Israel used to win wars because she was smarter than her enemy. I’m not so sure now. Israeli intelligence was deeply asleep when it was unaware of Hezbollah’s ability to tap into her computer, when it was surprised by the tunnels under her borders, and when it didn’t know that Hezbollah had the high tech weapons systems that attacked her ships. Of course, it’s going to get ever harder for Israel to stay one step ahead of her enemies as the latter get more technically sophisticated, which is an inevitability that we’re watching right before our eyes.
To me, though, Israel’s biggest lapse out of being intelligent (a nicer way of saying that Israel got stupid) happened in the war of words. Somewhere along the line in the 1980s, Israel lost control of the debate and allowed the Islamists and the Left to frame the debate. Suddenly, Israel switched from being a plucky little nation, made up of survivors of the worst genocide in history, to becoming a monster oppressor, using imperialist techniques to destroy plucky little dispossessed fellahins. Part of the situation was out of Israeli control, as Leftist media all over the world assigned to the Arabs the role of third world indigents savaged by a mighty imperial army (ignoring the fact that, from 1947 onward, Arabs always played the aggressor, and that the little fellahins had Egypt, Syria and a few other Muslim nations at their back).
Part of the problem, though, was Israel’s own approach to the press. For the last twenty years, every time something happens to Palestinians, the world is treated to myriad Palestinian spokespeople expanding on their injuries and attacking Israel’s role. The credulous press swallows everything, hook, line and sinker. In that way, we have the imaginary Jenin massacre (a scandal the BBC promulgated), the faked Mohammed al-Dura death (a story the French created), and the recent false beach massacre (which the Palestinians did all by themselves).
On the Israeli side, every time something bad happens, you get a dry statement from a “military spokesman” and no photographs. It may be more dignified, but it doesn’t play in a media age, and the press has punished Israel by designating it as the bad guy in the story.
The other part of Israel’s problem is Israelis — specifically, those on the Left. A friend recently wrote me on the subject, and I’ll simply quote her, since I think she says it all:
In Israel’s early days, the nation did so much better in the PR wars. Israel was seen as plucky, optimistic, resourceful, and so on. Just like America in the fifties, Israelis actually felt that way about themselves. When they presented themselves and their positions to the world it was without the sturm and drang of today, without relentless naval gazing and soul searching. Sharon has several influential, far left relatives. One is editor of a major Israeli paper and he has received awards in Europe for his exposes of Israeli meanness. Another is a documentary film-maker making films about the poor Palestinian laborers. I wonder if it has ever occurred to them that the other side NEVER makes films or articles sympathetic to the Israeli plight. or that, at this time of almost war and war, that this makes them almost a 5th column to the interests of their own nation. Israel should be encouraging the making of films which present positive views of Israel, Israeli families, Israeli history, Israeli values, as well as occasional documentaries showing plucky Israelis overcoming hardships during these times, or rehabilitating after terror/living with terror. Show Israel’s multi-ethnic composition. Finally, let’s see some films showing Palestinian hate-mongering and recruitment strategies, etc. The Israeli Left is naive. They don’t realize that while Israelis are exposed to all sides of the conflict, foreigners get only one side. If their own documentaries and films are all so negative, who will ever pick up the positive? [Emphasis mine.]
By the way, if you’re thinking that this is all Israel blah-blah — which it is, because what’s going on there preoccupies me right now — keep in mind that it precisely mirrors the problem we’re facing in America regarding Iraq. Despite this being the land of Hollywood, neither the Administration nor the military seem to have figured out that they need to use media images to counter all of the propaganda coming from the hate-America groups out there. It’s not enough simply to say, in a dry and colorless way, “that’s not true.” You need to create your own images and control the dialog in order to affect and correct perceptions. I’ll just end this paragraph by saying Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, both of which should be sufficient to make my point.