Thursday, January 14, 2010

Walking Through Walls

The following is an excerpt from an essay by Eyal Weizman on the unusual tactics used by the Israeli Defense Force during their 2002 invasion of Nablus (quote from Brig. General Aviv Kokhavi). Hat tip to the excellent BLDBLOG.

"This space that you look at, this room that you look at, is nothing but your interpretation of it. Now, you can stretch the boundaries of your interpretation, but not in an unlimited fashion, after all, it must be bound by physics, as it contains buildings and alleys. The question is, how do you interpret the alley? Do you interpret the alley as a place, like every architect and every town planner does, as a place to walk through, or do you interpret the alley as a place forbidden to walk through? This depends only on interpretation. We interpreted the alley as a place forbidden to walk through, and the door as a place forbidden to pass through, and the window as a place forbidden to look through, because a weapon awaits us in the alley, and a booby trap awaits us behind the doors. This is because the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps. Not only do I not want to fall into his traps, I want to surprise him! This is the essence of war. I need to win. I need to emerge from an unexpected place. And this is what we tried to do.

This is why we opted for the methodology of moving through walls. . . . Like a worm that eats its way forward, emerging at points and then disappearing. We were thus moving from the interior of homes to their exterior in a surprising manner and in places we were not expected, arriving from behind and hitting the enemy that awaited us behind a corner. . . . Because it was the first time that this methodology was tested [at such a scale], during the operation itself we were learning how to adjust ourselves to the relevant urban space, and similarly, how to adjust the relevant urban space to our needs. . . . We took this microtactical practice [of moving through walls] and turned it into a method, and thanks to this method, we were able to interpret the whole space differently! . . ."


  1. This is fascinating. Some things that stood out to me:

    Further in the essay, he talks about how moving through the walls will force those they are hunting into the open streets and alleys, where they can be more easily targeted.

    Later the idea that this is a less destructive means of combat is challenged, as they note that the majority of the damage is actually only confined to unseen spaces.

    But when I first read this, I saw 'BLDGBLOG' and thought it was describing something entirely different. Taking it out of the context of tactical movements, would it be possible, or desirable, to structure a city (or parts of it) to make the interior spaces, the parts usually not seen or used, to integrate them as part of how you get from one place to another? It would be rather labyrinthine and very cool.

  2. It IS interesting. I keep thinking of this in terms of swarming or flocking behavior. Could this kind of movement be optimized by giving the soldiers equipment that raises their awareness of their physical location and orientation to other friendly units? Could simple rules about maintaining closeness or distance to nearby units cause a sort of emergent coordination? If the entire force was thusly coordinated could the physical location of all of the units be descriptive of important dynamics of the battle? Could decision-making be further decentralized through this kind of technology, in order to better take advantage of the skills, and awareness of units on the ground?

    What you're saying about not realizing at first that this was about military maneuvers is very interesting. I think that there is a lot of advantage of thinking about ideas outside of their usual context. It can lead to unexpected insights.