Israel did not sufficiently prepare diplomatically for Friday’s march in the Gaza Strip, with much of the international media portraying it as a “peaceful protest,” Deputy Minister Michael Oren said on Sunday.

Oren, whose responsibilities inside the Prime Minister’s Office include public diplomacy, said in his media appearances over the weekend he was amazed Hamas was not characterized as a terrorist organization, while the IDF was cast in the role of war criminals.

“Even outlets friendly to us, like The Wall Street Journal, did not mention that Hamas is a terrorist organization,” he said. “So as far I am concerned we were completely unprepared. Yesterday [Saturday] was a scramble day, and that should not have been the case.”

Oren said Israel needs to begin preparing now for further confrontations in Gaza, as well as possible ones on the northern borders with Hezbollah and Syria. “We have to lay the groundwork now,” he said. “You prepare the IDF for war, you have to prepare for this type of war too, which in many ways is the most critical and decisive.”

Israeli soldiers shoot tear gas from the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border, as Palestinians protest on the Gaza side of the border, March 30, 2018. (AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

While a National Information Directorate does exist – the job of which is to coordinate all the different agencies dealing with public diplomacy speaking on message – Oren said the agency’s budget needs to be significantly enhanced.

“They do a great job with what they have,” Oren said of this committee that is headed by Yarden Vatikai and which includes representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry, the Strategic Affairs Ministry, the IDF, the police and other governmental and security agencies. “But what they have is too little.”

“We have to mount an international, concerted public diplomacy campaign to explain and educate about what Hamas is,” he said. “The first thing we have to say is that Hamas is recognized by the US and Europe as a terrorist organization, people forget that.”

And, he added, “I suggest that we embed journalists and observers from the US and Britain, as we have done in the past.”

Oren said while IDF commanders are not enamored of this concept, “To have journalists watching our soldiers would not be a bad idea. This has its risks, but then they can see what is happening first hand.”

Oren explained that it is important for journalists and observers “to see up front what is going on, that these are not peaceful demonstrations, that there are people throwing Molotov cocktails coming up to the fence.”

But Ohad Kaynar, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, disputed the notion that Israel was not prepared for Friday’s events, and said that in the weeks leading up to the demonstrations there was “intensive preparation” from the Foreign Ministry, the IDF Spokesman’s Office, the Prime Minister’s Office and the National Information Directorate.

Kaynar said an analysis of coverage of the march received on social media indicated the issue did not “take off,” and that the Palestinian hope for a “viral campaign” on social media was not successful. Quoting figures stated by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Kaynar said the Palestinians spent $15 million on the march, and expected a much greater result in the media.

Kaynar said the coverage of the events was relatively minor on the traditional media as well. Jerusalem, he said, made a decision not to “fan the flames” by not responding to every Palestinian speaker or claim.

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