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Israel Army Unit Waging Internet Battle

Dec. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Israel’s army is recruiting soldiers for a new unit that is waging a virtual public relations
battle on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to improve the military’s image.

“Because of the platform you can get a lot of information out relatively easily,” said Sergeant Aliza Landes, who
heads the unit. “The Internet, and especially social networks, Web 2.0 and bloggers, are an increasingly important
and powerful way to disseminate information.”

Israel first began seriously using the Internet as a public-relations tool during a three-week military initiative in
the Gaza Strip that began on Dec. 27 to stop rocket attacks on its southern towns and cities. The army launched a
YouTube channel that month and broadcast footage of air force attacks on Gaza targets, including one of a missile
aborted once officers realized civilians were in the area.

A unit dedicated to Internet publicity was officially formed in September and we “continue to grow and invest in
manpower and resources,” Major Erik Snider, an army spokesman, said by telephone. “It is absolutely important
for the Israeli army to be out there. There are few armies around the world that receive the scrutiny and attention
that the Israeli military does.”

Individual video views on the army’s YouTube channel have reached more than 8.5 million people, Landes said.
On Twitter, the army has 1,485 followers. It recently started a blog and will soon launch an official presence on
Facebook.

Galvanized by Gaza

“There was awareness before Cast Lead that this was an area where the Israeli army spokesman’s office should
get involved and the Gaza operation galvanized the effort,” Landes said in a telephone interview, referring to the
Gaza conflict. “What we are doing right now is a starting point.”

Palestinians said 1,434 Gaza residents were killed during the 22-day Gaza operation. Israel put the number of
Palestinian deaths at 1,166 and said 13 Israelis died in the violence. A United Nations panel headed by South
African judge Richard Goldstone has found that Israel and the Islamic Hamas group that rules Gaza committed
war crimes in the fighting.

The UN General Assembly on Nov. 5 voted 114 to 18, with 44 abstentions, to adopt a non-binding resolution
calling for Israeli and Palestinian authorities to launch independent investigations of the fighting within three
months.
Public Relations Benefit

The new unit “will be beneficial” to the Israeli public relations campaign abroad, said Jonathan Spyer, a political
scientist at Israel’s Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. “Whether or not it will make a massive difference at the end
of the day in how Israel will be perceived, that I am more skeptical about,” he said.

The most recent action for the army’s Internet social network unit came during last month’s naval interception of
a ship heading for Syria. Israel said it seized an unprecedented 500-ton haul of weapons from Iran intended for
the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.

Landes and her soldiers made sure bloggers, whom she calls “a very critical and key element” of her work, were
getting the same information the traditional media received. “I want to make sure they can write with the same
sort of authority,” she said.

The army so far has formed relationships with about 50 bloggers, primarily in Israel and the U.S.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the arms shipment a war crime and called on the UN to
address the smuggled weapons and not the Goldstone report on Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip.

“This is not just about addressing misinformation, although that is an important aspect,” said Snider. “This is also
a way to engage a target audience and have a dialogue with people around the world.