The most overlooked aspect of the war between Israel and Hamas is that the main driving force behind the Hamas rocket fire is a war of ratings. Hamas knows that it has nothing to gain in a rational sense by unprovoked firings of rockets on Israel’s towns. It has however a lot to gain politically. By forcing Israel to retaliate and cause civilian casualties Hamas achieves its main goal: condemnation of Israel by public opinion and inflaming hatred in the Arab world. World public opinion blaming Israel is what hamas gains in it PR war against Israel.
Hamas claims that it fires the rockets because Israel’s embargo on the Gaza strip but this is mainly a false claim given that Israel is ready to open its side of the border with Gaza if Hamas renounces terror against Israel. But getting the embargo lifted and living in peace besides Israel is not what Hamas is aiming for. Maintaining a state of war and pursuing Israel’s destruction is what drives Hamas. The more than seven thousand rockets shot at Israel have a sinister aim: to force Israel to retaliate. The resulting civilian casualties in Gaza are the most valuable harvest for Hamas. Demonstrations against Israel in the Arab world as well as condemnations by world leaders are a great benefit to Hamas – including the fact that it deflects notice from countless political crimes committed by Hamas against fellow Palestinians. Creating the perception of “Israeli aggression” is the most efficient way to harm Israel. That is why Hamas is investing so heavily in this avenue.
Regardless of how many rockets are fired at Israel the world public opinion does not seem to change as long as long as Hamas reaps the benefits of its PR war against Israel. Yet Israel can cause the media report its side of the story by making use of it most valuable arsenal: the more than seven thousand Kassam casings it keeps in storage. The best way to beat Hamas at their game is for Israel to retaliate in a new way to the Kassam rockerts. to unload a few hundred Kassam casings from helicopters in front of the Hamas main buildings as a start.
Israel could drop Kassam casings in a public area in Gaza, preferably the most visible to the media and with minimal harm to civilians. It may consider dumping them not far from foreign media office buildings in Gaza, as well as in the Gaza university campus, at central shopping areas, main roads etc. The international media has a strong appetite for any Israeli military action in Gaza. In the Arab world a great deal of hatred is fueled by what “Israel is doing in Gaza”. In this case the filming of the Israeli actions in Gaza would end up reporting on the Kassam rockets from which Israel suffers. The media seeks stories of victims. The site of thousands of rocket casings will bring attention to the many Israeli victims.
To date, Israel is perceived as the party that is powerful and in control consequently the deaths on the Palestinian side are believed to be a result of Israel’s choice for aggression. Even before the latest escalation most reports tended to dedicate to focus on Israel’s retaliation and gave only a casual mention of the Kassam rockets to which Israel has an obligation to retaliate. That is why Israel most show creativity and adopt the unloading of the Kassam casings before it opens fire. In the future Israel should seriously consider this option before it opens its own fire on Hamas
The images of hundreds of empty rocket casings in front of the Hamas parliament will most likely reach the front pages of most media outlets around the world. Israel will be able to show that it suffers from thousands of rockets fired by Hamas to murder and terrorize. It will demonstrate that Israel does not intend to hurt anyone, especially civilians, and will not attack unless attacked. This point will prevail even if Israel makes no changes in its military activity. The Kassam casings will show the hitherto underreported reasons for Israel’s military action in Gaza and that Israel wishes to avoid violence but has no choice as long as there are Kassam rockets fired at its citizens. The fact that Israel states this point in its press conferences is of little effect. The image of the returned empty casings on front pages will carry more meaning than words.
Israel will be seen as taking the high road, of having power but showing restrain, and even turning the other cheek. These are stories that the media goes after. It will embarrass the Hamas by bringing to the front page an aspect the media has, thus far, nearly ignored. The site of hundreds of rocket casings will represent the smoking gun, the evidence of a criminal, genocidal act by Hamas. It will deprive the Palestinians from the image of victims hence from the benefits of the Kassams which usually boomerang into Palestinian civilian casualties. The Palestinian civilian casualties create the victim image of “resistance” that Hamas aims for and benefits from. By playing the victim card, Hamas is able to influence world public opinion and avoid criticism for its call for war and the destruction of Israel.
Furthermore, there will also be a humorous effect. And there is no better way of getting a point across than through humor. Most likely there will be captions under the photos of Kassam piled casings describing the photos as “Return to Sender” or "This metal, I believe belongs, to you…" or "you’re too kind… I cannot receive this generous gift…" or "I have to return the gift…please don’t send any more… I will have to return a bigger gift.."
The recent attack on Gaza should have only come after the world opinion was informed about Israel’s position and its efforts to use force as a last resort. The return of the empty rocket casings would have provided the most efficient way or Israel to prove its point. A speech at the UN and an ultimatum before retaliating would have meant a great deal. Before attacking Gaza Israeli officials often mentioned their reluctance to retaliate because of international public opinion. They waited a few days until the Kassam firings were painful enough to justify retaliation. Had Israel made use of the empty casings in those few days it would have avoided the international condemnation it now faces – not to mention the civilian deaths.
Given the patterns of the past it seems that Hamas has won again, given that its goal was to show itself as a victim and force Israel to respond with aggression. It appears that Israel’s leaders lack imagination in fighting the game Hamas is playing in the filed of world public opinion. Hamas is playing the PR game which the Israeli leadership does not seem to understand. Having grater military power (and the illusion of actual power) seems to stifle Israel’s ability to think with vision and imagination. We can only hope that, sooner rather than later, Israel’s policy makers will put more effort into fighting Hamas in the public relations arena, not just in the battlefield. Most wars in the end are won through public opinion.
It should be noted that in this PR war Iran is a very active player and a great supporter of Hamas. Iran uses Israel to as part of its policy to manipulate and ultimately dominate the middle East.