“This was not some elaborate attempt to manipulate the media in order to achieve a tactical victory,” said IDF spokesman Hidai Zilberman in a statement.
By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News
The IDF is denying that it purposely misled foreign press reporters and agencies last Friday, after outlets including the New York Times and Associated Press, appear to have been duped by an ambiguous IDF tweet and confirmation by a spokesman into reporting on a ground invasion of Gaza that didn’t actually occur.
In an English language tweet on Friday, the IDF announced that “air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip,” suggesting that a ground invasion of the area was taking place.
Minutes later, the IDF’s English language spokesman, Lt.-Col. Jonathan Cornricus, confirmed that troops had entered Gaza in a statement to foreign press.
“Yes. As it’s written in the statement,” Cornricus said. “Indeed, ground forces are attacking in Gaza. That is that they are in the Strip.”
However, that turned out not to be the case. No IDF troops entered the Strip – rather, they were physically stationed in an area which is technically considered Gazan territory, but under de jure Israeli control.
Hebrew language media speculated that the IDF had given false information to the foreign press as a tactic to drive Hamas fighters into underground tunnels, which were subsequently bombed by the Israeli Air Force.
On Saturday evening, IDF Spokesman Hidai Zilberman said that allegations that the IDF sought to intentionally manipulate the press were “conspiratorial” and that Cornricus had made “an honest mistake” in confirming that troops were on the ground in Gaza.
“This was not some elaborate attempt to manipulate the media in order to achieve a tactical victory,” Zilberman said in a statement.
“By definition and our guiding belief system, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit does not engage in psychological warfare and is tasked with conveying only the truth to the public, a mission we have devotedly undertaken for more than seven decades.”
Cornricus told a New York Times reporter that there was no “attempt to try to fool anybody or to cause you to write anything that isn’t true.”
He admitted that to an outsider, the tweet and his subsequent confirmation “may look differently,” adding that his mistake was “frankly embarrassing.”
Later in the same conversation with the Times reporter, Cornricus said the IDF had employed multiple tactics to try to trick Hamas into gearing up for a ground invasion.
Tanks were noisily moved closer to the border, he said, to encourage the terror group to hunker down in tunnels.
“What the IDF wanted to create was a situation where they went down into the tunnels so that we could attack them,” Cornricus confirmed.
Or Heller, a military correspondent for Israel’s Channel 13 News, praised the IDF for what he said was a media ploy.
“They didn’t lie,” he said. “It was a manipulation. It was smart and it was successful.”
Former IDF English language spokesman Peter Lerner appeared to be concerned about the long-term consequences of the incident.
“Your currency is credibility,” he said to AP. “I think this is a crisis of that credibility in the way it’s being portrayed.”