The conflict between Israel and Hamas is fast becoming an online world war.
Iran, Russia, and, to a lesser extent, China have used state media and the world’s major social networking platforms to support Hamas and undermine Israel, while denigrating Israel’s key ally, the United States.
Iran’s proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq have also joined the online fight, along with extremist groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State, which were previously at odds with Hamas.
According to government officials and independent researchers, the flood of online propaganda and disinformation is far greater than anything seen before – a reflection of the world’s geopolitical divide.
“It’s being seen by millions, millions of people around the world,” said Rafi Mendelsohn, vice president of Cybra, a social media intelligence company in Tel Aviv, “and it’s influencing the war in a way that’s probably right on the ground.” As effective as any other strategy.” Cybra has documented at least 40,000 bots or inauthentic accounts online since Hamas attacked Israel from Gaza on October 7.
The content – internal, emotionally charged, politically slanted and often false – has fueled anger and even violence beyond Gaza, raising fears it could spark a wider conflict. Is. Although Iran has denied any involvement in the Hamas attack, its Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir Abdallahian, has also threatened to retaliate on “multiple fronts” if Israeli forces remain in Gaza.
“It’s just like everyone is involved,” said Mustafa Ayad, executive director for Africa, the Middle East and Asia at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. The institute, a non-profit research organization in London, last week broad impact campaign By Iran, Russia and China.
U.S. and other government officials and experts said the operations did not appear to be coordinated, though they did not rule out cooperation.
While Iran, Russia, and China each have different motivations for supporting Hamas over Israel, they have pursued similar themes since the war began. Officials and experts said they are not only providing moral support, but also conducting overt and covert information campaigns to one-up each other and expand the global reach of their ideas on multiple platforms in multiple languages.
For example, the Spanish branch of the global Russian television network, RT, recently reposted a statement from the Iranian president calling the October 17 explosion at Gaza’s Al-Ahli Arab hospital an Israeli war crime, even though Western intelligence agencies and independent analysts have since said that a misfired missile from Gaza was the more likely cause of the explosion.
Another Russian foreign news outlet, Sputnik India, quoted a “military expert” as saying, without evidence, that the United States had provided the bomb that destroyed the hospital. Such posts have been viewed tens of thousands of times.
“We are in an undeclared information war with authoritarian countries,” James P. Rubin, head of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, said in a recent interview.
From the first hours of its attack, Hamas has adopted a broad, sophisticated media strategy inspired by groups like the Islamic State. According to Cybra researchers, its operators spread graphic imagery through bot accounts originating in places such as Pakistan, bypassing Hamas’ restrictions on Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter.
A profile on One post featured a cartoon claiming double standards by showing how Palestinian resistance to Israel was presented as terrorism while Ukraine’s fight against Russia was self-defense.
Officials and experts who track disinformation and extremism have been surprised by how quickly and extensively Hamas’s message has spread online. This feat was certainly inspired by the emotional intensity of the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the graphic images of violence that were captured in real time from cameras carried by Hamas gunmen. It was also promoted by extensive networks of bots and, soon after, by social media platforms – official accounts belonging to the governments and state media in Iran, Russia and China.