The use of Facebook by off-duty soldiers is a security threat, say Israeli military authorities. They have imposed rules to stop Israeli soldiers and the military's civilian employees revealing security-sensitive information on Facebook and other social networking sites.
Defence officials say some soldiers have inadvertently uploaded information that compromises security, as well as pictures of the networkers with classified equipment.
The new rules reportedly allow soldiers to create pages on such sites provided they do not disclose they are in the Israeli forces or describe their work. The Israeli military said that as part of its ongoing activity "to increase awareness of the dangers of military information exposure" it "works to apply the rules and inform about this subject".
The number of Facebook users in Israel is rising fast. In a 30-day period from mid-October to mid-November last year, their number doubled from 74,000 to 152,000. Only Turkey had a faster rate of growth in the same period.
Two Knesset members, Yoel Hasson, of the ruling party Kadima, and Israel Hasson of Yisrael Beiteinu, the hard-right party with a strong base among Russian immigrants, have both publicised their Facebook accounts, partly in an effort to attract younger supporters. Facebook was drawn into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last month when Jewish settlers living in the occupied West Bank protested after finding that their addresses identified them as living in Palestine rather than Israel.
Most of the international community regards the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as violating international law. But two Jewish settler groups of about 15,000 users put pressure on Facebook to designate them as being in Israel. This was countered by at least one 8,000-member Palestinian user group which accused Facebook of "outrageous" partisanship by classifying Arab East Jerusalem as being in Israel.
Facebook eventually agreed to allow users in three big settlements, Beitar Illit, Ariel and Maael Adumim, as well as the heavily guarded 800 settlers in the heart of the Palestinian city of Hebron, to declare Israel their country of residence.