Commentary: Defusing the Israeli-Syrian PR warLETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Claude Salhani, Middle East Times
July 10, 2007
-- Wars are always fought on two fronts. They are waged on the traditional fields of Mars - battlegrounds where soldiers face each other in combat, and on a virtual plain of hostilities, involving public relations.
The second arena is usually far removed from frontline action, but can be just as important to the overall success of the war effort. It's where the battles for the hearts and minds of the public are fought. And why is that so important? Why is it so vital to convince Joe Public that his government is fighting on the "right side?"
The uninitiated in the ways of war may well be tempted to ask why, in a full scale conflict, should the parties involved dedicate resources and personnel to promote their image when so much else is at stake. The answer is quite simple, really. How well one side fares in the public relations stages of the conflict can ultimately impact how that side later performs on the actual battlefield, itself.
Let me explain by offering a salient example: the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a topic that has the ability to arouse deep emotions among people far removed from the battle zone.
Rumors have recently surfaced purporting that Israel is preparing for an eventual assault on Syrian positions on the Golan. So say the Syrians. Or, depending on which side you choose to believe, there are equal rumors fingering the Syrians as planning to launch guerrilla style attacks against Jewish settlements on the Golan, as reported by the New York Sun.
Israeli officials have been saying they are "concerned" by the cycle of a "defensive" build-up of Syrian forces on the Golan, leading to the countermeasures they feel obliged to implement as precautionary tactics.
The beating of war drums on the Golan's frontlines - which have remained quiet since an armistice negotiated by then US secretary of state Henry Kissinger at the close of the October 1973 war - coincides with alarm bells that some well-informed Washington sources are sounding about the dangers of an all-out war between Syria and Israel erupting sometime over the summer.
Rumors of war in the Middle East have been further strengthened by a number of recent statements and reports. Dennis Ross, a former senior US Middle East peace negotiator, told Israeli online news site YnetNews that he thinks "there is a risk of war" between Syria and Israel this summer. Ross added that "no one has made any decisions, but the Syrians are positioning themselves for war."
And herein lies part of the problem: the fact that "no one has made any decisions." This means that the conflict is taking on a life of its own, feeding on the frenzy being created by the turn of events.
What is currently happening on the Golan is a mini arms race that could easily spin out of control at any moment, engulfing the region in another vicious - and dangerous - cycle of violence. At this point, it no longer matters who started to arm first, or who thought it necessary to enforce a bunker, prompting the other side to do the same. It could build up from this point until reinforcements are called in, after which all it would take to ignite the flames of a true conflagration would be the barest spark.
And while the military prepares for the worst case scenario, the public relations war gets fully into gear, with each side vying for international support for their cause - support that may prove to be crucial if and when the PR conflict turns into open war. The time to preempt such tension degenerating into a disastrous war is now, before the public relations spin leads the protagonists past the point of no return.
Claude Salhani is Editor of the Middle East Times. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.