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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Psychological Factors and the Hamas War Strategy

Filed under: Hamas, Operation Swords of Iron

Psychological Factors and the Hamas War Strategy
The photographs of the Gaza “Teddy Bear” planted atop rubble and provided to news agencies. (UNICEF/UN0464395/Abu Aseer)
  • Psychological warfare by Hamas (and Hizbullah) has relied heavily on portraying themselves as “victims.”
  • This tactic is known as “Psychological Asymmetry,” whereby a militarily weaker opponent can gain tactical advantage through psychological means.
  • This manipulative tactic includes embellishing and sometimes falsifying scenes of civilian damage and suffering and intentionally creating these scenes to generate opportunities to use them.
  • When the media responds to and publishes these scenes without providing the proper context, they unwittingly are manipulated and reinforce the use of civilians as pawns.
  • It is critical that the media, as well as other sources and NGOs, be aware of the tactic.
  • The images and descriptions of the initial Hamas attack that showed savage violence directed at civilians need to be the backdrop for providing an accurate perspective of future Israeli actions.

When it comes to psychological warfare (often called PSYOPS), various “playbooks” have been used over the years. Hamas, an ideologically driven Islamist terror organization, has used several of these tactics. Most notably, they manipulate the “victim” role to garner support from world opinion. When facing a stronger force like Israel, this strategy (also known as “psychological asymmetry”) has allowed them to undertake actions that can be classified as war crimes, and they then take cover under a blitz of distorted information that focuses on Israel as the guilty party. In essence, the asymmetry arises when the stronger military party, Israel, is forced to cease its operations, preventing it from attaining legitimate operational goals.

Despite its success in the current surprise attack against Israel, Hamas is likely to suffer considerable losses as Israel readies for a response. They are likely aware of this and plan again to employ psychological asymmetry to reverse the current public support for Israel from various Western countries.

Israel is a victim of a cruel and calculated attack that focused mainly on civilians, clearly a war crime. It is critical to “freeze” the images of unarmed and noncombatant civilians who were gunned down, beaten, kidnapped, and shanghaied as hostages to Gaza. These images should serve as the “raison d’être” for any action Israel takes, including activities likely to result in Gazan casualties. Any subsequent manipulation of this point by a cynical and distrustful terror organization such as Hamas should be rejected and recognized for what it is. The Western public, press, and politicians should be prepared to properly reject these attempts to distort and change the accurate picture of the war.