There was a time that wars were fought between countries. Whether military or economic, a country or a group of countries would battle other countries. In extreme cases, the wars would ensnare much of the world.
But in modern times, battles have moved to a personal level.
Non-state actors like Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Liberation Organization have been waging political terrorism for a long time. However in modern times (since 2011), terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram moved the goalposts considerably, by using social media as an active part of their war efforts. The groups used Facebook and Twitter to share videos of brutal murders to both instill fear in their enemies and to enlist new troops. Such efforts were so successful, that politicians made combating these groups online one of their priorities in defeating the terrorists.
While social media became a new fertile area for the recruitment of civilians, the war efforts were still overseen and directed by the leadership of the terrorist groups. The leaders either deployed the new recruits in active fields of battle such as Iraq and Syria, or instructed them to conduct terrorist attacks in western countries that were supporting the battle against the jihadist groups.
That formula began to evolve in 2014.
Armies of One
For most of mankind’s history, an individual was a local being without a voice. In dictatorships, people’s opinions were irrelevant. A person’s existence was to pay taxes and serve in the army to further the goals of the leader. Even in democracies in which an individual’s opinion mattered in shaping a government’s makeup and therefore its policies, the individual’s impact would be relegated to the voting booth. If people wanted to achieve a more direct impact on government foreign policy, the choices were being part of a massive protest or joining the army or government. However, in each of those cases, the ultimate arbiter of foreign policy remained at the government level.
Social media has started to change that dynamic. Not only could non-state actors reach civilians around the world as described above, civilians could share their opinions and express their anger and actually impact foreign policy in a number of ways.
Defamation: In the third Hamas war from Gaza against Israel in 2014, Palestinian Arabs took to Facebook and Twitter to describe their personal situation. As described in the new book “War in 140 Characters: How Social Media is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-First Century,” a teenage girl from Gaza posted live about her fear and suffering in the war, reaching hundreds of thousands of people around the world, punishing Israel’s image on a global level. According to the author of the book, “Israel lost the global information war because it did not ‘bleed’ enough, and as long as it maintains its military advantage, it never will.”
Violence: By the 2014 war’s end, the Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank felt that they had also not ‘bled’ enough, and began a car ramming and stabbing intifada against Israelis, both civilians and soldiers. The attacks were inspired – but not orchestrated – by Arab leadership from the West Bank Fatah party as well as the Gaza-based Hamas party.
The deadly “lone wolf” attacks in the United States from 2015 to 2017 were similarly inspired by ISIS, but were not planned by the terrorist group’s leadership.
Economic: The personal war is not just being waged with violence and libel. It is economic as well.
In the past countries-war model, countries would use economic pressure against one another, such as after Egypt lost the Yom Kippur War to Israel in 1973, it engaged in an economic war against all of the countries that supported Israel including the US via an oil embargo. In today’s individual-war model, people engage in a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. The BDS movement targets the government of Israel, professors at Israeli universities, Israeli companies and even individuals looking to perform in Israel. The latest victim was the pop singer Lorde, who cancelled her Israel concert in December 2017 after being barraged by threats from individuals.
This is a new phenomenon. Individuals are now attackers and individuals are now victims. The ties that bind both attacker and victim are no longer based on nationality and borders, but by identity. Jihadists fight anti-jihadists around the world, and anti-Zionists fight Zionists everywhere. The global economy and pervasiveness of social media have enabled the protagonists to organize.
In such a new format, is Israel worse off or better? The one Jewish State is outnumbered 57-to-1 by the number of Muslim countries, but by 100-to-1 in terms of Muslim-to-Jewish population (twice as small). In general, Israel is just a single country out of 193 countries at the United Nations, but is dwarfed by 900-to-1 in terms of the global population (five times as small).
In a new personalized-war model, the small country looks even smaller.
But the personalization of war also leads invariably to a personalization of defense, and therein lies an amazing opportunity.
There is only one Jewish State and only a limited number of Jews, so Israel will always be outnumbered on the world stage. But there are millions of pro-Zionists in the world. These people must be educated and prepared to counter the scourge of demonization that is being touted on social media. They should be marketed to as consumers of Israeli products to repel the efforts of BDS minions. And they should be called upon to defend Israel when individuals, groups and countries shout “from the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free,” in efforts to destroy the one Jewish State.
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