Theory & the War in the Middle East

It doesn’t come as a total surprise. On several occasions I have spoken to the fact that nomad thought (my own version in A Nomad Poetics, or Deleuze & Guattari’s writings in A Thousand Plateaus) was not some avant-garde panacea for radical poltics or poetry, was in that sense, not necessarily a solution. In “Open Letter in Response to Adrien Clark’s” (in A Nomad Poetics) I wrote:

The enemy (late global capitalism) has been thinking nomadically for a long time & until we are able to think through that one we will not be able to mount any successful counter-measures. The multi-nationals (from oil to food & everything in-between) do not dwell, they move, here today, gone tomorrow, elsewhere the day after: you cannot pin them down with some nineteen-century Marxist scheme. The lure, the simulacrum they dangle in the face of the Volk is that power has a home & that that’s where the enemy is: fixed, in place, say, in the Domus Blancus, the White House, and that therefore change will come by changing the in-dweller in said domus. It just ain’t so, it just ain’t so.

So in that sense it obviously doesn’t come as a surprise that the enemy is reading and thinking through the same matters than “us.” Still when a friend send me the url for a site that carries an indepth essay on the use of (mainly) French theory by the Israeli army in their rethinking of urban warfare and related tactical and strategic matters, I must say I was taken aback by the thoroughness, ruthlessness and obvious intelligence with which the appropriation of these ideas is being performed. Below, a few excerpts from the essay,which you can read in full here, and which is authored by Eyal Weizman, an architect, writer and Director of Goldsmith’s College Centre for Research Architecture. His work deals with issues of conflict territories and human rights.

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.

….

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 asked Naveh [a retired Brigadier-General, who directs the Operational Theory Research Institute, which trains staff officers from the IDF and other militaries in ‘operational theory’] 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

(Visited 66 times, 1 visits today)

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *