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Is Israel losing the war—the propaganda war?

After days of ground combat primarily devoted to destroying Hamas’ underground tunnel network, Israel’s Operation Protective Edge reverted to stand-off strikes from air, sea and land forces as the current cease fire has been violated by Hamas—as have many of its predecessors.

Israeli officials have stated that they believe that they have destroyed all of the tunnels and access routes and shafts that they have detected. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu recently said: “What is about to conclude is the IDF(Israeli Defense Forces) action to deal with the tunnels, but this operation will end only when quiet and security are restored to the citizens of Israel for a lengthy period.” Given the recent multiple rocket attacks by Hamas it is obvious that this condition has not been met. As a result the Israeli delegation has left Cairo and the Egyptian sponsored indirect talks with Hamas about a more lasting cease fire.

After the withdrawal of ground forces from Gaza Israel retained more than 80,000 troops near to Gaza so as to be able to react as it deemed necessary. Interestingly they have not been the target of the recent Hamas rocket attacks—they have all been aimed at civilian concentrations and have either hit vacant space or been deflected by Iron Dome.

The attrition battle waged by Hamas as it hid behind civilians has caused Israel to begin losing its international support concurrent with the increase in civilian casualties. This will now resume as Hamas wins the propaganda war. The Israeli government is trying to stop the loss with numerous claims that several hundreds of the Gazan dead were armed combatants or legitimate targets. Also they claim that hundreds more were attacked as part of the attacks on tunnel shafts and rocket and mortar positions intentionally located in civilian facilities.

However in the propaganda war the Palestinian Ministry of Health has released daily updates of names, ages and residential locations of every Gazan who died. Conversely the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have declined to release estimates of death tolls or detailed assessments of enemy force strength. Amazingly the military, which highlighted its ability to telephone or send text messages warning individual families of imminent attack, has not published a substantial list of names of enemy combatants killed in the fight. “We don’t give a body count when we kill terrorists. We don’t line them up and count them,” said a military spokesman. The IDF has released voluminous photos, targeting video and other data to document the Hamas’s use of civilian areas for military purposes, but they have generally been ignored by the international press.

The ongoing is a battle of competing narratives — a protracted race by Hamas for public support and the Israeli perceived need for a victory for political purposes and to deter Hamas from the next round of fighting. In this fight Israel appears to be coming up short. After all of its efforts Israel is increasingly hard-pressed in its efforts to portray a strategic victory from its tactical achievements. What is wrong with the Israeli propaganda war fighting capability?

From all reports Israel has depleted by more than two thirds Hamas’s rocket inventory with minimal damage and destroyed every tunnel that it has found. One must thus ask why does Hamas keep up the missile attacks? The answer is obvious—Hamas feels that it is winning the propaganda war with every Israeli counter fire against the rockets that creates more civilian casualties. One must then ask how Israel can change the flow of the propaganda war that they appear to be losing?