If the flurry of activity on Twitter and Instagram is anything to go by, a new front has opened up in the re-heating conflict between Israel and Hamas. Just as unpredictable — though not as bloody — as its conventional war counterpart, social media is playing an increasingly important role in the Middle East’s most enduring public relations war.
Only minutes after assassinating the leader of Hamas’ military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, the official Twitter account for the Israeli Defence Forces @idfspokesperson declared: “The IDF has begun a widespread campaign on terror sites & operatives in the #Gaza Strip, chief among them #Hamas & Islamic Jihad targets.”
The IDF has followed up with tweets announcing that “All options are on the table” and that they would be “ready to initiate a ground operation in Gaza” if necessary. Originating in the IDF’s two month-old “Interactive Media” branch, the Israelis’ tweets have been making liberal use of the #IsraelUnderFire hashtag and slick, shareable graphics and photos:
And Israel isn’t the only one using Twitter to its advantage — Hamas has been waging its own PR war. Responding to an IDF tweet warning Hamas militants not to “show their faces above ground in the days ahead”, Hamas’ account @AlqassamBrigade warned that Israel has “Opened Hell Gates” on itself.
Hamas has also been tweeting photos of those injured in Israeli attacks, claiming that the death toll so far sits at “19 martyrs including 6 children”.
But while rockets are being fired in both directions, many of Israel’s young military recruits appear surprisingly unconcerned. Buzzfeed has documented the bizarre phenomenon of IDF personnel posting wartime photos on Instagram:
“#me #army #צבא”
“We’re coming for you gaza! #idf #igers #israel #igdaily #ig_israel #instagood #instamood #iphonesia #iphoneonly #picoftheday #ohb #all_shots #s-xy #follow #gmy #gang_family #jj #cute #beautiful #me #webstagram #tbt”
And an incident featuring the Twitter account of Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu has shown just how delicate and unpredictable internet diplomacy can be. Immediately after tweeting that he wanted to thank Obama “for his unequivocal clear sided support for Israel’s right to defend itself”, Netanyahu’s office deleted the tweet. Buzzfeed‘s Andrew Kaczynski managed to get a screenshot:
Attempting to understand why it was so promptly deleted, The Guardian speculated: “Some commenters have detected a note of sarcasm in the deleted Netanyahu tweet.” In the touchy world of international politics, it’s difficult to tell if the tweet represents genuine thanks or an effort to pressure the Obama administration into more overt support.
But The Guardian seems to think that there may be nothing to it, after all: “the tweet may have been deleted because ‘clear sided’ doesn’t really make sense; it’s ‘clear’ or ‘one-sided.'”