Hamas Disinformation Campaign Aims To Pressure Israel, Embarrass Palestinian Authority
Conflicting comments about potential prisoner-swap construed as propaganda intended to influence Israeli public opinion while reinforcing terror group’s “resistance” bona fides
Charles Bybelezer/The Media Line
Just hours after some 10,000 Palestinians staged mass riots along the Gaza Strip border in the latest weekly instalment of the so-called March of Return protests, a report surfaced that Israeli government representatives indirectly contacted Hamas officials in a bid to renew discussions over a possible prisoner-exchange deal.
The terror group appears, though, to be playing a double-game by issuing contradictory statements regarding the article in the London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, which quoted sources in Gaza as saying that Jerusalem had expressed “a strong willingness to reach [a prisoner] accord ahead of the [April 9] elections, in light of the drop in support of [Prime Minister] Binyamin Netanyahu in the polls.”
Shortly thereafter, a Hamas spokesperson backtracked completely, claiming instead that “Israel is unwilling to carry out a new prisoner swap, though the issue is a top priority [for us].”
According to Dr. Anat Hochberg-Marom, an expert on terrorist propaganda and its impact on public opinion, “Hamas has an interest in spreading ‘fake news’ but that this is done very rationally and with specific goals in mind. Through media manipulation, Hamas can mold its image to its liking by framing messages—real or otherwise—to target audiences.
“There is a kind of artistry in the power of language and Hamas is very pragmatic and professional in its approach,” she elaborated to The Media Line. “Sometimes this entails numerous voices making contradictory statements but this should nevertheless be viewed as a delicate scheme with [a clearly-defined end-game].”
Hamas has for years engaged in a concerted and sophisticated disinformation campaign aimed at generating discord not only within Netanyahu’s governing coalition, in addition to the broader political arena, but also among the electorate which today is overwhelming averse to any lopsided prisoner-exchanges.
The terror group has been holding Israelis Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed since 2014, the same year soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul were killed in the enclave during the 50-day war and whose remains are cynically being used by Hamas as a bargaining chip to force the release of every Palestinian re-incarcerated in Israel—some for murderous crimes—after being freed in the now-infamous Gilad Shalit deal.
“My professional instinct is that Hamas is utilizing the current tense political situation in Israel in order to pressure the government to make concessions, possibly pulling the ‘hostage lever’ in order to improve the humanitarian conditions in Gaza,” Yoram Schweitzer, head of the Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, conveyed to The Media Line.
“There is also a psychological dimension and Hamas has been using this [(dis)information warfare] tactic to affect public opinion,” he continued, “including by playing on the nerves of the families [of the captives] which at times have been critical of the government.”
Adding to speculation regarding Hamas’ deceit is its failure to get basic facts straight, foremost that polls consistently show Netanyahu winning 30-32 seats in the next parliament (as opposed to the claim that his popularity is dropping). Another red flag is that the premier is perhaps the politician most finely attuned to public opinion and is therefore undoubtedly cognizant that further concessions to Hamas—this, after he agreed in November to a highly unpopular cease-fire that includes Qatari-sponsored $15-million cash-infusions into Gaza’s coffers—is liable to enrage his base and thus damage him politically ahead of the upcoming vote.
Meanwhile, other observers note that an attempt by Israel and Hamas to incorporate a prisoner-swap into that truce deal failed because neither party was willing to give an inch. That the prevailing circumstances remain essentially identical gives little reason to believe that either side has significantly altered its calculus in the intervening period.
“The mass media is used—or should I say abused—by all parties in the Middle East in order to maintain pressure on their opponents, and Israel is not innocent in this regard,” Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Research Associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University, explained to The Media Line.
“In terms of the dynamic in Gaza, there are actually three [relevant] players: Israel, Hamas and [Mahmoud Abbas’ West-Bank-based] Palestinian Authority. Much of what Hamas tells the media is aimed less at Israel but, rather, meant to embarrass the PA. Both sides try to de-legitimize the other to show that one is more loyal to the Palestinian cause, in this case regarding prisoners.”
Most experts agree that Hamas—designated a terrorist group by the West—has mastered techniques at garnering international attention and sympathy. This, even as it continues to pay “human shields” to face potential Israeli live-fire along the border as part of months-long demonstrations that have as a declared aim destroying the Jewish state by demographic means.
It stands, then, that Gaza’s rulers have the collective ear of much of the world, with their message amplified through advanced propaganda techniques. It is a reality, analysts stress, Israel will need to contend with and counter, irrespective of the fact that much of what Hamas communicates often contains little more than no substance.
MORE DETAILS AT: The Media Line
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