“War In 140 Characters,” Washington Post Book Review

In war, the battle today is less on the ground than on social media

Dec. 14, 2017

In the 1990s, I served as an infantryman at an obscure Israeli outpost in southern Lebanon whose claim to fame was a curious incident one Saturday morning in 1994: A Hezbollah team assaulted the hilltop base, surprised the garrison, planted a flag and ran away.

What made this attack different, in those ancient offline days, was that one of the Hezbollah fighters was armed not with a rifle but with a video camera. Dramatic footage of the flag planting, with echoes of Iwo Jima, was broadcast via newly proliferating satellite dishes and appeared on TV across the Middle East. Hezbollah declared victory. The Arab world cheered. Israelis fumed over a perceived debacle. The narrative tide in the guerilla war between Israel and Hezbollah began to shift in Hezbollah’s favor. On the ground, nothing of military importance had happened. But the jihadists grasped first that it didn’t matter — that new information technologies evened the playing field and that a great success in the real world mattered less than a great story on a screen.

The revolutionary digital landscape then in gestation, and now in full swing, is the subject of an important and accessible new book by journalist David Patrikarakos, a contributor at the Daily Beast and Politico and the author of an earlier book on Iran’s nuclear program. The idea for “War in 140 Characters,” Patrikarakos writes, came a few years ago “while lying on my bed in a bleak room of the Ramada hotel in Donetsk, listening to the sound of shelling on the city’s outskirts.”

(Read more here.)