First Lieutenant Sacha Dratwa: Computers and keyboards are the weapons, Facebook and Twitter are the battlefields
First Lieutenant Sacha Dratwa, 25, was born in Belgium and immigrated to Israel at the age of 18 after completing high school - for Zionist reasons, of course. He learned his excellent Hebrew in ulpan and continued from there to find work in rappelling. When the time came for him to enlist in the IDF, he joined the Nahal Brigade, completed a full service, and even served in Nahal's elite reconnaissance unit.
After a health problem arose, Dratwa was discharged from the unit and was transferred to an independent IDF technology unit where he served as a communications coordinator. He left the army with good feelings, which brought him closer to his new country.
"I learned to become Israeli thanks to the army during my military service," Dratwa said. "I got to know this country with my legs and through the wonderful landscapes."
After his discharge, Dratwa studied interactive communications at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya. During Operation Cast Lead, Dratwa found himself running the first civilian war room in Israel's history, conducting a real-time public relations campaign to disseminate justifications for the IDF's activities. As a native speaker, he led the effort in the French online world - a particularly difficult area for Israel's public relations - and he did his work well.
"I fought at the scene of delegitimization," Dratwa said. "At times of crisis and at moments of truth, I learned how to market the country in ways that utilize internet tools to bypass the traditional media and speak to people eye-to-eye."
During the period of his studies, Dratwa established a marketing and public relations internet firm, through which he managed leading brands via new media tools. This gave him additional experience in marketing brands and online ideas. At the same time, Dratwa began to work at the Asper Institute for New Media Diplomacy where he worked on an in-depth study on the use of internet tools - applying models and ideas to the establishment of projects that promote these tools.
"During this period, I began to become familiar with the work of the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, when we provided advice to the spokesperson's unit, mainly on the matter of training commanders on new media tools," Dratwa said.
During the past two years, Dratwa volunteered with the spokesperson's unit and took an active part in the establishment of the New Media desk, which was still in its infancy. He did it in his spare time. But when former New Media desk commander First Lieutenant Aliza Landes was about to leave her role, it was suggested that Dratwa take her place.
"I did not hesitate," Dratwa said. "I thought that it connected my professional world with my love for my homeland and my Zionist aspirations. These are the two worlds that I love at the same level, so the offer excited me. I started immediately, changed my uniform and entered one of the most interesting and challenging roles that I could think of."
Dratwa noted that new media work in the IDF is based on the understanding of tools that bypass the traditional media, with high-quality and available content, and openness to web surfers from around the world, including the existence of a genuine, honest dialogue with them.
"The tools are infinite," Dratwa said. "The question is not whether we should be there but how we should be there. I came to the IDF Spokesperson's Unit mainly to make noise. I want the world to see the reality of the IDF, through channels on which it is not used to getting that. We are going to surprise visitors from around the world who will be able to browse their personal computer and see an IDF that is different from what they view on their television screens in their family room."
Dratwa came in with a long list of precise tasks that he wants to adopt and implement immediately.
"We need to use tablets and smart phones in order to immediately reach the general public," Dratwa said. "We don't have time for a long chain of approvals, we have to strike while the iron is hot - to be determined, fast and focused."
Dratwa said that he intends to show, already in the coming months, the IDF's face "as the world has never seen it before."
As part of this, Dratwa is already promoting new media work in French and Arabic, along with strengthening and improving work in English. And what next? Twitter in Arabic and the massive entry of the IDF into new media work in fluent Hebrew.
Dratwa is not alone and these ideas don't only remain on paper. He heads a group of soldiers that he calls "the elite new media unit of the IDF", consisting mostly of soldiers doing their regular service, who come from all over the world with a rich professional background in the internet and new media.
"Every one of my soldiers understands the meaning of the work, the range of opportunities facing us and the importance of demonstrating our justness," Dratwa said. "We are fighting in the field of delegitimization, which is no less significant than armored or artillery battles."
"Justifying the IDF's activities and Israel's public relations efforts are significant challenges that are at the top of the IDF's priorities," Dratwa said. "We are receiving a significant investment of means and resources, as well as personnel, but also mainly the determination and dedication of the soldiers. Computers and keyboards are the weapons, Facebook and Twitter are the battlefields. It is there that we fight, each and every day."