Iran-Hezbollah help Hamas, Islamic Jihad trounce Israel with propaganda - exclusive

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have become serious propaganda professionals who think carefully about which influence campaigns to invest in.

 MEMBERS OF the Hamas Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades take part in a military event in Gaza City last week. (photo credit: ATIA MOHAMMED/FLASH90)
MEMBERS OF the Hamas Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades take part in a military event in Gaza City last week.
(photo credit: ATIA MOHAMMED/FLASH90)

Iran and Hezbollah are helping Hamas and Islamic Jihad trounce Israel in the broader propaganda war, especially surrounding the Gaza war this past May, according to a report exclusively obtained by The Jerusalem Post.

The report, by Dr. Michael Barak of the The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) of Reichman University, notes that, “One of the major areas terrorist organizations operate to influence their enemy’s public opinion is propaganda, including an increasing focus on social media.”

In recent years, the Gazan terror groups have “managed to build a body of knowledge and acquire a propaganda tool kit, in large part thanks to mentorship by pro-Iranian media outlets, some of which are controlled by Hezbollah (either in Lebanon or Gaza), or via online guidance by the latter.”

This tool kit, besides social media and propaganda techniques, has also turned Hamas and Islamic Jihad into serious propaganda professionals who think carefully about which influence campaigns to invest in, which to ignore, while constantly analyzing and learning lessons about how to maximize their impact and resources.

“The Iranian regime tries to shape public perception and opinion in the Arab world through the use of ‘soft power’ thinking that this would be best to promote its agenda. The Islamic Radios and Televisions Union (IRTVU) serves as a major channel to deploy the above “soft power,” says the report.

IRTVU was formed in Tehran in June 2007 and it “reports to the Iranian Islamic Culture and Guidance Bureau” as well as serving “as the propaganda arm of Quds Force which is an integral part of IRGC,” the report states.

Islamic Jihad forces hold a military parade in central Gaza, May 29, 2021. (credit: HAZEM ALBAZ/THE MEDIA LINE)Islamic Jihad forces hold a military parade in central Gaza, May 29, 2021. (credit: HAZEM ALBAZ/THE MEDIA LINE)

In fact, in October 2020 the US imposed sanctions on IRTVU “for trying to meddle with the US elections, inter alia via dissemination of disinformation to the American public over the internet and social media to influence their voting.”

The IRTVU’s membership includes over 210 media outlets in 35 countries on five continents.

IRTVU’s secretary-general is Sheikh Ali Karimian, a Shi’ite cleric of likely Iranian descent and his deputy is Nasser Akhdar who serves as senior member of Hezbollah’s propaganda apparatus, writes Barak.

The report states that Ibrahim Farahat, another Hezbollah member who serves as al-Manar, Hezbollah’s media outlet’s, CEO, sits on IRTVU’s board.

IRTVU not only helps the Gazan terror groups, but also assists media outlets of Sunni and Shi’ite terrorist organizations who are members of the “Resistance Axis”, through financial support, tech support, administrative support and training of employees.

Further, notes the report, it played a major role in forming the Iraqi militias TV channels, such as: “al-Ataja” (Hezbollah Brigades), al-Ahad (Asaab Ahal al-Hak), al-Nujbaa (Hezbollah al-Nujbaa) and al-Bina (Saraya al-Jihad).

In Lebanon, it still assists, but Hezbollah has its own already mature operation which even assists with the development of media outlets for non-Lebanese militias such as the al-Masira channel located in southern Beirut, but which operates on behalf of the Houthis in Yemen.

The Palestinian Culture Bureau in Gaza inaugurated the Palestinian branch of IRTVU on April 25, 2014 under the name The Islamic Radios and Televisions Union – Palestine Chamber, says the report.

According to ICT, the inauguration  ceremony was attended by senior members of Palestinian terrorist organizations such as Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas political bureau, and by senior PIJ members.

IRTVU strives to “present a uniform propaganda front among Resistance Axis media outlets members in connection with promoting the Palestinian issue, Jerusalem and the holiness of the al-Aqsa mosque.”

In July 2021, they held a big conference on the subject in Sana, Yemen, attended by Nasser al-Akhdar, deputy head of IRTVU, Houseein Rahal the social media manager of Hezbollah, Houthi propaganda activists, Saleh al-Masri, head of IRTVU Palestine and representatives of the Palestinian Journalistic Union (Kutlat al-Suhufi al-Filastini), a media outlet identified with PIJ, says the report.

The attendees stressed the “importance of sticking with joint courses of action such as using the same terminology.”

UCMT is another institute formed by IRTVU, ICT states.

It provides professional training on propaganda for both Shi’ite and Sunni terrorist organizations, was formed in Beirut and is run by Hezbollah.

As its home page states, its goal is to build technical and media capabilities on social media “to be an effective and influencing tool able to change public opinion, disseminate knowledge [and shape] perception among the target audience”.

So far, UCMT has trained young Syrian Ba’ath Party supporters, Yemenite Houthi militia members and supporters of Palestinian terrorist organizations from Gaza, writes Barak.

İn the first half of 2021, the report says UCMT trained a stunning 1,975 graduates via online courses, two of which were tailored for Palestinian media members in Gaza.

UCMT continues to train propaganda activists in Gaza, holding Zoom courses in June and September 2021 for more than 40 Palestinians from various Gaza media outlets and government offices.

The Lebanese journalist Safaa Salmani was one of the instructors in this course, the report states.

According to the report, the course was held in cooperation with the Governmental Communication Bureau led by Salame Marouf, a Hamas member and head of the news portal Ray, which is part of  Hamas’ operations.

Next, the graduation ceremony was attended by Salame Marouf and Saleh al-Masri, a PIJ member.

Khalil al-Lahiyyah, a member of the Hamas Political Bureau, argued that by 2015 Hamas had established a Palestinian cyber army of 250 members, active over traditional and social media.

Ali al-Amoudi, head of the Hamas Propaganda Department, stressed in September 2021 the important contribution of the Palestinian journalists on traditional and social media to the Palestinian issue and the battle against the Zionist narrative.

Mouhsein al-Ifranji, a journalist and lecturer in the Islamic university in Gaza who is close to Hamas, recently said, “The criminal conqueror understood that it is hard to hide its ugly image from the world and therefore it wages a harsh war and lashes at media people and activists... be ready because every photo, every word, every tweet or hashtag are the resistance.”

“The Iranian willingness to provide tools, knowledge, courses and teachers on propaganda, either in traditional media or social media for Hamas and PIJ attests to the Iranian wishes to form a uniform and efficient propaganda front that will challenge Israel’s, writes Barak.

Moreover, “it would seem that Operation Guardian of the Walls just fed IRTVU and its proxies’ determination to concentrate a special propaganda effort vis a vis the Arab Israelis,” says the report.

Evaluating the challenge to Israel, ICT says, “Contending with an extensive Iranian and proxies network requires a similarly extensive network. Israel and its allies, especially UAE and KSA [the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia], must cooperate and build a tailored toolbox capable of thwarting the former’s propaganda campaigns.”

“Additional cooperation is required from the leadership of the social media giants, particularly Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to block and remove inciting websites and content in general and IRTVU and proxies in particular,” the report adds.