Analysis: Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Now we seem to be getting the short end of the media stick for not bombing civilians.

Gaza blast 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Gaza blast 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinians' successful use of human shields to stop the IAF from destroying a house suspected of being used to store explosives this week is not just an operational setback for the IDF, it's yet another PR fiasco for Israel. Both the Arab TV channels and a sympathetic Western media were full of photographs of victorious Palestinians celebrating their outwitting of the Zionist F-16s, yet another reenactment of the David vs. Goliath scene. The humiliation was double; not only did Israel seem cruel and unfeeling, using hi-tech weaponry against civilians, but this time the Palestinians were also portrayed as brave and resourceful, in contrast to the clumsy and bumbling IDF. The use of the tactic might have been spontaneous, but PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh promptly recognized its advantages when he turned up with a full media entourage to congratulate the shields. If he thought they were damaging the Palestinian image, he wouldn't have been so quick to make the scene. Wait a minute. Wasn't it just last week that Israel was being crucified by the international press for the wanton killings of children in Beit Hanun? Now we seem to be getting the short end of the media stick for not bombing civilians. Surely we should at least be getting some credit for canceling the air strike after it was clear it couldn't be carried out without heavy bystander casualties. And why has everyone lost sight of the fact that what gave the Palestinians time to flock to the targeted building was the IDF's standard warning call to the building's owner to evacuate everyone immediately. That must be worth a few brownie points on CNN. In a conflict where the parties accuse each other of targeting civilians, shouldn't the Palestinians be on the receiving end of international blame for deliberately putting their people in the line of fire? Shouldn't the United Nations human rights commissioner have said something about it during her tour of Beit Hanun Monday? It's all very well blaming the biased and anti-Israel media for always taking the Palestinian side, no matter what, but it might be a bit more useful asking how Israel made it so easy for a simplistic view of the conflict to become engrained in almost every foreign reporters' mind and, more importantly, what is it trying to do to change these perceptions? So far, the IDF's response to the new Palestinian tactic, as reported by The Jerusalem Post, is to begin planning alternative ground operations to prove to the Palestinians that if we decide to bomb a house, then it's going be bombed. Whether this course will prove effective remains to be seen, but taking a more broad view might have shown that there is an opportunity here to make gains on another, much more elusive, battlefield. Rather that let the Palestinians dictate the media coverage, Israel could take the initiative and use the human-shield saga to its benefit. Playing up the concrete actions taken by Israel to minimize civilian casualties, offering recordings of the warning telephone calls and of pilots being called back from the bombing mission, and perhaps even giving a selected network access to a warning call live might go some way toward changing some of the perceptions. No one is going to be instantly converted, but it would be a start. But that would require a concerted effort by the intelligence, operational and PR branches, and someone sitting up top who understands that sometimes we're better off not firing.