The Israel Defense Forces is reestablishing its psychological warfare unit, after a lengthy period in which the unit was dormant. It operates mostly in the Palestinian arena.

Lately, dozens of new job slots have been approved for it, and the unit commander has begun filling officer's positions.

The psychological warfare unit was dramatically reduced five years ago, but during the war with the Palestinians, the army grew frustrated with the difficulty of influencing Palestinian opinion in the territories - indeed, of even finding a way of communicating with the population.

Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon often spoke about the need to "sear into the consciousness" of the Palestinians that terror would not lead to achievements. But the army found it difficult to get the message across in the territories and rarely spoke directly with the residents.

Lately, as part of the "battle for the consciousness," Ya'alon decided to grant the status of a company to the unit. Heading it will be a veteran intelligence officer holding the rank of colonel. He was given about 70 positions to fill with officers and soldiers, with emphasis on Arabic speakers.

The doctrine for the unit is still in development, based on consultation with veteran intelligence officers in reserves.

The overall intention is to conduct "awareness operations" to influence Palestinian public opinion, mostly through propaganda, psychological warfare and sometimes disinformation.

It will be under the command of the Operations Branch in the general staff, but will get professional guidance from Military Intelligence. MI had reservations about the unit in the past, when at various times it was located in the field security unit, and MI's research department has been opposed to including in its purview psychological warfare in its various incarnations.

Lately, the psychological warfare department has been involved in IDF propaganda efforts in Gaza.

A senior military source told Haaretz that the air force distributed some 250,000 leaflets in the last two weeks, in which the army explained its reasoning in the war against terrorism, emphasizing that non-combatant civilians are paying the price for Hamas terrorism.

At the Karni and Rafah crossings, which the army closed after deadly attacks, the army hung huge signs reading "Closed because of the Hamas."

The unit's activities have been controversial for years. In October 1999, Aluf Benn revealed in Haaretz that members of the unit used the Israeli media to emphasize reports initiated by the unit that it managed to place in the Arab press. He reported that the news reports focused on Iranian and Hezbollah involvement in terror activity.

Psychological warfare officers were in touch with Israeli journalists covering the Arab world, gave them translated articles from Arab papers (which were planted by the IDF) and pressed the Israeli reporters to publish the same news here.

That was meant to strengthen the perception of the Iranian threat in Israeli public opinion.

The MI chief at the time, Amos Malka, was not enthusiastic about MI's responsibility for the unit and he used the embarrassing reports to reduce its activity. Most of the officers who served in the unit were transferred elsewhere. A lieutenant colonel was left in charge but the unit's activities were frozen.