Israel to arm combat soldiers with cameras

AP News
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Posted: Apr 11, 2011 10:49 AM
Israel to arm combat soldiers with cameras

The next time Israel goes to war, its combat soldiers will likely be carrying cameras in addition to more conventional weapons.

Reeling from war crimes accusations during a major offensive against Hamas-ruled Gaza more than two years ago, the Israeli military is studying the wide distribution of cameras as a tool to make its case to the world.

The plan would appear to put Israel at the vanguard of such efforts around the world _ and reflects the intense and growing scrutiny of Israel's conflict with the Palestinians.

Critics said the military would never be able to prove such images weren't edited.

The military said Monday that it is considering distributing cameras, mainly to infantry and armored units.

Israeli media said a final decision is expected soon. The reports say that during a two-week course, soldiers from different units will be taught how to take pictures and learn about the international media.

The Israeli military has long recognized the importance of PR in modern warfare and has a strong online presence in social networks such as Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

Video captured by military videographers has been used in the battle over international opinion.

Last year, during its deadly raid against a Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla, Israeli footage showed its commandos being assaulted with sticks and metal rods by pro-Palestinian activists before troops opened fire.

Over the weekend, military airstrikes killed 19 Palestinians _ including six civilians. To back arguments that it had to fire into civilian areas, the military uploaded footage taken from one of its drones showing militants preparing a rocket-launcher inside a residential neighborhood.

The idea to distribute cameras to soldiers stems from a growing awareness of Israel's international isolation, in particular in recent years. The move also reflects Israel's status as a web-savvy society in which use of smartphones and social media is commonplace.

Israel's image was badly battered by its three-week-long war against Gaza, launched after years of being targeted by rockets from Gaza. About 1,400 Gazans were killed in the war, including hundreds of civilians, along with 13 Israelis.

A U.N. report has concluded that both sides might have committed war crimes _ Israel by using excessive force in one of the world's most crowded territories and Hamas by indiscriminately firing rockets at civilian areas in Israel.

There was a strong feeling in Israel that the world did not understand the difficulty of fighting militants who locate themselves among civilians. However, Israeli critics have said the military sent soldiers into battle with vague open-fire orders and instructions that they should put their safety above anything else.

Since the Gaza war, the military has increased efforts to document its activities.

"Whereas once we only had professional cameraman joining the troops, we are now exploring training combat soldiers to take pictures and video themselves," said Capt. Barak Raz, a military spokesman.

The idea is that just as each infantry company has a trained medic, a radio operator and a heavy machine gun specialist, so too would it have a trained cameraman, from within its rank-and-file.

Ofer Shelah, a military commentator, dismissed the plan as absurd.

"There will always be those who will say we edited the material or that we are just showing what is convenient for us," he said. "So long as we are the strong side and we are facing a bunch of gangs, it will be very difficult to portray ourselves to the world the way we see ourselves _ as victims."