Israel to Wage Psychological Warfare
By Khalid Amayreh
January 31, 2005

The Israeli army has decided to activate a special unit skilled in waging information warfare and influencing Israeli and Palestinian public opinion, reports say.

The Psychological Warfare Unit (PWU) will also disseminate "disinformation" and "carefully manipulated information" about Iran and other hostile and potentially hostile countries in the Middle East.

According to Israeli press sources, the unit, which was disbanded nearly five years ago, is staffed with dozens of mostly Arabic-speaking intelligence officers as well as Shin Bet (Israel's domestic intelligence agency) operatives.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Tuesday that the unit, headed by a veteran intelligence officer holding the rank of a colonel, will be mainly involved in "the battle for the consciousness".

Deadly incursions

Last year, Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon spoke of the need to "sear into the consciousness of the Palestinians" that resistance to the Israeli occupation was futile and would earn them no achievements.

The Israeli occupation army did try to implement Yaalon's recommendation in the sense that it launched deadly incursions into Palestinian population centres, killing and maiming hundreds of civilians and destroying thousands of homes.

The Jenin camp blitz of 2002 and the destruction of the bulk of the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip in 2003 apparently came in this context.

However, the Israeli army's forays, for all the graphic images of death and destruction they managed to produce, seem to have failed to break the will of Palestinian political factions or undermine public support for armed resistance.

According to Haaretz, the intention behind the activation of the PWU is to conduct "awareness operations" in order to influence Palestinian public opinion, mostly through propaganda and disinformation.

Large posters

The unit reportedly lately was active in the Gaza Strip spreading the message that ordinary Palestinians, not the occupation and Jewish settlements in the area, were suffering because of the resistance.

This week, the unit put up large posters at the Mintar (Karni) crossing between Gaza and Israel proper, which has been closed for more than two weeks now, printed with the words "Closed because of Hamas".

The purpose of such posters is apparently to make ordinary Palestinians redirect their bitterness and indignation from the Israeli occupation and Jewish settlers to Hamas, Fatah and other Palestinian resistance groups.

But Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri believes Israeli psychological war has had only a limited impact on Palestinians.

"I think most Palestinians, including myself, don't believe and don't even listen to the Israeli media. We know they are first-class liars. The continuation of the resistance and the strong public support it enjoys testifies to Israeli mendacity," he said, speaking to

"Israeli propaganda won't succeed. Israeli criminal actions on the ground have a greater effect than any PR efforts."

Reverse effect

According to al-Masri, in actual fact it is Palestinians who have been able to "influence Israeli public opinion".

"We have been able to sear into their consciousness that the occupation is futile and will have to come to an end and that there can be no peace and security for Israel as long as the occupation is not dismantled," he said.

Whatever the truth, the PWU reportedly has had a definite "working relationship" with Israeli journalists and media.

In October 1999, the noted Israeli journalist Aluf Benn said members of the unit used the Israeli media to play up stories conceived by it and successfully planted by it in the Arab media.

Benn said the stories focused on Iranian and Hizb Allah involvement in Palestinian resistance activities.

Stories planted

According to Amos Harel, author of the latest Haaretz report on the PWU, the Israeli media did publish and circulate reports originating from the Israeli army's propaganda department.

"Psychological warfare officers were in touch with Israeli journalists covering the Arab world, gave them translated articles from Arab papers (which were planted by the Israeli army) and pressed the Israeli reporters to publish the same news here," he writes.

The purpose of the disinformation is to strengthen the Iranian threat as perceived by the Israeli public, Harel says.