinians on a Gaza beach on Friday, two Palestinian children were killed alongside six other innocent civilians. This time the responsibility fell directly on Israel's shoulders. While the missile strike in Gaza on Tuesday prevented terrorists from launching Katyusha rockets - far deadlier than the usual primitive Kassam fired at Israel - once again, for the second time in only five days, pictures of bloody Palestinian children circulated around the world creating a murderous image for Israel. The IDF says that over 100 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israeli cities since the weekend and that, in war, innocent civilians unfortunately get hurt. The missiles fired into Gaza were intended to hit the terror cell and the dead civilians were an unfortunate consequence. "We first have to worry about our own people," senior IDF officers said Tuesday. The problem appears to be that Israel is unfortunately losing the public relations war around the world. The Palestinians have a well-tuned media machine that knows how to get its message across coherently and emotionally. Israel is being overtaken by the Arab media. Al Jazeera is now opening a satellite channel in English and its anti-Israel message will reach the entire Western world. But the situation is not even that simple. Since the assassination of Hamas leader Salah Sheheda in 2002, which leveled an entire building in the Gaza Strip and killed an additional 14 people, including children, the IDF has done its best to refrain from targeting terrorists, via air strikes, when the terrorists are in their homes or in the middle of major population centers. A majority of the most recent targeted killings of members of Kassam cells in the northern Gaza Strip have taken place in open areas, mostly near the launch sites. IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz recently said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, that the IDF has the ability to escalate the situation on the Gaza front but does not want to cross certain "moral lines." That is why for example, the IDF doesn't target terrorists who fire rockets from behind the homes of innocent civilians. That is also the reason it didn't accept the recent recommendation of Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter to "Turn Beit Hanun into a ghost town." On Tuesday, Halutz said Israel did not intend to let the terrorist get away with their attacks. "We are very determined to prevent these rockets from being launched at Israel," he said. "We regret any harm done to innocent civilians but at the same time, we need to remember that they operate out of densely populated areas and we will not let them get away with their attacks." But the bottom line is that the IDF was just doing its job on Tuesday - protecting Israeli citizens, a mission it will need to continue fulfilling as the conflict with the Palestinians continues. Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, head of the IDF Operations Directorate, spoke on Tuesday at a conference organized by the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University entitled "Can terror be defeated?" Palestinian terror, Eizenkot declared, wasn't going anywhere and would continue threatening Israel although at different levels of intensity. "Terrorism will remain here for many years," the general said at the conference. "There are no wonder-formulas that can defeat it but only a number of actions that can be taken to bring it down to a bare minimum."