With the possibility of large-scale protests in the Gaza Strip and West Bank in favor of a Palestinian request for statehood recognition at the United Nations, the Israeli military says that it is ready to respond on social media with an “arsenal of tweets.”
Twitter and other forms of social media played a major role in mobilizing support for the Arab Spring protests across the Middle East and the toppling of governments.
“Should we need to intervene from a security prospective, we have prepared an arsenal of tweets, clips and other forms of content,” Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich told POLITICO. “We respond every day, 24/7. That’s the idea of new media, isn’t it?”
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit has a new media desk that is staffed by soldiers, reservists in times of emergency and a commander, who constantly monitor Twitter, influential blogs and other new media sources.
The IDF is also proactive on social media, with accounts on Twitter (in English, French and Arabic), the photo-sharing website Flickr and the video-posting website YouTube. “We just launched a [Facebook] page a month ago – now we have over 127,000 ‘friends,’” Leibovich bragged.
The new media operation has already been used in attempts to advance the image of the IDF. In March 2011, the IDF used Flickr to post photos of smuggled weaponry seized from a ship headed for the Gaza Strip, and YouTube to show video of the successful boarding. This was a counterexample to the Israeli military’s ill-fated 2010 boarding of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which led to the deaths of nine people and a severe deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations.
Of course, the IDF is also prepared for more conventional means of dealing with protests.
On Wednesday, tens of thousands of people marched in the West Bank towns of Nablus and Ramallah in a show of support for the Palestinian campaign for full membership at the United Nations, according to Al-Jazeera. All signs indicate that the demonstrations have been peaceful.
Social media has come to play a role in Israeli foreign policy as well. In March, Israel Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon visited the offices of Facebook in San Francisco to meet with the firm’s senior staff. That came just days after Facebook removed a group calling for a Third Intifada, or uprising, and a march to “liberate” Palestine.
But there have also been foul-ups resulting from social media – a West Bank military operation was called off last year after an Israeli soldier posted about an upcoming raid on Facebook.
(www.politico.com / 21.09.2011)