Delay in screening Kana footage causes PR disaster

The air force presented evidence that Hizbullah could be to blame for the building's collapse.

kana rubble rescue 88 (photo credit: )
kana rubble rescue 88
(photo credit: )
Israel's top spokesmen struggled all day Sunday to respond to tough questions from the foreign press as images of children carried out on stretchers from the collapsed Kafr Kana building ran on the world's TV screens nonstop. During Sunday morning's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the IDF Spokesman's unit to release footage of Katyusha rockets being fired from Kafr Kana near the building that was struck, in an effort to counter the pictures of the building lying ruins after being destroyed as the apparent result of an IAF missile strike. But the footage was not released until 7:45 p.m. Israel time at a Tel Aviv press conference, conveniently timed for Israel's prime time nightly news shows, but hours too late to prevent damage to Israel's image abroad. At the press conference, the air force presented evidence that Hizbullah could be to blame for the building's collapse, which was later repeated in English for the foreign press. An IDF Spokesman's Unit representative said that the air force made an effort to release the footage as soon as possible, but they were limited in doing so by the requirements of the IDF Censor. Foreign Ministry deputy director-general for media and public affairs Gideon Meir said that having the footage earlier could have helped Israeli spokespeople, but he praised the IDF for releasing it within a matter of hours when it could have taken days. He said that after recent gaffes in public relations, the IDF deserved credit for not going forward with releasing information until its accuracy was confirmed. Israel sent an all-star team to handle the foreign press that included Meir; the IDF's spokesman for the foreign press Capt. Jacob Dallal; opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu; Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog; and Col. (res.) Miri Eisen, who is expected to be appointed Olmert's foreign press spokeswoman next week. But without pictures of rockets fired from Kafr Kana, the team had no ammunition and could only speculate about why the building was targeted by the IDF. A Sky News reporter said he saw no evidence that the building was used to store rockets. Another interviewer asked an Israeli spokesman why an IDF that possesses smart bombs in its arsenal would fire at such a building so stupidly. The main message presented by Israeli spokesmen was that Israel was trying all day to minimize civilian casualties while Hizbullah was trying to maximize civilian casualties on both the Israel and Lebanese sides. "Hizbullah has been firing rockets from that area for two and a half weeks," Eisen told CNN. "The building was next to the rocket site. It was a mistake. Israel deeply regrets it. Israel does not target civilians. There will be a full investigation." Dallal emphasized in an interview with CNN that Israel repeatedly told the people of Kafr Kana to leave the area, and accused Hizbullah of using civilians as human shields. "This is a war zone," Dallal told CNN. "Why? Ask Hizbullah. They're responsible." Hours before the air force's press conference, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Gillerman told NBC's Meet the Press program that he suspected the building collapse was orchestrated by Hizbullah because it was in their interests. He said Hizbullah also might have prevented the civilians from leaving the collapsed structure "in a cynical and brutal way." Israeli officials noted that the Lebanese rescue teams did not start evacuating the building until hours after the collapse and only when the camera crews came. The rescue team then took out the bodies of children slowly for the camera crews. Herzog told the cabinet that the foreign press has gradually become more antagonistic to Israel. He said that after three weeks of talking to the foreign press nonstop, Sunday was by far the hardest day. Former prime minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman Ra'anan Gissin said he warned that "media ambushes would be in the offing" ahead of a cease-fire. He said the images of the building put Israel in a defensive position and that the IDF should have released the pictures of rockets firing from Kafr Kana quicker to contain the public relations crisis. "They did the least they could do to minimize the damage," Gissin said of Israel's explainers. "We need to keep up better and we need to be ready in advance. We need pictures to show the world what Hizbullah is."