Israel's Public Relations Problem

I grew up in Pasadena on the edge of the Arroyo Seco, overlooking the Rose Bowl. I remember vividly the time our dog, Snoozer, decided it would be fun to play with a skunk. He came home and we all nearly passed out. I was elected to give him a bath in tomato juice -- don't ask, it was the Urban Legend of the time. When the bath was done, the dog and I smelled awful. It took several days before the dog was fit for human company. With this as prelude, I revisit an idea I have published before, but with additional insight (hopefully).

What got me going this time around was an excellent article from Stratfor regarding the current situation in Israel/Palestine. For those who don't know Stratfor, it is an organization that makes its living selling their analysis of current events to governments and corporations around the world. All of the people I know working in the US national security arena respect Stratfor's analysis.

"The key strategy that the Palestinians have adopted is that of provocation. The 2010 flotilla from Turkey presented a model: select an action that from the outside seems benign but will be perceived by the Israelis as threatening; orchestrate the event in a way that will maximize the chances for an Israeli action that will be seen as brutal; shape a narrative that makes the provocation seem benign; and use this narrative to undermine international support for the Israelis."

This, in a nutshell, is Israel's problem: They do not dictate terms of engagement. The opposition is free to use schools, hospitals, mosques and other symbols of tranquility as staging areas for aggression and if Israel reacts, the world condemns Israel. No matter how Israel reacts, they look bad on the 6 PM news around the world. No one films the couple of rockets Hamas fires into Israeli farmland, but everyone sees the children blown up when Israel responds. The non-committed in Palestine see only the horror of Israel's retaliation and offer even more support for continued activity. The world doesn't want to hear ""They started it" any more than a second grade teacher on the playground does.

Israel is in the right. They can win 100 wars, but if they lose one, there is no more Israel. They cannot let anyone feel they can attack Israel and go unpunished. But this attitude has been turned against them. The Palestinians and Syrians have learned how to lose all the battles and win the public opinion wars. Israel cannot afford to lose any wars, and they are losing this one. It is costing them allies, which Israel is in short supply of. It's time for a change in tactics.

They do have one response to aggression that they have never tried but I think would work brilliantly. Skunk 'em. Whenever Hamas or Fatah fires a missile or RPG into Israel, respond immediately with the smelliest, nastiest, hardest to get rid of foul-smelling stink bomb they can create. It won't kill anyone. It won't look bad on the 6 PM news -- we don't have smell-o-vision yet. It won't create the public relations problems that current policies do.

But it will strike Hamas and the others where they are vulnerable. Palestinian hard-liners make up a small portion of the population in Palestine. They need the support of the populace. They need it badly. A stink bomb won't "hurt" anyone, but it will make life miserable. Sixty years later I still remember my canine stink bomb vividly. With a little research, Israel should be able to do better than a skunk. Palestinians may forgive Hamas for getting people killed, but they won't forgive them for making them stink. Not when they get no sympathy from the International community in return. It's all loss and no gain for Hamas and Syria.

I see Israel fighting a brilliant war, but a horrendous PR campaign. The President of the United States, one of Israel's staunchest allies, has suggested that Israel should give up the territory they won in 1967. He won't insist too much. It's mostly US PR. But Israel needs to take notice that they are losing the PR battle and change tactics. I won't guarantee that stink bombs will turn the tide, but it will do a better job than killing a bunch of unarmed people attacking a fence.

June 8, 2011