Israel Must Investigate Its Army's Social Media Psyops

Haaretz Editorial
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An Israeli soldier on a tank, this month.
An Israeli soldier on a tank, this month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Haaretz Editorial

The Israeli army always had to maneuver among several fronts. It now emerges that the Israel Defense Forces under Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi has a new battlefront: the psychological arena. For at least two years now the IDF has been employing the services of G., the operator of the Abu Ali Express news channel on Telegram, as a consultant for “psychological operations” on social media.

On the one hand, the chief of staff has recommended to the defense minister that Army Radio be taken out of the hands of the defense establishment, while on the other hand the IDF is paying the person who operates a news channel with millions of views a day that publishes news reports, videos and photos – sometimes exclusives – about Arab affairs, security and IDF activities.

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However, as opposed to Army Radio, which operates in the open, on the Abu Ali Express channel there is no proper disclosure that its director is a paid consultant to the IDF whose job is to assist senior officers in Southern Command. Nor has the IDF properly disclosed its relationship with G.

And as if it were not enough that the IDF is using taxpayers’ money to pay the director of a private news channel for psyops, it emerges that the channel does not confine itself to disseminating information but also attacks Israeli journalists. For example, the channel regularly depicts Almog Boker of Channel 13 News as a pro-Hamas reporter: “Almog Boker is a much-loved reporter on the Gazan side of the divide. The Gazans really celebrate when they read his reports,” and it has called him “the favorite reporter” of the Hamas psyops unit.

The military correspondent for the Walla internet site, Amir Bohbot, is also in the Abu Ali Express’ gun sights. Along with Boker, he is placed in the category of “Israeli reporters in the service of the enemy,” and he too is described as playing into the hands of Hamas: “I’ve written before that Hamas adores the methods of Amir Bohbot, who has become their main propaganda organ.” Nir Dvori of Channel 12 News, as well as Haaretz, have also been subjected to attack.

Criticism of the media is of course legitimate, but when it is done by a news channel operated by someone the IDF hired as an adviser for psychological warfare on the social networks, it is impossible not to see the IDF as the source of the criticism. Astonishingly, even former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman was attacked and depicted as having played into the hands of Hamas, following his announcement that he was quitting his ministerial position.

“You really couldn’t have chosen a different moment to resign?” it asked. “Hamas presented its citizens with an impressive achievement.”

Apparently, in the IDF they have found a sophisticated way to use social media to settle accounts with people they don’t like. Abu Ali Express has become a platform for an IDF Spokesman’s Office attack force, and G. has become an undercover media warrior in the service of the military. The defense minister must order the immediate cessation of G.’s employment, and conduct a thorough investigation of such “psychological warfare.”

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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