The Israeli army is taking its public relations war directly to a global audience: It has created a YouTube channel to disseminate video that documents recent precision-bombing operations in the Gaza Strip as well as humanitarian aid distribution efforts.
"The blogosphere and new media are another war zone. We have to be relevant there," says IDF Foreign Press Branch head Maj. Avital Leibovich.
Although graphic content — including a clip showing an air strike on men who were apparently loading rockets into a truck — has since been removed by YouTube, "The intelligent audience watching the footage will know that people killed did not have peaceful intentions toward Israel," Leibovich had told the Jerusalem Post. "I don't believe they'll be disturbed. The important thing is to get the truth out there."
And on YouTube, there's this posting from Leibovich's office (note the last sentence!): "We are saddened that YouTube has taken down some of our exclusive footage showing the IDF's operational success in operation Cast Lead against Hamas extremists in the Gaza Strip. As the State of Israel again faces those who would see it destroyed, it is imperative that we in the IDF show the world the inhumanity directed against us and our efforts to stop it. It is also worth noting that one of the videos removed had the highest number of hits (over 10,000) at the time of its removal."
The IDF Foreign Press Branch has also delivered briefings to bloggers around the world, and staff members are preparing to start their own vodcasts — video diaries — to discuss their feelings about the conflict in English and Arabic. They rightly calculate that this personal approach will affect audiences very differently than traditional news coverage and pundit commentary.
Since the beginning of the Gaza air strikes this holiday season, Israeli politicians have held frequent press conferences to defend the attacks, but when their words are broadcast on the news over images of mayhem, destruction and crying children, it is hard to listen to speeches. The IDF is making a smart tactical move.