May 31, 2010

Memorial Day, and A Lesson in Information Operations

Okay, first things first: Happy Memorial Day, everyone. Please take some time today to say a prayer for the fallen and for peace.

I woke up this morning to the news that Israel has managed to kill at least 10 people participating in some peace flotilla to Gaza. As you all know, I try to avoid commenting on matters related to Israel and the Palestinians, but this is a pretty good teaching opportunity relating to issues that concern this blog's readership.

One could, from the start, think a number of different things about those participating in the peace flotilla to Gaza. (Naive? Righteous? Courageous? Anti-Semitic?) But for the sake of argument, and putting ourselves in the shoes of an Israeli naval commander, let's assume the most malevolent of motivations for the people participating in the peace flotilla. If I am in charge of doing that for the Israeli Navy, I am going to assume these people are smart and are deliberately trying to provoke a crazy response from my sailors and soldiers that will produce ready-for-television images that both isolate Israel within the international community and further raise the ire of the Arabic-speaking and Islamic worlds. I mean, that is my base assumption for what this group is trying to do. So naturally, the last thing I would want my forces to do would be to overreact, right? It's like when your convoy gets fired on inside a crowded market: the last thing you want to do is return fire with 7.62mm, killing a bunch of civilians and giving the enemy exactly the effect he was looking for.

If something does go wrong, meanwhile, I am going to have a response ready. I am going to have my very best spokespersons on international and Israeli television. I am most certainly not going to let people like Danny Ayalon provide my government's response, right? Because a live wire like Ayalon -- who the Turks already hate, with an understandable passion -- will just say something incredibly crazy like how the people in the aid flotilla were terrorists with ties to al-Qaeda. (Even if you can prove this is somehow true, everyone you need to be speaking to right now -- the international community, the Turkish people, the Arabic-speaking world -- is just going to think you are nuts for saying it or will roll their eyes and say, "Oh, of course he's saying that.")

In reality, what happened today is the Israelis got their butts handed to them. The Israeli response to this aid flotilla was a fabulous gift to Hamas and Iran. (Try to imagine, if you will, the Israelis trying to go before the U.N. Security Council to gather support for sanctions on the Iranian regime right now. They would be more likely to leave New York with sanctions on their own regime!)

Again, I really have little interest in Israel and Palestine given the way in which people on both sides tend to fling accusations of anti-Semitism, war crimes, terrorist-sympathizing, fascism, etc. But as a student of low-intensity conflict and information operations, one really does have to marvel at the incredible own goal the Israelis have just scored. The fact that Hamas and its allies didn't even have to do a thing to earn it is what I find to be most remarkable. Not that they care what I think, but the Israelis should not be talking about the people on the aid flotilla right now. They should be examining themselves and their response and asking how they hell they fumbled this so badly.