February 2, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

This man is Israel’s face and voice to the Arabic-speaking world

Avichay Adraee is Israel’s face to the Arab world, as the country seeks to confront Hamas lies with truth.
February 2, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

This man is Israel’s face and voice to the Arabic-speaking world

Avichay Adraee is Israel’s face to the Arab world, as the country seeks to confront Hamas lies with truth.

On the evening of October 17, ten days after Hamas launched its massive genocidal attack on Israel, there was an explosion in the parking lot of a hospital in Gaza City. Within an hour, a number of media outlets in the region reported that 500 people had been killed in what they claimed was an “Israeli airstrike on Al-Ahli Hospital” in Gaza. Major media outlets were soon running with this story, even though there was no evidence that the explosion was caused by Israel. In fact, the cause was likely a terrorist rocket that had misfired.

To get that truthful message out about controversies such as the Al-Ahli explosion, Israel turns to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. Within the unit there is one man who is known throughout the Arabic world as the face – and voice – of Israel in these times: Avichay Adraee, IDF spokesman to Arabic media. Adraee’s fame in the region goes far beyond that of a regular spokesperson because of his social media presence and the extensive amount of time he has served in his position.

Speaking to Arabic media in the name of Israel, and in the name of the IDF specifically, is a complex task. These are newsrooms that may be more hostile than their Western counterparts; and even if they are not hostile, they are much closer to the sources of Hamas and Iranian propaganda that blankets the region like a winter storm. The pro-Iranian axis also understands the use of media. Hezbollah, the Houthis, Hamas, and others have their own media channels, and they exploit the public’s need for quick information by putting out propaganda. They can claim “200 killed” and blame Israel, and it takes time for Israel to push back. 

“They can immediately tell the media what they want,” Adraee notes. Israel must take time to respond with the truth, to bring the evidence and use its tools to determine what actually happened.

The house Adraee built

Adraee’s office is within the large IDF Spokesperson’s building in Tel Aviv, near Tel Aviv University. It’s a modern building, nondescript in a sense but with a stage in front of it that can be used for broadcasts. 

Inside, it is like any other office building, except full of women and men in uniform. Adraee’s office is arrayed with Arabic items from the region. There are prayer beads on the desk, a kite that was launched from Gaza, a book with a Star of David and Arabic on the cover. His desk faces a television set that hangs high on the wall. Al Jazeera is on when I arrive.

In many ways, this is the house that Adraee built. He has been the IDF’s face to Arabic media since the 2006 war against Hezbollah. There was a person in charge before him, but in essence, in terms of the modern IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, he has been a major influencer in this office’s development and the IDF strategy online with modern social media. What that means is that he’s the face people in the region see on TikTok, Facebook, X, and elsewhere. 

I know this, going into the interview, because when I travel in the region I usually get two questions: “Is Adraee a real person?” and “Do you know him?” He is indeed real, and he has an animated personality, very passionate about his work and the Middle East.

“We are in charge of Arabic media,” he says. The office now also handles Farsi media, a recent addition to its work. The office is in touch with the correspondents of Arabic media and puts out announcements in Arabic. When correspondents from Arabic channels want to do a story or want access, they coordinate it here. 

For instance, he points out a team from Alhurra [a US government-owned Arabic-language satellite TV channel] that was recently covering an IDF reservist unit on the Golan. Sky News in Arabic was there as well. “We invite them to interview and to do interviews in the field. We provide them with sources such as myself and others.” When there are difficult stories, he needs to be ready to provide responses. For instance, when 21 IDF soldiers were killed in Gaza on January 22 in a tragic explosion that caused a building to collapse, Adraee had to address questions from Arabic media. He has to respond live, on air, to questions as well.

His office has done 800 interviews with Arabic media since October 7 and has done tours and spoken with influencers and journalists from the region. It has also shown the video of the Hamas massacre on October 7 to journalists in the region. His people also met with Muslim religious leaders. “Arabic media is not just one thing,” Adraee points out. Not all are critical. Some may be like Al Jazeera, where the IDF gives interviews and responds to critique. Other media in the Gulf may be less critical.

Adraee is cognizant of his role in this endeavor. He remarks that most people in the region don’t know the military spokesmen of various countries in the region. But they know the face of the IDF in Arabic. As we are speaking, Al Jazeera begins to show the spokesman for the Iranian-backed Houthis. Responding to claims from groups like the Houthis could be what the IDF will have to do. 

“I’ve done this for a long time,” Adraee says. “When you do this for a while, you clash with the other, and you are on digital media, and it turns into something special.”

The way people like Adraee deal with messaging and media is also changing. During the Second Lebanon War, when he had just come to this kind of work, he did 400 interviews, running from one outlet to another on their shows, taking taxis from one studio to another. Now things are changing. Media use Zoom, and a lot of what is done is on social media.

ADRAEE LIVES in Rehovot. He learned Arabic at school and in the army. His maternal grandparents were from Iraq, and another grandparent was from Turkey. Although he heard Iraqi Arabic at home a bit as a child, he says the Arabic he knows he learned in school, and he liked the language. 

In the army he went to Unit 8200, the intelligence unit that deals with signals intelligence. There, he increased his Arabic knowledge before moving over in 2005 to be with the Spokesperson’s Unit.

On Oct. 7, he was with his family in the morning when the sirens started to sound. Hamas began its attacks that morning with rocket fire targeting communities near Gaza and central Israel. The volume of rocket fire was so high that Adraee and his team understood it was something unique, and they went to the office. He did a number of interviews on the day of the attack. He says he was struck by the euphoria in some Arabic media; they were basically pleased to see the Hamas “al-Aqsa Flood” attack. Adraee had to decide how to respond. Should Israel say that it was going to retaliate with a blow to Hamas, or should Israel focus on its own suffering?

Adraee focused on the strength of Israel. We had suffered a hurtful blow but would get back on our feet and rebuild, and those who carried out the massacre would understand the mistake they had made. This was perhaps a message different from some others that Israel put out, vowing that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar is a “dead man walking.” Sinwar was still alive more than 100 days into the war. Later, Adraee would take journalists to Be’eri, the site of one of the most severe massacres on October 7, and show the Arabic world the crimes that Hamas committed.

Adraee’s office speaks to an Arabic public that isn’t necessarily used to hearing from Israelis. On social media, there are talkbacks and responses. Adraee and his team have learned over the years what works to reach the public in the region, the right way to respond and make messages go viral.

The media in the region often change their views. Some channels that might be critical of Hezbollah one year, may change the next year. This is because some media in the region are linked to various countries where the media are not free media, meaning they may take their orders from those at the top.

In addition, while Adraee is a very public figure, with his face on social media, speaking to the public, Israel’s enemies are often in hiding. For instance, the Hamas spokesman wears a keffiyeh (scarf) over his face.

Adraee has invested time and resources in digital media. He says this wasn’t always an obvious decision when he began to use it in 2012. Nowadays, if one isn’t on Twitter (now known as X) or TikTok, one doesn’t exist in public relations. 

“So we went there, and I opened the accounts under my name, since the public knows me personally. They may hate or like me. So we got involved in platforms in Arabic. We didn’t know at the time it would make such a noise in the Arabic world. In the end, we reached the public. We work hard. When we do something, we do it on digital and provide it to the media,” he says.

Each platform has its own style and audience and age group. That means that one has to learn how to speak to the public differently on TikTok or Facebook.

Adraee says he’s proud that the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit is an “operational” branch, meaning it’s not just providing information. It’s operations oriented. That means that it tells the truth to the public and puts out messages. “It’s very important not to lie and manipulate the public. We speak the truth. It [the truth] has a lot of weight, and it can affect the threat,” he says.

The team

To accomplish that task, Adraee has a team of professionals. 

Ido Segev, 23, was leading a normal civilian life on October 7. He was in the Arison’s Honors Program at Reichman University and was the founder of a start-up. When the war started, he immediately went to do his reserve duty, like 300,000 other Israelis who were called up. He went to the IDF Spokesperson’s Arabic-language unit to work closely with Adraee. He helped establish a cell for operations during the conflict.

He speaks about activities in the unit that serve several purposes. The first is to put out messages about what the IDF is doing and to influence the view negatively toward the enemy. There is no doubt Hamas is bad, but that message needs to be reinforced with factual information. For instance, when the IDF finds AK-47s under a bed in a civilian home in Gaza, it’s important to show that to the public. Segev describes several of these kinds of operations. For example, early in the war there were reports that there wasn’t enough fuel and gas in Gaza. The IDF showed that there was plenty of fuel and gas in tanks that Hamas was hoarding.

In addition, the unit puts out messages about areas where civilians should evacuate due to fighting. Since the first day of the war, the IDF has had maps of Gaza divided into various neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods that can be warned about fighting in their areas. The IDF uses phone calls, flyers, and other methods to warn the people. The Spokesperson’s Unit also puts out maps in Arabic warning the residents. The unit also published information about Hamas members who were trying to prevent civilians from leaving and thus prevent them from saving their own lives. Hamas uses civilians as human shields, so the terrorists didn’t want their shields to live. Hamas benefits when civilians are harmed. 

“We came to this war very prepared… to evacuate the population, and we began doing that on October 8,” Segev says. Local people in Gaza can see the IDF putting out information on various digital platforms and can rely on them. Adraee and Segev call this “operational” work because it goes beyond just responding like spokesmen might usually do.

The unit is in touch with various other parts of the IDF, from Southern Command to Northern Command, from the information and intelligence departments, to provide details. They can also use information that has been collected to tarnish the image of Hamas – for instance, embarrassing the Hamas spokesman. The unit may not use missiles or “kinetic” operations, but using tools in communication has an important effect in the war effort. 

They point to an example of information they put out about a Hezbollah operative in Syria, where they put out an infographic and other details about the operative and thus sabotaged his operations. “The people in Syria want to know that near the Golan there is someone who is creating problems for them,” Adraee says.

Segev notes that the work their unit is doing, going back to the pioneering work of Adraee in the early 2000s, is now reaching homes throughout the region. Nevertheless, Adraee points out that it’s important to make sure that the videos and content reach the right people. He says one might put out a video and reach people in Sudan who speak Arabic. But if the intended audience was Lebanon, how does it help to have Sudanese watching it? 

“We want to speak to enemy countries,” he states, meaning the public in places like Syria or in areas in Lebanon that are occupied by Hezbollah. The fact is that many of these people don’t dislike Israel, and they are receptive to messages about how the regimes like those in Syria or Hezbollah may be harming them. This is also true in Iraq, where Iranian-backed militias terrorize people.

There is a balance here in terms of messaging. In Iraq, it could be messaging about how Iranian militias endanger people. But it can also be messaging to regimes or groups like Hezbollah not to test Israel, “not to mess with us,” Adraee notes. The unit has millions of followers on various platforms – 2.5 million on Facebook; 600,000 on X; 600,000 on TikTok; and 110,000 on Instagram. He says that many Palestinians are on TikTok and get their information there, while in Jordan people get information from Instagram. Many older people are on Facebook, whereas many journalists use X.

Adraee also uses religious messaging. This means using messages that resonate with Muslims who may be influenced by what Islamic teaching says. He says jokingly that some call him “Sheikh Adraee.” But it works because there are debates in places like Egypt about whether religious Muslims should listen to him and be influenced by him. When Islamic scholars are saying people shouldn’t be influenced by this Jewish man in uniform in Tel Aviv, it clearly means he is being influential in the region. 

He says it’s important to reveal the messaging that Hamas put out. For instance, Hamas put out edicts explaining in Islamic theology that their terrorists were permitted to carry out crimes against humanity on Oct. 7. It’s important to reveal how Hamas abuses its own faith to harm people. People who believe in peace, such as in the Gulf, are offended by how Hamas has misused religion for the purposes of its crimes.

The unit is now branching out into Farsi. Adraee mentions various networks such as Iran International and platforms that have programs in Farsi. Today, the IDF is illustrating how much Iran’s regime wasted on Hamas and its terrorist tunnels and how Hamas built tunnels under Shifa Hospital, for instance. “As we understood in 2005-2006 about Arabic media, now we understand the Persian media; we have accounts on all social media in Farsi, and we put up details,” says Adraee.

I ASK Adraee whether his fame has now grown too much in the region, making it hard for him to travel or causing threats to his well-being. He points to the kite behind him, which was sent from Gaza with a message directed at him personally. He says there are people in prison who wanted to harm him.

“The IDF does what it needs to do, certainly during heightened tensions. But there are those in more danger, fighting in Gaza. We each have our role. This is a war for us to be in this country. I love this work. And I think I am succeeding with my experience. It’s important for me,” he says.

I ask him if he’s aware that some people in the region think he’s not real.

“Can AI do a live interview?” he responds. Touché.

What happens when Adraee leaves his position? His fame has grown so much that he is the face of the IDF and Israel to many people. He indicates others in the unit who are now appearing in the media. “I’m not going anywhere,” he asserts.

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Israel Israel at War