Like “information warfare” generally, Israel’s information war takes a number of forms. On the one hand it disseminates information in order to discredit its enemies and possibly even blackmail them into submission. Its information war also seeks to influence opinions to suit its own ends. Into this category comes propaganda, which is the general use of “biased or misleading” information put into the public domain in order to promote a particular point of view, or justify an otherwise unjustifiable action.
Israel allocates a lot of human and financial resources to its information war. With the shift from print media to electronic and social media, there has been a significant increase in the use of information and propaganda by governments and their lobbyists. This should not be confused with a cyber-attack; the information war sees facts and figures presented in a systematic and understandable manner to the users of electronic media, rather than attacking the sources of the media via electronic means.
The United States has employed information warfare in its psychological war against Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and is expanding it against Islamic parties in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and parts of the Middle East. It is keen on crystallising negative impressions of the extremists among members of the Arab and Muslim general public.
This was let slip by General David Petraeus, the commander of the US-led coalition forces in Iraq. He told Congress of US efforts to increase intelligence operations across social media networks in order to strike at radical ideology and counter anti-American and anti-Western propaganda.
As part of this effort, the US military has been keen on getting private companies to develop apps and programmes capable of influencing social networks. For example, an American company based in California has won a tender from the US Army to develop special programmes capable of enabling one user to appear simultaneously with 10 fake identities on social networks in such a way that the impression is given that posts which originate with that one user come from different parts of the world. Thus, bloggers who work for the US military can take part in discussions on social network sites in various languages, including Arabic and Persian, and those spoken in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
We also know that the US Air Force has a squadron of Hercules C-130 aircraft capable of disrupting television and radio signals, infiltrating them and then overriding genuine programmes with anti-government propaganda programmes and messages inciting the people of the country being targeted against their government. It is possible for the Hercules to provide wireless internet access to citizens on the ground, and even make contact with them should the regime in question make moves against them. In short, the US is removing the ability of enemy regimes to control their own cyberspace in order to achieve American objectives.
One part of information warfare involves the disclosure of the secrets of the enemy with the intention that the government, state or non-state actor will be damaged in some way. Providing details of its plans, for example, or the human rights and other violations of which it is guilty, as well as its leaders’ provocative statements. Such information could be and is utilised by political groups and anti-regime activists.
Hence, Israel hasn’t really reinvented the wheel by utilising information warfare strategies against the Gaza Strip in the past decade, testing what can be used to suit its military and security purposes. The infiltration of Palestinian radio and television broadcasts, the distribution of leaflets and the use of collaborators to spread rumours are some of the methods used in Israel’s information war. The challenge for the Palestinians is to ensure that they are aware of this, know how it works, and develop counter-strategies to limit the damage done.
This article first appeared in Arabic on the New Khaleej on 15 September 2017
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.