A viral photo of military gear on Instagram blew up on X, claiming to show evidence of U.S. Delta Force units in Israel near the Gaza border.
But it actually came from an opaque private volunteer military group that had previously sourced gear, supplies, and money for the Ukrainian army and that may or may not be in the Middle East.
Really, it might have just been a merch plug.
“US special forces are in Israel on the Gaza border. Rather, Delta units, there is mounting evidence that the US is directly involved in the genocide of Palestinians,” read the viral caption.
But the photo comes from Forward Observations Group, which has a hazy digital footprint outside of its over 200,000 follower Instagram page, where it posts training footage and photos men in combat gear with pixelated or obscured faces holding guns.
It claims to be a volunteer group founded by a former U.S. infantry soldier Derrick Bales, who served in Afghanistan. It also aided Ukrainian military efforts in the Donbas region, reported Foreign Policy.
The group posted stories and videos in recent days, alongside the photo of the military gear with the location Tel Aviv emblazoned on it, that give the impression that some of its members are currently in Israel alongside members of the Israeli armed forces.
In their latest video, they show footage that claims to be an exchange with Israeli soldiers from within the Be’eri kibbutz, where intense violence and fighting took place on Oct. 7.
“We’ve been embed [sic] with an elite counter terrorism/hostage rescue unit within the IDF,” the post’s caption claims. “Not only have we been able to visit most of the kibbutz that were attacked and decimated during the Oct 7 but in Be’eri we were able to walk step by step through the actions taken as it was the kibbutz that some of the guys responded to themselves.”
Forward Observations Group didn’t respond to questions about whether they had any personnel in Israel, what they were doing there, or if they were a mercenary group or a lifestyle brand, as one OSINT account claimed on X.
“Forward Observations is known for showing up in various war zones to promote their products,” claimed @Osinttechnical.
Other posts from the group’s Instagram page show customers highlighting the group’s merch, including T-shirts and athletic shorts with a stylized “F” on the front.
Their website is bereft of actual merchandise, showing only an $85 trauma pouch. But the brand sells T-shirts and hats on its Amazon page.
According to Foreign Policy, the group started out as a lifestyle brand that sold tactical gear before joining fighters in Ukraine to shoot content.
Bales, who founded the group, was criticized during that time for linking up with Vadim Lapaev, a member of the far-right Azov Battalion. He apologized for the association, but claimed that the Battalion wasn’t as radical as it was made out to be. The group said that they spent most of their time in a support capacity, sourcing supplies for the Ukranian fighters, reported Foreign Policy.
Whether it is actually in Israel and aiding IDF troops is unclear.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that American commandos are in Israel helping locate hostages.
“We’re actively helping the Israelis to do a number of things,” said Christopher P. Maier, an assistant secretary of defense, while declining to provide an exact number of U.S. forces in the country.
According to the Times, anonymous U.S. officials said that the Defense Department had sent “several dozen commandos” to Israel in recent weeks to help with hostage-recovery efforts. President Joe Biden was recently criticized for posting a picture that allegedly outed U.S. troops already in Israel.
A story posted by Forward Operations Group on Wednesday seemed to mock the viral reports based on their posts.
“Does everyone just sit at their computer and repost stupid shit from telegram channels and call it OSINT now?” it read over an image of a disappointed Pepe the frog.