IDF admits psychological warfare attempt against Israeli citizens

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The IDF has admitted that it engaged in “psychological warfare” during its military operation in Gaza in 2021 by using fake social media accounts to try to increase public awareness of its operational success in the Strip.

The IDF Spokesperson Unit, which acts as the army’s media arm tasked with coordinating domestic and international media campaigns, was found to have opened and operated a range of fake social media accounts in the opening days of the IDF’s operation Guardian of the Walls, of according to a revelation published on Wednesday in the newspaper Haaretz.

The fake accounts were reportedly designed to foster greater positivity among Israelis regarding the IDF’s activities in the Gaza Strip in response to the public’s lack of awareness regarding the military’s operational achievements.

In one example, a fake account was opened in the name of Moshe Vaknin on May 12, 2021, two days after the operation began. The account, which tweeted 27 times in three hours, posted videos and images of Israeli strikes in the Strip, all with the Hebrew hashtag #Gazaregrets.

Looking to garner more comments, Vaknin’s account commented on current posts from right-wing politicians such as a tweet from far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir saying “turn the Gaza neighborhood of Hamas villas into a parking lot.”

On that post, which is still online, the soldier who operated the account wrote, “Itamar, share this urgently so all Israel can see [that] #Gazaregrets,” alongside an image of a collapsed Gazan building.

Operation Wall Guardian was an 11-day military operation launched after the Hamas terrorist group fired missiles towards Jerusalem ahead of an ultra-nationalist flag march scheduled to parade through the Old City.

In total, Israel had fired 4,000 rockets from the curtain, including towards Tel Aviv, killing 14 civilians; 256 Gazans were killed, most of them members of terrorist organizations.

On the day Vaknin’s Twitter account was opened, a Facebook account was opened under the name Dana Lock, with a profile picture of a young girl, her back to the camera, covered in an Israeli flag.

For this reason, soldiers posted eight videos showing Israeli airstrikes on Hamas-controlled territory, with the caption “We will not remain silent! We are not suckers! #Gazarregets! Share!!!”

Videos were often posted in large Facebook groups, especially those calling for support for Benjamin Netanyahu.

In another tactic, the IDF Spokesperson Unit contacted popular social media accounts and asked them to share images and videos with their followers, Haaretz said.

On Instagram, soldiers are said to have asked the page @pazam_gram, which now has 206,000 followers, and the page @idftweets, which now has 264,000 followers, to share content provided by the IDF. In the early days of the IDF operation in Gaza, both accounts shared content that featured the #Gazaregrets campaign.

Haaretz said it could not establish whether the army paid the owners of those accounts for their services.

Mission accomplished?

The psychological warfare operation was ultimately unsuccessful, and almost all posts sent from fake accounts were ignored online. Only six authentic online accounts used the hashtag #Gazaregrets.

Despite the fact that its online campaign fell flat, the unit apparently received an internal award after the Guardian of the Walls operation for the “best operational campaign,” granted by the head of the media department of the IDF Spokesperson Unit.

The Iron Dome anti-missile system fires interceptor missiles towards rockets launched by terrorist groups from the Gaza Strip into Israel, over the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, during Operation Wall Guardian, May 16, 2021. (Avi Roccah/Flash90)

Responding to the Haaretz report, the IDF admitted to “setting up a limited number of accounts to increase exposure.”

“In retrospect, the use of these accounts, which were limited to a 24-hour period, was an error. It should be emphasized that this approach has not been used in the last two years. The Spokesperson’s Unit is committed to the truth and is as careful as possible to use only reliable and accurate information,” the statement said.

In the Gaza 2021 operation, the IDF came under heavy criticism for deliberately misleading the foreign press after telling reporters that soldiers were entering the Strip on foot.

The tactic was designed to force Hamas fighters into underground tunnels, which were then bombed by the Israeli Air Force.

Former IDF Spokesman Brigadier General Hidai Zilberman speaks at a ceremony where he took over for outgoing spokesman Brigadier General Ronen Manelis on September 15, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Afterwards, the IDF spokesman wrote the Maj. Gen. Hidai Zilberman to the foreign journalists, saying: “I apologize for the error. The IDF spokesman does not engage in psychological warfare; his role is nothing but to report the truth to the public.”

Under Israeli law, the IDF is prohibited from using psychological warfare tactics against civilians, although it is permitted to use them against enemy targets abroad.

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