Israel Gaza
Gazans protest the killing of their relatives. The killing of civilians during the recent Gaza conflict has further dented Israel's reputation Hosam Salem

And so the cycle goes on. Hamas fires rockets at Israel. Israel retaliates. Hamas shoots back. Civilians on both sides of the Gaza border suffer. The international community squawks and squeaks. A ceasefire is brokered by Egypt.

It's becoming a depressingly familiar pattern. Both Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012 and Protective Edge this summer were the latest in the cyclical batches of violence to be served up in the Middle East. Calling a victory for either side seems grotesque with over a thousand dead Palestinians and 72 dead Israelis. But with negotiations due to resume in Cairo to deal with the harder end of Hamas' demands, both Netanyahu and Mashal will be feeling the pressure to come back with something – anything – to spin as a victory.

Militarily, it is objectively clear which side won the 50-day conflict. The Israel Defence Force (IDF) struck more than 5,000 Hamas targets. They eliminated a significant proportion of Hamas' store of rockets and rocket launchers, smashed numerous weapons production facilities, and demolished 32 of Hamas' terror tunnels. They also killed several senior Hamas commanders.

For Hamas and Islamic Jihad, it was a painful lesson in Israeli military might. Predictably, their vaguely preposterous spokeswoman, Isra al-Modallal, claimed otherwise. She pointed to the 66 Israeli soldiers killed. She lauded the rocket barrage unleashed in the hours just prior to the ceasefire, which killed two kibbutz members in Nirim. Later that night, Hamas orchestrated celebrations on the very same streets it had launched rockets from hours earlier.

In truth, Israel's military victory was so comprehensive Hamas had to take solace in its propaganda war, rather than any actual tactical achievement. Throughout the conflict and in the aftermath, the two sides have met on the digital battlefield, spinning facts and exchanging barbed tweets. And for all of Israel's innovation and world class expertise; for all its digital know-how and despite its status as the "start-up nation," it has struggled against Hamas' disinformation machine.

Israel Gaza
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon attend a cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv. Reuters

The overwhelming narrative of the conflict was that Israel had used disproportionate force against one of the most densely packed civilian populations in the world. The truth about the nature of Hamas as a terrorist organisation and their role in the conflict was muted and largely drowned out by the horrifying images from the smouldering streets of Gaza.

Israel's military victory was so comprehensive Hamas had to take solace in its propaganda war, rather than any actual tactical achievement.

Israel remains a divided society about the conflict. The majority were in favour of the operation. Many argued that the IDF should have continued to pummel Hamas come what may, so the organisation would never again attack Israel. A minority felt ashamed that their government was the cause of so much destruction and death. Others were ambivalent. So what could Israel do differently?

First, Netanyahu should replace Mark Regev, his international spokesman. The success of Israel's message - reaching international audiences watching the conflict on the evening news - rested on his shoulders. He failed. He failed to show compassion, and humility, when discussing an Israeli artillery strike that killed four Palestinian children on a Gaza beach.

The prime minister's spokesman sets the tone of the government. He or she is the government's face, and voice, to the world. Regev was defensive, arrogant and cold. The press officers throughout the conflict echoed their master's voice, frequently treating international reporters with disdain. Israel cannot expect sympathy from a global audience when it organises briefings with IDF generals for the Israeli press, but bars the international press corps.

The tone of Israeli policy makers, be they politicians or members of the IDF, and the way they talk about conflict must also change. Israelis feel targeted by the international media. Often they have every right to feel this way. But reporters like Channel 4's Jon Snow are not going to change. Perhaps the Israeli government should. Rather than shutting down questions about civilian casualties and "collateral damage," the Israeli government should tackle the issues head on.

The death of any child, any civilian, Palestinian or Israeli, is a tragedy. If the death is due to the actions of a country, the government must not run from its responsibilities. It should investigate expediently and immediately. Some Israelis inherently understand this – President Peres being a good example. His reason and his compassion will be missed.

If another conflict with Hamas occurs, which seems likely, Israel needs to adapt not only its media relations - it needs to fundamentally alter its battlefield tactics. We know the tactics deployed in Protective Edge were tactically astute. They were based on bloody lessons learned from Cast Lead and the Second Lebanon War. But as Israel has adapted its battlefield tactics, Hamas has adapted its propaganda tactics. They fire rockets from civilian homes, hospitals and schools, knowing full well that Israel will destroy the buildings, despite the toll of civilian casualties. It has to stop.

The death of Palestinian civilians claws away at Israelis. Despite the cartoonish caricature of heartless occupiers, Israelis generally are a compassionate people. And the bitter arguments and clashes within Israeli society are a reflection of a people deeply uncomfortable about the actions of their government, and the way the world perceives them.

A life is a life

The only way to win the PR war with Hamas is to avoid civilian casualties at all costs. To place the same importance on the value of a Palestinian life as an Israeli life. It's not impossible.

During the conflict with Gadhafi's Libya, the UK made an unprecedented decision. The then-Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, gave clear instructions to military commanders that if there was even a 1 percent chance of civilian casualties in an airstrike, that attack was to be aborted. It wasn't perfect. But nearly 6,000 military targets were hit. Over the course of the conflict, 60 civilians were killed by airstrikes. That's 60 too many. But it shows that with political will, civilian suffering can be kept as low as possible. As a result of the coalition's action, countless lives were saved from Gaddafi's forces.

Military pragmatists objected to Fox's instructions. IDF commanders would do the same. The tactic severely restricts options in an operational theatre. As a result, a future conflict would be drawn out, with a higher risk of deaths among Israeli civilians. But Israel can ill afford another conflict with Hamas which costs the lives of thousands of Palestinians. Israel is a true democracy in the heart of the Middle East, with a rich cultural and religious heritage, and much to offer the world in technology, innovation, education and science. But its actions in war have to reflect the values which it purports to stand for.

Israel's leaders must hold themselves to a higher standard than a terrorist organisation. Only then will Israel win its battles, and the PR war.

Ross Cypher-Burley is a former spokesman for the British ambassador in Tel Aviv. He now works for Portland Communications.