As the fog of war begins to lift, or rather the heavy layer of Hamas disinformation, it appears increasingly clear that it was not a hospital that was hit in Gaza but a hospital parking lot, that the death toll was likely in the dozens not the hundreds, and that the culprit was not the IDF but a faulty rocket fired by Islamic Jihad.
And that Hamas knew this very quickly, and nevertheless worked very quickly to disseminate the “Israel to blame” narrative.
It was right and necessary for the IDF to thoroughly investigate before Spokesman Daniel Hagari stated definitively — albeit more than three hours after the blast at Gaza’s al-Ahli hospital — that Israel was not responsible for the horrifying death and destruction there on Tuesday night, and vital, many hours later, that he held an English-briefing and released materials to underpin the Israeli account.
“They shot [the rocket] from the cemetery behind the hospital,” an alleged Hamas member tells another in a call intercepted by the IDF and released by Hagari. “And it misfired and fell on them.”
IDF releases a recording of an intercepted phone call between two Hamas operatives who discuss the failed Islamic Jihad rocket that landed on the Gaza hospital. pic.twitter.com/ozoXclXLxDGet The Times of Israel's Daily Edition by email and never miss our top storiesBy signing up, you agree to the terms
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) October 18, 2023
It would have been still more admirable if Hagari had had the presence of mind, as soon as the Hamas false claims of Israeli responsibility began to percolate and the IDF began investigating, to state that the Israeli military does not target hospitals or deliberately fire on civilians, and that it seeks to minimize civilian fatalities even as it attempts to defang the terrorist groups who operate from within the civilian population.
But Hagari was apparently battling valiantly alone on the public diplomacy front. The Israeli government’s public diplomacy directorate, if there even is such a thing, was silent for hours. Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor any competent political leader found 30 seconds to record a brief English-language statement assuring the world that Israel does not bomb hospitals and would quickly ascertain what had actually happened. And when the Foreign Ministry belatedly stepped in with its own statement, it appended a video ostensibly showing the deadly rocket fire in question but patently showing a different incident, which it then had to delete.
Nothing Israel has to say about the hospital blast, no matter how carefully checked and demonstrably accurate, would prompt Hamas and the terror groups to withdraw their “Israel did it” falsehoods, nor reduce the anti-Israel fury in Gaza, nor much temper the anti-Israel hysteria in much of the region and those parts of the international leadership and world public that immediately blame Israel for all this area’s ills.
But at least the IDF has given those who were prepared to suspend judgment a properly investigated narrative of what actually happened — underlining what effective public diplomacy can do.
Nobody should be surprised that an Islamic Jihad rocket fell short and wound up killing Gazans. Some 450 rockets, aimed to kill Israelis, have landed short, inside Gaza, since war broke out 11 days ago, the IDF says. And nobody should be remotely surprised that Hamas, focused on harming Israel and indifferent to the fate of Gazans, would energetically peddle a false narrative.
The wider fact of the matter, of course, is that Israel and Hamas are engaged in a bitter, deadly conflict because, on October 7, something in the order of 2,500 Hamas terrorists burst through the Gaza border into Israel and killed over 1,300 Israelis, 1,000 of them civilians, with thoroughly documented unspeakable cruelty. They entered, that is, from a territory on which Israel has no presence and stakes no claims, into our ostensibly undisputed sovereign state, and slaughtered our people.
Given that Hamas states openly that it seeks to destroy Israel altogether, is allied with a far more powerful Hezbollah terrorist army in Lebanon that says the same, and is backed by the regime in Iran that also avowedly aims for Israel’s elimination, Israel has necessarily determined that Hamas must be prevented from attempting anything like this again and therefore must be destroyed as a military force, with the further imperative to deter our other enemies.
It is outrageous that Israel, the victim of the horrific October 7 attack, needs to take the utmost care to muster the most effective public diplomacy effort when it is manifestly seeking to prevent still further harm to its people by tackling the murderous aggressors. But the public opinion battlefield is, in many ways, at least as important as the actual conflict zone. If the battle for world hearts and minds is not properly fought, the room for military maneuver on the ground will quickly become constrained.
Terrified by the Arab street, fearful for their own regimes, Israel’s Arab partners and potential partners — in Egypt, Jordan, the West Bank and in the Gulf — immediately capitulated to the false Hamas narrative. Condemnations of Israel poured in. King Abdullah of Jordan canceled the planned four-way summit with Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and the visiting US President Joe Biden.
What is vital, now, is that Israel hold its nerve. And that Biden, his visit to the warzone always fraught with dangers and now upended by the cancellation of the Jordan summit, hold his too.
Evidently persuaded of the veracity of Israel’s narrative, it was crucial that Biden publicly endorsed it, as he broadly did, on arrival, when sitting with Netanyahu — “Based on what I’ve seen, it appears it was done by the other team, and not you,” he said — so that the international community better appreciates the Gaza terrorists’ indifference to civilian life, the cynicism of their propaganda, and Israel’s determined morality even as it fights this fateful war. And so that as much as possible of the clearheaded world maintains its support for Israel, and thus gives Israel maximal room for maneuver.
As Biden added, “There’s a lot of people out there who are not sure. So we’ve gotta overcome a lot of things.”
This is a war that Israel needs to win, to prevent a recurrence of October 7, to deter other enemies, and to restore the Israeli public’s confidence in the ability of our political and military leadership to protect us. To prevent our enemies from making life literally unlivable in our own land.
As Netanyahu told the visiting German Chancellor Scholz on Tuesday night, Hamas “would have killed every last one of us, murdered every last one of us if they could.” And we can be certain that the immensely more powerful Hezbollah and Iran would do the same, if they thought they could.
Israel needs to ensure they are denied that capability. Israel needs to defang Hamas. Israel needs to hold its nerve.
This requires not only immense clearheadedness, bravery and determination on the battlefield, but also integrity, skill and alacrity in explaining what is taking place there. Where the Israeli government’s public diplomacy effort was, as ever, missing in action, the IDF, to its credit, moved this time to fill the vacuum.
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