- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 17, 2010

JERUSALEM (AP) - The security obsessed Israeli military is confronting a new adversary _ trying to control what its own soldiers post to the Internet.

Facebook, along with YouTube and other popular sites, is turning into a formidable nuisance for the army, as young recruits in this tech-crazy country post embarrassing and potentially sensitive information online, circumventing tight military controls.

The issue exploded onto the national agenda this week when a young ex-soldier posted pictures of herself in uniform, posing in front of handcuffed, blindfolded Palestinian prisoners on her Facebook page under the heading “Army _ The Best Time of My Life.”

The controversial posting, along with a series of other recent gaffes, highlights the challenges facing Israel's high-tech military _ known, among other things, for its shadowy electronic-warfare units _ as it struggles to keep up with the ever-shifting sands of the Internet.

Last month, a video of Israeli soldiers dancing to the drunken party anthem “TiK ToK” during a patrol in the West Bank emerged on YouTube, earning them a reprimand.

Around the same time, a secret intelligence unit launched a Facebook group for its members that divulged details of the secret base where they served. The site was removed several days later after the army found out.

And, in perhaps the most serious breach, a military raid in the West Bank had to be called off earlier this year after a soldier posted details about the upcoming operation on Facebook.

Such incidents illustrate “how difficult it is for the military to operate, stick to policy, and keep people in line in light of the new communication realities,” said Sheizaf Rafaeli, director of the Sagy Center for Internet Research and the Study of the Information Society at the University of Haifa.

That’s in stark contrast to the traditional media, over which Israel’s military censor has long maintained tight control.

Both Israeli and international news outlets are required to submit reports with potentially sensitive material for review, and the censor’s office often returns them with words or even entire sections blacked out. Access is severely limited to military personnel, from field soldiers to the army’s top echelons, and it can take weeks to line up an interview with key commanders. Once approved, there are tight restrictions _ quotes often must be run through the army spokesman’s office and soldiers frequently can’t be named or photographed.

The emergence of the latest pictures dominated Israeli news shows Tuesday, drawing tough criticism from the army and receiving heavy coverage in the Arab media.

Palestinians, along with Israeli human rights groups, denounced the photos as a cruel symbol of Israel’s four-decade occupation, and the Arab satellite channel al-Jazeera interspersed its coverage with pictures of Abu Ghraib, the notorious U.S. prison in Iraq where American soldiers tortured inmates.

The former Israeli officer, Eden Aberjil, struck a defensive tone in interviews with Israeli media, insisting she did nothing wrong and saying she was surprised she had offended anyone.

“I have nothing to say sorry about. I treated them really well, I didn’t abuse them, I didn’t curse them, I didn’t humiliate them. I merely took a picture near them,” Aberjil told Channel 2 TV.

She said the men were civilians from the Gaza Strip who had been caught trying to enter Israel, apparently in search of work, and she posed for the pictures because she had never met anyone from Gaza.

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