A Press Corps Deceived, and the Gaza Invasion That Wasn’t

The Israeli army abruptly introduced after midnight on Friday that its floor forces had begun “attacking in the Gaza Strip,” saying it on Twitter, in textual content messages to journalists, and in on-the-record confirmations by an English-speaking army spokesman.

Several worldwide information organizations, together with The New York Times, instantly alerted readers worldwide {that a} Gaza incursion or invasion was underway, a significant escalation of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities.

Within hours, these studies have been all corrected: No invasion had taken place. Rather, floor troops had opened fireplace at targets in Gaza from inside Israeli territory, whereas fighters and drones have been persevering with to assault from the air. A prime army spokesman took duty, blaming the fog of struggle.

But by Friday night, a number of main Israeli information retailers have been reporting that the incorrect announcement was no accident, however had truly been a part of an elaborate deception. The intent, the media studies mentioned, was to dupe Hamas fighters into considering that an invasion had begun and to reply in ways in which would expose far larger numbers of them to what was being known as a devastatingly lethal Israeli attack.

The army’s English-language spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, insisted that the false announcement had been his personal mistake, however an sincere one, telling overseas correspondents in a tense convention name early Friday night that he had misunderstood info coming in “from the field” and had launched it with out adequately verifying it.

But in the Hebrew-language press, the army was concurrently being praised for luring Hamas fighters right into a community of tunnels in northern Gaza that was pounded by some 160 Israeli jets in a fury of airstrikes starting round midnight.

“This is how the tunnels became death traps for terrorists in Gaza,” Israel’s Channel 12 information station headlined a report by its military reporter, which known as the unfold of misinformation to overseas journalists a “planned ploy.”

The Israeli press cited the army as saying the plan had labored. That declare couldn’t be independently verified.

But the risk that the army had used the worldwide information media to rack up a much bigger physique rely in Gaza generated sharp questions for Colonel Conricus in the convention name. Israeli officers insisted that the name be held off the report, however a Times reporter who didn’t be a part of the name obtained a recording of it from one other information group.

Representatives of The Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio and Agence France-Presse, all of which had mistakenly reported a floor invasion early Friday, peppered him with questions on whether or not they had been changed into equipment to the army, why it had taken hours for the invasion report back to be reversed, and how they’d be capable of belief the army’s statements going ahead.

Colonel Conricus, a veteran officer and spokesman with a fame for precision in what he is aware of and doesn’t know, mentioned there had been no “attempt to try to fool anybody or to cause you to write anything that isn’t true,” including: “I can understand that it may look differently.” He known as it “frankly embarrassing.”

But Colonel Conricus, who is about to retire from the army at the finish of June, additionally acknowledged that the army had certainly sought to deceive fighters in Gaza, by techniques like noisily transferring massive numbers of tanks and different armored autos as much as the border — as if an invasion have been certainly occurring.

The goal, he mentioned, was to induce Hamas anti-tank missile crews to emerge from their hiding locations and start taking pictures at Israeli forces, permitting their positions to be detected and destroyed — and to trick different Palestinian fighters to stream into the underground tunnel community, which Israel generals have been assured they might now destroy from the air.

“Nobody here on this call are the target audience,” Colonel Conricus mentioned. “The target audience are hopefully the dead terrorists that are now lying inside the tunnel. What the I.D.F. wanted to create was a situation where they went down into the tunnels so that we could attack them.”

But that prompted objections from a number of correspondents, notably these from organizations with workers members in Gaza, saying it put them at larger danger.

Colonel Conricus declined to be interviewed for this text.

In an interview, Daniel Estrin, N.P.R.’s correspondent in Jerusalem, expressed frustration.

“If they used us, it’s unacceptable,” he mentioned. “And if not, then what’s the story — and why is the Israeli media widely reporting that we were duped?”

Because of its very important position defending Israel’s army actions in the worldwide courtroom of opinion, the military spokesman’s workplace has been a sought-after posting and one thing of a launching pad for political careers.

The workplace has performed an element in different misleading techniques lately, together with in 2019, when a faux medevac was staged, full with bandaged troopers and a helicopter trip to a hospital, to persuade the Lebanese media {that a} Hezbollah missile attack had triggered Israeli casualties.

The spokesman’s workplace waited two hours — lengthy sufficient for Hezbollah fighters to declare victory and stand down — earlier than asserting that no Israeli troops had truly been damage.

But Amos Harel, a army analyst for Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, mentioned that involving the workplace in a sample of duping journalists can be an alarming growth.

“It’s a very dangerous place for the I.D.F. to be, to be suspected of misleading the international press, especially when we’re on the verge of an escalation with Hamas, and Israel depends so heavily on trying to explain itself with the international media,” Mr. Harel mentioned.

“It’s risky for journalists, too,” he added. “The Israeli Army may be forgetting that foreign journalists are on both sides of the fence, and it could be dangerous for them if they’re suspected of being used for Israeli psychological operations.”

All by the week, the battle has impressed a broader storm of misinformation on social media, as effectively. False claims are being broadly shared round the world — typically with misidentified or mischaracterized images and movies, or faux rumors about Israeli troop actions or that Palestinians have been going to storm Israeli suburbs.

Disinformation consultants fear that in such a charged ambiance, the impact of all that false info — a few of it purposeful, some unintentional — is probably lethal, worsening tensions between Israelis and Palestinians at a vital time.

Adding to the swirl of confusion about the particular Gaza declare was a brand new report by Israel’s Channel 10 on Friday {that a} General Staff Deception Unit had lately been created, and that it had been activated to trigger Hamas to assume {that a} floor invasion was underway.

The false invasion announcement got here at 12:22 a.m. Friday, in an English-language assertion that was obscure: “IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip.”

The ambiguity of the phrase “in” had not been current in the Hebrew-language model of the assertion, issued a couple of minutes earlier. But when Western reporters checked with Colonel Conricus, he assured them that Israeli troops have been inside Gaza.

In the Friday convention name, Colonel Conricus at one level tried to attenuate the harm, saying that the discrepancy was solely “about a few meters — it’s not a very big difference.”

But the discrepancy between English- and Hebrew-language studies set off a frantic race in Israeli newsrooms and overseas information bureaus to make clear the scenario on the floor.

At 1:43 a.m., Roy Sharon, the army correspondent for Israel’s Kann News, provided answers with certitude: “This is not a ground invasion. Repeat: There is no ground invasion into the Gaza Strip. I don’t understand this strange briefing.”

By then, based on Israeli studies, the army operation had already concluded.

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