Friday, November 16, 2012
Hamas Shoots Rockets at Tel Aviv, Tweeting Every Barrage
On day one of the fight between Israel and Hamas, the Israeli Defense Forces executed a top leader of the militant group — and took to Twitter and YouTube to brag about it. On day two, the Palestinian group hit back, launching its most sophisticated rockets and announcing every new barrage on social media.
The counteroffensive is a major change from the last time the IDF and Hamas battled, during 2009′s “Operation Cast Lead.” Then, the Palestinian militant movement used improvised rocket-launchers to dump crude rockets on the Israeli towns nearest to Gaza. Their information warfare campaign was similarly primitive. Today, Hamas is armed with relatively sophisticated Iranian Fajr-5 rockets, firing them at Israel’s largest city, and tweeting that the rockets are causing havoc in Tel Aviv.
It’s a claim the IDF disputes. But an Israeli spokesperson adds that residents of central Israel should prepare for a night that “won’t be calm.” Tel Aviv — which hasn’t been hit by hostile projectiles since Saddam Hussein launched his Scuds during the 1991 Gulf War — may not stay protected for long. “1 million citizens in #Israel slept in bomb shelters tonight, barraged by dozens of rockets from #Gaza,” the IDF Tweeted.
A big reason why: the Fajr-5 rocket. Built by Iran — possibly with Russian and Chinese help — the rockets were first shipped through Syria to the Hezbollah militant group in 2002. Today, an unknown number are now in the hands of Hamas. (Presumably, that’s thanks in part to a porous border between southern Gaza and the Sinai, now controlled by the new Islamist regime in Egypt.) The rocket is liquid-fueled, has an estimated 45-mile range, and is fired from a mobile launcher. And while it’s more powerful than anything Hamas had before, it’s still unguided and not particularly accurate — the rocket could land anywhere within a one-kilometer radius of its target. But where the Fajr-5 is short on accuracy, it’s a significant boost in destructive power: the rocket can lob up to 200 pounds of high explosives.
The Israeli military claims to have destroyed dozens of the rockets. But as this video uploaded to the Twitter account of Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades shows, the stockpile hasn’t been exhausted entirely.
When the Israeli Defense Forces began on Wednesday “Operation Pillar of Defense” — the largest assault on Gaza in more than three years — the IDF aggressively liveblogged, tweeted and uploaded a stream of updates to social media sites. In particular, the IDF instantly boasted on social media about the slaying of Ahmed al-Jabari, one of Hamas’ best-known leaders. The head of the group’s military wing since the Second Intifada of the early 2000s, Jabari has been blamed by the Israelis for the deaths of countless citizens and for the kidnapping of the young soldier Gilad Shalit.
In part, the hyper-pugnacious social media push is a reaction to how Israel’s earlier wars were portrayed. During 2009′s Cast Lead and 2006′s war with Hezbollah, “there was no shining victory that Israel could hold up from either attack. There was nothing big you could point to — like how Obama said he got [Osama] bin Laden,” a former member of the IDF media team tells Danger Room. “Here you have Jabari, and have these Fajr missiles. It’s a way to show to the world a clear victory, and a way to keep the stock high with the [Israeli] elections coming up in January.”
Not to be outdone, Hamas has also taken to social media to publicize its rocket and mortar attacks, which it is calling “Operation Shale Stones.” And just like the IDF and Jabari, the al-Qassam brigades tweet when Israeli casualties are reported. “Enemy admits of killing 3 Zionists and injuring 3 others by Palestinian resistance shelling,” the Brigades tweeted at 4:29 a.m.
On Twitter, Israel sought to sway global public opinion with the hashtag #IsraelUnderFire. Hamas and their supporters responded with #GazaUnderAttack along with variations in different languages. These hashtags are also sometimes combined with #FreeGaza and the more militant #Resistance hashtag, and Hamas adds the hashtag #ShaleStones for military updates. And both sides are fighting over control of #Gaza.
It’s important to note that – like Israel’s social media offensive – Hamas’ version is intended as propaganda. A photo of a wounded child tweeted by the Brigades appeared online more than a month ago on the Facebook page of a French-language anti-Assad group. Another photo of Gaza explosions uploaded to the Facebook page of Hamas-affiliated news website Felesteen appeared digitally manipulated. We may be entering a new phase of social media war. But just like in the conflicts of the past, truth is often an early casualty.