Ramadan has arrived, once again. A month that holds significant religious and communal meaning for many people in Israel. However, it routinely overlaps with national, Jewish and Christian holidays, which can lead to increased sensitivity and tension. This is an ideal opening for terrorist organizations seeking to sow chaos, which is why it comes as no surprise that we have seen a surge in incitement and fake news in recent weeks. Accordingly, the number of alerts in all of Israel’s borders has also risen.
Israel’s security agencies have been dealing with the challenges of this sensitive period for years, using various tools and tactics to thwart and deter potential threats while ensuring freedom of worship and civil gestures aimed at promoting peace and stability. Over the past year, another tool was added to the state’s arsenal. In professional parlance, it is given the dry nickname “Information Domain,” but it is something that we more commonly know as hasbara.
It is important to understand that hasbara is no longer what it used to be. The use of information has become just as potent as a real weapon. Certain words and data can either inflame an area or prevent escalation. In this context, Operation Guardians of the Walls in 2021 was an example of the repercussions of ineffective use of this domain.
It’s not that Israel didn’t have spokespeople; it did and they were great in their own right. The problem was that their message wasn’t coordinated. And when the noise threshold is so high, an uncoordinated message will likely go unheard and fail to achieve its intended purpose.
The lessons learned from that operation were applied successfully last year. Almost 20 different bodies worked jointly in a level of coordination that in real-time was recognized as unprecedented. The police, the IDF, the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, the Coordinator of Activities in the Territories, Shin Bet, Israel’s Prisons Service and the National Public Diplomacy Directorate and the National Public Diplomacy Unit in it, to name a few, managed to work together in a manner vis-a-vis the various target audiences.
Some of their information work might be foreign to the general public but has long since become essential in the Israeli toolbox. Their coordinated efforts helped prevent escalation and contributed to both the operational and civilian efforts.
It's time for the ultimate test
Now is the time for the ultimate test. The security system is already working with the countries of the region to prevent escalation. The preservation of freedom of worship is conveyed to the general public time and again to fight the terror organizations’ fake news and propaganda.
The information bodies continue last year’s joint work and the configuration of organized plans has already been prepared and messages have been honed. But in our neighborhood, even a small event or comment can ignite the entire area.
Responsible Israeli conduct that utilizes the Information Domain wisely, will be the key to reducing the chances of an outbreak during Ramadan. The key to that lies in the interface between the professional and political levels.
It can be done by adopting the information plans that were prepared ahead of time by the professional bodies and adhering to their explanatory line in public statements and in narrative uniformity among the different organs in the system. In a time where words hold such significant power, it’s not a luxury but an essential requirement to prevent potential violence during this sensitive period.
The writer is the former director of National Public Diplomacy in the Prime Minister’s Office.