Information is War; Truth is its Casualty

flags at half mast in the Netherlands

Flags at half mast in the Netherlands, flags representing the nationality's among passengers on MH17;
Image courtesy of Reuters

Information is War; Truth is its Casualty
| published July 23, 2014 |

By R. Alan Clanton
Thursday Review editor

The last 24 hours have proven that the world is far more interconnected than we have ever fully realized.

In the Netherlands, tens of thousands of somber Dutch citizens lined roads, sidewalks, highways and overpasses to pay their respects to the dead as 40 hearses transported 40 bodies, all victims of a Malaysian jetliner shot down a week ago over war-torn Ukraine. A stoic nation not known for its displays of outward emotion, the Netherlands was of one mind and one heart for several long hours Wednesday. Another 70 bodies are expected to arrive on Thursday.

Meanwhile, in eastern Ukraine, two Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jets were shot down over an area controlled by pro-Russian militants armed with Russian equipment. The weapon used to knock those fighter planes from the sky: the Russian-made BuK-11 system, using the same “Gadfly” rockets used to shoot down Malaysian Air flight MH17 last week, and in an area less than 18 miles from where the debris of the civilian airliner lies strewn across fields of sunflowers and tall grasses. The use of the BuK system would seem to indicate that despite claims to the contrary, Moscow is supplying the separatists with state-of-the-art Russian military hardware.

And in the wake of questions about why Malaysian Airlines did not heed some of the warnings about commercial flights over war-torn Ukraine, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration extended its recent blanket warnings about air safety in and around Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. Rockets launched from Gaza by Hamas militants have fallen within a mile of the airport, and in total, Hamas militants have launched hundreds of unguided rockets toward Israel. Israel has been responding by firing its own missiles and heavy ordnance into Gaza, and despite Israel's use of far more accurate, high-tech weaponry, the Palestinian death toll has risen now to nearly 700.

Throughout the day Wednesday, Israeli officials complained that the FAA’s bans and warnings are mostly politically-motivated—designed to put pressure on Israel at the height of tourist season, and a blunt tool of leverage to get Israel to accept a truce with Hamas. But the FAA says it is only trying to be proactive, and that it seeks to err on the side of caution and safety—citing sluggish and confusing recommendations about civilian air travel over the Ukraine. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg—in either a bold act of affirmation or a brazen publicity stunt—hopped aboard an Israeli El Al airline flight from the Big Apple to Tel Aviv in an effort to show solidarity with the Israeli people and to show that air travel to the Ben Gurion airport was still perfectly safe.

The fighting along the lines between Israel and Gaza has become so intense that astronauts working aboard the International Space Station were able to see the rocket launches and witness the powerful explosions on the ground. In some places in Gaza the fighting is so intense that international aid agencies and volunteers attempting to provide medical care are being forced to retreat from their rescue and humanitarian assistance.

Another 55 rockets were launched against Israel on Wednesday, and still Israeli officials claim the country is safe for tourists and visitors even as Hamas claims its suasion over the FAA's decision represents an enormous victory for Palestinians. Israel calls Hamas a terrorist organization for its indiscriminate use of unguided rockets aimed at Israel; Hamas and its allies claim Israel’s bombardment upon Gaza is a tool for civilian terror.

Image is everything, and information itself becomes a tool of warfare.

Russian President Vladimir Putin claims Moscow is not supporting the cause of the pro-Russian separatists, yet video and photographic images show Buk missile launcher systems moving along the roads of eastern Ukraine, only miles from where such rockets were used to down airplanes. Amid much fanfare and in front of TV camera crews, the militants hand over the “black box” from the Malaysian jetliner (the black box is actually orange) even as American and British TV crews show evidence of serious tampering with the wreckage of the plane—including what appears to be large sections of the cockpit and fuselage which have been cut away (and presumably removed) by gas-powered metal saws. Russian media continues to promote the theory that the jetliner was shot down by Ukrainian fighter jets in a deliberate attempt to frame those militant forces loyal to Russia, despite substantial technical data which shows a ground-to-air rocket was fired at the plane.

Again, information becomes the first tool of warfare, and truth—perhaps—the first casualty.

In the meantime, U.S. airlines are not the only ones adhering to the FAA’s guidelines regarding flights into Israel. Other major airlines also joined in the temporary moratorium, including Lufthansa, Air Canada, Air France and German Wings, along with Delta, United and US Air. Still, Israel insists air travel to Tel Aviv is safe, and suggests that the FAA’s decision has been manipulated by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama in an effort to apply economic pressure to the conflict. Speaking on CNN on Wednesday, Bloomberg suggested that the flight edict was tantamount to handing a public relations victory to Hamas.

In eastern Ukraine, fighting continues to increase in violence and intensity. Near Donetsk, both Ukrainian forces loyal to Kiev and the pro-Moscow separatists have raised the stakes for the battle for control of the area. Military experts say that the two Su-25s shot down on Wednesday were flying at roughly 17,000 feet (5,200 meters), and could not have been taken down by a shoulder-held type weapon. U.S. intelligence reports and satellite imagery indicate that the downing of Ukrainian planes was accompanied by a heat-signature almost identical to the signature seen in the seconds prior to the destruction of MH17 last week.

The militants’ ability to shoot down aircraft has become something of a game-changer in the six-month old Ukrainian crisis. In late June, the Ukrainian military had begun to step up its efforts to regain control of some areas east of the Dnieper River. With some success, air power was beginning to turn the tide in favor of Kiev. Western military analysts believe that targeted air strikes, coupled with precise intelligence, provided the key advantage to the Ukrainian military, and there was evidence that the separatists were losing ground.

But the introduction of the BuK rocket systems has apparently leveled the battlefield, and perhaps given the militants a crucial new advantage. Militants have been able to knock down Ukrainian fighters or transports on at least a dozen occasions over the last six weeks. The BuK SA-11 mobile launcher system is a tank-like device which can hold up to four rockets, each capable of reaching high-altitude targets. The Malaysian jetliner, a Boeing 777, was flying at about 25,000 feet when it was apparently shot down by such a weapon in eastern Ukraine, about 19 miles from the border with Russia and five miles from the town of Snizhne. The plane’s debris fell across a rural area, killing all 298 passengers. At least 193 of the passengers were from the Netherlands. Other nations represented by the passenger list include Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Belgium, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and others.

The militants, who have been in control of the crash site for six days, also handed over the cockpit voice recording mechanism to crash investigators. The voice recorder will be analyzed by British aviation experts.

The crises in the Ukraine and in Israel and Gaza have been the dominant foreign policy issues facing the Obama administration for the past weeks. In addition, the President must contend with ongoing stresses in Iraq, as well as complex negotiations with Iran—two nation’s whose immediate futures are now interlocked because of the region’s current war between Shiite and Sunni Muslim factions. Obama’s critics—especially Republicans—are complaining loudly that the President is distracted by political fundraising at a time of maximum international danger.

But White House spokespersons have said the President is able to closely monitor each of these critical hotspots throughout his day, even as he travels to help raise money for Democratic candidates.

Related Thursday Review articles:

No Conflict is Local, No War is Regional; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; July 19, 2014.

Iraq’s Maliki: Under Pressure; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; June 21, 2014.