Tuesday, January 27, 2009

PSYOP Lessons Learned From Gaza

There have been a couple of very good articles on PSYOP in Gaza published in the last few weeks. USA Today ran “Cellphones Put to 'Unnerving' Use in Gaza” (http://www.usatoday.com/tech/wireless/2009-01-13-gazaphones_N.htm) The photo is by Abdalrahem Khateb, AP . The article addressed how both sides were employing cell phones, SMS and land lines in an effort to influence their opposition. A similar article, “The unreported battle with Hamas: psychological warfare” was published by Haaretz (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1054916.html).

The third article the Economist, “A war of words and images” (http://www.economist.com/world/mideastafrica/displaystory.cfm?STORY_ID=12953839) claims that Israel had lost the propaganda war at the time of its publishing, 15 January 2009.

What can US PSYOP forces learn from the Gaza conflict that might serve them well in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond?

Lesson 1 – Be Realistic On Expectations – At least in your own mind.

I don’t have any inside knowledge as to the goals of Israeli PSYOP in Gaza. However I think It is it fair to say that the Israeli PSYOP target was as much the popular opinion in the West as the residents of Gaza. I frankly don’t believe it is reasonable to assume that a cell phone call or a text message will convince anyone to betray their neighbor. In fact I’m doubtful that tactical PSYOP campaigns aimed at civilians during kinetic actions will serve any purpose except to provide information for civilians on how to avoid being killed or injured. The horrific nature of urban close combat and the disruption of the civilian infrastructure are likely to be too big of an obstacle to overcome. Furthermore, the vehemence of beliefs was cemented long before the IDF rolled into Gaza.

Lesson 2 – Technology to Suit The Target

A useful lesson is that media must be varied to suit the target. While I don’t recall if any of the articles mentioned the age of the PSYOP targets, I suspect that the most fruitful target would be those engaged in active combat, smuggling, rocket firing or other acts of or in support of terrorism. This is likely to mean an audience between the ages of 13 and 40. Mobile phones and texting is the medium of choice and must be exploited. However, the product must be credible and appear to be correct in terms of jargon, style and content. Failure to understand the linguistic and local cultural nuances of the messages will instantly destroy their effectiveness.

Lesson 3 – There Are No Secrets

Sooner or later the true sources of all PSYOP will come out. PSYOP planners need to understand this principle up front. Exposure of sources can be OK if the time value of that source has expired, if the source and the medium in question are destined for long term use, than a very prudent perspective – should be employed. The arguments here will likely mirror the arguments used in the intelligence community where one side wants to employ the intelligence and the other does not because it would expose the source and render it useless in the future.

Every conflict yields lessons, let’s hope we learn some of them.

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