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Between the striated and the smooth. Urban enclaves and fractal maneuvers
Shimon Naveh, 2005
Conference lectured at the Symposium "Arxipelago of Exceptions. Sovereignties of Extraterritoriality" CCCB 10-11 November 2005


The advent of the levée en masse has monopolized the use of violence in the hands of the nation state. The persistence of European states to «rationalize» the utilization of the military apparatus precipitated a series of phenomena such as the idealization of a system model regulating the functioning of the state apparatus and the communication between political direction and military action; the institutionalization of martial organization, and the utopianization of linear order as the logic organizing the application of military forces; the subjugation of strategic discourse to binary logic; the industrialization of war; and, the inhibition of subversive approaches to warfare.
These phenomena have been, for almost two hundred years, manifested in three meta-trends that structured the functioning of state militaries: mechanization of warfare, idealization of destruction, and addiction to technology; subjection of maneuver to Euclidean logic, geometrization of space and time, and idealization of mass; autocratization of command, banalization of learning, and dogmatization of performance. To military theoreticians, commanders and planners, who have been disciples of this school or paradigm, urban spheres constituted two insurmountable ensembles of cognitive tensions, or paradoxes; whereas, politically urban centers have beenregarded as ultimate prizes or «centers of gravity», operationally they have been anathemized; and, whereas civil ecology implied open space warfare («chivalric»), strategy recommended terrorization of rival state populations through the indiscriminate bombing, destruction, and annihilation of urban communities.
Recent adoption of subversive approaches to urban warfare, in certain military institutions, may suggest a deconstruction of the industrial war paradigm. While perceiving fighting in the urban environment as a «necessary evil», state armies are struggling to depart from the traditional strategic dogma, geometric dictate, and command imperative.
Urban warfare, by state armies, may not humanize war, yet it may prove to be a mechanism for revolutionizing modes of martial behavior, operational maneuver, institutional learning, warfighting command, and even the actualization of strategy.

Scene I
Prelude to Ballata: Striating the «smooth» – smoothening the striated

The large grey-metallic sheet of air-photo lay on the huge oval wooden table like a deceased dinosaur thrown out of its habitat by some primate forces. Marked bizarrely by a white label carrying the name Raphidiya, the upper left wing of the Kodakpaper trunk was splashed by a turbid stain of sour military coffee. The air, in the frosty fluorescent-lit room was heavily burdened with the odors of human sweat, boot-polish, rifle oil, and cigarette smoke. Fifteen pairs of somber eyes concentrated on a dark tight square on the lower right wing marked by the label Ballata, meaning plato or plate.
Aviv (meaning spring in Hebrew, a rather strange name for a professional soldier), commander of 35 Para Brigade cut the heavy silence with his quiet voice: «There is reliable information indicating that a group of armed insurgents has moved recently from Nablus with the intention of establishing an operational base in Balata refugee camp … Central Command wants us to go in and uproot them!»
«Oohh», mumbled Amir, the tall, fair-haired commander of Battalion X. «You mean go in and seize a built-up area? We have not done that since 1982, and as I recollect, we were not particularly successful on that occasion …»
«Well», responded Aviv thoughtfully. «Firstly, there is always a first time in war, as you all know. Secondly, this operation is not about seizing space, it is about preempting a problem, a ticking bomb! Thirdly, our real problem is not attempting something that we have not done before, but rather, freeing ourselves from a myth that has been debilitating the performance of state militaries for the last two centuries. Moreover, what worries me even further is the fact that no existing military doctrine can provide us, at the moment with a relevant conceptual reference. Thus, we have to invent a new pattern of action, while relying exclusively on our own experience …»
«What do you have in your bag for us Shai you magic-man?», said Aviv addressing the Brigade S-2. «Well», said Shai, «mainly bad news, intelligence, in this operation is beyond your worst dreams ...» «Stop frightening us! There is a serious fight ahead of us, and we are short of morale anyway», grinned Aviv.
«We know that between 80 to 200 armed insurgents from various organizations left Nablus, in recent weeks, and established themselves in Ballata refugee camp. We don’t know their exact whereabouts, we don’t know their command organization, and we don’t know their operational deployment. All we know is that they have established an urban guerrilla base within the camp enclosure.»
«The authorities must be joking», mumbled sarcastically Roni, the decent, thoughtful commander of Battalion Y. «This contradicts everything we have been trained to do ...»
«Wait!», said Shai, «We have not gotten to the worst yet. Remember how we rationalized the insurgents’ attraction to the urban sphere. It provides them with a natural base for operations against conventional forces; it affords them a human shield, which they cunningly manipulate; it is a natural hideout; an unlimited logistical base; a stage for spectacular brutality; a medium for disappearance. Built up areas are reflectors of the regular’s form, and deflectors of the irregular’s. Observing the addiction of state armies to conventional geometry and mechanistic order, on the one hand, and their phobia of casualties, on the other, subversive entities developed the doctrine that no conventional military will commit itself to a serious fight in the urban jungle. And, if worst comes, the regulars will either succumb to the town’s striation, or be defeated by the counterproductive effect of their mass firepower. In fact, we ourselves have become victims of this mythological argumentation.» Becoming suddenly embarrassed by his overenthusiasm, Shai took a deep breath trying to cool down.
Exploiting the lull in Shai’s flow of speech, David, Z Battalion commander, fired a nervous question into the room compartment: «So why should a group of insurgents bother to leave the big town’s haven and lock themselves in a remote, wretched ghetto like Ballata?»
«Well», said Shai, «I think they either want to test our nerves, or pull us into a bit-ter fight. Whatever option materializes, they think they will humiliate the IDF in the same manner Hezbollah did two years ago. If we refrain from a fight, Abu Amar’s warriors and a community of untouchables gain a psychological victory. If we accept their invitation, they believe they will embarrass us by bleeding us white. Since they expect us to come in the old style, mechanized formations in cohesive lines and massed columns, conforming to the geometrical order of a street network pattern, Ballata, almost deterministically, becomes a Palestinian Stalingrad.»
«Without being drawn into over-detailed speculation», continued Shai, «by attempting to establish a laager, I think they have been fortifying all entries to the camp, they have been mining and booby-trapping streets and alleys, both against soldiers and vehicles, and they have been gathering whatever fighting materials and resources they can. In other words, transforming Ballata into a castle, they have set the stage for a fighting spectacle in which they expect us, when attacking the enclave, to obey the logic that they have determined.» A heavy silence overcame the audience.
«There is nothing I like more than a hopeless situation», uttered Roni ironically, the rest bursting into laughter.
«Actually, things are not that bad», said Aviv solemnly. «In fact, together with Tamir, commander of the 1st Infantry Brigade, I have worked out an idea that you may find relevant to the setting of the problem we have been hovering around. Our impression is that some unique cognitive aspects that have not been observed by the insurgents can be manipulated in a manner distorting both their thinking processes, and their modes of behavior. In other words, if we apply subversive or critical thinking we may have a chance of formalizing the subversive».
Aviv rose up from his seat and approached the drawing board. «Look!», he proceeded, «They, the insurgents, wrongly tend to misperceive their tactical (individual or team level of action) inconspicuousness (disappearance) for operational (system or organizational level of functioning) imperceptibility (absence). Their transition to Ballata is about fighting, and fighting is about physical, as well as conceptual cohesion. Moreover, this transition from a state of divergence – disappearance through non-contiguous deployment within a big town or city – to a state of convergence implies both a reframing of the relations between mass and space, and a reexamination of the tension between disappearance and fighting. Once they attach themselves to an enclave, tactically we may not see them until we engage them in a mechanical sense. Yet, operationally, unconsciously, they converge with the overall form (layout) of the enclave. So, we may not know the exact whereabouts of every fighting element, yet we have rationalized their institutional logic and conceptualized their systemic or operational form. That is not bad for a start, do your agree with me?»
«Thus», continued Aviv, «since the boundaries of the enclave reflect their operational form, we can design a complex pattern of maneuver (fractal) that will disguise our form from them, impose chaotic conditions on their cognitive process, and deconstruct or de-structure their operational form. In other words, striate what they discern as smooth.»
«What worries me now are the following issues: Firstly, how we free ourselves tactically from the tyranny of tactical striation, or how we avoid the traditional dictate of channeling our fighting units into linear streets and alleys? Secondly, since we cannot afford ourselves the utilization of our most advantageous resource, firepower, and warfighting will be on even terms with our subversive rivals, how do we manage to disguise our tactical form from them, while forcing them to disclose theirs?»
«Well Aviv», interrupted Amir, «while you were developing your operational ideas we did some deliberation on pragmatics of warfighting. If you are ready to compromise on some principled sensitivities, and overcome some tactical mind-sets, I think we have a revolutionary solution to the tactical problems you indicated. Two of my boys, a platoon commander and his sergeant, both from kibbutz Giva’at Haiim, think that once we penetrate an urban enclave, we should conduct our tactical movements through the houses or buildings and not by them. Our experiments with this new mode taught us two things. First, we need to organize ourselves for breaking through walls and movement through houses of individual families. Secondly, navigation and orientation must be thought through institutionally.»
For the second time, silence settled in the compartment. Aviv, in his usual manner of discoursive command, addressed each of the participants for his individual opinion on Amir’s concept.
Following the remarks of Nimrod, the last of the participants to speak, the commander of the reconnaissance company, Aviv turned to Shmulik, the brigade S-3 and summed up his thoughts.
«Since we have been given only three days to complete our preparations for the operation, the following principles will guide our planning, training and organization. The difference between what emerges in front of our eyes, inviting our rationalization, and our institutional paradigm, concerns many aspects like, organization, doctrine, moral values, forms of function, and so on. Realizing we are amidst a transition phase, I would like to highlight some critical issues that can promote our learning as a military institution, and feed our reflections in the operation, and in the future. Unlike our idealistic tradition which perceived war in binary terms, this campaign is going to be a very long one, and end, in the far future, in a kind of new equilibrium rather than decisive results. If we do not change our current discourse on intelligence we are bound to fail. Our rivals, or enemies as they are being referred to, are not just ontological objects for action. Operationally speaking, they are a logical medium for systemic deliberation, and unless we construct them as conceptual artifacts we deprive ourselves of the basic conditions for designing our own logic. Moreover, no intelligence apparatus is capable of providing us, prior to operations against a subversive rival, with precise and relevant information. Therefore, we need to explore the implicit rather than explicit variables, and complement the production of intelligence, or the learning of the rival in the course of the operation, through the application of maneuver. Finally, we must set our institutional learning to comply with the dialectics of unique context – singular pattern, in the same manner that we have done here today.»
«We will apply a fractal maneuver swarming simultaneously from every direction and through various dimensions on the enclave of Ballata. We will completely isolate the camp, in daylight, creating the impression of a forthcoming systematic siege operation. Our fire-policy rejects the use of tanks and artillery, machine-gun fire is allowed in conditions providing a clear field of fire, precise fire, and targets that are detached from buildings. Remember, due to the poor quality of construction, the buildings cannot sustain even low-caliber single shots. I assign the western sector to Yoni who will command Nimrod (reconnaissance), Udi (parachute anti-tank company), and Guy (parachute sappers), the northern sector goes to David, the eastern sector I assign to Roni, and the southern sector to Amir. Remember, we are not in a hurry; this operation is not about ideal modes decision. We have to avoid casualties among civilians at all cost, kill or capture the combatants, while avoiding casualties in our own units. Once we have crossed the littoral, each unit (company size combat team) reflects in its mode of action, both the logic and form of the general maneuver, this is what fractals are all about. According to the logic implied by this new form of maneuver, each unit will combine in its operation three components: observation teams, sniping teams, and teams who are supposed to attract the attention of the insurgent fighters. Our movement through the buildings will push them into the streets and alleys, where we will hunt them down. By doing that we will smoothen the intrinsic striation of the enclave.»
David, Aviv’s alter ego and the senior amongst the unit commanders, exploited a respite in Aviv’s brief and popped in: «What is crystallizing here is exciting, yet extremely challenging in terms of execution. I would like to illuminate some practical aspects concerning the relations between cognition and maneuver in the context of the current operation. The prevailing maneuver paradigm is about geometrical order, physical cohesion, and massed firepower. Its conceptual coherence is embodied in its formal simplicity. Moreover, since the similar patterns of space are being utilized by the competing symmetric contenders, the rationale of emerging operations is deterministic and the problem of self-orientation, both geographically and cognitively, by individual tactical commanders is a minor challenge. Once we shift from modes of action based on presence to modes of action based on disappearance, and from maneuver framework reflecting Euclidean geometry to maneuver framework reflecting geometry of complexity we magnify the space for exploiting potential, yet at the same time we pull the cognitive challenges for warfighters to new extremes. Since every unit commander is an autarkic fractal component within an emerging fractal system, the cognitive problem of self-orientation becomes three fold. First one has to refer, at every moment of the evolving operation his relative position to the geography. Second, one has to refer, at every moment of the evolving operation, his relative position to sister units functioning within the relevant operational space. And, thirdly, one has to draw, at every moment of the evolving operation, the systemic implications from his positioning in relation to the logic of the emerging maneuver as a whole. The first is about navigation, the second is about orientation, and the third is about systemic awareness. I mean awareness not in the sense of recent American clichés but a cognitive quality implying synthesis. Therefore, we need to prepare navigation aids, to invest in developing common spaces of understanding in the fighting units, and to design a command architecture enabling dynamic learning in action.»
A wide smile spread across Aviv’s pleasant face. «One last issue before we depart. We know where exactly lies the allegiance of the Palestinian refugees living in what has become an enclave. Yet, remember they are victims not only of our wrath but also of the sympathy of the insurgents who exploit them. In other words, a most deadly game in which they are the ultimate victims, in every sense, has been imposed on them. Be careful!, Show respect! And, pay attention to their pragmatic needs!»
«Any questions or remarks at this point?», asked Aviv, «well there is a lot of work ahead of us ...»
With these final remarks the war council dispersed.