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The Art of War

The Israeli Defence Forces have been heav­i­ly influ­enced by con­tem­po­rary phi­los­o­phy, high­light­ing the fact that there is con­sid­er­able over­lap among the­o­ret­i­cal texts deemed essen­tial by mil­i­tary acad­e­mies and archi­tec­tur­al schools

by Eyal Weiz­man

The attack con­duct­ed by units of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on the city of Nablus in April 2002 was described by its com­man­der, Brigadier-Gen­er­al Aviv Kokhavi, as ‘inverse geom­e­try’, which he explained as ‘the reor­ga­ni­za­tion of the urban syn­tax by means of a series of micro-tac­ti­cal actions’.1 Dur­ing the bat­tle sol­diers moved with­in the city across hun­dreds of metres of ‘over­ground tun­nels’ carved out through a dense and con­tigu­ous urban struc­ture. Although sev­er­al thou­sand sol­diers and Pales­tin­ian guer­ril­las were manoeu­vring simul­ta­ne­ous­ly in the city, they were so ‘sat­u­rat­ed’ into the urban fab­ric that very few would have been vis­i­ble from the air. Fur­ther­more, they used none of the city’s streets, roads, alleys or court­yards, or any of the exter­nal doors, inter­nal stair­wells and win­dows, but moved hor­i­zon­tal­ly through walls and ver­ti­cal­ly through holes blast­ed in ceil­ings and floors. This form of move­ment, described by the mil­i­tary as ‘infes­ta­tion’, seeks to rede­fine inside as out­side, and domes­tic inte­ri­ors as thor­ough­fares. The IDF’s strat­e­gy of ‘walk­ing through walls’ involves a con­cep­tion of the city as not just the site but also the very medi­um of war­fare – a flex­i­ble, almost liq­uid medi­um that is for­ev­er con­tin­gent and in flux.

Con­tem­po­rary mil­i­tary the­o­rists are now busy re-con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing the urban domain. At stake are the under­ly­ing con­cepts, assump­tions and prin­ci­ples that deter­mine mil­i­tary strate­gies and tac­tics. The vast intel­lec­tu­al field that geo­g­ra­ph­er Stephen Gra­ham has called an inter­na­tion­al ‘shad­ow world’ of mil­i­tary urban research insti­tutes and train­ing cen­tres that have been estab­lished to rethink mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in cities could be under­stood as some­what sim­i­lar to the inter­na­tion­al matrix of élite archi­tec­tur­al acad­e­mies. How­ev­er, accord­ing to urban the­o­rist Simon Mar­vin, the mil­i­tary-archi­tec­tur­al ‘shad­ow world’ is cur­rent­ly gen­er­at­ing more intense and well-fund­ed urban research pro­grammes than all these uni­ver­si­ty pro­grammes put togeth­er, and is cer­tain­ly aware of the avant-garde urban research con­duct­ed in archi­tec­tur­al insti­tu­tions, espe­cial­ly as regards Third World and African cities. There is a con­sid­er­able over­lap among the the­o­ret­i­cal texts con­sid­ered essen­tial by mil­i­tary acad­e­mies and archi­tec­tur­al schools. Indeed, the read­ing lists of con­tem­po­rary mil­i­tary insti­tu­tions include works from around 1968 (with a spe­cial empha­sis on the writ­ings of Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guat­tari and Guy Debord), as well as more con­tem­po­rary writ­ings on urban­ism, psy­chol­o­gy, cyber­net­ics, post-colo­nial and post-Struc­tural­ist the­o­ry. If, as some writ­ers claim, the space for crit­i­cal­i­ty has with­ered away in late 20th-cen­tu­ry cap­i­tal­ist cul­ture, it seems now to have found a place to flour­ish in the mil­i­tary.

I con­duct­ed an inter­view with Kokhavi, com­man­der of the Para­troop­er Brigade, who at 42 is con­sid­ered one of the most promis­ing young offi­cers of the IDF (and was the com­man­der of the oper­a­tion for the evac­u­a­tion of set­tle­ments in the Gaza Strip).2 Like many career offi­cers, he had tak­en time out from the mil­i­tary to earn a uni­ver­si­ty degree; although he orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed to study archi­tec­ture, he end­ed up with a degree in phi­los­o­phy from the Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty. When he explained to me the prin­ci­ple that guid­ed the bat­tle in Nablus, what was inter­est­ing for me was not so much the descrip­tion of the action itself as the way he con­ceived its artic­u­la­tion. He said: ‘this space that you look at, this room that you look at, is noth­ing but your inter­pre­ta­tion of it. […] The ques­tion is how do you inter­pret the alley? […] We inter­pret­ed the alley as a place for­bid­den to walk through and the door as a place for­bid­den to pass through, and the win­dow as a place for­bid­den to look through, because a weapon awaits us in the alley, and a boo­by trap awaits us behind the doors. This is because the ene­my inter­prets space in a tra­di­tion­al, clas­si­cal man­ner, and I do not want to obey this inter­pre­ta­tion and fall into his traps. […] I want to sur­prise him! This is the essence of war. I need to win […] This is why that we opt­ed for the method­ol­o­gy of mov­ing through walls. . . . Like a worm that eats its way for­ward, emerg­ing at points and then dis­ap­pear­ing. […] I said to my troops, “Friends! […] If until now you were used to move along roads and side­walks, for­get it! From now on we all walk through walls!”’2 Kokhavi’s inten­tion in the bat­tle was to enter the city in order to kill mem­bers of the Pales­tin­ian resis­tance and then get out. The hor­rif­ic frank­ness of these objec­tives, as recount­ed to me by Shi­mon Naveh, Kokhavi’s instruc­tor, is part of a gen­er­al Israeli pol­i­cy that seeks to dis­rupt Pales­tin­ian resis­tance on polit­i­cal as well as mil­i­tary lev­els through tar­get­ed assas­si­na­tions from both air and ground.

If you still believe, as the IDF would like you to, that mov­ing through walls is a rel­a­tive­ly gen­tle form of war­fare, the fol­low­ing descrip­tion of the sequence of events might change your mind. To begin with, sol­diers assem­ble behind the wall and then, using explo­sives, drills or ham­mers, they break a hole large enough to pass through. Stun grenades are then some­times thrown, or a few ran­dom shots fired into what is usu­al­ly a pri­vate liv­ing-room occu­pied by unsus­pect­ing civil­ians. When the sol­diers have passed through the wall, the occu­pants are locked inside one of the rooms, where they are made to remain – some­times for sev­er­al days – until the oper­a­tion is con­clud­ed, often with­out water, toi­let, food or med­i­cine. Civil­ians in Pales­tine, as in Iraq, have expe­ri­enced the unex­pect­ed pen­e­tra­tion of war into the pri­vate domain of the home as the most pro­found form of trau­ma and humil­i­a­tion. A Pales­tin­ian woman iden­ti­fied only as Aisha, inter­viewed by a jour­nal­ist for the Pales­tine Mon­i­tor, described the expe­ri­ence: ‘Imag­ine it – you’re sit­ting in your liv­ing-room, which you know so well; this is the room where the fam­i­ly watch­es tele­vi­sion togeth­er after the evening meal, and sud­den­ly that wall dis­ap­pears with a deaf­en­ing roar, the room fills with dust and debris, and through the wall pours one sol­dier after the oth­er, scream­ing orders. You have no idea if they’re after you, if they’ve come to take over your home, or if your house just lies on their route to some­where else. The chil­dren are scream­ing, pan­ick­ing. Is it pos­si­ble to even begin to imag­ine the hor­ror expe­ri­enced by a five-year-old child as four, six, eight, 12 sol­diers, their faces paint­ed black, sub-machine-guns point­ed every­where, anten­nas pro­trud­ing from their back­packs, mak­ing them look like giant alien bugs, blast their way through that wall?’3

Naveh, a retired Brigadier-Gen­er­al, directs the Oper­a­tional The­o­ry Research Insti­tute, which trains staff offi­cers from the IDF and oth­er mil­i­taries in ‘oper­a­tional the­o­ry’ – defined in mil­i­tary jar­gon as some­where between strat­e­gy and tac­tics. He summed up the mis­sion of his insti­tute, which was found­ed in 1996: ‘We are like the Jesuit Order. We attempt to teach and train sol­diers to think. […] We read Christo­pher Alexan­der, can you imag­ine?; we read John Forester, and oth­er archi­tects. We are read­ing Gre­go­ry Bate­son; we are read­ing Clif­ford Geertz. Not myself, but our sol­diers, our gen­er­als are reflect­ing on these kinds of mate­ri­als. We have estab­lished a school and devel­oped a cur­ricu­lum that trains “oper­a­tional architects”.’4 In a lec­ture Naveh showed a dia­gram resem­bling a ‘square of oppo­si­tion’ that plots a set of log­i­cal rela­tion­ships between cer­tain propo­si­tions refer­ring to mil­i­tary and guer­ril
la oper­a­tions. Labelled with phras­es such as ‘Dif­fer­ence and Rep­e­ti­tion – The Dialec­tics of Struc­tur­ing and Struc­ture’, ‘Form­less Rival Enti­ties’, ‘Frac­tal Manoeu­vre’, ‘Veloc­i­ty vs. Rhythms’, ‘The Wahabi War Machine’, ‘Post­mod­ern Anar­chists’ and ‘Nomadic Ter­ror­ists’, they often ref­er­ence the work of Deleuze and Guat­tari. War machines, accord­ing to the philoso­phers, are poly­mor­phous; dif­fuse orga­ni­za­tions char­ac­ter­ized by their capac­i­ty for meta­mor­pho­sis, made up of small groups that split up or merge with one anoth­er, depend­ing on con­tin­gency and cir­cum­stances. (Deleuze and Guat­tari were aware that the state can will­ing­ly trans­form itself into a war machine. Sim­i­lar­ly, in their dis­cus­sion of ‘smooth space’ it is implied that this con­cep­tion may lead to dom­i­na­tion.)

I asked Naveh why Deleuze and Guat­tari were so pop­u­lar with the Israeli mil­i­tary. He replied that ‘sev­er­al of the con­cepts in A Thou­sand Plateaux became instru­men­tal for us […] allow­ing us to explain con­tem­po­rary sit­u­a­tions in a way that we could not have oth­er­wise. It prob­lema­tized our own par­a­digms. Most impor­tant was the dis­tinc­tion they have point­ed out between the con­cepts of “smooth” and “stri­at­ed” space [which accord­ing­ly reflect] the orga­ni­za­tion­al con­cepts of the “war machine” and the “state appa­ra­tus”. In the IDF we now often use the term “to smooth out space” when we want to refer to oper­a­tion in a space as if it had no bor­ders. […] Pales­tin­ian areas could indeed be thought of as “stri­at­ed” in the sense that they are enclosed by fences, walls, ditch­es, roads blocks and so on.’5 When I asked him if mov­ing through walls was part of it, he explained that, ‘In Nablus the IDF under­stood urban fight­ing as a spa­tial prob­lem. [...] Trav­el­ling through walls is a sim­ple mechan­i­cal solu­tion that con­nects the­o­ry and practice.’6

To under­stand the IDF’s tac­tics for mov­ing through Pales­tin­ian urban spaces, it is nec­es­sary to under­stand how they inter­pret the by now famil­iar prin­ci­ple of ‘swarm­ing’ – a term that has been a buzz­word in mil­i­tary the­o­ry since the start of the US post cold War doc­trine known as the Rev­o­lu­tion in Mil­i­tary Affairs. The swarm manoeu­vre was in fact adapt­ed, from the Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence prin­ci­ple of swarm intel­li­gence, which assumes that prob­lem-solv­ing capac­i­ties are found in the inter­ac­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion of rel­a­tive­ly unso­phis­ti­cat­ed agents (ants, birds, bees, sol­diers) with lit­tle or no cen­tral­ized con­trol. The swarm exem­pli­fies the prin­ci­ple of non-lin­ear­i­ty appar­ent in spa­tial, orga­ni­za­tion­al and tem­po­ral terms. The tra­di­tion­al manoeu­vre par­a­digm, char­ac­ter­ized by the sim­pli­fied geom­e­try of Euclid­ean order, is trans­formed, accord­ing to the mil­i­tary, into a com­plex frac­tal-like geom­e­try. The nar­ra­tive of the bat­tle plan is replaced by what the mil­i­tary, using a Fou­cault­ian term, calls the ‘tool­box approach’, accord­ing to which units receive the tools they need to deal with sev­er­al giv­en sit­u­a­tions and sce­nar­ios but can­not pre­dict the order in which these events would actu­al­ly occur.7 Naveh: ‘Oper­a­tive and tac­ti­cal com­man­ders depend on one anoth­er and learn the prob­lems through con­struct­ing the bat­tle nar­ra­tive; […] action becomes knowl­edge, and knowl­edge becomes action. […] With­out a deci­sive result pos­si­ble, the main ben­e­fit of oper­a­tion is the very improve­ment of the sys­tem as a system.’8

This may explain the fas­ci­na­tion of the mil­i­tary with the spa­tial and orga­ni­za­tion­al mod­els and modes of oper­a­tion advanced by the­o­rists such as Deleuze and Guat­tari. Indeed, as far as the mil­i­tary is con­cerned, urban war­fare is the ulti­mate Post­mod­ern form of con­flict. Belief in a log­i­cal­ly struc­tured and sin­gle-track bat­tle-plan is lost in the face of the com­plex­i­ty and ambi­gu­i­ty of the urban real­i­ty. Civil­ians become com­bat­ants, and com­bat­ants become civil­ians. Iden­ti­ty can be changed as quick­ly as gen­der can be feigned: the trans­for­ma­tion of women into fight­ing men can occur at the speed that it takes an under­cov­er ‘Ara­bized’ Israeli sol­dier or a cam­ou­flaged Pales­tin­ian fight­er to pull a machine-gun out from under a dress. For a Pales­tin­ian fight­er caught up in this bat­tle, Israelis seem ‘to be every­where: behind, on the sides, on the right and on the left. How can you fight that way?’9

Crit­i­cal the­o­ry has become cru­cial for Nave’s teach­ing and train­ing. He explained: ‘we employ crit­i­cal the­o­ry pri­mar­i­ly in order to cri­tique the mil­i­tary insti­tu­tion itself – its fixed and heavy con­cep­tu­al foun­da­tions. The­o­ry is impor­tant for us in order to artic­u­late the gap between the exist­ing par­a­digm and where we want to go. With­out the­o­ry we could not make sense of the dif­fer­ent events that hap­pen around us and that would oth­er­wise seem dis­con­nect­ed. […] At present the Insti­tute has a tremen­dous impact on the mil­i­tary; [it has] become a sub­ver­sive node with­in it. By train­ing sev­er­al high-rank­ing offi­cers we filled the sys­tem [IDF] with sub­ver­sive agents […] who ask ques­tions; […] some of the top brass are not embar­rassed to talk about Deleuze or [Bernard] Tschumi.’10 I asked him, ‘Why Tschu­mi?’ He replied: ‘The idea of dis­junc­tion embod­ied in Tschumi’s book Archi­tec­ture and Dis­junc­tion (1994) became rel­e­vant for us […] Tschu­mi had anoth­er approach to epis­te­mol­o­gy; he want­ed to break with sin­gle-per­spec­tive knowl­edge and cen­tral­ized think­ing. He saw the world through a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent social prac­tices, from a con­stant­ly shift­ing point of view. [Tschu­mi] cre­at­ed a new gram­mar; he formed the ideas that com­pose our thinking.11 I then asked him, why not Der­ri­da and Decon­struc­tion? He answered, ‘Der­ri­da may be a lit­tle too opaque for our crowd. We share more with archi­tects; we com­bine the­o­ry and prac­tice. We can read, but we know as well how to build and destroy, and some­times kill.’12

In addi­tion to these the­o­ret­i­cal posi­tions, Naveh ref­er­ences such canon­i­cal ele­ments of urban the­o­ry as the Sit­u­a­tion­ist prac­tices of dérive (a method of drift­ing through a city based on what the Sit­u­a­tion­ists referred to as ‘psy­cho-geog­ra­phy’) and détourne­ment (the adap­ta­tion of aban­doned build­ings for pur­pos­es oth­er than those they were designed to per­form). These ideas were, of course, con­ceived by Guy Debord and oth­er mem­bers of the Sit­u­a­tion­ist Inter­na­tion­al to chal­lenge the built hier­ar­chy of the cap­i­tal­ist city and break down dis­tinc­tions between pri­vate and pub­lic, inside and out­side, use and func­tion, replac­ing pri­vate space with a ‘bor­der­less’ pub­lic sur­face. Ref­er­ences to the work of Georges Bataille, either direct­ly or as cit­ed in the writ­ings of Tschu­mi, also speak of a desire to attack archi­tec­ture and to dis­man­tle the rigid ratio­nal­ism of a post­war order, to escape ‘the archi­tec­tur­al strait-jack­et’ and to lib­er­ate repressed human desires.
In no uncer­tain terms, edu­ca­tion in the human­i­ties – often believed to be the most pow­er­ful weapon against impe­ri­al­ism – is being appro­pri­at­ed as a pow­er­ful vehi­cle for impe­ri­al­ism. The military’s use of the­o­ry is, of course, noth­ing new – a long line extends all the way from Mar­cus Aure­lius to Gen­er­al Pat­ton.

Future mil­i­tary attacks on urban ter­rain will increas­ing­ly be ded­i­cat­ed to the use of tech­nolo­gies devel­oped for the pur­pose of ‘un-walling the wall’, to bor­row a term from Gor­don Mat­ta-Clark. This is the new soldier/architect’s response to the log­ic of ‘smart bombs’. The lat­ter have para­dox­i­cal­ly result­ed in high­er num­bers of civil­ian casu­al­ties sim­ply because the illu­sion of pre­ci­sion gives the mil­i­tary-polit­i­cal com­plex the nec­es­sary jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to use explo­sives in civil­ian envi­ron­ments.

Here anoth­er use of the­o­ry as the ulti­mate ‘smart weapon’ becomes appar­ent. The military’s seduc­tive use of the­o­ret­i­cal and tech­no­log­i­cal dis­course seeks to por­tray war as remote, quick and intel­lec­tu­al, excit­ing – and even eco­nom­i­cal­ly viable. Vio­lence can thus be pro­ject­ed as tol­er­a­ble and the pub­lic encour­aged to sup­port it. As such, the devel­op­ment and dis­sem­i­na­tion of new mil­i­tary tech­nolo­gi
es pro­mote the fic­tion being pro­ject­ed into the pub­lic domain that a mil­i­tary solu­tion is pos­si­ble – in sit­u­a­tions where it is at best very doubt­ful.

Although you do not need Deleuze to attack Nablus, the­o­ry helped the mil­i­tary reor­ga­nize by pro­vid­ing a new lan­guage in which to speak to itself and oth­ers. A ‘smart weapon’ the­o­ry has both a prac­ti­cal and a dis­cur­sive func­tion in redefin­ing urban war­fare. The prac­ti­cal or tac­ti­cal func­tion, the extent to which Deleuz­ian the­o­ry influ­ences mil­i­tary tac­tics and manoeu­vres, rais­es ques­tions about the rela­tion between the­o­ry and prac­tice. The­o­ry obvi­ous­ly has the pow­er to stim­u­late new sen­si­bil­i­ties, but it may also help to explain, devel­op or even jus­ti­fy ideas that emerged inde­pen­dent­ly with­in dis­parate fields of knowl­edge and with quite dif­fer­ent eth­i­cal bases. In dis­cur­sive terms, war – if it is not a total war of anni­hi­la­tion – con­sti­tutes a form of dis­course between ene­mies. Every mil­i­tary action is meant to com­mu­ni­cate some­thing to the ene­my. Talk of ‘swarm­ing’, ‘tar­get­ed killings’ and ‘smart destruc­tion’ help the mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­cate to its ene­mies that it has the capac­i­ty to effect far greater destruc­tion. Raids can thus be pro­ject­ed as the more mod­er­ate alter­na­tive to the dev­as­tat­ing capac­i­ty that the mil­i­tary actu­al­ly pos­sess­es and will unleash if the ene­my exceeds the ‘accept­able’ lev­el of vio­lence or breach­es some unspo­ken agree­ment. In terms of mil­i­tary oper­a­tional the­o­ry it is essen­tial nev­er to use one’s full destruc­tive capac­i­ty but rather to main­tain the poten­tial to esca­late the lev­el of atroc­i­ty. Oth­er­wise threats become mean­ing­less.

When the mil­i­tary talks the­o­ry to itself, it seems to be about chang­ing its orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­ture and hier­ar­chies. When it invokes the­o­ry in com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the pub­lic – in lec­tures, broad­casts and pub­li­ca­tions – it seems to be about pro­ject­ing an image of a civ­i­lized and sophis­ti­cat­ed mil­i­tary. And when the mil­i­tary ‘talks’ (as every mil­i­tary does) to the ene­my, the­o­ry could be under­stood as a par­tic­u­lar­ly intim­i­dat­ing weapon of ‘shock and awe’, the mes­sage being: ‘You will nev­er even under­stand that which kills you.’

Eyal Weiz­man is an archi­tect, writer and Direc­tor of Goldsmith’s Col­lege Cen­tre for Research Archi­tec­ture. His work deals with issues of con­flict ter­ri­to­ries and human rights.

A full ver­sion of this arti­cle was recent­ly deliv­ered at the con­fer­ence ‘Beyond Bio-pol­i­tics’ at City Uni­ver­si­ty, New York, and in the archi­tec­ture pro­gram of the Sao Paulo Bien­ni­al. A tran­script can be read in the March/April, 2006 issue of Rad­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy.

1 Quot­ed in Han­nan Green­berg, ‘The Lim­it­ed Con­flict: This Is How You Trick Ter­ror­ists’, in Yediot Aharonot; http://www.ynet.co.il (23 March 2004)

2 Eyal Weiz­man inter­viewed Aviv Kokhavi on 24 Sep­tem­ber at an Israeli mil­i­tary base near Tel Aviv. Trans­la­tion from Hebrew by the author; video doc­u­men­ta­tion by Nadav Harel and Zohar Kaniel

3 Sune Segal, ‘What Lies Beneath: Excerpts from an Inva­sion’, Pales­tine Mon­i­tor, Novem­ber, 2002;
http://www.palestinemonitor.org/eyewitness/Westbank/what_lies_beneath_by_sune_segal.html 9 June, 2005

4 Shi­mon Naveh, dis­cus­sion fol­low­ing the talk ‘Dic­ta Clause­witz: Frac­tal Manoeu­vre: A Brief His­to­ry of Future War­fare in Urban Envi­ron­ments’, deliv­ered in con­junc­tion with ‘States of Emer­gency: The Geog­ra­phy of Human Rights’, a debate orga­nized by Eyal Weiz­man and Anselm Franke as part of ‘Ter­ri­to­ries Live’, B’tzalel Gallery, Tel Aviv, 5 Novem­ber 2004

5 Eyal Weiz­man, tele­phone inter­view with Shi­mon Naveh, 14 Octo­ber 2005

6 Ibid.

7 Michel Foucault’s descrip­tion of the­o­ry as a ‘tool­box’ was orig­i­nal­ly devel­oped in con­junc­tion with Deleuze in a 1972 dis­cus­sion; see Gilles Deleuze and Michel Fou­cault, ‘Intel­lec­tu­als and Pow­er’, in Michel Fou­cault, Lan­guage, Counter-Mem­o­ry, Prac­tice: Select­ed Essays and Inter­views, ed. and intro. Don­ald F. Bouchard, Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty Press, Itha­ca, 1980, p. 206

8 Weiz­man, inter­view with Naveh

9 Quot­ed in Yag­il Henkin, ‘The Best Way into Bagh­dad’, The New York Times, 3 April 2003

10 Weiz­man, inter­view with Naveh

11 Naveh is cur­rent­ly work­ing on a Hebrew trans­la­tion of Bernard Tschumi’s Archi­tec­ture and Dis­junc­tion, MIT Press, Cam­bridge, Mass., 1997.

12 Weiz­man, inter­view with Naveh


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