PR in the mid-east

13 Jan

No not Puerto Rico, Public Relations.

Sitting in Buenos Aires, reading about pipeline disputes in Russia, politics back home, bombings in Gaza, and wars all over the world, you sort of start to think why?

Life is so good here. So why are people over-complicating it abroad?

But that’s human nature and after a brief fliration with uptopia, I get back to my article on Israel’s new campaign against Hamas.

Now in it’s 18th day of war, I didn’t post on it sooner because I was busy collecting my thoughts, and reading what others had to say on the conflict.

It’s hard to seperate fact from fiction. Israel has done a good job of controlling its message and the Israelis seem united and justified in their actions.  Friends display Qassam Counts on their facebook pages, recording the number of rockets fired by Hamas into Israel – but no doubt a message furthered by Israel as well.

At first, I thought Israel was flexing its muscles, practing for a full fledged militarly campaign against Iran after a failed one with Hezbollah.  Then I read an article about deterrence, and although it made sense, even if it was just a talking point from Israel.

The questions is, before we even get to the civilians and the Gaza campaign, is why a ground invasion at all?  Was the rocket fire so great, so dangerous that Israel felt it had no other choice?  Or was intel telling them that Iran was supplying Hezbollah to the north, and Hamas to the south, and they feared a three front war after a potential conflict with Iran?

I don’t know the answer – but I woudl like to believe that Israel would only endanger the lives of its soldiers if it ultimately had no other choice, and that the ground invasion of Hamas reflected a feeling of besiegement and fear on the part of Israelis.

Now we all know that the rest of the world doesn’t share their view.  So my question is, in the 21st century (or ever really), does it matter.  Does public perception really matter when it comes to great powers at play?

Russia invaded Georgia recently, and I read that Georgia spent millions employing an international public relations firm to control the message coming out of Georgia and blame the conflict on Russia.

Sure enough it worked, and the western media spared no words in criticizing Russia.  President Bush found out Putin’s eyes betrayed him, and journal after journal wondered out loud what to do with Russia.  With no real answer of course, and just a wagging of the finger, the conflict came to pass and the world went on.

Turn the page to Israel, and the world is a washed with dismay at the pictures of hundreds of children dieing.  Now that Israel is just terrible at PR, we already knew.  But why it can’t turn that around, hire (me) or Georgia’s firm, or flood the NYT with pictures of exploding rockets (and cut off future access from all Israelis army officials if they don’t publish them), I don’t know.

But even if it did all that, and the world respected Israel’s predicament more, and international protests subdued, and we all liked Israel more – would it matter?

I kinda doubt it.

I see two major consequences from negative PR.

International governments become so frustrated with Israel that they place trade barriers, or cut off weapon sales.  Now I’m no expert on Israel’s trading patterns, but I don’t think the US is limiting its sales of weapons to Israel anytime soon.  And I just read an article about Turkey, where the president implied that although he strongly disapproved Israel’s actions, he would not get feelings in the way of a strategic relationship.  Paraphrasing his quote, he said he was running a country, not a grocery store.

Assuming then that most countries will have no serious impact beyond wagging a finger, what else can happen?

A lot of articles have been pointing to the perception of Arab populations.  They’ve been saying that there is a rift between Arabs and their leaders, dissatisfied with the lack of said real action from their country.

But this rift is not new.  And while the Israeli conflict does not help, the problem goes back much further – to the tight reigns that elite regimes have placed on their countrymen for centuries.  Egypt, Saudia Arabia; the problem is the lack of wealth for the average family, not a conflict being waged in another country.

Moral of the story? It’s up to each country to decide what’s moral, and what’s not.  After that – you do what you have to do.  Especially when you have a military like Israel’s, or Russia’s.

Time to really wrap this post up.

But before I do, I asked myself if I agree with Israel’s actions.

And my answer is actually a question.

What would you do?

If someone repeatedly shot rockets into your town, but then hid amongst women and children back home, what would you do?  How many of your own would you let die, before you chased the enemy?  And at what point does the blame rest with the enemy, and not with you?

What would you do?

What other choices did they have?

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