Monday, July 28, 2014

A comment on military abilities on display in Gaza

A few days ago the media was full of allegations that the IDF had shelled a school in Beit Hanoun, Gaza. 15 civilians were allegedly killed. In an improvement over past practice, the IDF didn't respond with a quick apology. Instead, it came out with an immediate response that essentially said "we don't think it was us, we certainly weren't aiming at the school, we think Hamas forces were active there, and we'll check and get back to you."

In a world of Twitter and its like, news needs to be less than four minutes old to be of interest; saying you'll investigate and come back isn't compelling. So all the usual suspects had a field day lambasting Israel for its inhumane cruelty (CiFWatch has a roundup of the UK culprits).

A few days passed and the IDF came back with their results. Yes, there had been fighting in the area. Yes, one errant IDF shell had even hit the schoolyard. But No, it hadn't killed anyone, because the yard was empty at the time, and here's the video of the event to prove our position, with a link to the Youtube segment. In a move that surprised no-one, the media wasn't interested in this IDF version. (CiFWatch tried to catch their attention but to no avail).

My point is about the documentation of reality, not the distortions of malicious media outlets. How is it that Israel just happened to have an aerial film of that particular building? If it has, why wait 3 days to show it? Is there more?

The full answer will go to the archives once the war is over, and will be declassified only in decades. No army in history would throw open its raw military intelligence data, for multiple obvious reasons. Yet even the little the IDF does show demonstrates that it's collecting an awesome amount if it, and is using it to direct its actions with as much care as the battlefield allows. There have been reports in the media that every shell shot by the IDF is tracked to ascertain it does what it was meant to do. I don't know if that's true, but the ability to procure a film of a random event the media is interested indicates it may be.

This capacity puts most of the immediate reporting of events in an interesting position: reporters tell what they see, through the lens of how they understand the world. But there's a second, documented version they know nothing about. A collapsed building, for example, is clearly collapsed, but how it came to be collapsed, at the hands of whom: these can be at best a matter of speculation for the cameraman who chances by a week or a month later; all the while, the IDF may well have full documentation of the event.

In the immediate term, the media has all the advantages except for the truth. Having extensive data, however, is important. It indicates that the IDF decision makers, local and tactical ones, generals and political leaders, are informed actors. They may not show us all their information, but we pretend they're mindless atavistic or blinded, at our own peril.

It is also of profound importance for Israelis, soon to round off their first entire century at war, to know that their side is doing its best. If Israelis had to understand their reality through the sole lens of the international media, they would probably long since have been demoralized into submission, as many of their erstwhile supporters abroad are. The first- or second-hand information about what's really going on, even if it never makes its way into the media, coupled by the understanding of the distance between strident media reports and reality, these are a source of long-term resilience which can't be bettered as a weapon of war.

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