A view to kill

YOU don’t see the missile coming, no matter how many times you watch the attack on YouTube. The grey car glides along a Gaza street at night, filmed from above rooftops and circled in bright yellow by the Israeli military to aid the viewer. Six seconds into the 10-second clip it explodes, spraying out smoke and flames, metal and burnt rubber on camera.

The Israeli Defence Forces live-blogged and tweeted video of this deadly assault on the Gaza strip early Thursday morning, alongside a movie-style poster of Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari with the word “Eliminated”.

Two hours later it retweeted the video of its fatal strike on the Hamas military leader “in case you missed it”. By last night more than 647,000 people had watched the video online.

In so doing, Israel opened an aggressive new social media front in a long war – sparking fears of an escalation of conflict in the Middle East.

Israel had announced, via Twitter, the military operation on “terror sites and operatives in the #Gaza Strip”. The Israeli army also promoted its “Operation Pillar of Defense” on Facebook and Flickr. After killing Jabari, it tweeted a warning to his comrades to not “show their faces above ground in the days ahead”.

The al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, responded by tweeting: “You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves”.

“We’re entering a new dimension of warfare,” said Australian defence intelligence specialist Clive Williams.

“I think in the future other countries will do the same thing because they have so many different options these days of putting out the message,” said Mr Williams, a professor at Macquarie University.

“All countries want to control the media, it’s the whole point of embedding journalists in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is a lot more effective if you can actually put a message out to people directly.”

He said Hamas had released video online in the past of its rockets firing on Israeli targets.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the military was “prepared to expand” its operation, which was prompted by a wave of rocket attacks against Israel. Its ground forces are on standby to enter the Hamas-run Gaza Strip after the army said it had hit more than 100 “targets” in the besieged coastal territory. Gaza’s health ministry said 10 civilians had been killed, including two young children.

Hamas vowed its militants would “continue the path of resistance” and last night, Israeli television reported that three people had been killed after a rocket struck their apartment in their country’s south.

Responses on social media to Israel’s strikes on the Gaza strip were mixed. Some revelled in the opportunity to watch Jabari’s final moments.

Others compared the Israeli Defence Forces website, where users can earn army badges by “liking” its material on Facebook, to a “cut-rate video game advertisement”.

The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council’s executive director Colin Rubenstein defended the decision to post video of the Israeli airstrike online.

“I think it’s very important to explain to all and sundry the incessant rocket attacks on Israel over weeks and months and years,” he said. “I think Israeli authorities are concerned that the international community should be effectively informed what they are up against and why they have acted this way.”

Ironically, al-Qaeda was first to exploit the shocking power of social media’s unmediated message. The United States typically withholds footage of strikes on suspected militants. The only live tweets of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in 2011 were from a bystander in Abbottabad.

A public outcry followed the release of video by Wikileaks in 2010 of a US helicopter crew launching an air strike that killed a dozen people in Baghdad in 2007.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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