Why Israel is Losing the Military and Media Wars

By Sultan Knish

Every now and then bewildered Israeli politicians and outreach professionals call conferences to wonder why the Hasbara is failing and why Israel can’t get its story across. They are given the usual advice of hiring more PR firms, finding innovative ways to get the message through, using the internet in smarter ways and of course that all time favorite, rebranding Israel. Naturally they follow this advice, only to call another conference a year later wondering why nothing has changed.

The answer is simple enough. Defensive PR, like defensive warfare, never works. And Israeli PR and Israeli warfare has been on the defensive for decades now. If you break down Israel’s message to a single sentence, it’s “We didn’t do any of the things we’re accused of.” That is the kind of message you expect to hear from criminal defendants, and it’s a message that impresses no one. The only thing it does is produce a debate about the validity of the accusations themselves, which is to PR what Stalingrad was to the Russian front.

The recent Aftonbladet case represents a classic scenario that demonstrates why Israel’s defensive PR is doomed to fail over and over again. The Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet published an article claiming that Israeli soldiers were killing Palestinian Arabs in order to harvest their organs. The Israeli government pointed out that the article presented no evidence whatsoever, that no such thing had ever happened and demanded a retraction from the newspaper and condemnation of it by the Swedish government. The only thing Israel accomplished was to popularize the false allegation thus creating a debate over whether or not Israeli soldiers kill Palestinian Arabs to harvest their organs. Pleased by his newfound fame, the author of the article has only escalated his allegations and gone on to do a tour of the Arab world. Leftist propagandists can only watch the fallout and chuckle, because once again Israel has been suckered into playing the mug’s game of defensive PR.

Defensive warfare of any kind is reactive. For the last few decades Israel has run itself ragged because it has been reactive. And by reactive I mean that Israel keeps responding to attacks against it, rather than taking the offensive. In the Six Day War, Israel responded to Nasser’s planned assault, by preempting him and taking the offensive. The result was Israel’s finest hour. In the Yom Kippur War, Israel waited and watched, and was nearly destroyed.

Few nations can afford to be purely reactive and play defense alone, Israel least of all because it is outnumbered by larger and more numerous enemies who can wear it down through sheer brute force. And that is exactly what has been happening on both the media and the military front. The terrorist campaign, planned, financed and executed first by the USSR, and then by the Arab and Muslim world, has worn out Israel both militarily and politically.

Israel’s greatest asset was its innovation, its mobility and brilliance. Qualities that are best employed on the offensive. Instead Israel has been restricted to the defensive, constantly retreating, giving up both physical and ideological territory to its enemies, while wondering how much to give up in order to stem the bleeding. Which is the one reaction certain to put it even further on the defensive.

Israel wants a solution to the conflict. So do its enemies in both Islam and on the left and far right. A final solution. Each attempt by Israel to offer a solution has only brought Israel closer to that final solution. The more Israel has tried to show its goodwill, the more it has gotten stuck on the defensive. The goal of successive Israeli governments is no longer to be a great nation or a strong nation, but to be a nation that everyone likes.

The fallacy there is that “everyone” consists of a billion Muslims and a sizable number of leftists who view Israel’s very existence as an insult to their deeply held beliefs. And then there are the Western business interests who think Ahmed would be much friendlier to them if Israel weren’t in the way. And Russia which cultivates wars in the Middle East the way gardeners cultivate flowers. Finally there’s the rest of the world which isn’t too keen on embracing losers who keep apologizing for their existence and cutting their own country to pieces in order to win the favor of the terrorists trying to wipe them off the face of the earth.

To boil down the problem simply enough, the more Israel goes on the defensive, the weaker it becomes, not just militarily, but politically as well. Reactive conflicts are hugely draining. They require endlessly watching for an attack and then trying to counter it. The advantage in such a scenario is always to the attacker who has more lead time to plan an attack, and room to retreat if the attack fails.

Strike and vanish into the desert, and then strike again, was the classic raiding strategy of the Arab bandit, including a charming head chopping fellow named Mohammed. The British General Orde Wingate, who helped pioneer much of the doctrine of the future IDF, responded to such attacks in the mandate era, by taking the battle to the enemy with small, fast moving and mobile units. To go on the offensive.

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