In the past two decades both Israel and America have been involved in a series of conflicts with terrorist and guerrilla groups, sometimes operating independently, sometimes as proxies for hostile states. These conflicts, argue Douglas Feith and Shaul Chorev, necessitate an approach to military matters where perceptions, information warfare, and politics play much more than a secondary role:
In the past, battlefield events were intended to influence international politics only indirectly and in the long run. Combat’s immediate goal was military: to damage the other side’s ability to fight. Now, however, an attack’s immediate purpose is often to produce news reports that will put pressure on enemy decision-makers without actually reducing their ability to fight. The target is the enemy’s will rather than capability. Ironically, battlefield success, if it results in negative news media coverage, may do more harm than good [to the side that achieves it].
Groups that depict themselves as victims of Western powers win automatic support from Western news media. Images that reinforce simple notions—“narratives”—of this kind of victimization can exercise powerful influence. With certain types of audiences, such images cannot be countered quickly and effectively. Explanations about context, history, and other complexities don’t work.
As violent non-state actors wage battles with political rather than military goals—to demoralize their enemies and persuade them to quit fighting and retreat—the other side must also operate politically. . . . Each side in such a conflict has an interest in understanding its adversary’s society—its aspirations, needs, and internal composition. The enemy’s “home front” can be the war’s most important theater.