The Israeli media failed the state in its coverage of recent Palestinian attacks

Palestinians run for cover during clashes with Israeli soldiers at the northern entrance of Ramallah, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El (Abbas Momani - AFP)

Adnan Abu Amer

Middle East Monitor  /  April 13, 2022

Israel not only suffered human losses in the recent attacks by lone Palestinians in Beersheba/Bir al-Sab’a, Hadera/Khdeira and Tel Aviv, but it also suffered other, no less dangerous, damage. This included the identities of members of Israeli Special Forces units being exposed to the media and general public. Shortly after the Tel Aviv attack, a number of these units, police and Shin Bet officers rushed to the scene, offering a free gift to the Palestinian resistance forces.

Israeli security and intelligence personnel gave their verdict on a live news bulletin after the bloody attack, describing it as “hysterical and historic” because it seriously damaged the anonymity of the special units in what was a very serious security breach.

When it became clear that the gunman was still roaming freely in Tel Aviv, the Israeli army’s special units were called in to help in the search for him. They were ordered to be ready to intervene quickly in possibly extreme circumstances, such as a hostage-taking scenario. The units included the elite Israeli Air Force Special Forces Unit known as Shaldag. The members of these units have now been exposed on television, a matter that is regarded as the leak of a state secret. The army and intelligence forces are making great efforts to undo the damage.

The fact that the operation was screened live on national TV has been called a “violation of the law” in Israeli security circles. Although Israeli mouths generally remain closed on such sensitive issues, the media has blown the units’ cover and provided anti-Israel forces with invaluable information.

This brings me to what can be called the chaos in the management of security in Tel Aviv and the failed security discourse. To this can be added irresponsible journalism leading to an increase in public anxiety, and the transformation of the Palestinian attack into a strategic issue. It was a free gift for those who try to gather every possible piece of information about Israel’s Special Forces which carry out operations within and beyond the occupation state.

Israelis did not hesitate to express their frustration at seeing these special units tackling the threat of a lone Palestinian carrying one gun and perhaps several cartridges. On the face of it, this should have been a relatively simple task. However, because the gunman fired into a crowded entertainment centre, the result is that the Israeli public feel an existential threat, affecting tens of thousands of Tel Aviv residents, and hundreds of thousands more watching events unfold on television.

Despite the efforts made by the occupation army and security services to stop such attacks, there is an increasing conviction within Israel that they are intended to create anxiety among Israelis. All that has happened in recent days has to be seen, therefore, as a strategic achievement by the attackers, thanks to the poor performance and unprofessional behaviour of the Israeli media, and the lack of knowledge and skills on the part of security officials.

Hence, Israeli media experts have criticized the television networks and their correspondents who were deployed to cover the Tel Aviv attack. It was clear to everyone watching that the journalists competed to broadcast pictures that were as exciting and scary as possible; and to get close ups of the special units searching for the attacker in a state of hysteria. The media took advantage of the security officials’ lack of interpretive and psychological skills, and the resultant coverage appears to have damaged the mental resilience of the Israeli public.

Meanwhile, Israeli security circles acknowledge that the attacker was very skilled, because he did a lot of damage with just one gun. They believe that the repeated showing of the security operation increased public anxiety. Instead of explaining that it was possible that the attacker could be on the move from one house to another, viewers spent long, exhausting and unnecessary hours watching footage of soldiers pointing their guns at closed stairwell doors.

The conclusion is that the immediate aftermath of the Dizengoff Street attack in the centre of Tel Aviv revealed the authorities’ chaotic management of the scene, prolonging public anxiety and turning a tactical operation into a strategic victory. The TV images revealed a double loss of control: the security forces did not control the attacker, not least because there was poor coordination between the police and the army special units; moreover, the media coverage took a very close look at the work of the security forces. We’re not only talking about possible intelligence damage by exposing the soldiers’ faces and how they operate, but also the deliberate encouragement of public panic.

Externally, some Israeli groups have also expressed their dissatisfaction within political, diplomatic and security forums at the way that the international media covered events. Media outlets around the world noted that there is increasing fear in Israel regarding such attacks being intensified. Furthermore, the attacker was not referred to as a “terrorist” or a “militant”, but as a “Palestinian man”. Predictably, the Israeli government has called this an example of international media bias towards the Palestinians.

Adnan Abu Amer is the head of the Political Science Department at the University of the Ummah in Gaza