Podcast Ep 22: Why Israel isn’t as powerful as it wants us to think

On episode 22 of The Electronic Intifada Podcast, we ask how powerful the Israeli army really is.

Shir Hever has researched in depth the economic factors behind Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as the Israeli arms and surveillance technology industries.

He is the author of The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation and The Privatization of Israeli Security.

Hever explains how mass surveillance is used on Palestinians and exported to other governments around the world, and how Palestinian resistance is able to punch holes into Israel’s technological superiority.

“The Israeli security elite is in a deep crisis,” he tells The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

Israel’s weapons and surveillance technology industry – much of it run by private entrepreneurs – is able to test its new products on Palestinians. The industry has been able to capitalize on its unethical experiments by promoting its innovations as “battle-proven” and some Israeli arms companies have reaped enormous profits.

Yet “right now we are seeing a military force in Israel that is completely unprepared for anyone who has the means to fight back,” Hever says.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006, “even the most elite units of the Israeli military, as soon as they engaged and came into direct conflict with Hizballah fighters, they just immediately fell into their routine reaction which is take cover, and call on the radio and ask for air support,” he explains.

“Because why would you risk your neck? Why would you try to fight back? And then, of course, that meant that even a very small number of Hizballah fighters were able to hold back entire Israeli battalions.”

Hever also discusses how a significant number of young people avoid military conscription in Israel despite how it is mandatory.

Articles we discussed

Theme music and production assistance by Sharif Zakout

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The behaviour of IDF soldiers is copied from that which US soldiers have shown on the battlefield. As soon as US soldiers are confronted with armed resistance they call in the help of artillery and/or airforce. This behaviour was typical during the fights in Vietnam. The reaction of the Vietcong and NVA on this was to go as closing in the US troops maximum as possible to make it impossible or very dangerous for the US artillery and airforce to attack the Vietcong and NVA because of the risk that they would seriously endanger their own US troops.


It comes as no surprise that the Israeli military, IDF, acts like a bunch of jack-booted thugs and cowards. The IDF evolved from Haganah, and extremely violent Zionist terrorist organization.


The interesting point is the trajectory of colonialism. Its characteristic is the inability to sustain its initial heroic practice of conquest. As the French dramatist Jean Anouilh remarked: Toute les choses se tassent (everything settles down). The first heat of conquest is bound to cool. As Hever makes clear, subsequent generations want to enjoy the benefits of conquest. Such is the essentially folly of conquest revealed, as in Maupassant's Boule de Suif when the victorious Prussians join in with the simple domesticities of French life. It isn't given to us to be constantly on top note. We like to live in comfort. We like a pleasant routine. In the first flush of conquest the Zionists didn't enquire far enough into their own motivation; they didn't ask what would happen once they'd won. Once Israel was established, what was it for if not to be enjoyed? The task now is not to conquer but to keep the conquered on a tight leash. That is hardly an heroic enterprise. It's the business of petty sadists not of visionaries. Hence, the distaste of the young. The low measure of conscription and the decline of the Israeli military to not much more than a repressive police force are consonant. Once, there was a high-minded vision of liberation, of the re-establishment of a homeland, of absolute victory and religious and ethnic purity. Now there is the grim business of denial of terrorism, oppression and the daily use of tactics appropriate to narrow-minded dictators. If Israel were a single mind, it would be on the point of nervous breakdown, the inevitable outcome of grandiose expectations. Hence, panic rather than laughter at balloons and kites. Hence, antisemites under the bed. This overwrought, conflicted case necessitates the radical therapy it refuses. 1967 was a long time ago. History happens only once. 1973 was a falling off. That was long ago too. What is the IDF for? To shoot children throwing stones, it seems. Pitiful.

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).