Haim Bresheeth Žabner's detailed study of the origins and role of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) are based on one main observation: Israel is defined by its military. An Army Like No Other: How the Israel Defence Forces Made a Nation (Verso Books, 2020) delves into Zionist settler-colonialism and its violence, the latter being a necessity, as the author states: "An obvious element of any settler-colonial project is military violence, without which such undertakings are impossible."
Before Israel established itself in Palestine, Zionism was already becoming militarised, in line with the exploitation of biblical myths to support the invention of "a nation". The aggression, therefore, has historical roots and is part of an ongoing process. "Militarism has created material interests for the continuation of conflict in Palestine," writes Bresheeth, "it has become a crucial element of Israeli society."
A look at the IDF's origins shows how the early recommendations of violence against Palestinians as articulated by David Ben Gurion and Zeev Jabotinsky gave rise to Zionist paramilitaries, such as Haganah and Palmach, the latter later incorporated into the IDF in 1948. Targeting both Palestinians and the British Mandate authorities, the IDF pioneers paved the way for the foundations of impunity bestowed upon Israel, playing upon European Holocaust guilt, even as Zionist leaders had earlier reached agreements with the Nazis to facilitate Jewish migration to Palestine. It is no surprise, given the centrality of violence to Israel's settler-colonial project, that the military is not separated from the consciousness of its society.
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The book explores the patterns of how Israel normalised violence, the absence of political solutions to advance violence, the IDF's development, the links between settler-colonialism and militarisation, the unequal power relations between the colonised and the coloniser, and Israel's global influence through its military-industrial complex. With such widespread influence, the author makes the case for political and social indoctrination within Israel. The propaganda that barely distinguishes between the military and society generates additional impunity that is seen in acts of military censorship to obliterate proof, the institutions created to protect the IDF, as well as its involvement in academia. "The Israeli army was not an instrument for the exceptional moment of war, but the foundational social institution of the new state, its guarantor of identity and existence."
With Israel's identity and existence attributed to the IDF, it is clear to see how the colonial state created a fabricated "post-colonial" identity for itself. From the 1948 Nakba, the victimhood narrative provided justification for Zionist settler-colonialism within its proponents. Zionism's preparation for war was in line with the plans to control the entire Palestinian territory and the lack of formidable opposition from Arab countries and the international community allowed what Bresheeth describes as "a perfect crime – one without a perpetrator."
Later wars instigated by Israel, exhibiting international allegiances, notably America's, also follow the patterns of earlier violations and aggressions. Having successfully marketed the Holocaust narrative, Israel ensured international support while it battled for further expansion and control within and of Palestine. The constate state of emergency, or the state of exception which Israel exploits to justify its security narrative, resulted in ongoing offensive action, particularly post-1967, when Israel's military expertise became the colonial state's biggest economic venture. Interdependence between the US and Israel resulted in the IDF becoming the largest recipient of US military aid, albeit with such aid not contributing to defence, as Israel alleges. The interventionist approach adopted by Israel requires perpetual warfare, to the point that the colonial state's conflation with war and peace resulted in a constant unease when it comes to security.
Internationally, Israel's strategy influenced the mainstream narrative of the colonial state facing an alleged existential threat. The normalisation of Israeli colonialism and the resulting military occupation contributed to the ongoing expansion over Palestinian territory and the forced displacement of Palestinian civilians. Settlements, argues Bresheeth, "were the crucial component of securing the territory," resulting in settlers being powerfully represented and controlling the government and the IDF.
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Bresheeth also expounds on how the Palestinians' will to remain on their land signifies failure for Israel's ethnic cleansing policies. Meanwhile, as long as Palestinians can be rendered stateless by Israel, the colonial entity is in no need to orchestrate another Nakba on the scale of the 1948 aggression. The Oslo Accords, in line with Israel's neutralisation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's anti-colonial struggle, ensured the political framework that would work in Israel's favour not only in terms of land appropriation, but also the financing of the military occupation, which was left up to the international community. The IDF's violations, therefore, are a paid venture, in the name of Israel's security narrative, which enables the colonial project to retain its impunity. Reliance upon the collaboration of the Palestinian Authority's security services, mostly funded by the EU, has enabled the IDF to exert its control over the occupied West Bank.
Of particular note is the author's analysis of Israel's military-industrial complex, which is traced back to the origins of settler-colonialism. "The beginnings of the Israeli military-industrial complex (MIC) are the results of violence innate in the settler-colonial nature of the Zionist project." As Israel invested in arms production and allied itself with countries such as France, which would become its major arms supplier from 1956 until 1967, the colonial project visibly shifted its aims from defence to instigating conflict.
"Israel," says the author, "has a great investment in conflict-making: crisis, war and adversity strengthen its industrial core, making it more lucrative." The IDF, he notes, "formed a political system in its own image."
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One observation in the book that illustrates its permeating presence is that "the IDF controls, directly or indirectly, 80 per cent of the land area in Israel." Its control of the political agenda in Israel has resulted in a society that is unable to live without the concept of "a military edge".
The author discredits the propaganda of "the most moral army" meticulously, revealing an institution that is historically violent and which needs the perpetuation of further violence to sustain itself. This is a must-read book. Rich in detail, it is structured in a way that is easy to follow and allows the reader to make the necessary historical connections which are missing in mainstream narratives, or obliterated to suit the dissociation under which politics and media operate.