‘Pyromaniacs who spout nonsense’: Ex-IDF spokesman blames ministers for war’s bad PR

British-born Peter Lerner says government’s lack of planning for Gaza’s future left him rhetorically unarmed for foreign press as post-Oct. 7 ‘leeway of legitimacy’ faded away

Screen capture from undated video of IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. (res.) Peter Lerner. (YouTube. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from undated video of IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. (res.) Peter Lerner. (YouTube. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A former military spokesperson for foreign media accused the government of “helping Hamas directly” by repeatedly sabotaging Israel’s public relations efforts throughout the war in Gaza.

Lt. Col. (res.) Peter Lerner, who returned to the IDF to serve in a reserve capacity after October 7, made the comments in an interview with the Haaretz daily published Friday. The newspaper said that Lerner, who was born in Britain, was interviewed over 750 times in foreign media during the war before ending his stint in June.

According to Lerner, Israel’s international standing dropped precipitously in that time. He accused the government of failing to meet the challenge and blamed specific ministers for actively sabotaging Israel’s media strategy.

Lerner said Israel’s war in Gaza enjoyed a “leeway of legitimacy” in the days after October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israel to kill nearly 1,200 people and take over 250 hostages.

“There is a sentence I repeated again and again, and at that time it really was true: ‘Decent countries and decent nations are on our side,'” Lerner told Haaretz of the war’s early days.

As the army’s ground offensive progressively devastated Gaza, Israel’s public relations took a hit. But the main difficulty, Lerner said, was Israel’s own government.

The former army spokesperson named two specific problems: the government’s failure to formulate a strategy for postwar Gaza; and ministers who purposely made belligerent statements to curry favor with their voters.

Lerner said that formulating a strategy for postwar Gaza was not the army’s job.

“But I, as a spokesperson, started fielding questions on the subject already on October 10: What are your goals, what are you trying to achieve, what are your plans for the future?” Lerner said.

“And very soon I understood that I haven’t the answers to these questions — not because they haven’t decided, but because they’re just never going to decide,” Lerner added, likening himself to an armed guard with no bullets.

Nor did Lerner mince words about government ministers, whom he called “a bunch of pyromaniacs who spout nonsense.”

Among these were Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu, who said an atom bomb was “one way” to handle Gaza; Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, who proudly said that Israel was carrying out a “Nakba” — the Palestinian phrase for what they see as the “disaster” of Israel’s founding in 1948 and the subsequent flight of many Arabs — in Gaza; and Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel, whose office drafted a report on displacing Gaza’s residents.

The government has repeatedly come under fire for the collapse of its public diplomacy, or “Hasbara.” A Channel 12 report in June revealed the sorry state of Israel’s Public Diplomacy Directorate. The body was said to be left almost without staff after failing to pay salaries.

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