Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Israeli Flotilla Raid: Military Victory – International Disaster

On May 31, 2010 the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) boarded the Mavi Marmara Turkish vessel carrying aid and people to the Gaza Strip. Israel has been enforcing a blockade to restrict access to the Hamas ruled Gaza strip. During the raid 9 activists were killed. The IDF gained control of the flotilla and the attempt to run the blockade was thwarted.

In the aftermath of the raid Egypt at least temporarily lifted the blockade on its borders, Turkey – Israel’s most critical Moslem ally, has threatened to cut off diplomatic relations, the UN Security Council is in a dither and world opinion of Israel declined again. (NY Times article on 1 June 2010:

On the surface you have to ask yourself “What was the Commander of the IDF naval commandos thinking and what was his mission?” The tactical answer would likely be that the mission was to stop the flotilla and to do so with a minimum loss of life on both sides.

Surely Israel intelligence knew or should have known that the vessels in the flotilla were armed with video cameras and that activists are called activists for a reason. Hamas and other terrorist groups are masters at orchestrating information dominance. This latest action is yet another example of their uncanny ability to out fox the craftiest of foxes.

Israel is a small country and their military has the luxury of smallness and closer ties to their Executive Branch than most other nations. However, it would appear that either they don’t have an integrated information engagement strategy or just don’t give a shit.

Assuming for the moment that the latter is true, then Israel is willing to concede the public opinion card to Hamas and has back door means for smoothing out their apparent diplomatic crisis with Turkey. Interestingly enough the death of the 9 activists has captivated media attention more than the deaths of 46 sailors on board the Republic of Korea ship Cheonan.

What are the lessons for US PSYOP:
1. Mission assessments and operations orders MUST include an information operations assessment to include likely enemy information engagement via the media and Internet.
2. PSYOP and PAO plans and annexes need to be flexible and adaptable.
3. Friendly alternative Courses of Action (COA) need to be developed that minimize the positive impact of enemy information operations.
4. Where possible involve forces from more than one nation in the action.
5. If possible, and in line with security considerations, embed a respected international journalist who can tell the story. Of course this is a calculated risk.
6. Make certain that the diplomatic chain of command is pre-briefed on the alternative COA and that their Public Affairs Officers (PAO) have prepared story lines.
7. If video is taken: the chronology must be visible, details highlight the storyline need to be emphasized.
8. If things go south – act quickly to minimize the negative media responses. Remember unlike chicken soup and wine – bad news does not get better with age.

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