JERUSALEM – Israel's bruising war on the Islamic militants who control Gaza has moved online, where sites like YouTube and Facebook are the new battlegrounds.
Israel posted video of its attacks on militants firing rockets over the past five days on a new YouTube channel to try to show the world the threat against it.
YouTube temporarily yanked the clips on Tuesday after viewers, apparently supporters of Hamas, flagged it as objectionable and asked that it be taken down. The video-sharing Web site restored the video a few hours later, labeling it inappropriate for minors.
Supporters of Gaza's Hamas rulers, meanwhile, have posted images of the devastating Israeli offensive on both YouTube and Facebook and on blogs, uploading images of the carnage and suffering in the tiny seaside territory.
The militants themselves regularly update their Web sites in Arabic and English. In addition, they broadcast images of masked, uniformed fighters on Hamas TV, which was bombed by Israeli warplanes but continues to broadcast from a mobile unit.
"The blogosphere and the new media are basically a war zone" in a battle for world opinion, an Israeli military spokesman, Maj. Avital Leibovich, said Wednesday.
Gideon Doron, former chairman of the Israeli agency that oversaw the privatization of the country's television and radio services, said today's warfare includes fighting through the media.
"Many of the victories of modern warfare are mediated by the media," Doron said. "We have Internet and all kinds of modern communication, and the Israeli military apparently decided that it has to broadcast its message through these tools."
Leibovich said the new YouTube channel and a new blog the military is launching are an important part of Israel's attempt to explain its actions abroad.
One of the aerial surveillance videos Israel posted shows about a dozen figures that the military says are militants loading rockets onto a truck. They are eventually targeted by an air-launched missile and disappear in a white cloud as the truck explodes.
"We were saddened on Dec. 30, 2008 when YouTube took down some of our exclusive footage," the military wrote on its YouTube channel page. "Fortunately, due to blogger and viewer support, YouTube has returned the footage they removed."
YouTube did not reply to an e-mail requesting comment. In the past, YouTube, which is owned by Google Inc., has been pressed to take down videos depicting violence. The site has no automatic review, however, so anything posted runs until a viewer flags it and asks that it be taken down.
In May, Sen. Joseph Lieberman complained that the process was flawed because Al Qaeda recruitment videos could still be seen on the site.
The Israeli military says its clips have attracted more than 230,000 views since going online Monday.
Israel launched the air assault on Saturday in response to rocket barrages launched from Gaza at Israeli towns. Hundreds of airstrikes across the Palestinian territory have caused huge damage and Gaza officials say some 390 Palestinians have been killed. Hamas says some 200 were members of its security forces, and the U.N. says at least 60 were civilians.
Militant rockets have reached farther into Israel than ever before, killing three Israeli civilians and a soldier.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed to the media.