Israel’s military restraint during the conflict in Gaza last summer "unintentionally empowered Hamas" by allowing the terror group to distort international law and secure a public relations victory by exploiting the media, according a task force of retired U.S. generals.
The task force also warned that Hamas’ disinformation strategy could be replicated against the U.S. military and advised the U.S. government to institute a plan to combat similar media campaigns in the future.
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"Hamas supported false claims against the [Israel Defense Forces] by distorting stories and images to serve the organization’s narrative, and by manipulating stories in the international media," said the Gaza Conflict Task Force in a report commissioned by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and released on Monday.
The report, titled "The 2014 Gaza War: Observations and Implications for U.S. Military Operations," concluded that Hamas was not aiming for a military victory but instead put Gaza’s civilians at risk in order to increase casualties and damage the global standing of the Israel Defense Forces.
The main goal, according to the report, was to build international pressure on Israel.
"Hamas proved very effective at exploiting images of civilian deaths, particularly children, to gain international sympathy to their cause and a high degree of international opposition to the Israeli cause," said the report. "Further, Hamas was effective at not allowing access to their more brutal and illegal actions, beyond what they published themselves as part of their internal intimidation efforts."
According to the task force, the techniques used by Hamas "represent an evolution in unconventional warfare, and will probably be imitated and improved upon by America’s enemies."
The report recommended that the United States should institute a "whole-of government approach" to countering such efforts.
"The U.S. government and military must come to grips with the increased importance and use of the information domain in war," said the task force. "They must develop effective countermeasures to this enemy advantage, as it threatens to exploit a strategic vulnerability for the United States and its allies."
One issue that Hamas exploited in Gaza, according to the report, was the lack of clarity between international laws of war and military policy.
The task force argued that the IDF exceeded the Laws of Armed Conflict by using restraint during times when it was legally unnecessary. This created a precedent that could open Israeli civilians up to increased risk, according to the report.
"Unless there is a clear demarcation between law and policy-based restraints on the use of combat power, raising standards in one instance—even if done as a matter of national policy and not as the result of legal obligation—risks creating a precedent to which military forces will likely be expected to adhere in the future," said the report.
"We do not believe the Israeli level of restraint should be considered the standard for U.S. armed forces in future conflicts," the report concluded
The task force, which traveled to Israel while conducting the assessment, included General Charles Wald, Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell IV, Lieutenant General Richard Natonski, Major General Rick Devereaux, and Major General Mike Jones.