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Tweet Offensive: Social Media Is Israeli Military's Newest Weapon

The Israeli Defense Forces' one-of-a-kind Internet strategy aims to bypass an international media known for unfriendly fire.

The IDF's Facebook page
The IDF's Facebook page
Michael Borgstede

TEL AVIV - Avital Leibovich's business card contains all the usual information: name, rank (lieutenant colonel), position. She is head of the Israel Defense Forces' Interactive Media Branch, and in addition to listing her phone numbers and email address, the card also includes some less traditional data: her Twitter address and Facebook page.

Working out of a modest office building in Tel Aviv, Leibovich and her team of 30 soldiers are responsible not only for the social network presence of Israel’s armed forces — the IDF — but also for making sure that it makes a good impression.

"We are the only army in the world that puts this much effort into an Internet media offensive," she says with pride. Several hundred postings in six languages are made to nearly all social networks and a blog every month.

The endeavor began small during the Gaza War in late December 2008 when a conscript had the idea of making some filmed content available to the media on YouTube. It was a great success, and not just with journalists.

Today, everything from aerial shots of targeted killings to a short introduction in English to Krav Maga (a self-defense system developed in Israeli based on martial arts) can be found on YouTube. When an Israeli F-16 jet fighter with a technical defect crashed, it was only a matter of hours before video of the dramatic IDF rescue of the pilot and navigator was posted.

Viewer figures for some videos are out there for all to see. The short clip showing how militant Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari was killed in an Israeli air attack on his car was viewed nearly five million times. But even unspectacular videos, like one sending messages of goodwill to those in the Arab world observing Ramadan, can appeal to large numbers of viewers, says Leibovich.

So far, there are pages and channels in Hebrew, English, French, Russian, Spanish and Arabic, she explains. And postings on each one are different. New immigrants to Israel are usually in charge of these not only because they speak the language of the target group but because of their intuitive understanding of their native culture and therefore the approach to take when presenting content.

Knowing your audience

In a large office space, three soldiers are discussing the best way to present a statement in Arabic from Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese Shi’ite militia Hezbollah. Two of the women soldiers migrated to Israel from Egypt seven years ago, and now, in Arabic, they’re trying to give the Arab world another picture of the IDF.

One young female soldier in charge of the Russian Facebook page points out that in Russia the VK social network is at least as important as Facebook "so of course we’re present there too." In general, Russians like hardcore military information, she says, and weapons and explosions are not at all taboo. The titles on their Russian YouTube channel therefore depict a rocket being fired, though this wouldn’t be a good idea on the French channel, which instead shows two soldiers in camouflage clothing.

"We like to play up the human angle," a soldier named Anthony says — stories about new immigrants from France serving in the Israeli army, for example. Or showing a pretty girl in uniform with a caption reading, "The true face of the IDF."

But these postings don't come at the expense of news and political coverage. When rockets from Gaza hit the southern part of the country, the news was on Twitter in nearly real time. The number of relief trucks admitted to the Gaza strip every month is presented as an infographic, and just recently a new webpage with information about the history, ideology and terrorist activities of Hezbollah were posted.

Using the example of a village in southern Lebanon, they show how Hezbollah deliberately stockpiles weapons near schools and medical facilities. Programmers and layout designers spent over six months on the project.

The Israeli armed forces have often felt mistreated by the international media, and it has been a sore subject for a long time. So the online offensive is intended to reach people directly by bypassing traditional media as transmitters of information. How well it works is difficult to assess.

Comments that IDF postings receive on social networks are mostly from two groups: those who consider Israel’s forces to be treacherous murderers selling a pack of lies, and those who regard Israeli soldiers as heroic.

Lieutenant Colonel Leibovich and her soldiers firmly believe that their efforts haven't been in vain. Leibovich waxes enthusiastic about her subordinates’ creativity. "These are 19-year-olds! They’ve grown up with this technology and have integrated it — internalized it — completely." They believe that the Internet is the battlefield of the future.

Sometimes the verbal sparring does feel like a battlefield. During the most recent Gaza offensive in November 2012, the Israeli army tweeted a warning to all Hamas leaders not to "show their faces above ground in the days ahead."

They got a swift reply from @AlQassamBrigade, the militant wing of Hamas: "@IDFspokesperson — Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves)."

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Why The U.S. Lost Its Leverage In The Middle East — And May Never Get It Back

In the Israel-Hamas war, Qatar now plays the key role in negotiations, while the United States appears increasingly disengaged. Shifts in the region and beyond require that Washington move quickly or risk ceding influence to China and others for the long term.

Photograph of U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken  shaking hands with sraeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

November 30, 2023, Tel Aviv, Israel: U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Chuck Kennedy/U.S State/ZUMA
Sébastien Boussois


PARIS — Upon assuming office in 2008, then-President Barack Obama declared that United States would gradually begin withdrawing from various conflict zones across the globe, initiating a complex process that has had a major impact on the international landscape ever since.

This started with the American departure from Iraq in 2010, and was followed by Donald Trump's presidency, during which the "Make America Great Again" policy redirected attention to America's domestic interests.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

The withdrawal trend resumed under Joe Biden, who ordered the exit of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2021. To maintain a foothold in all intricate regions to the east, America requires secure and stable partnerships. The recent struggle in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict demonstrates that Washington increasingly relies on the allied Gulf states for any enduring influence.

Since the collapse of the Camp David Accords in 1999 during Bill Clinton's tenure, Washington has consistently supported Israel without pursuing renewed peace talks that could have led to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

While President Joe Biden's recent challenges in pushing for a Gaza ceasefire met with resistance from an unyielding Benjamin Netanyahu, they also stem from the United States' overall disengagement from the issue over the past two decades. Biden now is seeking to re-engage in the Israel-Palestine matter, yet it is Qatar that is the primary broker for significant negotiations such as the release of hostages in exchange for a ceasefire —a situation the United States lacks the leverage to enforce.

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