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Rethinking Contemporary Warfare

A Sociological View of the Al-Aqsa Intifada

Eyal Ben-Ari, Zeev Lerer, Uzi Ben-Shalom, Ariel Vainer

Publication Year: 2010

Examines the combat experience of Israel’s ground forces in the Al-Aqsa Intifada in order to offer a set of innovative concepts for understanding irregular warfare. The combat experience of Israel’s ground forces in the second Palestinian uprising, the Al-Aqsa Intifada (2000–2006), is given full critical attention in this engaging study. Based on extensive interviews and observations, Rethinking Contemporary Warfare explores the ongoing debate about how the armed forces of industrial democracies wage contemporary military operations. Irregular warfare presents challenges, as routine activities can suddenly turn into violent action, forcing military forces to quickly adapt under the changing circumstances of the conflict. Such “new wars” are a messy reality consisting of high and low intensity conflict, the involvement of media and human rights movements, and the martial administration of civilian populations. Exploring the broad social and organizational features of these militaries, this volume sets forth new analytical tools to understand the peculiarities of irregular warfare in the post-Cold War era. These critical concepts include loose coupling between units, organizations that mediate between ground forces and civilian environments, and the militarization of civilian environments in urban warfare.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Israeli Studies


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Title Page

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pp. iii-iii


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pp. iv-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

At the outset, we would like to thank all of the soldiers and officers who answered our many questions, often with great candor and consideration. Next we express our gratitude to the people who worked ...

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pp. 1-16

In this volume we examine the combat experience of Israel's ground forces in the Al-Aqsa Intifada that erupted in September 2000. We contend that the case of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in this conflict allows us to explore debates about how the armed forces of industrial democracies wage contemporary war. Our book, however, is not another addition to scholarly works focusing on the broad social and...

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2. Methodology, Analysis, and Positioning

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pp. 17-19

Our period of research spanned just over five years—from July 2000 to October 2005. During this time we gathered data primarily through interviews and focus groups with over 150 soldiers and officers belonging to the IDF’s ground combat units. In addition, we had long discussions with individuals belonging to various branches of the Ground Forces Command and army training...

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3. Schoolbook Wars—Textbook Units

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pp. 21-26

Before moving on to analyze the experience of the IDF in the Al-Aqsa Intifada, let us explore the image of what we call "textbook units," since the differences between this representation and the actual reality of combat units are at the base of our argument. We argue that the IDF, like many armed forces around the world, still bases much of its training, preparation, and operation on images of conventional...

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4. War on the Frontier

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pp. 27-37

A term that was often used among (mainly Jewish) Israelis referring to the Al-Aqsa Intifada at its beginnings was "the situation" (ha-matsav). The term and its ostensibly dispassionate connotation seemed - perhaps like the phrase "The Troubles" used in Northern Ireland at the end of the 1960s - to indicate the difficulties of classifying the conflict in any conventional textbook manner. Thus, for instance, journalist...

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5. The IDF Reacts

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pp. 39-66

During the first few months of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, Israel's top generals set a rather self-congratulatory tone in regard to how the conflict was waged. The tone was set, as Oren, a military analyst for Ha'aretz newspaper, observes, because the conflict was pursued without many Israeli casualties, without it transforming into a wider war, and without the intrusion of foreign forces into the region (HA October 5, 2001). ...

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6. Swift Trust, Speedy Organizing

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pp. 67-89

In popular imagery, scholarly portrayals, and professional depictions, "unit cohesion" - the organic imagery of military forces - is seen as a prime precondition for effective military action (Kellet 1987). Thus, for example, synthesizing and integrating previous writings, Smith (1983) states that of all motivating factors - group cohesion, unit allegiance and pride, ideology and patriotism, lack of alternatives, ...

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7. "Tactical Bubbles," "Civilian Seductions," and "Three-Block Warfare"

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pp. 91-112

This chapter is an analysis of the social and organizational dynamics of military units and individual experiences in urban warfare. Its focus is thus on combat taking place in citified, urban environments characterized both by intense friction between armed forces and highly complex relations with civilian noncombatants. While our focus is on cities, urban environments are diverse and also include suburbs, large villages or towns, industrial parks, ...

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8. The Sociology and Psychology of Contemporary Urban Warfare

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pp. 113-124

To briefly recapitulate the wider argument of this book, the social scientific study of the military has, on the whole, adopted the traditional doctrinal view of modern, conventional war and warfare and consequently has developed concepts suited to what we call textbook units. This view, to put it somewhat simply but not inaccurately, centered on large formations of infantry and armor engaged in combat over open territories marked by the...

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9. Technology, Gender, and New Combat Roles

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pp. 125-150

The "separation barrier" constructed along the northern part of the West Bank has been at the center of much attention during the past few years. The common IDF term for the barrier is "the seam zone" (merkhav hatefer), a somewhat optimistic label referring to a combination of security measures, crossing points, and transportation arteries linking its two sides. The barrier itself, however, comprises ditches, patrol roads, delaying hedges, electronic...

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10. "Human Rights," "Precision Warfare," and Violence

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pp. 151-173

The organizational structures and practices through which the IDF pursued the Al-Aqsa Intifada are different from the ones used in the previous intifada. The major part of the previous intifada (the Palestinian uprising) saw the use of mass beatings, the arrests of large numbers of people for lengthy periods, and the rather limited use of elite forces. In this conflict, we find first a host of new structures and practices related to what may be called...

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11. Conclusion

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pp. 175-185

In the introduction to this volume we argued that to the analytical frameworks developed to study "conventional" wars and "textbook" units, social scientists need to add new concepts based on the way conflicts are actually waged in contemporary circumstances. To reiterate a point made earlier, social scientists need to go beyond concepts developed to examine combat units in World War II and Korea, or the Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973. ...


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pp. 187-198


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pp. 199-204

E-ISBN-13: 9781438431864
E-ISBN-10: 1438431864
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438431857
Print-ISBN-10: 1438431856

Page Count: 212
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1
Series Title: SUNY series in Israeli Studies
Series Editor Byline: Russell Stone See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 650279256
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Rethinking Contemporary Warfare

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Al-Aqsa Intifada, 2000-.
  • Al-Aqsa Intifada, 2000- -- Social aspects.
  • Israel. Tseva haganah le-Yiśraʼel -- History -- 21st century.
  • Soldiers -- Israel -- Social conditions -- 21st century.
  • Urban warfare -- Israel -- History -- 21st century.
  • Urban warfare -- West Bank -- History -- 21st century.
  • Combat -- Social aspects -- Israel -- History -- 21st century.
  • Combat -- Social aspects -- West Bank -- History -- 21st century.
  • War and society -- Israel -- History -- 21st century.
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