In the latest round of Israeli aggression on Gaza in early May, the Palestinian resistance factions, specifically Hamas, relied more on its media and propaganda system. They took video footage of their armed operations and produced short films, using inflammatory language directed at the Palestinians to make them more supportive of the group and directed at the Israelis in Hebrew for intimidation and deterrence.
Hamas has allocated budgets and human resources for its military media. There is even a special department for it that is no less important or dangerous as the rest of its armed wing’s security and operational departments.
Israel usually wages psychological wars against the Palestinian people as part of its coordinated campaigns, while the Palestinians only react to such wars. However, the recent attack on Gaza witnessed a shift in the military media scene, as Hamas surprised the Israeli army with intensive and frequent media messages aimed at confusing the Israeli political and military levels and hitting the home front.
The Palestinian resistance has shown great superiority in the media discourse capabilities of its leaders and statements and the management of the psychological war and the new media movement. Meanwhile, the number of Twitter users tweeting from Gaza has increased. With the beginning of the Israeli attack on Gaza, the resistance continued to issue influential media messages, which had various forms, contents, and objectives. This prompted many strategy commentators and experts to confirm that Tel Aviv lost the psychological war early on to Hamas.
The strength of Hamas’s psychological warfare messages did not come out of nowhere, as they were prepared and formulated by experts in psychological warfare. This indicates the critical level of development reached by Hamas in various fields. Hamas’s psychological warfare had the most effect on Israel’s management of the battle, which was flawed by much confusion and panic. The Israeli society and it’s home front suffered from weakness in the battle
Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, consistently published filmed video messages in coincidence with the Israeli attacks. Its purpose was to prove its deterrence abilities and ability to go through with its threats, despite the strength of the Israeli army. This gave Al-Qassam the chance to break Israel’s status and prestige and cause deep psychological shock for the Israelis. They managed to play on the nerves of the leadership and score a point for the Palestinians in the psychological war, using this new tactic to prove its ability to move the battle from Gaza to Israel.
In its military media, Hamas used part of the psychological warfare adopted and practised by the Israelis against the Palestinians for many years. Both sides sought to establish the image of victory and day after day, the psychological influence of this war, in which media outlets and social media played an important role, grew.
The Israelis did not hesitate to admit that Hamas waged a psychological war and succeeded in it because the Israeli public waited for instructions to either leave the shelters or remain in them. Later, technical experts aired Al-Qassam’s messages and conveyed the true image of the battle to all of the Israeli masses. This effort was implemented using the following methods:
- Interrupting the broadcast of several Israeli television channels and broadcasting messages directed at the Israelis, reminding them of their leaderships’ mistakes.
- Targeting the emails of millions of Israelis and controlling the messaging system of settlement council leaders and sending them threatening messages.
- Hacking the phones of many soldiers on the Gaza border and sending them text and voice messages vowing to continue to fight and thwart their attacks, as well as continue to fire rockets at the settlements in an attempt to bring down their morale.
The Israeli Shabak issued a warning to the Israelis against Palestinian pirates who breached some official and media websites and sent text messages. This intensified the state of concern amongst the intelligence circles due to the increased potential for networks to be attacked by pro-Palestinian hackers.
Palestinian piracy campaigns against the Israelis began to increase during the Israeli attacks on Gaza because they targeted the accounts of prominent Israeli political and military figures. Pictures proving their breaches and hacking were taken and sent via the hacked accounts, showing photographs of Al-Qassam fighters and some of its leaders and its “Hackers” logo. They have demanded that the Israelis leave Palestine.
Al-Qassam launched their first Hebrew website and began to address the Israeli public in coincidence with the continued attacks on Gaza. The site includes sections displaying pictures and videos of the Brigades and their news.
At the same time, Hamas’s television station, Al-Aqsa, has continued to broadcast messages in Hebrew to the occupation soldiers, threatening them if they enter Gaza and informing them that their leaders involved them in a war that they have no hope in and they should await the rockets.
On some of the days of the attack, especially when Israeli television stations aired their programmes, that Al-Aqsa was addressing the Israelis and not the Palestinians, especially since the Israeli channels would immediately translate what was being aired on Al-Aqsa. The Hamas channel and other television stations associated with the group would broadcast pictures of snipers and rockets and others of missile launchers operating, in direct defiance of the Israeli army.
Al-Qassam Brigades has also produced songs in Hebrew, played hundreds of times. The video clips for these songs show Al-Qassam fighters training to launch rockets. The songs were widely circulated on YouTube and in various versions with different videos, which gained hundreds of thousands of views.
Hamas’ psychological warfare against the Israelis was not limited to the official media and spokespeople, but instead included individuals and bloggers and got involved by posting on social media sites. The Palestinians also published several films to threaten the Israelis and show how children are removed from under homes the army claimed were military targets. They also posted pictures of the Israeli prime minister and army commander covered in blood.
Hamas also allowed journalists to document the testimonies of Al-Qassam fighters regarding their execution of military operations against the army forces on the Gaza borders. The journalists also toured the offensive tunnels and mortar and rocket launchers.
To make its media performance successful, Al-Qassam published interesting stories of fighters who fought fierce battles with the army in various areas on the Gaza border and at every battle point from the north to the south of Gaza. They carried out sneak attacks on the invading forces and thwarted the occupation soldiers’ attacks by all means. Some of these soldiers were from the tunnels unit who are tasked with preparing and equipping the tunnels for use by the elite forces, who assumed their positions before the ground attacks began.
The rounds of the Israeli attacks on Gaza witnessed the issuance of Palestinian military reports regarding the resistance’s attacks and counter-attacks against the Israeli army. There was complete coordination between the resistance fighters on the battlefield and the media units, as they are informed immediately by the groups in the field about its attacks on the enemy, anti-tank rockets, and the types of weapons used by the resistance fights, as well as the location and time of the attacks.
The media unit issues military reports about the strikes of the resistance fighters and describes the nature of the losses suffered by the enemy, which the resistance fighters try to identify as accurately as possible based on their observations. With time and experience, they have been able to locate them accurately.
In Israel’s attacks on Gaza, the resistance has managed to emerge with a new media system in which it has stepped up its media discourse. At the same time, it was able to push the Israeli army into a quagmire of misguidance, which it is not accustomed to and has reflected in its statements and performance on the ground. It was customary for the resistance to use the media to show pictures of the spoils it obtained after each operation, especially the wreckage of military vehicles, parts of damaged tanks, and the remains of killed soldiers.
Perhaps the evident success of the Hamas military media methods has reminded us that the battle with Israel is not purely a military battle, but is also a security and media battle that relies mainly on the battle of the brain and minds. Based on this deep understanding and awareness of the nature of the battle, Hamas adopted a media policy based on misguiding and confusing the enemy and not providing any information that would benefit it. This is because the geographic area in which they are operating is relatively small and the Israeli occupation could use any piece of information as a means to pressure the resistance or even as a weapon against the resistance that could have disastrous consequences.
It may seem difficult to end the discussion on the media war between the resistance and Israeli army without addressing the prominent media personality, Abu Ubaidah, the Qassam Brigades spokesman who speaks on behalf of all of the military factions. He may have the most impact on the Israelis’ morale due to his ability to frighten them, which has helped the resistance to advance in the field.
The Israeli army sees Abu Ubaidah, who wears a red keffiyeh and has a large build, as the main artery of the psychological warfare waged by Hamas. He is famous for the phrase he ends his press conferences with, “It is a battle of victory or martyrdom”.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.