We typically design physical operations first, then craft supporting information operations to explain our actions. This is the reverse of al-Qaida’s approach. For all our professionalism, compared to the enemy’s, our public information is an afterthought. In military terms, for al-Qaida the ‘main effort’ is information; for us, information is a ‘supporting effort.
David Kilcullen, Countering the Terrorist Mentality, New Paradigms for 21st Century Conflict
In the late 1990s with the advent of massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGS), one of the early challenges that game developers and game masters faced was to generate expected behavior patterns from the mass of players that were flocking to these early games at the time. Large communities playing in these graphics based environments was a new phenomenon that many programmers did not have experience in dealing with, and it was initially difficult for the programmers to associate the impact their content would have on the larger gaming community. Sometime in 1999-2000 time frame, the process of programmers developing content to create expected behavior patterns by players within these massive online gaming communities was affectionately termed “Herding Cats.”
Manipulation of mass media for political influence is both art and science, and represents a psychological warfare capability that non-state actors and political non-government organizations continue to demonstrate remarkable skill and mastery. On May 28th, before the intercept of the Gaza flotilla by Israeli Defense Forces, the Christian Science Monitor ran a story with the headline Why Israel expects to lose the PR war. In the article, expectations of defeat are expressed before the intercept of the flotilla even began.
“We know one thing for sure, in the media we are going to lose the war anyhow,” says Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for Israel’s Defense Ministry. “It doesn’t matter what we do, if we let them into Gaza, they will speak against Israel. If we stop them it will also be a bad picture.”
What I find remarkable is the fatality of the operation expressed in the article. The expectation established in the information space was one of defeat – before the operation even began. If you read the article in full, you will note how the NGO narrative had already been established before the incident, indeed the conclusion in the article is how “The protesters could keep the story prominent in the international media if they fight deportation.” Noteworthy, the protesters are doing exactly that today by withholding their identities.
Whether one believes Israel has a chance to win the information war or not is almost irrelevant, the question I have is why Israel didn’t even try to compete in the information war? The videos that show the actions by the Gaza Flotilla are certainly powerful, but those videos arrived after the NGO had already established the narrative, and the release of the videos was hardly part of a coordinated effort. Indeed, understanding that the battlefield is the information space should give Israel the advantage in developing their operation – but there is little evidence that supports this is evident?
Consider for a moment – the operation that was executed involved fast roping Israels premier anti-terrorism commando unit, armed with paint guns, directly into an angry mob at night that had repeatedly expressed their intention to either run the blockade or generate a confrontation for information purposes – and the intelligence assessment used to develop this operation expected little resistance? There was failure in the tactics for boarding, failure in choosing the equipment used by the boarding party, and a massive failure in intelligence. It is hard to expect anything but failure in the information war as well – and sure enough…fail.
If you believe the Gaza Flotilla is an information operation intended to herd the cats of mass media into a narrative – which is what I believe is the ultimate intention of the NGO effort here – then we can presume to already know the narrative of the second flotilla. The NGO desires a clash on June 8th. Why? Because by creating a clash on June 8th the mass media can be expected to include a reminder of the anniversary of the USS Liberty incident 43 years ago as part of the narrative. We can expect the NGO to fortify the ship in ways that prevent the use of cameras from other ships or aircraft. Why? Because cameras from helicopters and Israeli ships represent a greater threat than the actual IDF commandos do – if you believe the battlefield is the information space. The ship will be more fortified internally? Why? Because the open space of the open deck favors the Israelis, but the small compartments of the ship favor the defenders in creating opportunities to control camera angles and perception of events to onlookers thousands of miles away.
The battlefield off the coast of Israel is in the information space, not the Mediterranean Sea. The weapons that matter most to the Free Gaza Movement are cameras, not firearms or paint guns. Political protests at sea can be defined in their basic form as a political strategy for maritime information war operations – thus to quote Sun Tzu, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy. Instead, Israel blundered with every step right into the enemy’s strategy.