Alessandra Renzi on Sat, 19 Aug 2006 21:35:22 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> IDF reading Deleuze and Guattari (and Debord)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: <>
Date: Aug 17, 2006 10:25 AM
Subject: IDF reading Deleuze and Guattari (and Debord)
To: Joshua Stephens < >

[Article also available at:]

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 guerrilla 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

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
technologies 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

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; (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;
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.,

12 Weizman, interview with Naveh

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: