The Unreported Battle With Hamas: Psychological Warfare

Artillery barrages and aircraft missiles are not the only way Israel is communicating with the people of Gaza. Since the start of the conflict, the Israel Defense Forces has tried to wage psychological war on the civilian population.

The most common methods include dropping fliers from the air, taking control of Hamas' radio airwaves and sending mass SMS messages.

The army often distributes leaflets warning residents against taking military action or fraternizing with Hamas operatives. The fliers are generally attributed to an ambiguous "IDF force commander" calling on residents to take responsibility for their own fate.

They tell them that "rocket launchers and terror elements are a danger to you and your families. If you want to help, all you have to do is call this number and state the location of the rocket launchers and terror cells operating in your area." "You can still prevent disaster. Do not hesitate!" They also promise utmost secrecy.

Dr. Yaniv Levitan, an expert in psychological warfare at the University of Haifa, says the aims of such methods are twofold. "Motivating the population in light of humanitarian considerations and creating an alternative narrative," he says. "The fliers' message is not one of demoralization, but is intended to implant recognition in hearts and minds that Hamas has failed, that there is an option of choosing another path."

In the current war, coverage of psychological warfare has been off limits to journalists, unlike in the Second Lebanon War. In that conflict, media outlets reported on the army seizing television and radio stations, as well as dropping leaflets bearing caricatures of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.

Hamas is waging its own brand of psychological warfare. Arab television stations generally ignore the group's announcements on military matters, but often report its statistics for Israeli casualties on the assumption that Israel is distorting its own figures of soldiers killed and wounded.

Dr. Tal Pavel, an expert on use of the Internet for psychological warfare in the Middle East, says Hamas is using its Web sites to make comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany. It portrays Israel as a destructive, oppressive regime afraid of Hamas rockets raining on Tel Aviv. Among the images on the sites are an IDF tank commander holding his severed head in hand, and a tank lying destroyed on its side.