As opposed to most countries, Israel fights defensive wars, and first must defend its very existence. The existence of a Jewish country is not taken for granted.
From this perspective, the second Lebanon War, which has been defined as a war to dispose of the threat of rocket fire at Israel, dismantle and disarm Hizbullah and to implement UN Security Council decision 1559 has been defined by the operative goals of the operation. But when Israel sets out to explain that it is fighting for its very existence, the main message must be that this is a war for our home.
In other words, this is not a war for Resolution 1559, but rather it is the same war over the League of Nations decision about Jewish rights to national independence and sovereignty. It is about the rights of Jews to live securely in their own country. This is the point the PR campaign about Lebanon II should have revolved.
In contrast to Israel's four previous conflicts with Lebanon, this time the "stars" were with us. The starting point of this war, both in Lebanon and Gaza, was an attack on Israel across an internationally recognized border. Furthermore, we won the support of US President Bush, who was nominated by history to lead the free world's fight against global terror following the September 11 attack.
But these favorable conditions, which gave us freedom of action in the opening days of the war, will not continue for ever. They are dying away, because they are not backed up by appropriate PR.
An effective PR establishment would concentrate on the following points.
1. Faith in the justice of our cause: The message must begin and end with the fact that we are fighting for our homes. This must be done with a unanimous, clear voice, by using spokesmen who can get the message across in a global village. We would do well to remember that it is not enough to look good on screen, or to speak English. People must "get" the message, and they must remember it. The true test is the test of results, not of sayings.
There is no more "Middle East" terrorism. Islamic terror we are dealing with in both Gaza and Lebanon is global. It is directed and funded by countries such as Iran and Syria and it is part of their strategic planning.
Our message must go hand in hand with the fact that we are for our right to be a normal people, free in our land. In our fight with Hizbullah we are an example of a "defensive democracy" fighting Islamic terror tying not only to humiliate the IDF, but is also trying to bring about the dismantling and destruction of Israel, and to replace it with something else (an Islamic republic).
2. Types of war: Despite the fact that Lebanon II is not the first of its kind, it is a model for Western democracies, including Israel, will have to fight in coming years. This is all-out war, against a non-state enemy, in heavily-populated civilian areas, with every attempt made to blur the distinction between innocent civilians and terrorists.
This requires us to take into account the possibility that terror groups will try to create fictitious shows for the media to de-legitimize the fight against them – or the possibility of removing the threat of terror and reaching of goals.
The other possibility is to agree to terror attacks on our soil, with large numbers of casualties and terrible consequences for the country's ability to continue to function.
3. Blurring lines between home front and battle front: In this kind of war, the home front becomes the battle front. From a strategic and PR perspective, this means that even when there are favorable diplomatic conditions, using appropriate military means (technology, intelligence, etc.), military success is bound up in the home front's ability to withstand.
This requires us to deal with the home front in our PR campaigns, not only when war breaks out, but in the planning stages. The phrase "The whole country is the army" that we have used since 1948 becomes even more crucial in the context of wars such as Lebanon II.
4. National PR: Israel has demonstrated some of the most advanced weapons technology in the world during this war, allowing for both day and nighttime battle, pinpointed strikes and the ability to take out the highest targets (as was done by the air force).
But whereas Israel enjoys at least a 20-year technological advantage over Hizbullah, that organization enjoys at least a 10-year advantage over Israel with using the media to get its message out.
The al-Manar channel enjoys a USD 15 million budget and is connected to every satellite network in the world. It successfully transmits the organization's message, better than any of our PR bodies (al-Manar's budget is significantly higher than the PR budget for Israel's foreign ministry).
Nasrallah, media star (Photo: Al-Jazeera)
Their PR people are professional, fluent and believable, and they invest a lot of resources not only in priming journalists, but also in taking them on tours and building the story. They build intimate, strong connections with the journos, and make sure to stick with them.
There are no shortcuts here. In order to succeed with the media and get the message across it is not enough to speak with journalists. We must brief them, feed them, and take them with us. This is always an iron-clad rule in war time.
5. PR campaign: We must consider privatizing our marketing efforts. For years, Israeli officials have appeared cumbersome and left-handed when trying to get Israel's message across. This has been true during peace time, and all the more during times of war.
Israel is a very attractive "product," especially to Jews around the world. We are surprised all over again every time Jewish communities line up to support Israel. There are strong Jewish communities in the United States, Canada, France, South America. Perhaps the time has come to enlist more than their donations during times of crisis, but also their PR abilities and ability to market Israel in their home countries.
More and more, the world agenda is being determined by non-governmental organizations. Some of these groups are bad – terror groups, for example – while others are positive, such as human rights groups, economic aid groups, and others. In this light, we must prepare to enlist these forces for Israel's benefit to market Israel abroad, to both Western and Arab countries, and the Arabic-language media.
Israel has always been good at creating generic products, but never good at marketing. Therefore, it is in Israel's interest to help those forces that have this ability and the desire to market Israel, and to get its message across effectively. I have no doubt that if we give these organizations the job, they will see it as a national project, they will enlist good-willed volunteers to do the job.
At the end of the day we must remember that Israel's PR (note: there is no good English translation for the Hebrew word "hasbara") is uniquely Israeli, both due to its special position and due to the fact that many groups around the world don't recognize the country's right to exist.
Therefore, we must consider Israel's PR in strategic terms for the long-term, with the understanding that Israel's messages are not obvious to everyone. It must be continually developed, adequately funded, and afforded the visual and theoretical assets it needs.
If there is to be any hope for a viable diplomatic process Israel must send a clear message to its enemies and those who rise up to destroy us: It is better to deal with us than to mess with us.
Dr. Ra'anan Gissin was a senior media advisor to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon