When Israeli forces attacked the Gaza Strip on Friday, killing a top Hamas military leader, they declared their intentions to the world on Twitter.
Since then, both sides have been involved in a Twitter war with military commanders live-tweeting the action on the ground in Gaza while sending inflammatory tweets to the Twitter account of their opponents.
“We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,” the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson (@IDFSpokesperson) account tweeted Wednesday. The tweet was re-tweeted more than 2500 times.
What is believed to be the official Twitter account of the Hamas military wing, Alqassam Brigades, quickly replied, “Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves).”
Hamas, a party regarded as a terrorist group by the United States, Israel and Europe, has controlled the Gaza Strip, an area on the coast of the Mediterranean close to twice the size of Washington, D.C. between Israel and Egypt, since 2006.
Since then Israelis and Hamas have been involved in a constant struggle, often shooting rockets and inflicting violence on one another. This attack is a response to an increase in rocket fire into southern Israel by militant groups in Gaza.
The battle marks the first major conflict between the two powers since 2008 when Israeli forces invaded Gaza and killed 1400 people in response to a Hamas barrage of rocket fire.
@IDFSpokesperson sent over 25 tweets during the five-hour attack as well as multiple videos of the fighting including one that showed the explosion which killed Hamas’ top military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari.
At the end of the attack, the Israeli forces tweeted:
This attack marks the first time any large-scale military operation was handled through Twitter. Social media has been playing an increasingly larger role in the dissemination of information, especially in the Middle East, but never in such an official capacity.
Twitter has slowly taken over as one of the main sources for breaking news. Events like the death of Osama Bin Laden, the Hudson River plane crash and political campaign announcements were announced by by-standers on Twitter before any official statement could be made.
Experts say conflicts on Twitter could be a big part of the trend of future warfare tactics, which may make it more difficult to reach a cease fire.
“This is a new reality of war,” Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the National Security Network think tank in Washington, told the Los Angeles Times. “And I worry that it’s going to make it harder to stand down.”
Others contend that the virtual atmosphere of an online battle distances viewers from the reality of violence and turns real time warfare into a computer game.
“I find it strange that there are people who find it thrilling to watch someone being assassinated in real time. In some cases, it looks perversely like a game,” said Michael Dahan, professor of Internet and politics at Sapir College in Israel, according to the Los Angeles Times. “It puts the audience in the front seat of war, but what they see is strictly controlled by the IDF.”
Since the attack, the IDF, which has reached more than 130,000 followers, has been tweeting information about the situation in southern Israel, photos and videos of horribly injured Israelis and blog posts describing the attack and the reasons that prompted it.
The conflict in Gaza is far from over, already the Israelis have called up 16,000 reserve soldiers to prepare for a possible ground invasion of Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the army is prepared for a “significant widening” of operations in Gaza.
Observers from across the globe are hooked to their Twitter accounts as they experience a whole new way of watching the story unfold in real time over social media channels.