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Martin Schram: How powerful Israel lost a PR battle

For months, Israel’s military leaders and the top minds of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government planned and prepared to counter the surge that the enemy warned the world was coming.

But when the onslaught began Monday at the border of desperate, dirt-poor Gaza – with the whole world watching (yet again!) – Israel’s military and government elites mindlessly allowed themselves to be goaded by Hamas’ cold-blooded schemers into blundering into a global public relations trap of human slaughter. (Yet again!)

The outcome was a tragedy for all who truly care about the immediate safety and long-term survival of the people of Israel and Gaza: Authorities say 60 Palestinians were killed; thousands more were wounded by live ammunition fired by Israel’s military. Zero Israeli civilians were reported killed or wounded.

In short, it was exactly the outcome Hamas’ leaders had schemed to achieve. Hamas defeated Israel “overwhelmingly, by a knockout,” scoring a public relations victory over Israel that was seen around the world.

And in case you think you’ve just been reading a conclusion by an American critic of Israel, the words you just read were uttered by a senior Israeli military spokesman.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, Israeli Defense Forces spokesman and social media director, admitted to a Tuesday briefing organized by the Jewish Federations of North America that Israel was not successful in communicating to the world what its troops were actually defending at the Gaza border.

The Israeli military spokesman said “the graphics from the Palestinian side” had produced and delivered “the ‘winning picture’ overwhelmingly, by a knockout, unfortunately.” Adding: “The amount of casualties has done us a tremendous disservice, unfortunately, and it has been very difficult to tell our story.”

For months, Netanyahu’s government failed to grasp that its prime Gaza border mission was to show the world the shameful tragedy of Hamas’ failing leaders. And Israel’s urgent need to mount a PR force that can finally show the world the true evil of Hamas.

In late March, Hamas made clear what it was planning for mid-May. “Hamas wanted the casualties,” the Israeli military spokesman belatedly acknowledged Tuesday. “Hamas wanted people to die. Hamas wanted the pictures of the wounded and the overflowing hospitals … and they had no problems sending the human shields forward.”

Israel’s military dilemma came down to “defending the Israeli border and Israeli communities immediately behind the border, or allowing the rioters through and having a lower amount of Palestinian casualties.”

Indeed, some young Palestinian protesters brought tires to burn, creating a black smokescreen. Hamas’ agents fomented a frenzy of anger, urging protesters to storm the border. Israel’s military belatedly reported Hamas paid Palestinians to reach the fence and hundreds did just that.

Israel needed to build a public relations force as powerful and effective as its military defenses have been. This spring, Israel needed to mount a PR offensive and reveal in advance Hamas’ desperate and cruel propagandists’ plot to foment a tragic border crisis to mark Israel’s 70th anniversary of its founding.

The resulting slaughter occurred seemingly in synchronized precision with the pompous ceremonial opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. And the whole world was watching. Indeed many were watching the region’s breaking news in split screens: On one they saw Netanyahu and President Donald Trump’s A-Team, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, grinning in clueless celebration – unaware that on a split screen beside them the world was watching a simultaneous scene of slaughter at the Gaza border.

On Wednesday, Haaretz published an analysis by Amos Harel, headlined: “A Predictable Bloodbath in Gaza: Israel Did Not Lift a Finger to Prevent Lethal Clashes.” The article noted that while Hamas plotted for months to storm the fence, Israeli security was warning that Gaza’s poverty had created an explosive situation and Hamas was desperate.

“And so the main question is what did Israel do to prevent this bloodbath before it happened?” Harel asked. “The answer is, almost nothing was done.”

Martin Schram is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Email him at martin.schram@gmail.com.


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