The Israeli government launched a military offensive on the Gaza Strip today, which killed a leading Hamas official. But, unconventionally, Israel used Twitter to break the news, instead of traditional outlets.
The attack targeted Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari, who was the head of the Hamas military. Next to the head of Hamas, Jabari was probably the senior-most member in the Hamas hierarchy.
At 7:17 am EST, Avital Leibovich, the international press spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces' (IDF) tweeted:
— Avital Leibovich (@AvitalLeibovich) November 14, 2012
Shortly after, the official Twitter account of the IDF followed, announcing that they have begun an operation on terror sites and leaders in the Gaza Strip.
However, the official press release didn't come until an hour later. Not only did the IDF use Twitter, but they used other social media sites as well, even before their official press release. The IDF used Flickr to upload pictures of the operation, and also uploaded a video of the airstrike on Youtube, which you can see here. Why did the IDF choose to use Twitter and other social media websites instead of contacting reporters or news outlets and telling them? Avital Leibovich, head of the International Media & Communications Branch of the Israel Defense Forces Spokespersons Unit and international press spokesperson, spoke to iDigitalTimes regarding their decision. "We have realized that the interactive media is war zone and decided to engage maximum audiences through a variety of platforms: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, a blog and a website. We operate in a few languages-English French,Arabic,Russian,Spanish,and Hebrew." Leibovich also elaborated on the importance of sites like Youtube and Flickr, which allows users to post videos and pictures. She said, "Video clips are important to our [social media] activity and we have some prepared in advance."
There are other reasons that using sites like Twitter have both positive and negative repercussions. It could be useful to alert civilians located in the Gaza Strip, to notify them that an engagement is underway and to seek protection. It could even possibly lower civilian casualties and injuries. Amnesty International reported that since November 8th, at least 5 Palestinian civilians have been killed and 50 more injured. Palestinian groups fired more than 120 rockets in retaliation on November 10 and 12th, which were not aimed at military locations, but just fired at random towards Israel. Luckily, only 4 injuries were reported. BBC's Jon Williams, their Foreign editor, tweeted that the 11-month-old son of a BBC employee was killed in Gaza in today's strike. Using sites like Twitter could help civilians become more aware of ongoing operations and could save lives. We asked Leibovich to comment on whether or not the IDF considered protecting civilian casualties when they tweeted out their operation, but, unfortunately, she could not be reached before this was published.
However, there are strategic problems that using social media could lead to. How can one make sure Hamas leaders and strategists aren't following the IDF on Twitter, and were tipped off when the IDF tweeted about their operation? When asked about any security concerns the IDF had about using social media sites to discuss ongoing operations, Leibovich made it clear that the security of the mission was of the utmost importance. "Naturally we take field security into consideration when supplying information."
The combat has even moved from battlefield to social media sites. Gizmodo reported that both the IDF and al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, used Twitter to threaten each other. Initially, the official IDF Twitter account tweeted, "We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead." Then, al-Qassam Brigades replied at the IDF, saying, "Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves)." Avital Leibovich was asked about the Twitter battle between the two groups, but, she didn't respond before publication.
Operation Pillars of Defense and the IDF took out the head of the Hamas military, but their influence didn't stop there. By outlining their military operation on Twitter throughout the day, the IDF has changed the way we perceive news. No longer will we have to rely on news outlets, instead, we can get news straight from the source, right from their Twitter accounts.
You can watch the video of Israel's airstrike on al-Jabari, the Hamas head of military, below.
Stay tuned for more developments on the Israel-Palestine conflict in the Gaza Strip on iDigitalTimes