It was once said that information is power. That has proven to be very true, particularly in the hands of those who can skillfully wield that power to influence the thoughts, emotions and actions of individuals and groups. The military gives this strategy a name: psychological warfare or PsyOps for short.
At its core, PsyOps uses information to manipulate how adversaries, allies and neutral parties perceive a scenario or enact decision-making processes in response a particular scenario. These strategies seek out well-defined objectives such as:-
1. Undermining the morale and will to fight of an enemy;
2. Influencing the population of another country to support the objectives of those launching the PsyOps;
3. Discrediting opposition groups or governments;
4. Shaping public opinion in support of a particular cause or policy; and
5. Diverting attention away from sensitive activities or operations.
Although PsyOps may be a relatively new term, the premise of it can actually be traced back to ancient warfare, where obvious psychological tactics were employed to demoralise enemies and maintain control over conquered territories. For example, the famous work “The Art of War”, written by Sun Tzu in the 5th century BC emphasised the importance of psychological factors in achieving victory. Although there are other notable examples of PsyOps throughout history, one of the more bizarre examples was coined “Operation Mincemeat”. In short, the operation was the brainchild of two British intelligence officers who hatched an outlandish plan to trick the Nazis and alter the course of World War II. As part of the operation, fake documents were planted on a corpse dressed as a British officer which was then released off the coast of Spain where it was discovered by German agents. The documents contained false information about an upcoming Allied invasion, leading the Germans to divert their forces away from the actual invasion site. Despite the peculiar plan, the operation turned out to be a huge success. The same can’t be said of an IDF operation from 2021.
During its 2021 military operation in the Gaza Strip under the IDF operation “Guardian of the Walls”, the IDF admitted it engaged in PsyOps against the Israeli people by using fake social media accounts to try to increase public support for its operations in the Strip. This was viewed as a serious error in judgement because under Israeli law, the IDF is forbidden from using PsyOps against civilians (although it is permitted to use them against enemy targets abroad). After Israeli media exposed the IDF tactics, a statement was issued which read: “In hindsight, the use of these accounts was an error, which was limited to a 24-hour period. It should be emphasised that this approach has not been deployed in the previous two years. The Spokesperson’s Unit is committed to the truth and is as careful as possible to utilise only reliable and precise information.”
But although we have largely come to expect that political and military institutions of nation states will engage in PsyOps, we are starting to see PsyOps spill over into the civilian arena as non-state actors such as terrorist organisations utilise PsyOps to leverage the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens in order to advance their interests, sway public opinion and undermine adversaries. Dr Irwin Mansdorf, who is a clinical psychologist, had this to say regarding the challenge of terrorism and its effective use of PsyOps: “When it comes to psychological warfare (often called PSYOPS), various ‘playbooks’ have been used over the years. Hamas, an ideologically driven Islamist terror organisation, has used several of these tactics. Most notably, they manipulate the ‘victim’ role to garner support from world opinion. When facing a stronger force like Israel, this strategy (also known as ‘psychological asymmetry’) has allowed them to undertake actions that can be classified as war crimes, and they then take cover under a blitz of distorted information that focuses on Israel as the guilty party. In essence, the asymmetry arises when the stronger military party, Israel, is forced to cease its operations, preventing it from attaining legitimate operational goals.”
As Dr Mansdorf touches on, Hamas has achieved great success by adopting the oppressor/oppressed paradigm that we see so often in society today. The reason that so many fall for this tactic is that they have a worldview which is inconsistent with Biblical truth. For instance, many do not understand that the Jewish people have a history in Eretz Israel which stretches back many centuries before 1948.
Of course, as believers, we are clearly able to see where psychological warfare began – the Garden of Eden. Satan is the first being to deploy this tactic by convincing Eve to question God and ever since, we know him as the author of confusion and the father of lies. Our spiritual enemy’s PsyOps are unceasing and that is why Romans 12:2 is so important to the mind of the believer. Historical, modern and spiritual PsyOps are all intended to manipulate the mind of another person, convincing them to accept an alternate reality. The way we must counter that is to stay connected to the Word of God, speak to Him in prayer and seek the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The bad news for unbelievers is that the PsyOps used against them is about to get a whole lot worse. Although this will manifest itself in the physical world, it originates in the spiritual world and during the Tribulation Period, Revelation 12:9 tells us this (emphasis added): So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. If you are an unbeliever, I urge you to take hold of the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour this very moment. Many may be tempted to wait until after the rapture takes place, wrongly believing that they will be compelled to give their life to Jesus once they see this all unfold. However, there are no guarantees that will be the case, particularly since the Scriptures provide this warning from 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12: The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. Don’t wait! Today is the day of salvation!