The crucial condition for success in psychological operations (known today as PSYOP), especially in a conflict where the parties involved belong to different cultural spheres, is an intimate knowledge of the enemy culture.
The essence of PSYOP is to identify a target audience, select a convincing message, and deliver it effectively in order to support military efforts during a conflict. This is a difficult task because the designated audience will be hesitant to accept the message, realizing that it has been initiated by the enemy, and, however appealing the message may seem, knows it is clearly meant to further the sender's interests. Successful PSYOP will convince the enemy audience that although it may appear to be serving the initiator’s interests, in the final calculation it is best to accept the message, or even better, to operate according to it. That is why messages should be crafted with the target audience’s values, needs, and mores in mind.
Such was the case in the terror organization Hezbollah’s PSYOP campaign to drive Israel out of the security zone in Lebanon from the mid-1980s to May 2000. Israelis were led to the conclusion that despite the fact that by withdrawing they exposed their northern cities and communities to possible bombardment and raids, the option of IDF soldiers being killed almost daily was far worse. Any message that came from Hezbollah was indeed marked as propaganda, but the cumulative impact of the small-scale raids against Israeli forces, enhanced by close-up videos depicting those attacks, eventually led the Israeli political leadership to the conclusion desired by Hezbollah and Israel retreated from the security zone in Lebanon.
The same type of gradual opinion change occurred as a result of the successful Hamas campaign to demoralize Israel through the prolonged handling of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. By letting out small titbits of information about his suffering in a cell, Israelis were led to the conclusion that releasing over a thousand convicted terrorists was a fair price to pay for his return.
The same thing applies to the concept of "victory". Normally victory is understood to have been achieved when territory has been won, a far greater number of casualties has been inflicted on the enemy than on the victor's side and much of the enemy's infrastructure has been destroyed. In the Arab world, the concept is completely different. Since the longterm vision is of a world ruled by Islam, every step, whatever the cost, is a step forward. This is why wars against infidels are never "lost". Arab leaders work throughout the war and especially afterwards to create a consciousness of victory after the last shell is shot. Looking at the various "Victory Museums" in the Middle East will show how it works. The enormous Ramadan War Museum in Cairo commemorating the "victory" of the 1973 (Yom Kippur) war has educated Egyptians from all walks of life about the great victory over Israel. A few days after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 Hezbollah opened a Holy Victory Museum in south Lebanon.
The current debate in Israel over assessing the results of the war against Hamas misses this point, just exactly the way the West does.
Victory, we are told, is when the enemy is no longer willing to wage war. In the case of radical Islam, it takes far more than what the West considers necessary – or possible – to achieve that result. Since total destruction is not acceptable by its standards, the West should focus on a large scale secularization program, one much larger than the post-WW2 successful denazification project that was forced on Germany.
Dr. Ron Schleifer, is head of Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communications