Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Psychological warfare on the digital battlefield

Cyber attacks, battling social media, and bogus text messages are all contemporary weapons in Operation Pillar of Defense.

Israel's campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip is being conducted in the air as well as over the airwaves. But on this front, the Palestinians are fighting with at least one hand tied behind their backs.

There has been no other case in the history of modern warfare where one side controls all the communication infrastructure of the other, as is the case here. All of Gaza's telephone networks and internet servers go through Israel; every phone conversation and email is rooted through Israeli territory and from there sent on through underwater fiber-optic cables to the rest of the world.

Israel hasn't cut Gazans off, technologically, from the outside world for a number of reasons. The official one is to not cause unnecessary harm to the civilian population. Beyond that, the security establishment doesn't want to relinquish the intelligence opportunities from having access to Gaza's communications. Plus, there's the PR consideration to not create a media blackout which would allow rumors of a humanitarian crisis to percolate.

The control over the telephone networks also allows the IDF to issue warnings to specific homes which, according to intelligence, are being used to store arms or serve as local Hamas command posts. Civilians in these homes are called and warned that they are about to be bombed and should leave immediately. From reports in Gaza, these phone-calls were specific and much more focused than in Operation Cast Lead four years ago, when nearly all the civilians in Gaza received phone-calls giving them a general warning not to be caught near Hamas facilities and the firing zone.

The networks in Gaza are managed through the Palestinian Authority's Telecommunications Ministry along with the Israeli Defense Ministry's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and includes allocations of wavelengths to mobile phone operators, radio and television stations. On Sunday, Israel burst into broadcasts of Gazan television and radio, broadcasting warnings in Arabic to residents to avoid Hamas bases and the border area. These interruptions were an addition to the hundreds of thousands leaflets containing similar warnings released from fighter-jets. More Behine Pay-wall unfortunatly.