We've never seen anything quite like this. The verified social media accounts of the Israeli Defense Forces are providing live updates on a concerted military effort against Hamas. Using the hashtag #PillarOfDefense, the verified Twitter account @IDFSpokesperson is posting ominous messages, headline-style updates, and YouTube videos of strikes.
It's brilliant in its way. By controlling the messaging so tightly, the IDF ensures that the media coverage of the operation is framed the way Israel wants it. Why dig deeper when the information is so carefully presented right there? That's a rhetorical question, of course. The PR move here is as devastating as the operation.
We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 14, 2012
The stream of tweets began with background information on the operation, explaining that Operation Pillar of Defense is in retaliation against Hamas rocket attacks.
After providing the background info, the account announced that "the IDF has embarked on Operation Pillar of Defense," insisting that "all options are on the table," including a ground operation "if necessary."
The next tweet shared this intense, 10-second aerial video of a pinpoint strike on a vehicle reportedly carrying Ahmed Jabari, head of what the IDF calls the "Hamas Military Wing."
Immediately following that post, the IDF followed up with a blog post profiling Jabari. Jabari was in charge of the well-known operation that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006 outside of the Gaza Strip. Jabari personally escorted Shalit to the Rafah Crossing with Egypt when Shalit was released in a prisoner exchange.
The IDF then offered this statement in an image engineered to go viral:
Ahmed Jabari: Eliminated. twitter.com/IDFSpokesperso…— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 14, 2012
The IDF is also posting maps and other images to an official Flickr account.
And in response to the operation, retaliatory strikes have already begun.
Reminder of Hamas' strategy: Fire rockets & mortars from Palestinian schools & hope they land on Israeli schools. youtu.be/zmXXUOs27lI— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 14, 2012
This carefully planned social media campaign around a military operation is an amazing kind of PR that we at ReadWrite don't know of a precedent for. If you do, please share it with us, and we'll be glad to update with more info.
UPDATE 12:51 Pacific: My friend Eugene has pointed me to the Twitter feed of the Kenya Defense Forces (@kdfinfo), which has posted ongoing updates about military campaigns. It's surely an interesting stream of information, but it's far from the cross-media PR war machine the IDF is running right now.
The Other Side Of The Story
The Twitter account @AlqassamBrigade representing Hamas-affiliated brigades in Palestine took to Twitter to respond to the IDF campaign. It continues to report on the operation as well as retaliatory Hamas attacks.
@idfspokesperson Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves)— Alqassam Brigades (@AlqassamBrigade) November 14, 2012
As he is beloved for doing, Andy Carvin is curating all sides of the story by retweeting reports from the ground on both the Israeli and Palestinian side.
11 month old son of BBC colleague killed in #Gaza. Sister-in-law killed, brother critically injured. Civilians always casualties of conflict— Jon Williams(@WilliamsJon) November 14, 2012
#Israel Defense minister Ehud Barak: "We are still at the beginning of the event, not at the end. We expect some complicated tests ahead."— Lauren E. Bohn (@LaurenBohn) November 14, 2012
some parts of #Gaza have no electricity now— Majed Abusalama (@MajedAbusalama) November 14, 2012
This operation has driven Egypt to call for an emergency meeting of the UN security council. Ahram Online is reporting that Egypt's newly appointed ambassador to Israel, Atef Mohamed Salem, has been recalled by President Mohamed Morsi.
Egypt president orders UN representative to call for emergency security council meeting over Israel Gaza strikes, spokesman says - @reuters— Breaking News (@BreakingNews) November 14, 2012
It's a strange new world.
We've reached out to Twitter for comment on how this whole thing looks from their perspective, and we'll update the post if we hear back.