The Internet as a battleground used by the terrorist organizations: How Hezbollah and Hamas exploit the Internet in the battle for hearts and minds, and how to combat them
Introduction: The Internet’s importance for Hezbollah, Hamas and
the other Islamic terrorist organizations
1. Hezbollah and Hamas are prominent examples of Islamic terrorist organizations which learned to exploit the communications revolution of the last decade. They make extensive use of the media, especially television and the Internet , in the battle for hearts and minds, waged parallel to the fighting on the ground. They use the media to disseminate their ideology and political propaganda, generate public interest in their activities and attempt to win sympathy and support.
2. For Hezbollah, Hamas and the other terrorist organizations, the computer keyboard is a weapon no less important than their assault rifles, rockets or side charges. Beyond the battle for hearts and minds, the Internet has a variety of other uses :
A. Maintaining operational links between the organizations' headquarters, and the operational networks and target audiences , which are often widely separated by geography (for example, the Hamas political bureau in Damascus, headed by Khaled Mashaal, and the organization's networks in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip). Websites and surfer forums provide convenient platforms for transmitting operative instructions to individuals or to an entire audience (for example, posting bulletins calling for action, such as appearance at a demonstration.) 1 In addition, the Internet is also used to collect intelligence regarding terrorist attack targets. 2
B. Acquiring operational knowhow . Terrorist operatives use the Internet's technical sites which contain information about topics such as making explosives and constructing rockets. That is particularly important for the Palestinian terrorist organizations, which do not have standard advanced weapons such as those possessed by Hezbollah.
C. Collecting donations . In recent years there has been an increase in the amount of funds collected through the Internet for Islamic “charitable societies.” The Islamic terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah and Hamas, use their vast networks of “charitable societies” to fund its civilian wing, although a portion of the money also leaks into funding terrorist activities.
3. The importance of marketing Islamic terrorist organization ideology and disseminating its propaganda through satellite TV and the Internet grew after the events of September 11, 2001. On the other hand, in recent years the United States , and to a lesser degree other countries, have hampered the various terrorist organizations' use of the media. A prominent example is the restrictions the United States , France and other European countries placed on the satellite broadcasts of Al-Manar TV, the Hezbollah channel.
4. By using the Internet, Hezbollah and Hamas, like Al-Qaeda and the global jihad organizations, can evade with relative ease the difficulties placed in their paths by various governments , including the United States administration, by claiming privileges of freedom of speech (guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution) and by exploiting the generally accepted principle that the Internet should not be subject to censorship. That allows it to be the main conduit for the almost completely unhampered dissemination of radical Islamic ideology, the encouragement of terrorist attacks, including suicide bombing attacks, the destruction of Israel and extreme anti-Semitic propaganda.
5. Hezbollah, Hamas and the radical Islamic terrorist organizations avail themselves of the Internet to support their terrorist activities and disseminate their ideology, and use Western Internet hosts to do so. At the same time, they refute and deny the basic Western principles which are also disseminated by the Internet, such as democracy, freedom of speech, the equality of women, etc. Thus it is no wonder that in the Gaza Strip, Internet cafes are a primary target for fundamentalist Islamic elements.