On Friday the 14th, Israeli military forces abruptly announced after midnight (14) that their ground forces had started “attacking in the Gaza Strip”, saying so on Twitter and in text messages sent to reporters. The announcement was openly confirmed by a spokesperson for the English-speaking army.
Several international news agencies, including the New York Times, immediately alerted readers around the world that an incursion or invasion of the Gaza Strip was underway, amid a major escalation of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities.
These reports were all corrected within hours: there had been no invasion. Instead, ground troops opened fire at targets in the Gaza Strip from Israeli territory, while fighters and drones continued to attack from the air. A senior military spokesperson took responsibility, which he attributed to the chaos of war.
But by the end of Friday afternoon, several major Israeli broadcasters reported that the incorrect ad was not an accident, but part of an elaborate hoax. The intention, they said, was to deceive Hamas fighters into believing that an invasion had started and to react in a way that exposed many more of them to what was described as a devastating Israeli attack and murderous.
Anglophone spokesperson for the Israeli forces, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, insisted that the false announcement was his own mistake, but that it was a bona fide mistake. During a tense conference call Friday evening (14), he told international correspondents that he had misunderstood the information that had come “from the ground” and that he had broadcast it without verifying it properly.
At the same time, however, Israeli forces were praised by the Hebrew-language press for luring Hamas fighters to a network of tunnels in the northern Gaza Strip which was heavily attacked by around 160 Israeli jets in an assault. enraged at the airstrikes that began around midnight Friday.
“The tunnels have therefore become deadly traps for terrorists in the Gaza Strip,” Israeli news channel Channel 12 said in the headline of a report by its military reporter, who described the spread of disinformation to the Gaza Strip. foreign journalists as a “planned ploy”.
The Israeli press quoted the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) as saying the plan worked. The statement could not be independently confirmed.
But the possibility of the military using the international press to kill more opponents in the Gaza Strip led to Col. Conricus being heavily questioned on the teleconference. Israeli officials insisted that the conference call be held “informally” (without reporters being able to identify participants), but a NYT reporter who did not participate in the conversation obtained a recording from another organization. Press.
Representatives from the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio (USA) and Agence France-Presse, all of whom mistakenly reported a land invasion on Friday, filled Conricus with questions , wanting to know if they had been instrumentalized by the military, why it had taken hours for news of the invasion to be denied, and how they could now trust the military’s statements.
Colonel Conricus, a veteran officer and spokesperson known for his precision in what he knows and does not know, said there had been no “attempt to deceive anyone or make you write anything. whether that was not true, ”adding,“ I can understand that the impression may be different. ”He described what happened as“ downright embarrassing ”.
But Colonel Conricus, who was due to withdraw from the armed forces at the end of June, also admitted that the military had indeed attempted to deceive fighters in the Gaza Strip, using tactics such as the dislodgement of a large number of tanks and other armored vehicles with great fanfare. at the border, as if an invasion was indeed taking place.
The objective, he said, was to induce Hamas anti-tank missile teams to come out of their hiding places and start firing at Israeli forces, thus allowing their positions to be detected and destroyed – in more to encourage other Palestinian fighters to join the network. underground tunnels, which Israeli generals believed they could now destroy with airstrikes.
“No one who is here at this conference is the target audience,” Colonel Conricus said. “The target audience is the terrorists who we hope have now died inside the tunnels. The IDF’s intention was to create a situation that would bring them down into the tunnels, so that we could attack them. “
But this raised objections from several correspondents, especially those from organizations that have team members working in the Gaza Strip, who said it put them at greater risk.
Colonel Conricus declined to be interviewed for this report.
Daniel Estrin, correspondent for Jerusalem National Public Radio, expressed his frustration. “If they used us, it is unacceptable,” he said. “And if they didn’t, what really happened and why is the Israeli media reporting that we were duped?”
Due to its vital role in defending Israel’s military actions before the international court of opinion, the post of army spokesperson has long been sought after, functioning as a kind of springboard for political careers.
The spokesperson’s office has played a role in other deceptive tactics employed in recent years, including in 2019, when a mock medical evacuation was staged, with soldiers bandaged up and transport of the suspected injured to a helicopter-borne hospital, to convince the Lebanese media that a Hezbollah missile attack claimed Israeli victims.
The spokesperson’s office waited two hours – long enough for Hezbollah fighters to declare victory and withdraw – before announcing that no Israeli army was actually injured.
But Amos Harel, a military analyst at Israeli newspaper Haaretz, said involving the spokesperson’s office in a joint initiative to deceive journalists would be worrying.
“This is a very dangerous position for the IDF – if it is suspected of intentionally misleading the international press – especially when we are about to escalate with Hamas and it is so crucial for Israel to ‘explain his actions to the international media, ”said Harel.
“It’s also risky for journalists. The Israeli military may have forgotten that there are foreign journalists on both sides of the border. It can be dangerous for them if they are suspected of being used in Israeli psychological operations.
Throughout the week, the conflict also inspired a greater storm of disinformation on social media. Fake news is widely shared around the world, sometimes with misidentified or described photos or videos or with false rumors about Israeli troop movements or Palestinian threats.
Disinformation experts fear that, in such a busy environment, the effect of all this misinformation – partly intentional, partly accidental – will be potentially fatal, exacerbating tensions between Israelis and Palestinians at a critical time.
One fact that intensified confusion over the specific allegation regarding the Gaza Strip was the news reported on Friday by Israel’s Channel 10 about the recent creation of a Joint Staff Unit. The unit was reportedly activated to trick Hamas into believing that a ground invasion was underway.
The false announcement of the invasion was made at 12:22 am on Friday in a vague statement in English: “IDF air and ground troops are attacking the Gaza Strip.”
The ambiguity of the word “na” was not present in the Hebrew version of the press release, published a few minutes earlier. But when Western journalists came to Colonel Conricus to verify the information, he assured them that Israeli troops were in the Gaza Strip.
At one point on Friday’s conference call, Colonel Conricus attempted to play down the damage, saying the gap was only “a few yards – not a big difference.”
But the mismatch between English and Hebrew news has sparked a frenzied rush into Israeli newsrooms and branches of foreign newspapers and broadcasters around the country to investigate the situation on the ground.
At 1:43 am, Roy Sharon, military correspondent for the Israeli public broadcaster Kann News, released a confirmed report: “This is not a land invasion. I repeat: there is no invasion of land in the Gaza Strip. I do not understand this strange statement.
By that time, according to Israeli reports, the military operation was already over.