בבל , , 21/9/2019



איל ויצמן Ariel Sharon and the Geometry of occupation

After the war of 1967, a major Israeli state project sought to demarcate and fortify behind the new cease-fire lines. This project was undertaken by both military engineers – as massive fortifications works, as well as by state-planners with a new layout of regional planning that sought to seed the frontier with civilian agrarian outposts. The project has contrasted two systems of territorial organizations – linear fortification against a dynamic geography composed of a matrix of strongholds spread throughout the depth of the terrain. In a civilianization process that saw the translation of military categories into a civilian domain, these paradigms came to define the geography of occupation and indeed the architecture of the settlement project. The following chapter will trace the debate around the fortification of the Suez Canal, the western-most edge of the Israeli Occupied Territories, and the cease-fire lines with Egypt, that took place between the 1967 (the Six days) and the 1973 (Yom Kippur) Wars. In the years the Suez Canal was the place where Israel’s self-conceptions and fears consolidated into competing territorial organizations. The chapter will demonstrate the way in which the breaking of the line of Israeli fortification during the 1973 War by the Egyptian armies set in motion a process of territorial and social fragmentation and unleashed a series of processes that have as well broken up the cohesive structures that defined the pre-war Israeli state. After the war, the battle of the canal was endlessly replayed and re-fought in slow-motion mode on the hills of the West Bank. As a consequence, the border ceased to be a single continuous line and broke up into a deep frontier where a series of separate makeshift boundaries, internal checkpoints and security apparatuses broke up the contiguity of Palestinian political and operational space.

The chapter is as well a part of the spatial-biography of Ariel Sharon (a project that remains to be written) and traces the history of his spatial thinking as a young officer in the Israeli General Staff. By trying to trace his military projects and battle manoeuvres, the chapter attempts to sheds some light on the way Sharon imagined territory and practiced space. Together with his personal metamorphosis from a military general to a state politician, Sharon brought with him a conceptual approach that translates the dynamic practices of the battle-space into processes of civilian planning. Sharon’s fortification project, and his defensive-offensive battle on the canal side in October 1973, thus became essential to the development of the settlement project he was central in orchestrating throughout the late seventies and early eighties, as well as for his tenure as Israeli Prime Minister, some thirty years later, at a time the border has returned as the “seam line barrier”, if to accept his own terminology, or indeed as the wall – into Israeli public discourse.

“Unstable form”

Under constant political and military pressure, the physical envelope of political territories undergoes constant transformations and deformations. Its outline is a result of a synthesis of vectors that graph the momentary balance of forces applied on them. At times, territories crystallize into solid states, their borders agreed, drawn on maps, demarcated on the ground, policed and administered. At others, during a period of extended expansion or with the outbreak of war, a solid territory may liquefy and burst its envelope to rearticulate the changing balance of power along ever-newer lines of temporal territorial stability.

From the end of the nineteenth century to the present, Zionist territoriality was exemplified by several rapid phase transitions between, “solid” and “liquid” states. Until the 1947 partition plan – accepted by the United Nations as General Assembly Resolution 181  – sought to solidify, at least politically, the inner frontiers between Zionists and Palestinians, a succession of theoretical borderlines and partition plans were drawn and redrawn in an attempt to catch up with an elastic frontier geography constantly rearticulated by the expansion of Zionist settlements, land ownership and cultivations. During the war of 1948, another mode of territorial liquidity came into play when for the first time – soldiers, not farmers – have rapidly shifted the front-lines, and carved out a contiguous 78 percent of mandatory era Palestine, about twenty five percents of which belonged to a Palestinian state according to resolution 181, and cleansed most of it of it of its Palestinian inhabitants. Except a few pockets of villages and towns in the central Galilee Mountains and along the western slopes of the central mountain range, the area recognized as Israel was almost completely emptied of its Palestinian inhabitants . The creation of a homogenous national space meant borders were no longer fortified around each Zionist settlement or between them and the nearest Palestinian village or town, but drawn around the national space itself. But although the cease-fire lines drawn in Cyprus in 1949 solidified into internationally recognized  political borders, they were seen by the IDF as indefensible . On the eastern front the “Green Line” followed an arbitrary path that seemed to have cut “illogically” across the hills, fields, valleys and communication lines of closely knit Palestinian agrarian areas. Following no trace of natural boundary , the Green Line resembled those lines created in the middle rather than at a decisive end of a campaign. In the eyes of Israeli political and military elite – Israel was enclosed within a political territory prematurely frozen into shape, in the eyes of many of its politicians it was a project not completed.
In fact, in October 1948 towards the end of the war David Ben Gurion refused the IDF request to occupy the West Bank, a military task it was capable to achieve, because he feared that while taking it, the IDF would not be able to repeat the mass expulsion of Palestinians, it has undertaken within the areas occupied so far, and be made to absorb not only the residents of the area but also the refugees it deported into it and that have since taken shelter in scores of refugee camps beyond the areas occupied by the Israeli army .  However, since non of the signatories of the 1949 cease-fire agreements believed that the new lines would come to denote a stable international border, and had territorial ambitions and military plans to act beyond them, the lines were never fenced. To mark the borders of the state, Ben Gurion conceived not of a military fortification project but of an “organic wall” composed of a string of agrarian settlements and development towns inhabited by immigrant communities, mainly Jews from the Arab states, that were built upon refugee and absentees land  along the state’s new borders. He claimed that the “Only dense agricultural settlement along the border…will serve as a very reliable shield for the security of Israel against attacks from the outside…A wall of working and productive human beings is capable of watching over the nation’s borders.”

The 1949 cease-fire lines left most of the mountain ranges west of the Jordan River – an area that thereafter came to be known as the West Bank – overlooking the coastal planes – in Jordanian control. Considering the Jordanian controlled mountains of the West Bank that rose and were visible from most Israeli cities, even dovish Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban, referred to the 1949 lines as an existential danger to the state – and although later retreated from the statement – as nothing less than “Auschwitz lines” . In an article published shortly before the outbreak of the 1967 war, the IDF officer who more then anyone else pressed Ben Gurion for the occupation of the West Bank during the 1948 war, and the one in-charge of the implementation of the state’s cleansing policies, then a Government minister – Yigal Allon – wrote: “in…a new war, we must avoid the historic mistake of the war of independence…and must not cease fighting until we achieve total victory, the territorial fulfilment of the land of Israel” .

The IDF’s military strategy, conscious of the strategic limitation of Israel's borders, was based on an oxymoron coined in 1959 by Allon himself – “pre-emptive counter attack” . This strategy sought to compensate for Israel’s narrow territorial margins with speed, integration of ground and air forces and overwhelming firepower that was to immediately transfer the war into enemy’s territory . According to the plan designed by Allon and Air Force commander Ezer Weizman in the mid 1960s, an extensive use of Israel’s superior air power was meant to provide the volumetric compensation for its planar inferiority. By the mid 1960s the IDF was ready for battle and after explicit threats were voiced across the Arab world and some hostile redeployments were performed on the ground , it pressed the government to seek it.

The 1967 war implemented Allon and Weizman’s strategy to the letter – in a pre-planed clockwork operation – a surprise aerial strike incapacitated the Arab Air-Forces and allowed ground forces to freely swarm across the surface of the terrain. The complete collapse of the Arab armies meant that the IDF could effectively choose the most advantageous cease lines where to stop its progress and fortify behind them.

Although Defence Minister Moshe Dayan planned to halt the IDF’s charge short of the Suez Canal in order to avoid superpowers’ pressure for a retreat from this geopolitically essential water route, after three days of delirious charge that seemed to progress on its own inertia, IDF soldiers were already bathing in its waters. On the two other fronts, the IDF had reached clear natural boundaries. On the fifth day of the war, it reached the Jordan River and demolished the bridges that connected the West Bank with the kingdom of Jordan, and on the following day it redeployed along the line of Volcanic mounts about 40 kilometres into the Syrian Golan Height. 

But the clear natural and man-made borders along which the IDF was now deployed did not only fulfil the necessity of a more efficient defence, but offered a completion of sorts – a stable territorial form, one resonating with a phantasmagorical attitude that saw the “promised land” to which the IDF has “returned”, as that which is bound by the clear lines of mountains, rivers and sea .  In that respect the IDF progress in the 1967 war was seen not only as a military campaign but a fulfilment of an ideological project. The dramatic open landscapes of the Sinai desert, and the holy sites that were quickly unearthed underneath the surface of the occupied West Bank, fed directly into the nation’s mythic imagination. The sense of beleaguered claustrophobia that had dominated all aspects of Israel pre-1967 vanished in a national sense of euphoria. An unparalleled period of economic prosperity begun, due at least in part to cheap labour drawn from the newly-occupied Palestinian population of more than a million people.

Fortification debate

But gradually the occupied territories , twice the size of pre-war Israel, grew too large within the national imagination. This creeping agoraphobia meant that the unfamiliar territories had to be scanned, mapped, studied, pacified and domesticated from within, while their edges had to be fortified against the perceived danger still lurking “outside”. The recuperating and constantly growing Egyptian military beyond the Suez Canal across the African horizon was seen as most threatening.

In the project of fortification that ensued, one energised by the growing hostilities along the new ceasefire lines, two geometric models of defence were explored: linear fortification and a ‘matrix of strong points’ spread throughout the depth of a territory. Each of these prospective principles was derived from an existing historical military vocabulary and had been employed in the fortification of the Sinai, where, during the ‘war of attrition’ of 1968-71, the edge was under constant attack. But, as with many things Israeli, the principles relating to these defensive territorial models turned into the civilian concepts that later guided the nature and distribution of Israeli regional planning.

The Lines
Under the Labour administration of Prime Minister Golda Meir, two men – Haim Bar-Lev and Yigal Allon – devised models for the fortification of the edges of the 1967 occupied territories on two different fronts. Bar-Lev, then IDF Chief of Staff conceived of a line of military fortifications stretched along the Suez Canal on the water edge. Allon, then Minister of Agriculture devised the so-called Allon Plan that aimed to create and fortify a defensive line along the Jordan River, where Palestinian population was sparse and far apart. According to the plan, a road was paved along the waterline, and a series of cooperative and paramilitary agricultural outposts, settled by the NAHAL Corps – the settling corps of the IDF  – were strung along it. In case of an invasion, the interlocking agricultural fields of the outposts would be flooded and the outposts themselves would harden into fortified military positions. The Allon plan was the civilian counterpart to the Bar Lev Line. Both were products of a similar doctrine – one that sought to establish a line of defence along the outer edges of the territory. The sealing off of the state into a fortress whose outer lines were marked by water and wall were meant to ensure a complete territorial control , and to prohibit the Arab armies from gaining any foothold beyond them, thus politically manifesting the de-facto Israeli control of the 1967 occupied territories and marking the physical limit of their conquest and claims.
 Indeed, the Bar Lev line was the last geometrical gesture in geopolitics of solid borders rapidly growing out-of-date. With it, it seemed as if the fortification of the city-walls, expended and stretched, to a territorial, national (in case of the Suez Canal – inter-continental) dimensions.

Throughout the War of Attrition the Bar-Lev Line became an immense infrastructural undertaking. Huge quantities of sand were shuffled from across the desert and poured besides the bank of the Canal. There, the sand was piled up to form an artificial landscape composed of a single giant, 20 meters high and 200 kilometres long rampart, whose slopes rose at 45-65 degrees. A parallel system of patrol roads, supply depots, and communication trenches were positioned along its length. Thirty-five fortified positions (Ma’ozim) were stringed by the earth dyke at 10 kilometre intervals, overlooking the Egyptian positions across the water from a mere 200 metres. Unlike other system of fortifications, the sand of the ramparts of the Bar Lev line could absorb and dissipate any shock wave or blast caused by bombardments of all sorts. Together with the supposed superiority of the IDF to the Arab armies, this closure seemed hermetic.

In 1971 Lt. General Sa’ad El Shazly was promoted by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat as Chief of the Egyptian Military Staff for the sole purpose of designing and directing an offensive into the Sinai.  In his book – The Crossing of the Canal  he described the barrier that stood before him thus: “…the Suez canal was unique. Unique in the difficulties its construction presented to an amphibious assault force. Unique in its scale of defences the enemy had erected on top of those natural obstacles… to all that saw it, the Suez Canal seemed an impassable barrier…” Shazly describes the sequence of fortifications he was to face after the crossing the first obstacle which was the Canal itself: “…. The second obstacle was a gigantic sand dune the enemy has raised along the length of the eastern bank. For six years, Israeli bulldozers had laboriously piled the sand ever higher-their most sustained effort coming, naturally, at likely crossing points …above this formidable barrier rose the third obstacle: the 35 forts of the Bar Lev line… Two roads ran the length of the sand barrier, one along its crest, the other just behind it. Hidden from our view, the enemy could manoeuvre their armour to reinforce any sudden weak point…”

The panoramic view across the horizon is not solely an aesthetical notion, but primarily a strategic one . Indeed Shazly contended that one of the major aims of the giant earth rampart of the Bar-Lev line was to deny the Egyptians a view into the depth of the Sinai, while simultaneously creating the conditions that would allow for an Israeli view into the depth of Egyptian terrain. With anti aircraft technologies gaining a rare technological edge over fighter jets in the early 1970s, having the effect of flattening the battlefield into a horizontal, two-dimensional surface, the eye level perspective has reclaimed its strategic significance. The Israeli gaze was made more penetrating by elevating its source onto the military outposts that nested on top of the artificial hills of the earth rampart, allowing Israeli soldiers to see deep into the western bank of the Canal. From the point of view of the Egyptian armies that came to destroy it, the Bar Lev line was a visual barrier, a scopically defensible border. The barrier positioned an immediate limit to the Egyptians observable field creating a blind zone that denied them the view of their occupied territories. For the Israelis this privacy in invisibility undid some of the awkwardness of having those whose land was occupied peering back onto it, as if the mere penetration of the gaze was capable of reinforcing the desire as well as the conditions for return.

When the Egyptian armies broke through the barrier and cleared up the horizon, they opened a deep perceptual field as well. This clearing of the view became strategically effective in the first armed war when new, guided personal munitions, such as the Soviet made Sager anti-tank missiles  that required a constant eye-contact with the target all the way to impact, have required that the battlefield becomes a full perceptual field. 

On all its formidable characters, the barrier locked the IDF into the static defence that became its death trap. Under the intense artillery barrage, that signified the start of the 1973 war, Israeli soldiers were forces to dive into bunkers underneath the surface of the artificial landscape and lost eye contact with the enemy that poured across the ramparts and around them. By the time the artillery barrage stopped, and the defenders of the line were able to resume their original positions, the line was already stormed and the fortresses surrounded on all sides.

The Bar Lev Line was one of the most formidable military barriers ever constructed, a giant monument embodying the very claustrophobic belief in eternal territorial control that linear fortifications imply. Two persons, more then anyone else, worked to destroy it, and with it the territorial belief systems it embodies – Saad El Shazly, and Ariel Sharon – each for his own national and private reasons.

The Matrix
As soon as Bar Lev’s line went into construction, Ariel Sharon, at the time one of the most prominent of IDF members of the General Staff, has began vocally challenging the strategy of defence it implied.

Throughout his military career, Sharon was associated with a certain Israeli ‘myth of the frontier’ , one that had its manifestation in the transgression of lines and borders of different kinds. Like its American predecessor, a hundred years earlier, the Israeli frontier formed a mythical space that was credited for hardening a national character . The Israeli sociologist Adriane Kemp claims that between 1948 and 1967, the Israeli state created a series of “rhetorical and institutional mechanisms” that presented the frontier region as the symbolical centre of the nation, no less then “a laboratory for the creation of a “new Jew”” . The practice of frequent and deep cross border operations, that was central to the blurring of the borders and for the difference it opened between a domesticated “inside” and wild “outside” was institutionalised by the establishment of a special commando battalion – unit 101 – under the command of Ariel Sharon. Soon after its establishment, the unit engaged with transgression, breaching and blurring of borders of all kind: geo-political – its operations crossed the borders of the state; hierarchical – its members did not fully obey orders and operational outlines; legal  – the practice of their operation and their flagrant disregard for civilian life broke both the law of the state as well as international law; and disciplinary – they wore no uniforms, and furthermore expressed an arrogant intolerance, promoted by Sharon himself, to all formalities perceived as “urban bureaucracy”. Within this unit, to use Deleuze and Guattari’s famous axiom: “the war machine has become exterior to the state apparatus”.

It is hard to imagine a unit more appealing to the Israeli youth of the time. According to then Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, who nurtured unit 101, it has become “a workshop for the creation of a new generation of [Hebrew] warriors”. Moreover, he believed that it served an additional purpose beyond the narrow military one: by turning the frontier into a mythical space and “border transgression … into a symbolic practice and a spatial ritual”, it signified the fact that the borders of the state were liquid and permeable, presenting its territoriality as a project not yet complete. 
In the strategic debates that took place in the early 1970s, Sharon repeatedly clashed with the rest of the General Staff in demanding that the Bar Lev Line should be abandoned and replaced with a flexible defensive structure spread out in depth, blurring thus the absolute division implied by the fortified line. “From the beginning I felt that such a line of fortifications would be a disastrous error… we would be committing ourselves to static defence. We would be making fixed targets of ourselves … our positions and movements would be under constant surveillance. Our procedures would become common knowledge. Our patrols and supply convoys would be vulnerable to ambushes, mining, and shelling.” Because, as he claimed, the IDF “cannot win a defensive battle on an outer line…” he proposed that it should “fight a defensive battle the way it should be fought – not on forward line but in depth…”  Sharon’s defence geography, a flexible adaptation of the military system of defence in depth, was composed of a series of strong points (Ta’ozim in Hebrew) spread out on the mountain summits throughout the depth of the terrain. Between these strong points he proposed to run mobile patrols, constantly and unpredictably on the move.

The layout was based on a mathematical arrangement aiming to maximise visibility, lines of fire and fast movement across the surface. The isolated, semi autonomous strong-points were spaced apart so that each could be clearly seen from those near it, and located at the distance of flat trajectory tank fire from each other. “High points” Clausewic already noted “are important not only for their own sake, but for the effect they have on one another”  Within the strong points themselves, command, control and long-range surveillance facilities, underground bunkers, firing positions and emplacements for artillery reinforced their intrinsic strengths and gave them autonomous fighting capacity. The matrix of strongholds relied on a constantly expanding network of roads and signal stations connecting between the disparate nodes themselves and the rear.  With the distance between the centre of the state and the front sometimes as much as quadrupling after the 1967 War, it became necessary to extend the matrix all across the occupied territories, with the nodes changing from being strong-points into vast complexes of training areas, camps, depots, maintenance facilities, and headquarters, the nearer they got to the rear. Thus, connected by of roads, electro-magnetic and radio links, its firepower networked, the deep surface of the previously abstract open deserts of the Sinai was fortified.

If the idea of linear fortification and linear warfare relies on the ability of centralized command to directly control all areas of the battlefield, defence in depth seeks the dispersal of military authority and the increased autonomy of each node. The dispersal of command structure is based on a principle of “flexible responsiveness”. Acknowledging the fact that highly mobile battlefields behaves as a chaotic environment in which the chain of command and communication is often severed, greater lea-way to local commanders reduces to minimum the necessity of central coordination, encourages commander to take initiative and act independently in accordance to emergent necessities and opportunities. War across the defensive matrix becomes a “self organizing” system of synergetic but non-contiguous micro battles.  When a defensive matrix is attacked it liquefies and become flexible, capable of adapting itself to the fall of any number of single points by forming new connections across its depth. If it is severed, at one or several nodes, it may start forming new connections out of those still “living”.

The geography of nodes in a matrix cannot be conventionally measured in distance across traditional maps, but must be seen as a “flexible” topological arrangement defined by nodes and dynamic vectors. Distance between nodes is not an absolute but a relative figure that is defined by the topological characteristics of the system – the speed and the reliability of the connection: how fast and how secure travel can be achieved between given strong points. The defensive matrix may act in a similar way to what Deleuze and Guattari’s called a rhizome – a system that “connects any point to any other” and operates “by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.”  With a flexible geography described as an assemblage composed of the interrelatedness of a series non-hierarchical nodes, with different rates of flow and variable speeds of connection between them. Against the idea of the line as an instrument creating order, separating two distinct hostile realms, the matrix fragments military coherence and shatters its clear, geometrical structure . It turns the territory thus into a network of pure trajectories, whose collisions may suggest an alternative topography to that existing.

At what is true of physical systems is all the more true of biological ones. Attractors and bifurcations are features of any system in which the dynamics are not only far from equilibrium but also nonlinear , that is, in which there are strong mutual interactions (or feedback) between components. Whether the system in question is composed of molecules or of living creatures, it will exhibit endrogenously generated stable states, as well as sharp trandsition between states, as long as there is feedback and an intense flow of energy coursing through the system.

If the rational of the Bar Lev line was to discourage or stop the Egyptians from disturbing the geopolitical status quo marked out by the line, Sharon’s proposal was to encourage them to attack, and then counterattack at the moment their supply lines were extended. “If the Egyptians did try a crossing, we could afford to let them get a mile or two inside the Sinai. Then we would be able to harass them and probe for their weak points at our convenience.” After which point “we would be in a position to launch the kind of free-flowing mobile attack we were really good at.” 

The defensive matrix initially operates by trading space for time – as the attacker gain of space allows the defence valuable organizational time – and then time back for space as the trapping of the attacker within the webs of the matrix enables the defender to charge into the latter unprotected rear. The matrix of defence is in effect a spatial trap that allows the defenders a high level of mobility while attempting to paralyse any possibility of enemy movement. Jeff Halper explains how effective an armed matrix was in the Vietnam War where “small forces of Viet Cong were able to pin down some half-million American soldiers possessing overwhelming firepower”. 

The intensity of the debates between Sharon, chief of General Staff Bar Lev and his other members of Staff were in no way obscured from the general public. Sharon was leaking the content of the debates to the press, which used him to criticize the military and political elite as old-fashioned and heavy minded .  When Bar-Lev realized he could no longer impose discipline on Sharon, he simply dismissed him from the army.  In retaliation, Sharon revoked his membership of the labour party, which he held as all officers over the rank of full-colonel did at the time, and made a point to set a meeting with Menahem Begin who was the head of the right wing opposition. It was only the fear of the labour party whip of the possible political damage Sharon could make as an opposition leader before a general election, that forced Bar Lev to accept him back into the army, and landed him paradoxically where he needed him less – on the banks of the Canal as IDF Chief of Southern Command – where he served between 1969 and July 1973 – and set about implementing his strategy of the matrix of defence, parallel to the Bar Lev line.

Before long the entire zone was enveloped in a frenzy of construction, mountain outposts were constructed and fortified, and a network of high-volume military roads was paved to connect them. Hundred of trucks and bulldozers were assembled, and hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of crushed stone were hauled into the desert. The depth of the desert was fashioned into a future battlefield. At the time it seemed that every available building contractor in the country was making a good profit constructing fortifications.

The Breaking of the Line

Towards the end of the First World War a German soldier pleaded with his army: “we must come to an irrevocable break with the idea of the line from which, for historical and disciplinary reasons, we were never truly able to detach ourselves during the entire war…The correct picture is that of a net, into which the enemy may be capable of penetrating here and there only to be immediately crushed to earth from all sides by fiery meshes.”  This quote refers to one of many such debates that took place throughout military history. But perhaps the best-known example of a doomed system of linear defences was the “Atlantic Wall” which saw the fortification of Europe’s Northern Littoral by the Nazi organization Todt in preparation for an Allied invasion. General Erwin Rommel, , a Panzer general, who in the spring of 1944 took over the Wehrmacht defences along the Atlantic,  believed that the only chance to beat an allied invasion was on the water edge, and that “the main battle line will be the beach!”  His attempts to reinforce and seal much of the northern littoral of German occupied spaces undermined the attempts by General von Rundstedt to conduct a battle of defense in depth from a series of bases and forts. The piercing of the “Atlantic Wall” was a further affirmation, if one was needed, of Carl von Clausewitz’s nineteenth century warning against linear defence. In order to defend the entire length of a line, he claimed in the middle of the nineteenth century, “positions became more and more extended, and their front became proportionately weaker …the attacker…no longer tried to outflank the enemy by outextending him, but massed his strength against a single point and pierced the line.”  Indeed if the principle of linear defence is to prohibit (or inhibit) the enemy from gaining a foothold beyond it, as the Germans knew well after their experience with the supposedly impregnable Atlantic Wall, when the line is breached at a single location – much like a leaking bucket of water – it is rendered immediately useless.

In 1973 the Bar-Lev line looked so steadfast that Dayan then Minister of Defence claimed it “would take the American and Soviet engineer corps together to break through [it] ”. The Egyptian daily Al-Aharam claimed recently that some Soviet military experts suggested in 1973 that nothing less than a tactical nuclear explosion was necessary . But on the 6th of October 1973, in a surprise attack on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, it took the Egyptian Armies only few hours to break through the Bar Lev Line using conventional, although extra-ordinary, military strategy. The Egyptian military set in motion a clockwork operation whose every detail was rehearsed throughout the six years since the 1967 war. In his book, The Crossing of the Canal, General Shazly later revealed the sequence of operation that lead to the crossing of Israeli lines: “At precisely 1400 hours 200 of our aircraft skimmed low over the canal, their shadows flicking across enemy lines as they headed deep into the Sinai…their passing was all our artillery had been waiting for (it was the signal) […] The 4,000 men of Wave One poured over ramparts and slithered in disciplined lines down to the water’s edge […] a few minutes after 1420 hours, as the canisters began to belch clouds of covering smoke, our first assault wave was paddling furiously across the canal”

The line that had stood up two years of Egyptian artillery-fire throughout the war of attrition, has finally succumbed to water. Using the water of the Suez Canal, special units of the Egyptian engineering corps used British-made high-pressure water cannons, to dissolve the hardened sand and make seventy breaches within the artificial landscape.  This technique used for the breaching the Bar Lev line was the first strategic surprise of the 1973 war. The water cannons were similar to those that, throughout the 1960s helped clear the banks of the upper Nile in preparation for the construction of the Aswan Dam that was inaugurated in 1970. Thanks to the breaches in the earth dyke, two full armies could be transported in armoured vehicles and tanks over floating bridges onto the Asian, previously Israeli-controlled bank. They made their way through the ravaged landscape a few kilometres into the Sinai, then wary of the fortified depth of Israeli defences and beyond the limit of their anti aircraft umbrella, they stopped their progress and dug themselves in – guns facing east. Two days later, the 8th of October 1973, brought the most bitter defeat in IDF history, when waves of bewildered Israeli armoured counter-offensive broke against a dug-in Egyptian army equipped with the second strategic surprise of the war – previously little known Soviet made optically guided anti-tank missiles. The breaking of the Bar Lev line has opened up a visual field and the depth of the Sinai to the open views of infantry using these missiles. Any tank or military vehicle that was approaching the battlefield entered their visual kill zone.

The counter-Crossing of the Canal

The perception that the breaching of the Bal Lev line was akin to the breaching of the city walls and the storming of the homeland – a danger that, considering the hundred of miles Egyptian troops would have to cross before they reached any Israeli cities, was more hysterical than real – was embodied by Dayan’s famous statement that the “Third Temple was falling” . But the trauma of the breached line was instrumental in creating a shift of national consciousness setting out a process that has forced Labour four years later, for the first time in the history of the state, out of government.

The political significance of the 1973 war in Israel was augmented by the fact that the war had broken out a few weeks before a general elections set for 31 October 1973, and few months after Sharon and Bar Lev were released from the army. The war caught Sharon was campaigning for the right while Bar-Lev, by then a Labour party cabinet minister, for the left. Both were immediately redrafted as reserve officers, and both had to tolerate stepping one step down the command ladder. Sharon received the armoured 143 Division (later known as the Likud Division) and Bar-Lev the overall command of the southern front. Old rivalries inevitably resurfaced as the glory-hungry generals used the war as an electoral asset. Sharon realised that whoever first counter-crossed the canal to its African side would be crowned as the war’s hero. On his relentless drive towards the line, he allowed himself a large measure of autonomy, disregarding Bar-Lev who tried to restrain him, at times shutting off communications altogether, and at others pretending not to hear explicit orders screamed over the radio. Sharon was undoubtedly turning the war into his personal political campaign. He used open radio communications so that as many of his division’s soldiers as possible could hear him, and furthermore continued to leak sensitive military information to his large embedded entourage of admiring reporters . On the 14th of October, during the second week of the war, the Egyptian army who had previously held only a narrow bridgehead few kilometres east the canal were tempted to progress further into the Sinai . The four divisions that entered Sharon’s matrix of defence were destroyed by nightfall. This new balance of forces allowed the IDF to deploy from the nodes of the matrix and form a counter attack. “Operation Stoutheart” which Sharon had planned and led during the last stages of the war found a gap in Egyptian lines, reached the canal, broke through the Bar Lev Line (this time from east) and constructed two bridges across the canal into “Africa” .  Over these bridgeheads, most of the remaining armour of the IDF flowed into the rear of the Egyptian military, cut off their supply lines and encircled the entire 3rd Egyptian army.  It was a perfect demonstration of what British War theoreticians Bazil Liddell Hart called the “Indirect Approach” . According to this theory, the way to defeat a clockwork army is to direct an attack against its weak points and seek to tip its machinic inertia out off balance. The Israeli counter-crossing of the canal created a bizarre stalemate. The two armies had switched sides across the waterline and the continents. Such was the power of linear defence that it was crossed twice, in both directions, during a war lasting less than three weeks.

The Yom Kippur war ended in unprecedented public outrage. The heads of the general staff and of the Labour party rolled. But Ariel Sharon was popularly perceived as a national hero. Indeed when the fighting subsided, banners were hang over the division’s vehicles, carrying the same slogans that would later feature in so many political campaigns in Israel: “Arik King of Israel!” Sharon’s photograph driving a military jeep with a blood stained bandage around his forehead, his hair blowing in the wind, was featured on the posters of his party political campaign.  In contrast to the aging Meir and Dayan he seemed thus to be offering a youthful, energetic and anti-institutional alternative to Labor’s institutionalism.

The IDF’s crossing of the Canal into Africa had triggered as well a sequence of global events. On the 16th of October the day Israeli forces landed on the African bank of the Suez Canal, the Arab states announced a blanket 70 percent increase in oil prices and a progressive monthly 5 percent reduction in output until Israel withdrew completely from the occupied territories and restored the “legal rights” of the Palestinians. On December 23, OPEC members decided to double oil prices. Oil prices in effect quadrupled from $2.5 a barrel to $10 a barrel and the world plunged into a global recession and inflationary spiral that lasted a decade. 

Add Gransci distinction  between political strategies that resemble war of position and wars of maneuver.

For the US military, the 1973 battles provided an intense laboratory that was to have profound effects on NATO geography in Europe. The concept of “active defence,” introduced in the 1976 edition of the US military field manual, placed a military operations paradigm into a territorial model that was largely inspired by the geography of the canal matrix of fortifications. It led to the construction of an expanded matrix of American military bases mainly throughout likely battlefields in West Germany. To complement the geographical layout, new generations of optical guided munitions were developed with “smart-bombs” being their late predecessors. Left invisible to US military planners was the fact that the 1973 war was to become the last armed conflict that positioned two fully mobilized national armies in what is still the last large scale “symmetrical” conflict concerned with the occupation or liberation of territory ever fought.


In the 1967 War the borders of the state expanded and hardened, after the 1973 War they dissolved. Sadat’s gamble to achieve a breakthrough in Arab-Israeli relations through the breaching of the canal fortifications had paid off as Israel and Egypt embarked upon a series of interim agreements that finally lead to the conclusion of the peace process of 1977-1979 and Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. In Israel itself, the breaking of the Bar Lev line has crashed both geographical and social/political space. Together with the shattering of the formal geography of the battle line, the war released other dislocating forces that broke up different cohesive structures, setting in motion a process of political fragmentation. The state has lost its absolute monopoly of executive power to a variety of micro-political, non-governmental, and extra-parliamentary organizations and sectarian groups that started to compose a more complex and multi-polar political landscape. These, sensing the weakening of the state, started to challenge the centralized power structure associated with the Labor movement best described by the term – “State-ism” – which in Hebrew –“Mamlahtiyut” – could be literally translated as nothing less than Kingdom-hood.  It was the post 1973 period that saw the trasformation of Israeli economy, along with much of the rest of the world, into “new models” that abandoned and fragmented the socio-political uniti of the kensian economical model…The “artificially-created” Green Line, Israel’s internationally recognised 1949 border, was stretched to incorporate every new outpost and settlement, transforming state territory into a fragmented frontier whose boundaries became fluid and elastic. The open frontier blurred the distinctions between a political “inside” and “outside”; or, in the words of the Israeli sociologist Adriana Kemp, it blurred the difference between “the political space of the state and the cultural space of the nation” a difference “hidden by the hyphenated concept of “nation-state”.”  

The war was has brought to the political foreground a powerful new brand of national-religious Zionism, one based on a peculiar fusion of messianic sentiments with military logic.

Soon after the end of the 1973 war, a group of young women, lead by Daniella Weiss, arrived at Golda Meir’s office and asked for permission to set up a small settlement near Nablus – the first one in the mountain region of the West Bank, and outside of the borders of the Allon plan. After Golda’s polite rejection and five consecutive attempts to settle without permission was stopped by the IDF, a compromise was reached at the train station of Sebastia. In one of his famous “creative solutions”, Defence Minister Shimon Peres, serving in the first Rabin Government (Itzhak Rabin replaced Golda Meir as prime minister in spring 1974), allowed the activists to stay within the IDF tank base of Qadum in military accommodation. Two years later, this part of the base was officially declared as the settlement of Qedumim . This early settlement enterprise was perceived by large parts of the Israeli public as a project of hope, a regeneration of the country youth and its pioneering culture after the gloom of the 1973 war.

Indeed, the cores of such organizations as the religious-messianic right-wing Gush Emunim (The Block of Faith in Hebrew) that aimed  to promote settlements in the 1967 occupied territories, and Peace Now  that aimed at the very opposite  – to promote peace through territorial compromises – were formed by demobilized soldiers and officers that served together during the 1973 war, and consolidated during the long months of waiting period, when a large part of the reserve force of the IDF was mobilized on the Suez Canal before the IDF completed its withdrawal from the west bank of the canal in march 1974, and the new cease-fire lines of the interim agreement were drawn .

Strategic Planning
The political fermentation and dissent that characterized the period between 1974 and 1977, the days of the first Rabin Government, were central to the turnabout of power that brought the right wing Likud party under Menahem Begin to power with the election of May 1977. It was the first time in the history of Zionism that the labour movement lost its political hegemony. In the first Likud Government, Ariel Sharon was appointed Minister of Agriculture and took over the Ministerial Committee for Settlement. This was an influential and powerful portfolio in an administration of politicians, that save for Dayan who crossed political lines as well, had become accustomed to a permanent role in the political opposition and were utterly inexperienced in government.

Forty days following his appointment, Sharon announced a first in a series of plans for the creation of new Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank . While this plan, and the subsequent others were never officially adopted by the government, and were to most of its inexperienced members quite unintelligible, they went on to provide a basis for its settlement activity. Having successfully demonstrated the shortcomings of the Bar-Lev Line, Sharon now turned against the second of the Labour defensive lines, the Allon Plan. Seeking to implement the lessons of the Sinai campaign of 1973, Sharon claimed that: “ …a thin line of settlements along the Jordan [i.e. The Allon Plan] would not provide a viable defence unless the high terrain behind it was also fortified...” On his plans, Sharon has identified more than a hundred points on strategic summits that could, according to his logic, exercise control over the train between them, and marked the paths for a new network of high-volume traffic arteries to connect between them and the Israeli heartland .  The settlements, relying on their own weapons and military contingency plans, were to form a network of ‘civilian fortifications’ integrated into the IDF’s overall system of defence, serving strategic imperatives by overlooking main traffic arteries, road junctions, and Palestinian cities, towns and villages in their region. Thus, in the early 1980s another of the construction frenzies that are indicative of Ariel Sharon’s closeness to executive power had began. The West Bank, like the Sinai few years beforehand, was overlaid by two symbiotic and synergetic instruments of territorial expansion: the outpost observation point and the serpentine road network. The latter was the prime device for serving the former, the former overlooking and protecting the latter.

Add the story of Wachmann…The general layout of Sharon’s plan resembled the letter H. In it two north –south oriented strips inhabited by settlements enclosed the central mountain spine where most Palestinian communities are located. Connecting between the north-south strips Sharon marked a few east-west traffic arteries – the main one running through Jerusalem, thus closing a (very) approximate H. Sharon saw the formation of this continuous pattern of Jewish habitation, as making permanent facts that would make it impossible for any future Israeli government to make territorial compromises that would offer the area of the mountain range of the West Bank to an Arab Government. Later in 1977, after Egyptian president Sadat had visited Jerusalem and negotiation over a Peace accord began, Sharon, who opposed and was excluded from the process, timed the setting of a new settlements at moments when diplomatic breakthrough seemed to have been on the offing, or so as to clash with the scheduled trips of his present political foes, Foreign Minister Dayan and Minister of Defence Ezer Weizman’s to Egypt. He even initiated some Potomkin settlements – decoys that could be seen from the air – in order to trick the Egyptians into believing that new settlements were being constructed  under their nose in areas that Israel has already promised to hand back. The Egyptians would obviously suspend negotiations and the government would be embarrassed, and thus no progress was assured for a while .

From the start of the settlement initiative in the mountain area, Ariel Sharon, fearing the reversal of his spatial practices, was reluctant to implement his masterplans gradually. He believed it was important “…to secure a presence first and only then build the settlements up ”. He therefore acted to lay out the entire skeleton of the project, seeding the area with small outposts, some hardly more than footholds, composed of tents or mobile homes – knowing that each of these outposts, once establishing itself as a fact on the ground, would grow to into a formalised urban or suburban settlement.

This apparent naivety hides the fact that, with their potential for immediacy, mobility and flexibility, these outposts are the perfect instruments of colonisation. The prefabricated homes allow for quick, overnight deployment on the back of trucks or, in case where a road is not available, even by helicopter. The prefabricated rigidity of the single element allows for an immediate urbanism, based on patterns of quick repetition and flexible distribution. The seed of mobile homes may than be free to transform and develop into a ‘mature’ settlement as conditions allow.

Seen in this light, the current scenes of removal and repositioning of the “illegal outposts” – small ad hoc settlement seeds put up by independent groups in breach of Israeli law – in the context of the “roadmap” can be understood in the context of Sharon’s skeleton strategy.

The fact settlements were referred to in Hebrew as ‘points on the ground’, and a settlement sometimes simply as Nekuda   (point in Hebrew) is indicative of a planning culture that considers settlement less in terms of their essence, than in terms of their strategic location. In a famous syllogism, Lenin once described strategy as “the choice of points where force is to be applied ”. Points have neither dimension nor size; they are mere coordinates on the X/Y-axis of the plane and on the Z-axis of latitude. Sharon’s settlement ‘location strategy’ was based upon a close reading of the terrain with tactical considerations dictating the places where settlement effort is to be concentrated.
The points of settlements were laid out according to the logic of visibility – to both see and been seen – maintaining eye contact between the different outposts and over strategic interests, and positioning them so they could be clearly visible. The principle of visual domination seeks to control the trajectories of movements within a strategic terrain around it. But Sharon wanted the “Arabs to see Jewish lights every night at 500 meters...."  , visually dramatizing the omnipresence of the occupation and the control Palestinians are subjected to.

Jeff Halper calls the interlocking series of settlements, roads, barriers, military bases and ‘holy sites’ overlaid on the west bank, allowing Israel to control and regulate every aspect of Palestinian life in the West Bank, the ‘matrix of control’.  “The matrix works like the Japanese game of Go… you win by immobilizing your opponent, by gaining control of key points of a matrix so that every time s/he moves s/he encounters an obstacle of some kind.  ” Within this matrix the Israeli control of nodal points acts as on/off valves regulating movement, replacing the necessity for the direct presence of Israeli forces within Palestinian cities, the matrix can thus control the Palestinian individually and politically without physical presence in large tracts of the territory.

Thomas A. Leitersdorf, the architect and town planner of the settlement Ma’ale Edumim, the largest settlement in the west bank east of Jerusalem, describes the meetings of the ministerial committee designed to set the location to the settlement in 1978 thus: “When we put the alternatives to the Ministerial Committee for Settlement, headed at the time by Ariel Sharon, the only questions asked were: ‘Which of the alternative locations has better control over the main routes? …’I replied that according to these criteria the ideal location would be location A ... At that moment Sharon rose up and declared, without consulting the Committee, that ‘the State of Israel decides on location A.’”

But the geopolitical reality of the 1980s and 1990s – after the terms of the 1978 peace agreement with Egypt were fulfilled, after the drying up of military assistance to the Arab states with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and after the first Intifada began in 1987 – replaced the perceived order of danger faced by the Israeli state. (this is a resistance which itself a response to Israeli strategy) The challenges that the state faced arose less from a conventional attack by Arab armour from the “outside” and more from a disgruntled and restless Palestinian population located already “inside”. The centres and headquarters of popular resistance were deep within Palestinian towns and cities, especially the winding and impenetrable fabric of the refugee camps. These over-dense and under-serviced urban environments became in the eyes of the state the “habitat of terror”. The rapid urbanisation of the West Bank during the relatively prosperous 1980s was seen by the Israeli security establishment as the “jihad of building”. 

The IDF’s civil administration has used aerial photographs of each town or village to crudely draw schematic “blue lines” as close around the built-up area as the felt-tip-pen permitted. Any form of development was prohibited on land outside this line and whatever was to be “illegally” built was to be, sooner or later, demolished.  But Palestinian urban growth, fuelled by a rapidly increased population, “illegally” sprawled beyond the ‘blue lines’ that traced around them as planning boundaries. Cities swallowed towns, and towns villages, into an ever-thickening fabric of large continuously built blocks along the main Palestinian traffic arteries, and especially along Route 60 – the Mountain road – historically the most important Palestinian route, the one stringing all major Palestinian cities along the north-south mountain range. Palestinian urbanization was seen by the state as a ‘weapon’ of retaliation threatening to undermine Israeli territorial control.

From Sharon’s militarised perspective, the way to contain these urban threats, was by using more of the weapon of counter-urbanity – or more precisely, sub-urbanity. From the 1980s onwards, settlements were used as an antidote to uncontrolled Palestinian population growth. Beyond their status as forward positions in the defence of the state from invasion, the settlements were used to allow the state to exercise the task of civilian control. A continuous fabric of homes, industrial zones, and roads were knitted together to act as wedges separating the different Palestinian population centres. From points of surveillance and control on a matrix of defence, settlements started to morph or be joint together to form blocks that were designed to create wedges that disturb the consolidation of large metropolitan centres – those most likely to form the cultural demographic and political basis of a viable territorial entity. 

The fact that Palestinian construction traditionally lines main roads with residential and commercial functions, threatened, from the IDF perspective, the safe passage of the military and the settlers. This objective is stated explicitly in a series of master plans prepared by the settlement division of the World Zionist Organization under the influence and guidance of Sharon:“the proposed settlement blocs are spread out as a belt surrounding the mountains…within the minority population as well as surrounding it…” [Emphasis in the original] “Being bisected by Jewish settlements,” the masterplan outlines on another occasion “the minority population will find it hard to create unification and territorial contiguity ”. Jewish settlement along the roads “will create for the Palestinians a physical and mental obstacle that may also limit the uncontrolled expansion of the Arab communities along it. ”… Efforts at establishing settlements on the western slopes of the central mountain ridge in the West Bank, reflected further Ariel Sharon’s belief that it was important to prevent the creation of a contiguous area populated by Arabs on both sides of the Green Line, leading to the connection of the towns west of Jenin and Nablus to the Palestinian communities adjacent to the Green Line, such a Um el-Fahm and Kafr Qasem within Israel.

Sometimes the objective of making the settlement act as a wedge was achieved by its very layout; in the case of the settlement-city of Ariel –the largest settlement in Samaria, coincidentally named after Ariel Sharon– it stretched itself long and thin in order to partially envelop the Palestinian city of Salfit and cut it away from the villages composing its regional economy.

The location strategy employed for the West Bank was based on yet another basic military principle, one that states that the party who moves faster across a battlefield is the one to win the battle. It acted to differentiate between the speeds by which Israelis and Palestinians could move across the terrain. The six-lane bypass roads on which military vehicles and civilian vans can rush between settlements contrast with the narrow, informal dust-roads connecting Palestinian towns and villages. This slowing down of the Palestinian population is what Israeli journalist Amira Hass has called “the theft of time” . The architectural research group Multiplicity demonstrated that it takes an Israeli driver ninety minutes to cross the West Bank from north to south, while the same journey takes a Palestinian driver eight hours.  The fixing of the Palestinian population as relatively stationary, and separated into isolated, immobile islands, makes them easily manageable and controllable.

Planning categories followed thus a clear trajectory of civilianization. Geographical battle terms such as strongpoint, advance, penetration, encirclement, envelopment, surveillance, control, and supply-lines shifted from the military to an eager civilian practice. The small red-roofed single family home replaced the tank as the basic battle unit. District regional and municipal plans replaced the strategic sand table. Homes like armoured divisions were used in formation across a dynamic theatre of operations to occupy strategic hills, to encircle an enemy, or cut communication lines. Architecture and planning were thus used as the continuation of war by other means. Just like the tank, the gun and the bulldozer, building matter and infrastructure were used to achieve tactical and strategic aims.  It was an urban warfare in which urbanity provided not the theatre of war but its very weapons and ammunition. It was a war in which a civilian population was drafted, knowingly or not, to supervise vital national interests as plain-clothes security personnel.
(reference to politics of verticality)

peace is the extension of militarism through into every sphere of life. In that respect john lenon was right “war is over because it is everywhere”

Israeli suburbia made perfect use of the system laid out for mobile defence in depth. The massive system of fifty highways together with a modern matrix of infrastructure became effective instruments of development – merging the needs of a sprawling suburbia with national security and political ambitions to push ever more Israelis into the West Bank. The “Biblical” heartland of the West Bank was seen as a sacred territory and a defensible frontier, a border without a line, across whose depth a matrix of settlement would be constructed . This results of the early year of Sharon’s planning and building settlements in the West Bank had the effect of breaking the coherence of national space. Clear borders lo longer existed as the Israeli population expanded and flooded into areas heavily populated by Palestinians. 

ברשת מ-27/03/04

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