Words as bombs

The Arabic Branch of the IDF Spokesperson Unit also undertakes high-impact media campaigns to achieve strategic goals.

By Yaakov Lappin, JNS

On June 7, the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson Unit—Arabic Branch named eight of the terrorists hiding at an UNRWA school in Nuseirat, who were killed in an Israeli Air Force strike the previous day.

The information spread out across Arabic-speaking social media and media networks, challenging false assertion peddled by Hamas that civilians were the target.

A screenshot of the IDF Arabic Media Branch’s June 7 exposure of the identities of Hamas terrorists hiding in an UNRWA school in Nuseirat that was struck by the IAF.

The fact that Hamas uses UNRWA facilities as terror bases isn’t new, but in the Arab-Muslim world, when names are put to faces of terrorists involved in such actions, Hamas must deal with this information, and the exposure of terrorists identities means that Hamas operatives feel hounded by Israel’s intelligence penetration.

That’s exactly why the Arabic Branch of the IDF Spokesperson Branch released the names.

The Arabic Branch has strategically evolved in recent years to use media and communication as tools in achieving operational goals, thereby converting intelligence into desired outcomes without the need to drop a bomb.

Sgt. First Class (res.) Ido Segev. Credit: IDF.

The idea behind the branch’s effort to achieve operational goals belongs to 23-year-old reservist Sgt. First Class Ido Segev, who has been instrumental in its development.

Segev, who is also an entrepreneur and a student at Reichman University in Herzliya, has been leading the branch’s work at the operational level for more than 200 days, after coming up with the idea for this kind of work in 2021.

Under his initiative, which has received the support of his commanders, the branch has become a go-to for a range of IDF units seeking to find new tools to solve their problems.

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The Arabic Branch was established in 2005 and has since become integral to IDF operations, particularly in warfare, a military source told JNS in recent days.

Over the years, the branch has adapted to the dynamic media landscape, initially working with Arabic satellite TV channels and newspapers and later embracing social media platforms. It is headed by Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee.

A significant part of the branch’s work these days involves exposing intelligence information to discredit adversaries and sabotage planned terrorist activities, particularly by Hamas and Hezbollah.

This is achieved through the IDF’s platforms in Arabic and exposure articles in the Arabic media.

Recent examples include exposing the real name and image of Hamas’s military spokesperson, known by his “stage name” of Abu Obeida (his real name was exposed by the Branch as Hudhayfah Kahlot), and revealing the connection between Hezbollah and explosives targeting UNIFIL forces in Lebanon.

At the beginning of October, Segev was just two weeks away from starting an Economics and Business Administration program at Reichman University while simultaneously completing an international program to become a certified financial planner (CFP).

This was in addition to leading intensive development of a startup in the marketing field, which he saw as his future in business.

The Oct. 7 mass murder attack saw Segev immediately resume his military duties, which he has continued for more than 200 days.

Speaking to JNS, Segev outlined how, after receiving approval for his “startup”—the initiative to set up an operational cell in the Arabic Branch—back in 2021, military “clients” began lining up for his services, and how during the current war against Hamas, demand has never been higher.

After proposing his idea, Segev trekked to IDF units around the country, inviting them to use his services.

The first major case involved a Syrian army lookout officer stationed on the border with Israel, who had decided to aid Hezbollah. Despite various attempts by the IDF to deliver messages to him through different means, it was only after the IDF Spokesperson’s Arabic Branch publicly exposed the officer’s activities that he went underground and left the sector, neutralizing the threat.

“One of the first major successes of our initiative was when Maj. Gen. Roman Gofman, then-commander of the 210th Division in the Golan Heights, faced issues with a Syrian officer named Capt. Bashar Hussein,” recalled Segev.

“He was providing surveillance data to Hezbollah. Despite various attempts to deliver messages through different operational means, it was only after the IDF Spokesperson’s Arabic Branch publicly exposed the officer’s activities that he vanished.”

This method of has proven equally effective in other scenarios as well.

On May 29, the IDF Arabic Media Branch publicized an official Hamas document showing that a senior Hamas operative robbed and extorted Gazan banks of sums reaching 400 million shekels (around $108 million).

After a unit in IDF Military Intelligence, which scans data retrieved from enemy assets, found the document, and turned to the Arabic Media Branch, Segev’s branch knew just what to do with the Hamas document.

“The letter stated that the banks are insured and can get the cash back,” said Segev. “This was an internal document, and then it turned out that days afterwards, robbers burst into these branch banks in Gaza and stole millions of shekels in cash,” said Segev.

A second military source said that while such exposures will not turn most Gazans against Hamas, they do chip away at its legitimacy and embolden criticism among an increasingly vocal minority of Palestinians.

The Arabic Branch of the IDF Spokesperson Unit also undertakes high-impact media campaigns to achieve strategic goals. One such campaign revealed the involvement of senior Hezbollah figures in smuggling weapons from Iran on direct business jet flights between Tehran and Beirut.

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“In February 2022, we were approached by the Intelligence Directorate with information about senior Iranian officials smuggling weapons to Lebanon via civilian private flights,” said Segev.

Military Intelligence told the Arabic Branch an incredible story: The son of Nasrallah’s second in command, Hashim Safi Al Din (also transliterated Hashem Safieddine), was married to the daughter of the late Iranian Quds Force commander, Qassem Soleimani.

The branch received highly classified intelligence showing that Soleimani’s daughter lives in Tehran with her mother, and Safi Al Din’s son lives in Beirut with his father.

“The son is a Hezbollah operative who travels the route using his connections. We realize this involves highly senior figures and is a very complex operation,” said Segev. Iran and Hezbollah were exploiting the flights to smuggle weapons, including certain high-ticket items.

“We decide to expose the entire operation, putting the son’s face at the center of the campaign. We take a picture of him, a video from the wedding of Soleimani’s daughter and Safi Al Din’s son, and publish it, telling the story and revealing the details,” said Segev.

Then, almost immediately, Persian-language opposition media picked up the story, alongside major Arabic media outlets, both within Lebanon and across the Arab world.

The exposure appears to have had a positive impact.

Despite its successes, the branch faces ongoing challenges. “We tried to go and convey messages above the heads of the very politicized and often biased media. Platforms like Al Jazeera are powerful propaganda tools, and competing with them requires innovative approaches,” said the second military source.

Looking ahead, the branch aims to continue using its online presence to achieve operational goals.

By exposing the activities and identities of adversaries and strategically leveraging media campaigns, the branch has created a new avenue to harm enemies in addition to firepower strikes.

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