Testimonies reveal IDF campaign to dismantle Palestinian society

IDF soldier testimonies, collected by Breaking the Silence, and published exclusively on +972 (here and here), confirm that the intent of the IDF during the Second Intifada was to undermine the ability of Palestinian society to politically challenge Israel, by destroying its capacity to function as an integrated whole

Reading the testimonies collected by Breaking the Silence (BTS), one is struck, as Joseph described, by the recurring theme of purposelessness that characterizes military operations during the Second Intifada. Joseph suggests these activities do have a purpose: they train soldiers to dehumanize Palestinians. This is in line with a great deal of scholarship, which points out that ideologies and opinions are often produced by actions, rather than the other way around.

But there is also another purpose which motivates these seemingly senseless activities. The IDF came into the Second Intifada with a way of thinking about military operations, that is very different from the classic notion of war. The BTS testimonies substantiate that the intent of the IDF during the Second Intifada was to undermine the ability of Palestinian society to politically challenge Israel, by destroying its capacity to function as an integrated whole.

This was not a subconscious effort, or a tacit notion. The highest echelons of the IDF explicitly articulated this campaign in internal meetings and documents, presentations before foreign audiences, articles in professional journals, and sometimes even press interviews.

The proponents of this policy drew their inspiration from conceptual frameworks developed by the US military, which in turn go back to Soviet military doctrine. An entire language was adopted, littered with acronyms such as RMA (Revolution in Military Affairs), SOD (System Operational Design) and EBO (Effects-Based Operations). One of its phrases, “Shock and Awe”, became famous during the Iraq War, which was planned and carried out, to a substantial extent, according to those principles.

Describing these concepts in full would take a book or two, and would not be easy, considering that there is little agreement on their meaning or implications. I would like to focus on just one of them, which I consider especially important for understanding IDF operations during the Second Intifada.

The terms “rival system rationale” or “rival as rationale” reflect a new understanding of the best way to achieve victory in war. Traditionally, the threat the enemy posed was thought to emanate from its fighting forces. Victory was achieved when these forces could no longer fight, either because they were destroyed, or because their logistic support was destroyed or depleted.

According to the new thinking, an easier way to defeat the enemy was by attacking its rationale. In this context, “rationale” stands for whatever enables the enemy to operate as a coherent entity which works to achieve certain goals. Even with the enemy’s fighting force largely intact, without a rationale, it cannot pose a serious threat. Fighters can engage in random violence, but they no longer work together to achieve a purpose your own side considers undesirable.

The reason why this doctrine refers to “rival” instead of “enemy” is explained quite well in the following passage:

The second framed discussion is that of the Rival as Rationale, the purpose of which is to define and describe the rival as a system. Although rival is traditionally thought of as an adversary, SOD intentionally takes a broad perspective in that the rival may be any condition or component, whether friendly or enemy, that is to be disrupted or influenced.63 It leads to a definition of the rival by examining the logic, motives, intent, behaviours, culture, economics, and interrelationships of the rival with other entities in the system.64 This definition provides an account of the exploitable tensions within the system.

The best way to “dismantle” the rival system’s rationale is to attack the connections between its various parts, and to keep it constantly unhinged and unstable. Hence, in Iraq, the use of “shock and awe”. In the West Bank, the same ends were achieved through the massive use of internal checkpoints, and by the constant pressure of “disruptive” operations. These “disruptive” actions, specifically targeting the civilian population (a weak link in the “rival system”), turned into a routine procedure, described in BTS testimonies, and admitted even by the commander of the IDF infantry brigade [PDF] in the West Bank.

This operational method was successful, as far as it goes. Palestinians’ ability to act together as a whole with a common purpose was severely compromised. At the price of Palestinian civilians’ immense suffering, Israeli decision makers were provided with increased room for diplomatic maneuvers, which they then proceeded to waste on shortsighted foolishness. The IDF certainly cannot take all the “credit” for this outcome, but its contribution was crucial, and intentional.

Read More on Breaking the Silence’s report:

Breaking the Silence: The testimonies (part I) and The testimonies (part II)

Joseph Dana: The moral corruption of Israeli society

Yuval Ben-Ami: The birth of tragedy from the spirit of occupation

Mairav Zonszein: BTS: the IDF’s magnum opus