Practical Soldiers: Israel’s Military Thought and Its Formative Factors


This book suggests a general framework for the analysis of formative factors in military thought and offers an account of the Israel Defense Force’s state of intellectualism and modernity. This account is followed by an attempt to trace the factors that have shaped Israeli military thought. The explanations are a mixture of realist and non-realist factors, which can be found at both the systemic and the state level of analysis.
At the systemic level, realist evaluations focus on factors such as the dominance of the technological dimension and the pervasiveness of asymmetrical, low-intensity conflict; whereas at the state level one can find realist explanations, cultural factors, and societal influences. Moral and legal constraints also factor into both the systemic and state levels.

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Avi Kober, Ph.D, Hebrew University (1992) is Professor of Security Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He has published numerous books and articles on security matters and Israeli military doctrine, including Israel’s Wars of Attrition (Routledge, 2009).
Preface ix
The Research Question and Main Arguments xi
Methodology xiii
Sources xvi
Structure xvi
Acknowledgements xvii
List of Tables xviii xx
1 Military Thought and the Formative Factors Afffecting It 1
The Intellectual and Modern Focus of Military Thought 1
Intellectual Focus 1
Modern Focus 4
Realist vs. Cultural Formative Factors 5
Is There Such Thing as a Universal Strategic Culture orMilitary
Culture? 7
Formative Factors: The Systemic Level 9
Technology as a Dominant Dimension 9
The Broadening of War 11
The Narrowing of War 17
The Complexity of War 22
The Pervasiveness and Importance of LICs 23
Zeitgeist 25
War in a Given Period 25
Intellectual Climate 28
Morality, Law, and War 30
The Unit (State) Level 31
The State’s Specifijic Strategic Conditions 31
Organizational Factors 32
Lesson Learning Processes 34
The Level of the Individual 35
Thinkers’ Operational Code: Fatalists, “Military Intellectuals,”
“Intellectual Soldiers,” And “Practical Soldiers” 36
Spiritual Fathers 38
Personal Experience 39
Conclusion 40
2 Israeli Intellectual and Modern Focus 43
Intellectual Weakness 43
Symptoms of Poor Intellectualism in the Military 43
A Number of Positive Symptoms 57
The Detrimental Efffect of the IDF’s Lack of Intellectualism 69
The Cost of Poor Intellectualism 69
The Danger Entailed in Emulated Doctrines 72
Damage Inflicted by Phony Intellectualism 73
Modern Focus 75
Types of Conflict 75
Levels-of-War 76
Dimensions of Strategy 79
Post-heroic Mindset and Moral and Legal Considerations Becoming an
Integral Part of Israeli Military Thinking 82
Conclusion 84
3 Systemic Formative Factors 86
The Pervasiveness of LICs 86
Technological Developments 92
The Ascendancy of Firepower 92
The Notion of “Small But Smart Military” 99
Victory from the Air 100
Network-centric Warfare 103
Command and Control over Plasma Screens 104
Cyberspace and Cyber Warfare 105
Legal and Moral Constraints Created by International Law and
Norms 107
Jus ad Bellum: Preventive War as Opposed to Preemptive Attack 107
Jus in Bello 109
Conclusion 111
4 Unit (State)-Level Factors 114
Geostrategic Factors and the Cult of the Offfensive 114
Cultural Factors 115
“Bitzuism” (A Performance-oriented Approach) and Experience-based
Intuition 115
Extolling Resourcefulness and Improvisation 118
The Post-1967 Hubris and Intellectual Feebleness 122
Slow Adaptation to a LIC Mindset 123
Lack of Institutional Intellectualism 126
Politization and Militarization Processes 127
Societal Factors 128
An Occupational – Rather than Institutional – Military 128
New Elites and Their Impact of the Idf’s Military Thought 129
The Near-lost Competition with the Civilian Sector 130
Explanations for Israeli Post-heroic Mindset’s First Rule 132
Commitment to Jewish and Western Democratic Moral and Legal
Standards 132
“Purity of Arms” 133
Justifying the Use of Force 134
The “Judicialization” of Israeli Military Thinking 136
Conclusion 137
5 Conclusion 138
General Formative Factors 138
The Israeli Case 142
The State of Israeli Military Thought: Intellectual and Modern
Focus 142
Formative Factors 143
What Can Be Done to Improve the Level of Intellectualism of Israeli
Military Thinking? 145
Appendix 149
Bibliography 162
Index 184
All interested in classical and modern military thought in general and Israeli military thought from the establishment of the state to the present in particular.