PR battle to continue

By Yaakov Katz, January 22, 2009

The Israeli Foreign Ministry is implementing a “day after” hasbara plan to counter claims that the IDF perpetrated war crimes in the Gaza Strip.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has appointed Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog to lead the post-war battle over public opinion and to coordinate aid to Gaza.

During the war, journalists were not allowed into the Gaza Strip and Hamas prevented access to areas where the IDF was operating to local journalists.

Since Sunday’s ceasefire, foreign journalists and international NGOs have poured into the Gaza Strip to assess the damage, estimated to reach up to $2bn dollars. In response, Mr Olmert dispatched six senior ministers to countries around the world to press Israel’s case.

Officials said that the emphasis would be on post-war assistance.

In line with this message, Magen David Adom opened a field infirmary inside the Erez Crossing to treat Palestinian civilians. The clinic will work as an initial emergency room for the wounded and four ambulances will be available to transport patients to hospitals in the centre of the country.

“The humanitarian issue is something that we will put a stronger emphasis on now that the war is over,” said Yarden Vatikay, head of the Information Directorate in the Prime Minister’s Office.

While Israel could expect new criticism and accusations from various NGOs, it would mostly be “politically-motivated” Mr Vatikay said.

“We believe that most of the world has accepted our narrative that Hamas is a terrorist organisation and that the operation was launched after a period of restraint and out of self-defence,” he said. “We do not need to apologise for what we did.”

Mr Vatikay’s team have begun sifting through hours of video footage filmed by troops and UAV drones in Gaza to prove that Israel opened fire because terrorists attacked first.

Around 4,000 houses, 51 government buildings and 20 mosques were destroyed during the campaign.

Nachman Shai, a former IDF chief spokesman, said that the destruction played an important role in instilling fear within Arabs hostile to the state.

“There will be a lot of anger within the Arab world but also fear since this operation was instrumental in restoring Israeli deterrence throughout the region,” Mr Shai said.

Last updated: 2:17pm, January 22 2009