Israel is unleashing a barrage of propaganda and psychological tactics as it prepares for a possible ground invasion of Gaza following a brazen attack on Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas. But how effective are these efforts amid the propaganda war raging between the two sides?
After Hamas fighters launched surprise incursions into Israel last weekend, Israel has threatened a full-scale ground offensive in Gaza. It has ordered over 1 million Gazans to evacuate areas along the Israeli border as troops and hardware amass at the edge of the blockaded enclave.
Hamas called the evacuation demand “fake propaganda” and told Palestinians to ignore it. According to military expert Zoran Kusovac, Israel’s evacuation call is indeed a psychological ploy, not a sincere effort to minimize civilian casualties before invading.
“The last thing that matters in any propaganda operation is whether there is any truth in it,” wrote Kusovac in an analysis published by Al Jazeera.
By undermining civilian trust in evacuation calls and sowing panic, Israel hopes to sabotage Hamas’ control in Gaza, he argued. This follows the propaganda victory Hamas scored last weekend by showcasing its military capabilities and willingness to confront Israel.
Hamas Seeks Propaganda Coup to Rally Support
Hamas’ surprise attacks on Israeli military targets and civilians, which killed several Israelis, had two main goals, Kusovac explained. Militarily, Hamas hoped to kidnap Israeli hostages for bargaining power.
But more importantly, it wanted to broadcast its fighting prowess and commitment to violent resistance to both Palestinian and international audiences. Though condemned by the West, the dramatic spectacle reinforced Hamas’ image among supporters as a valiant underdog fighting Israeli domination.
“In the eyes of many Palestinians, most of the rest of the Arab world and many Third World countries, the armed fighters demonstrated determination, nerves of steel, skill in the use of modern military technologies and total disregard for their own lives,” wrote Kusovac.
This propaganda coup came at the cost of further vilifying Hamas as a terrorist group in Western eyes. But Hamas likely determined the tradeoff was worthwhile to raise awareness of Palestinian grievances like expulsions in East Jerusalem.
Israel Responds with Psychological Warfare of Its Own
Israel has hit back with psychological strategies of its own. After initial airstrikes on Gaza, Israel escalated to calling for mass evacuations in northern Gaza as a ground invasion looms.
But this is a calculated propaganda move, not a sincere effort to safeguard civilians, according to Kusovac. He noted evacuating over 1 million people quickly is logistically impossible.
“Every military planner knows that even under extreme threat, civilians…may only cover 20–25km (12.5–15.5 miles) in a day,” he wrote. Israel hopes an unfeasible evacuation demand will foment chaos that undermines Hamas governance in Gaza, he argued.
So far though, Israel’s psychological tactics have only been partially successful. Hamas urged Palestinians to defy evacuation calls, preventing full-blown panic and retaining some operational control.
Israel also hoped to buy time to prepare ground forces by suggesting an imminent attack last Friday that never materialized. But Kusovac correctly predicted the bluff, undercutting the value of these fear-inducing fake deadlines.
“This is exactly what Israel intended to do, but it succeeded only partially. Why? We’ll examine it tomorrow,” he wrote before the non-attack.
In this propaganda war, both sides are angling to demoralize the other while rallying their own supporters. For all its military might, Israel has struggled to deliver a decisive psychological blow or deter Hamas’ violent defiance.
Propaganda Wars Seen Throughout History
Such psychological strategies have been used since ancient times, Kusovac noted. Deception to surprise enemies has always been integral to warfare.
He cited Vietnam as an example where propaganda and guerilla tactics defeated a militarily superior foe. Despite losing every major battle, North Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap successfully eroded U.S. morale over time through shock attacks like the Tet Offensive.
Modern technology and media have only increased the importance of propaganda in conflict. Images shape perceptions, and skillful messaging can sometimes substitute for battlefield victories.
Hamas and Israel are both acutely aware of this. Each tries to demoralize the other while bolstering domestic support, even using similar psychological tactics. Neither wants to give the enemy a moral victory.
But Israel also relies heavily on America and the West for military funding and diplomatic cover. So Hamas scoring sympathy abroad aids its cause disproportionately more than outrage in the West hurts it.
As a result, Hamas has proven willing to absorb severe military blows for marginal propaganda wins. It sees unrestrained violence against Israelis as key to its underdog messaging.
Path Forward Uncertain as Conflict Deepens
With ceasefire efforts unsuccessful so far, the trajectory remains ominous. The risks and costs of escalation grow daily for civilians on both sides.
A ground invasion could prove a bloody turning point, further imperiling Gaza’s humanitarian situation while rocket barrages reach deeper into Israeli territory.
Perhaps casualties and global outcry will force the parties to stand down. But the propaganda incentives favor continued confrontation, despite the loss of life.
Hamas can only rally support through dramatic shows of force and a refusal to capitulate. Meanwhile, Israel believes overwhelming strikes enhance its power image, even if they inflame hatred long-term.
Unfortunately, this means the psychological warfare and military escalation seem likely to intensify further until the domestic cost becomes politically untenable for one side or international pressure forces a ceasefire.
Without addressing root grievances over sovereignty and identity giving rise to the violence, the propaganda wars will doubtless continue fueling new cycles of conflict far into the future.