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The Public Relations war

Everyone knows of the existence of the conflict in Lebanon. What people know of it depends, to a large extent, on what news sources they rely on. I try to get some balance to what I read/see/hear by getting sources from both sides. I balance Israeli bloggers, such as An Unsealed Room, who seems to have shot into media prominence lately, with pro-Hezbolluh sources, such as the BBC. My basic take on the situation is this:

Hezbollah crossed the border into Israel, killing some soldiers and kidnapping others. Israel responded by bombing infrastructure targets. Hezbollah began launching missiles into Israel from Lebanon. Israel began launching air strikes at infrastructure and Hezbollah weapons sites.

Hopefully, readers of this site should be aware that anything they read will be tinged with various shades of bias and should be taken with a large-sized grain of salt. In fact, anything written here should be taken with a large-sized grain of salt. And preferably disagreed with whenever possible. Anyway, the above paragraph shows one possible description of the events, trying to keep as close to neutral tones as possible while still leaving in key facts. If I added in the word civillian a few more times, I can shift the apparent bias one way or another without any difficulty whatsoever. Personally, I think the above description probably sounds a little pro-Israeli when read without reference to the facts, but pro-Hezbolluh when read with them.

Which (belatedly) leads me on to the point of this post. Scarily, I don't think the outcome of the conflict will be determined by wrong or less wrong (I don't really want to use the word right when civillians are getting killed on both sides). Nor, in the end, will it be determined by military might. It seems the results will be determined by international opinion. Which would be fine except that international opinion is not necessarily guided by facts. Not helped when the mainstream media do what they also try to do: sell ads. And what sells ads (be it newspapers, or eyeballs on a screen) better than pictures of flattened buildings or dead children?

So the essential part of the conflict is the PR game. As an aside, the Palestinians have the game down-pat. No matter what the wrong that a Palestinian has done, a statement will always mention "The Israeli Occupation". Whether it is a suicide bomber in a playground, a gunman at a passover feast or violence in a soccer match, the words "The Israeli Occupation" will be there somewhere in any semi-official or official Palestinian response.

But the PR game is where Israel is in a no win position. Cry and moan and show the size of Israeli civillian casualties and the necessity of hiding in bomb shelters - Hezbollah gets a free kick in the "we have them on the run" legitimisation stakes, thereby strengthening them. Be stoic, don't use civillian casualties as propaganda tools - World Opinion sides against you as dead children are paraded in front of children. Again and again, in some cases.

And to be fair, Hezbollah is playing the PR game well. If I'd said to you two months ago that a terrorist organisation which the UN security council had order disarmed had launched a cross-border attack, killing or kidnaping soldiers, and then proceeded to shell the neighbouring country with about 100 missiles per day, you'd've said that the international community would be calling for them to be disarmed, and may even be thinking that UN forces would be coming to do the job. Or you'd've said that Israel is under attack again. If global rules worked the same way as the court system does - precedent is important - the rest of the world would be backing Israel to the hilt. Unfortunately, it doesn't. No other country would accept what Israel is enduring, and yet Israel is expected to.

Anyway, whether it is giving journalists guided tours, parading their dead women and children in front of cameras (does anyone else wonder why we never see dead men?) or faking a civillian catastrophe in Qana, Hezbollah is conducting a concerted, definite and somewhat cynical media campaign, and the world is giving them legitimacy from it.

Next, I think this is all said far better by another new blogging celebrity (who is a serious journalist who was thrust into the spotlight by the recent events).

Finally, two words which keep cropping up are ceasefire and disproportionate. Apparently, ceasefire means Israel stops and takes the Hezbollah attack without resistance or defence. Disproportionate is best said on this Egyptian blog, here.


Comment from Gelfen

Thought you might be interested in couple of other PR-oriented stories on this.

Lifting the Cover of the Hezbollah PR Effort

Faked Reuters images

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