Small Wars Journal

Reexamining “War” Amongst Israelis and Palestinians

Share this Post


There are a number of ways to alter or distort one’s perception of war, whether intentionally or unintentionally. One method has been through the influence of terminology. Whether newly contrived, du jour, or modish, such descriptions that comprise the “terminology trend” have caused confusion, complexity, deception, and even desensitization to the most extreme of all social activities.[i] For example, “New Wars” is an attempt to express that the historical understanding of war, or “old war”, is relevant today only by the narrowest of margins. Though one is likely to find it difficult to accept the definitions for “old wars” posited by acolytes of the “New Wars” school; further, one will be hard pressed to discover anything fundamentally new about war.[ii] Other ongoing wars are referred to in voguish terms, such as “asymmetric wars” and “hybrid wars”, despite virtually all wars in history containing asymmetric and hybrid characteristics.[iii] This paper examines the use of the term Intifada. By reexamining and applying one of the most accepted definitions for “war”, as proffered by Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831), it will be shown that the terminology trend — in this case, Intifada — has resulted in negative political implications regarding an understanding of the savage and destructive consequences of war and warfare.[iv] That is to say, this brief paper only focuses on political implications resulting from the use of Intifada, and not on possible consequences at the strategic and tactical levels of war. In order to reach an understanding as to why Intifada has political implications, it is essential to reexamine Clausewitz’s definition of war, the character and nature of war, and examine the historically fundamental reasons for violence, which applies to Israelis and Palestinians from 2000 to 2005. A review of these subject matters assists in explaining both why the “Second Intifada” was in fact not an Intifada but rather a war like any other in history, and why there exist political ramifications as a result of the application of the term. Though this paper is about war amongst Israelis and Palestinians, the thesis can and should be applied to any entity engaged in war.

Why “War”?

What is the significance of using the historical term “war” over Intifada? Asked plainly, does it matter how one refers to the violence of 2000–2005? How one refers to the violence does, in fact, matter and this will be addressed in detail below. Thinkers on war and warfare, both before and after Clausewitz, have contributed considerably to defining and understanding the concept of war.[v] However, for our purposes, it is Clausewitz’s definition for war that will be utilized. Arguably, the reason is that from all of the available definitions for war, it is Clausewitz’s that continues to provide the greatest level of lucidity and guidance. In Chapter One, Book One, in On War, Clausewitz lays out his triptych definition for war: as an act of force; as a game of chance; and as an extension of politics/policy. For our purposes, the focus will be on war as an act of force, though all three elements to a limited extent play a role in this specific paper. Clausewitz unequivocally enters into the “heart of the matter” when he states, “War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.”[vi] With these words, Clausewitz provided posterity with a definition for war that continues to offer considerable clarity and direction — this, despite an unknown human desire to stray from the simplicity of the concept and instead choose to venture deep into the heart of confusion and complexity.

For some, Clausewitz’s definition of war is overly simplistic or even glib, while for others, it is as close to perfection as any theorist has come to defining war. Those who subscribe to Clausewitz’s definition are likely to find greater direction and perspicuity in analyzing all war and warfare throughout history. Prior to examining the political implications of Intifada, a fundamental understanding of war and warfare must be illustrated. Here, comparisons and analogies are useful. If we refer to any game that relies on violence, it is possible that a better understanding of war and warfare may be obtained; for example, American football or English rugby, an analysis of their objectives, equipment, and the actions of their respective players.

What must players understand prior to taking to the field? First, players and their leaders must understand the conflict that they are entering. Second, there must be a collective understanding of the “ends” for which they are fighting, which necessarily includes abilities and capabilities to balance the totality of their “ends, ways, and means”. Third, players must receive intelligence on their opponent in order to offer a greater chance of successfully reaching any “end state”. Lack of intelligence will cause thicker layers of the fog of war to cover the entire field. Fourth, given that the situation is a bilateral exchange of violence, both sides must be well trained, hardened, and drilled in various maneuvers. Fifth, players must be prepared to physically hurt their opponents. The infliction of suffering on an opponent should not derive from some primitive violent instinct to simply cause pain, but rather hurting is only for the purposes of the “ends” they are seeking – nothing more. Physical force in pursuit of specific higher objectives gives meaning to the application of violence on the field. Without a higher objective (victory), the field will be inundated with violence devoid of any purpose.

Once on the field, their moves and actions are guided by intelligence, generally analyzed and distributed by their highest level of leadership (coaches). Each side is dressed in uniforms (unique in their own right) that distinguish them from their opponents; players will don protective gear such as helmets and shock-absorbing upper body protection, mouth guards, and tackle suits. Both wear purpose-built shoes, which through additional traction on the field, allows them to maneuver with greater control, accuracy, and effectiveness. Both will have their own distinctive plans of action underpinned by force (ways) in a bid to out-maneuver, out-score, and hurt their opponents. All players use violence (means) to obtain victory (ends). Should all equipment be stripped — helmets, cleats, mouth guards, and uniforms — each of which cause differences in appearance and effectiveness, what remains is still a violent contest with players capable of, among others, tackling the opponent in an attempt to violently counter his action, with both sides in pursuit of the same objective: victory (or at the very least, to not lose so badly as to affect their overall power, relevancy, and standing).

Football and rugby games aside, replace anti-tank missiles for the Roman onager; long-range snipers for the long bow of Cretan Greek Toxotai; Israeli laser-guided missiles for the javelin; or Palestinian suicide bombers for the burning of inhabited villages — all of these tactics undertaken for the higher purposes of policy leave us with “an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will”. The costumes may have changed but the party remains the same.

Character and Nature of the Armed Rebellion

It is widely accepted that those who study or “do” strategy have a solid grasp of the difference between the character and nature of war. One would be remiss to accept any such assumption, as even the most respected, experienced, and decorated soldiers and veteran policymakers do not necessarily have an understanding of the distinctions between the complicated but inherent connection between character and nature. Therefore, it is important to briefly review the meaning of the two, which bears directly on an understanding of Intifada. Quite often, character and nature are portrayed in a hyper-categorical or absolute sense: that is, the character of war is in constant flux while its nature is “immutable” or static. Without a clarification of the intimate interplay between war’s character and its nature — both of which are altered in distinct ways — the political implications caused by the use of Intifada will not be clear.

The character of war is in fact alterable, and elements of its character are as capable of vanishing completely as they are of reappearing – from culture, to methods of combat, to weaponry. For example, alterations in fighting techniques (including force deployment), the introduction and abandonment of types of weapons, technological growth, the clash of state and nonstate entities, increasing societal aversion to war, and laws regarding how one can fight, are all a part of the changing character of war. It is war’s ever-changing character that seems to be the main source of confusion and complexity. This is one reason for the existence of the terminology trend — “slogans masquerading as ideas” — that are neither clear nor particularly useful, such as “New Wars”, “war on terrorism”, or “Intifada”.[vii] However, while some terms such as “hybrid” or “Network-Centric” have provided benefit regarding an understanding of war’s character in a highly specific time and place, the vast majority of terms associated with the terminology trend is not and can never be a substitute for war. This means, for example, that “New War” does not truly exist. Rather, there exists war that contains certain characteristics that have caused some individuals to, erroneously, understand aspects within present wars as something “new”. It is the same for Network-Centric Warfare, which is not a distinct type of war but rather elements of network-centricity play one of many roles within warfare. The terminology trend has provided little, if any, benefit for an understanding or deeper insight into either war’s character or nature.

There is a general belief that war’s nature is incapable of change. This is not entirely correct but it is a wholly understandable belief. As Clausewitz wrote, “The nature of war is complex and changeable … its nature influences its purpose and its means” [Emphasis added].[viii] When viewed as a whole, war’s nature is not “immutable” but it does contain parts that are unlikely to ever disappear. This can be a source of confusion. What is usually being conveyed by the phrase “war’s immutable nature” is that the fundamental elements found within Clausewitz’s wondrous Trinity (wunderliche dreifaltigkeit) of enmity, chance, and purpose, as well as the friction inherent in all wars, do not change into something else, whereas elements of war’s character do change and have even vanished completely.[ix] Every war in history, including the “Second Intifada” has been a slave to these ever-present elements. However, and importantly, enmity, chance, purpose, and friction do not have fixed quantities, which is why “immutable” or “inalterable” are not wholly correct descriptions of the nature of war. As a whole, the nature of war can be understood as the “fundamental cause and effect relationships involving the forces of purpose, chance, and hostility.”[x] This Clausewitzian perspective of war’s nature simply points out that war and warfare have always been and will likely remain social, political, passionate, violent, and fortuitous. It also implies that war’s character – from culture to doctrine to weapon systems – will have an effect on how great or how little elements of the Trinity may fluctuate, though any fluctuation that may occur amongst and between these elements does not imply a change in their existence (they have always been and will likely remain present). Rather it implies shifts in their influence and power, which has historically been shown to impact war’s character. War is something “more than a simple chameleon because not only do its external features change, its internal ones do as well. Indeed, there is an intimate relationship between the two: they are essentially inseparable. What happens in one has to be reflected in the other.”[xi] Plainly stated, as nature affects character, the opposite is also true, even if to a limited and unquantifiable extent — enmity, chance, and purpose cannot be accurately measured. Nonetheless, in the main it is the character of war, not its nature, that one can point to as the culprit for current incertitude. This has led to, among others, the birth and nurturing of dubious terms.

Source of the Armed Rebellion

Revealing the core reason why Israelis and Palestinians engaged in five years of violence is another element that is critical to understanding the problems generated by the use of Intifada. As will be shown, the violence was not a “popular uprising” fought for the far too-simplistic assertions of religion, economics, or territory. As ineluctable elements of human nature, all people are political animals. It is the combination of people and politics that not only provides the two main reasons for the violence between 2000 and 2005, but also for the continual existence of all wars. That man is a political animal driven by “pressure of three of the strongest motives, fear, honor, and interest”, has been a relatively accepted assertion since antiquity.[xii] Though, as we shall see below, even the “three strongest motives” for war are part of a larger whole. To be sure, there are counterarguments that politics represents the root of all wars. For some, entities violently engage one another in pursuit of policy as a result of a miscellany of attributes — from biology and resources to culture, ideology, religion, and economics. There is merit in such views, though to a limited extent. For example, sociobiologists argue that aggression provides the main reason for the continuation of wars. Aggression is in fact a veritable component of human nature. However, the argument that human aggression is why people fight for policy ends is tenuous, for there is more to humanity than the primal animalistic instinct of aggression, and the notion that war is genetically based lacks scientific validity.[xiii]

Economic historians such as Karl Marx, a reader of Clausewitz, believed that socio-economic injustice in the form of capitalism kept the international political system on the brink of war. However, sociobiologists and economic historians, among others, do not give proper attention to the substantial human ability to reason. For example, the mentors and “spiritual guides” of Palestinian suicide bombers, as well as Israeli political and military leaders who authorize, devise, and execute targeted killings or military raids, engage in logical cost-benefit analysis more than they do aggression. That is, when entities employ violence for the ends of policy, they do so as a result of logical thought. As Michael Howard has noted, “The calculations of advantage and risk … that statesmen make before committing their countries to war are very remotely linked, if at all, to the tribal machismo ...”[xiv]

It is true that people claim to fight in the name of religion, as some Jews and Muslims did during the armed rebellion of 2000–2005. Warfare has also been waged for resources and for the acquisition of territory (for example, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem). Yet, such perspectives miss the heart of the matter. For the engagement in war and warfare can all be traced to one authority, “the only source of war”: politics.[xv] Accordingly, while Thucydides’ triumvirate of “fear, honor, and interest” represents powerful and influential motives for the continuation of wars throughout history, all three components can be traced to politics. This means that so-called “oil wars”, “holy wars”, “new wars”, “Intifadas”, among a superfluity of other appellations for war, are nothing more than decorative coating. They are the captivating colors and thrilling shapes that do nothing more than veil the complex structure that has remained intact since the advent of organized communities. That structure is politics and it is from politics that policy – the “guiding intelligence in war” – emanates.[xvi]

War and Warfare

As a result of technology and arguably outdated laws of war, coupled with the notion that events in modern international relations continue to exist along the bounds of anarchy, the reasons that a terminology trend exists is both recognized and appreciated.[xvii] Simply put, the more complex something becomes, the greater the need for clarity and the wider and more urgent the search for that clarity becomes. Interestingly, as Clausewitz astutely observed, “Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating.”[xviii] Thus, one could posit that the terminology trend causes perceived complexity and that the reality of war and warfare is much simpler. However, though “all wars are things of the same nature”, this does not imply any disregard for the many intricacies that make wars different from one another.[xix] The character of each war is in fact distinct, but their nature is one and the same. That is, the physical and psychological effects of Roman military raids against Jewish rebels in 66 C.E. differ little from the IDF’s Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 against Palestinian combatants (enmity, chance, and friction reigned freely in both examples). Yet, the political purpose for the raids, the equipment and weapons used, troop deployment, actors, and of course political context are distinct from one another.

Plainly stated, war is an act of violence. It can present as bilateral (e.g., Israeli security forces and Hamas) or multilateral (a clash between Israeli security forces, Palestinian security forces, violent Israeli settlers, and Palestinian militants). Ultimately, war is a physical and psychological struggle of political will, whereas warfare is the method of administering violence. Both are in pursuit of the ends of policy and both (should always be) subordinate to policymakers. As Clausewitz reminds us, “Policy is the guiding intelligence and war only the instrument.”[xx] While the job of policy is to guide war, policy itself may best be understood as the political conditions or behaviors one entity seeks to establish over another. For example, following the outbreak of violence in 2000, the immediate political behavior that the Israeli Government pursued was a cessation of violence. Conversely, the main policy objective of Hamas was the destruction of the State of Israel (though it is highly debatable if that is truly a viable policy objective).[xxi]

War and warfare are intimately fused occurrences, within which one will find the bilateral and/or multilateral use of violence to force opponents to heed political intentions. Palestinian security forces that were required to work in conjunction with Israelis have violently turned on Israeli soldiers and Israeli security agents; Hamas has utilized suicide bombers against Israeli noncombatants in the pursuit of their policy. Israel’s security apparatus has engaged in a strategy of targeted killing and military raids against Palestinian combatants, and violent Israeli settlers have attacked Palestinian noncombatants, all in their own bid to attain the establishment of political conditions or behaviors. It is a distortion of facts and a misunderstanding of fighting to refer to such actions — in any way, shape, or form — in terms of Intifadas or uprisings. This was war.

State, Nonstate, and War

War and warfare are specific to neither state nor nonstate entities. Definitions that hold war to be an occurrence solely between states — a common belief — should be dismissed without reservation. A state is simply one form of a political entity capable of engaging in violence for the ends of policy. War and warfare have existed since the rise of organized communities, thousands of years prior to the domination of the international political landscape by nation-states, as we understand it today. Despite arguments to the contrary, Clausewitz was not writing solely about the nation-state, though the vast majority of his focus was on the latter; he certainly considered the state more important, substantial, influential, and “advanced”.[xxii] Nonetheless, for Clausewitz, “The semibarbarious Tartars” and “the trading cities of the Middle Ages … all conducted war in their own particular way, using different methods and pursuing different aims.”[xxiii] There is no reason to believe that Clausewitz would not have viewed Palestinian entities as policy-making entities capable of making and engaging in war and warfare. According to the Founding Director of the Australian Defence Studies Centre, Professor Hugh Smith,

It is possible to argue that Clausewitz would view organisations lacking some of the usual attributes of states as nonetheless policy-making entities capable of making and waging war and warfare. For example, the Palestinian Authority may fall into this category.[xxiv]

Further, as the distinguished Clausewitz scholar Christopher Bassford has noted,

Given that Clausewitz concerned himself with the identity of possible ‘Centers of Gravity’ for ‘uprisings’, he obviously considered that nonstate actors could be warfighters … One might also note in this regard that in his era neither Prussia (or any other German state), Great Britain, ‘Austria’, or the Russian Empire were ‘nation-states’ — nor, for that matter, was the French Empire Napoleon created.[xxv]

The eminent military historian and analyst Antulio Echevarria purports,

[Clausewitz] also believed that states as well as nonstates arrived at policy decisions in similar ways, even if those ways might vary significantly in terms of their sophistication; his example of the Tartar tribes illustrates the case for nonstates and puts paid to the mistaken notion that Clausewitz thought only in terms of the nation-state model …[xxvi]

From 2000 to 2005, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, Fatah, among a slew of other Palestinian militant organizations, engaged in clear acts of war and warfare, not a “popular uprising”.

Intifada or War?

What exactly does Intifada mean? Its literal meaning is to “to shake off”, “shake one’s self”, or “awaken”. That is all it denotes. Allegedly, it is meant to signify an uprising or revolt. However, Intifada is not how revolt or armed rebellion are defined in Arabic, which is Tamurud Muslah; nor is Intifada a substitute for “armed conflict” — Ser`a Muslah — which tends to carry a more positive connotation (as in “resistance”). “Holy war” is Jihad and “secular war” — which “under Islamic doctrine … is morally unacceptable” and is viewed as a “social sickness” — is harb.[xxvii] Yet, authority is given to Intifada, which offers no useful meaning in the realm of war and strategy. What occurred from 2000 to 2005 was an armed rebellion. In essence, it was no different than what occurred in the same land nearly 2,000 years ago during the Great Jewish Revolt in 66–70 C.E. in Roman-occupied Judea. Both were trials and clashes of political wills, underpinned by the use or threat of violence for the ends of policy. Once more, costumes have changed but the soirée continues. As the eminent Professor of Strategic Studies Colin S. Gray has expressed, regarding the armed rebellion of 2000–2005, “The Intifada was war, which means it was politics, albeit war waged far along the spectrum of military to non-military means, privileging the latter, including suicide bombing as a prominent feature in the theatre of violence.”[xxviii]

Implications and Recommendations

Between 2000 and 2005 the distorted perception of the violence between Israelis and Palestinians is a result of, among others, the use of the term Intifada, which first appeared in the late 1980s during the first armed rebellion.[xxix] Popular notions aside, the term Intifada is both a commercial and partisan label that masked the bloody reality for all actors in the Palestinian Territories and Israel-proper from 2000 to 2005. Birthed by the Palestinians, promoted by the mass media, and adopted by the political leadership of virtually every country including Israel, Intifada has caused political implications in the effect it has had on the perception of what transpired during those five years of warfare.

A “popular uprising” — or “shaking off” as Intifada denotes — does not necessarily imply the use or threat of violence that transpired, such as suicide attacks, sniping, knifings, and lynching, as well as the use of assault rifles, RPGs, IEDs, grenades, rockets, and mortars. An uprising — arguably a term that is overwhelmed with neutrality — can imply anything from civil disobedience to mass protests to armed rebellion. Given that the Palestinians’ status was “occupied”, coupled with the type and tempo of violence employed by Palestinian militants, the conflict is best understood as an armed rebellion. An armed rebellion is a historical term for a type of war, but it is war nonetheless. In itself, an armed rebellion does not entail any degree of romantic or idealistic notions of a so-called “popular uprising”, despite subjective and often erroneous accounts of certain instances of rebellions found largely in film, theatre, and books. Armed rebellion — similar to the larger wellspring of war from which it stems — is a violent, bloody clash of opponents who are both in pursuit of the ends of policy.

Further, the reason that the term has resulted in political implications is that the violence of 2000–2005 is branded, sold, and bought as something other than war. Where there exists organized violence in pursuit of policy is where war will be found — and this is what accurately describes the violence of 2000–2005. Referring to the five years of warfare as Intifada offers a distorted perspective of the sanguinary realities that plagued both sides.

There are two main consequences that can be understood as a result of the use of Intifada in place of “war”. First, Intifada forces the impression of a “popular uprising” by placing positive emphasis on the Palestinians, while placing a negative value on — and desensitization to — the Israeli side.

Second, the continual use of descriptions derived from foreign languages (such as Intifada and Jihad) fuels the opponent’s narrative, rather than applying historically objective terms to the armed conflict. Historical terms are far more likely to offer observers awareness of the realities of five bloody years of warfare. By using one side’s terminology over another, one reinforces a slanted account of the violence. This is particularly true with regard to the international community, and this has severe policy ramifications. By using Intifada, international observers of the conflict were subjected to a “David and Goliath” scenario — an inaccurate portrayal. Wars are not about states, empires, hegemonic powers, nonstate/autonomous actors, or the stronger versus the weaker. Wars are about politics, and warfare is about fighting in pursuit of policy ends. These are notions that have yet to gel in the minds of many. While some are skeptical about calling nonstate fighters “soldiers”, it many cases it would not be incorrect to do so. For example, Palestinian militants, such as those from Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are registered fighters that are paid for their services and some wear recognizable insignia. Most importantly, like “regular” soldiers, Palestinian militants are men and women who apply violence for a higher political purpose.

Moreover, by using incorrect terminology to describe the violence, one confuses the response. If the Intifada was referred to as what it was – war – it is possible that domestic and international perception of the conflict would have been different. Rather than a skewed “stronger versus weaker” scenario, the conflict may have been portrayed as two sides utilizing instruments of power, including lethal force, for the ends of policy. It is true that “all wars are things of the same nature”, but the conduct in war (warfare) does change, albeit more slowly than many realize. Therefore, while each fight will differ in character — and to a certain extent so will its nature — the name applied to it matters because it will likely influence how one thinks about the conflict in which they are engaged.

However, the cavalier use of descriptions given to wars, rebellions, and the participating actors can and have had political implications. For example, some Israeli commentators who have adopted Intifada, including those from the Israeli military and Israel’s political echelon, have missed the point in understanding the military conflict Israel faced from 2000 to 2005. One former IDF Colonel has written, “The military response by the IDF to the violence exacted a high toll in casualties among the Palestinian public. It magnified feelings of fury and revenge, and cast Israel as an aggressor waging a war to force the Palestinians to accept its political terms (the mirror image of Israel’s view).”[xxx] The fault in this statement is not that Israel was seen as an aggressor, which is relative, or that there were casualties on the Palestinian side, which will be a result of any war. Rather, the commentator views “forcing the Palestinians” to accept Israel’s sought political conditions as a negative occurrence. The Israeli government was in fact engaging in warfare in an attempt to force the Palestinians to accept Israeli policy and it was a classic case of lethal force against lethal force. That is what war and warfare are about.

It can certainly be argued that the Americans’ reference to Communists in Vietnam as the National Liberation Front — a loaded term — had political implications for the U.S. The reason is that its usage was counterproductive to U.S. objectives, as it fueled the Vietnamese narrative rather than countered it. From approximately 1965 onwards, the U.S. predominantly used the South Vietnamese term "Viet Cong" or “VC”.  The Soviet and American reference to Afghan soldiers as Mujahideen (strugglers) is another example of encouraging the opponent’s narrative.

One goal for Israelis, which can be applied to other actors, is to apply historically accurate terminology. When two or more entities face off in a competition of physical and psychological will for the ends of policy, the term war (or rebellion) should be invoked. The reason is, given over 3,000 years of recorded history of warfare, these two terms accurately describe the myriad of terms that currently exist within the “terminology trend”, though unaccompanied by confusion. Regarding nonstate and/or autonomous actors partaking in violence, the term combatant is likely the better choice; this is especially true for Palestinian militants. Combatant derives from the word combat – which simply implies fighting between armed forces. Combat does not imply fighting between armed forces of states. Law and policymakers must remember that while they may differentiate between state and nonstate actors, violence makes no such differentiation.


Intifada is a description that should be unreservedly dismissed. With a basic understanding of what war is, its nature and character, and the core reason for the engagement in violence, it is not difficult to understand “acts of force to compel our enemy to do our will” as being precisely what Intifada attempts to obscure. Applying Clausewitz’s definition shows that Intifada fails to provide practical guidance on any level. Whereas other terms (e.g., war and armed rebellion) have resulted in the conceiving of state policy, strategy, and military doctrine, and are imbued with thousands of historical examples, Intifada offers no clarity or counseling to policymakers, soldiers, academics, or any observer of the five-year period of warfare. Ultimately, the use of Intifada fails to provide a cumulative and objective understanding — or at the very least it succeeds in providing a false understanding — of what occurred during those five years: the binary engagement in violence to break political will, to force each side to heed the other’s establishment of their respective policies.

That war has always represented acts of violence for the ends of policy does not imply that wars are not unique in their own distinctive ways. As technology progresses, cultures continue to clash, and policy objectives continue to differ between actors, while the character of war will continue to be distinct. This is one reason why the terminology trend has been embraced. In their own ways, new or modish terms assist in understanding specifics about wars but they do not define war; they cannot replace the meaning of war; and they have not truly changed war into something different from what it has always been. It can be argued that the armed rebellion of 2000–2005 did contain elements of asymmetry, network-centricity, hybridity, and irregularity. Yet, these are characteristics that describe actions and/or elements regarding the character of war, not a description of war itself – of its nature, purpose, and enduring meaning that has withstood the test of time.

The use of the term Intifada is a prime example of how the ill-use of terminology can cause complexity, distortion, and desensitization about what actually occurred “on the ground”. In place of historical terms that provide continual clarity and guidance, Intifada succeeded in cloaking the blood-stained five-year reality into something that it was not. Ultimately, Clausewitz was correct: war is in fact “an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.” Referring to the violence employed by Israelis and Palestinians between 2000 and 2005 as something other than war has proven neither lucid nor instructive for soldiers, policymakers, academics, or even the layman attempting to understand the protracted conflict. Where Intifada has failed, Clausewitz’s definition has succeeded. It provides clarity, guidance, and historical evidence as it objectively describes the binary use of force and dynamic interaction of entities for the higher purposes of policy. Between 2000 and 2005, what occurred was not an Intifada but rather a war like any other in history.

[i] For the purposes of simplicity and clarity, the phrase “terminology trend” will be used to describe newly contrived or contemporary terms, and so-called “buzzwords”.

[ii] Many of the “New Wars” thinkers have attempted, incorrectly, to frame “old war” as state versus state, or at the very least that “new wars” now differ from so-called “conventional” or “regular” war. Among others of the “New Wars” school, see Mary Kaldor, New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era (Polity Press: Cambridge, 2006).

[iii] It should be noted that Frank G. Hoffman, who coined the concept “Hybrid war”, does not “contend that it is either original or historically unique”. The problem is not with Hoffman’s concept, as hybridity in war and warfare is an historical fact. The problem is with those that apply the concept as defining a new type of war that will be faced in the future. War is war, and since antiquity wars have carried hybrid qualities.

[iv] All quotes by Clausewitz in this paper have been obtained from the Howard/Paret translation of On War (1984). Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, Edited and Translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), Kindle Edition.

[v] For an excellent review of individual military and strategic theorists, see Beatrice Heuser, The Strategy Makers: Thoughts on War and Society from Machiavelli to Clausewitz (Oxford: Prager International Security, 2010); and Antulio Echevarria, After Clausewitz: German Military Thinkers Before the Great War (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000); and Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, Edited by Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986).

[vi] Op. Cit., Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, 75.

[vii] Quote from Scott Willis’ Interview with Paul van Riper, “The Immutable Nature of War” in Battle Plan Under Fire, December 17, 2003,

[viii] Op. Cit., Carl von Clausewitz, On War, 90.

[ix] The author is grateful to Lt. Col. Dr. Antulio Echevarria for assisting in clarifying this critical point about the nature of war. Correspondence with Lt. Col. Dr. Antulio Echevarria, 12 September 2011.

[x] Antulio J. Echevarria II, Clausewitz and Contemporary War (Oxford University Press: Oxford 2007): 78.

[xi] Op. Cit., Correspondence with Lt. Col. Dr. Antulio Echevarria.

[xii] Robert B. Strassler, The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War, in “1.76, 432/1, Sparta” (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1998), Kindle Edition, location 1482.

[xiii] For an excellent account of human nature, sociobiology, and war, see Joshua S. Goldstein, “The Emperor’s New Genes: Sociobiology and War”, International Studies Quarterly, Volume 31, No. 1, (March, 1987): 33-43.

[xiv] Michael Howard, The Causes of War (Harvard University Press: Cambridge 1983): 7.

[xv] Op. Cit., Carl von Clausewitz, On War, 605.

[xvi] Ibid., 607.

[xvii] Professor Stuart Kauffman coined the phrase “Edge of Chaos” to describe how complex systems eventually evolve towards a state that straddles a type of border between order and chaos. This article applies Kauffman’s concept but utilizes the more befitting term, anarchy, as anarchy best describes the global political system.

[xviii] Op. Cit., Carl von Clausewitz, On War, 86.

[xix] Ibid., 606.

[xx] Ibid., 607.

[xxi] Hamas’ policy endeavors can be found in the Hamas Covenant, which remains unchanged since its publication in the late 1980s. See “Hamas Covenant 1988: The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement”, 18 August 1988. Found in The Avalon Project, Yale University,

[xxii] Many individuals who believe that Clausewitz’s definition was solely linked to states include “New Wars” scholars such as, Mary Kaldor, and Philip Meilinger.

[xxiii] Op. Cit., Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, 586.

[xxiv] Correspondence with Professor Hugh Smith, 19 September 2011.

[xxv] Correspondence with Professor Christopher Bassford, 19 September 2011.

[xxvi] Op. Cit., Antulio Echevarria, Clausewitz and Contemporary War, 89-90.

[xxvii] Noor Mohammad, “The Doctrine of Jihad: An Introduction”, Journal of Law and Religion, Volume 3, No. 2. 1985; and A.E. Stahl, Getting Perspective: The 2000-2005 Palestinian Armed Rebellion”, Small Wars Journal, 1 June 2011.

[xxviii] Correspondence with Colin S. Gray, 20 December 2010.

[xxix] “Intifada” first appeared in the late 1980s during the “First Intifada”, which was actually an armed rebellion. This paper focuses solely on the use of Intifada during the armed rebellion of 2000–2005.

[xxx] Ephraim Lavie, “Israel’s Coping with the al-Aqsa Intifada: A Critical Review,” Institute for National Security Studies, Strategic Assessment, Volume 13, No. 3, October 2010: 104.

About the Author(s)

A.E. Stahl is an Associate at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) – Department of Military and Strategic Affairs (INSS, Israel), and former Fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT, Israel). He is also a co-founder and the publisher of Infinity Journal. A.E. Stahl is currently writing his doctoral thesis on Israeli strategy (King's College London – Department of War Studies).



Wed, 09/28/2011 - 12:45pm

As the author notes, intifada was just a synonym for "war," and is in reality one of many many synonyms which some state and non-state actors use in an attempt to disguise aggression used to violently impose their political and cultural will on non-receptive others.

Oddly, the intifada wars resulted from the political cowardice and odd behavior of an ostensibly educated man (Arafat) walking away from the best political arrangement and territorial sharing agreement (offered by Ehud Barak--one of Israel's great warrior generals) the Palestinians were / will ever be offered, demonstrating that he (Arafat) could not rise to the level of Micheal Collins of Irish independence fame--verifying that, as is the norm, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

All of which leads to the question, not the subject of this interesting paper, what were the actual "strategic goals" of the first or second intifada?

Can Palestinian leadership and their followers actually be so foolish, i.e. stupid, as to believe Jewish Israel will voluntarily return the "Jewish Temple Mount," the City of David, and leave defensible border areas located on the old Jewish homeland to another set of foreign conquerors--this time called Palestinians? Do the Palestinians believe that just because a British Officer led and British armed and equipped force, and British trained force invaded the so-called West Bank in 1948 and advanced into "part" of Jerusalem--which they held until 1967 and arrogantly "renamed" East Jerusalem--that Israel will agree that (once again) European interference will be recognized as having historical significance; therefore, the Palestinian political entity (and someday State) will be the next occupiers of the Jewish Temple Mount?

A directed view perhaps, but one which describes political and historical reality and still begs the question, "What were Arafat Inc.'s strategic goals? The intifada was not for a second a violent movement that arose spontaneously from the people. It was a directed effort of the PLO, but again to achieve what goals and objectives? Does the not the PLO understand the concept of Return on Investment (ROI)?

The isolation of Israel in the Muslim and Arab world has been there since 1948 and will remain so as long as that religious / cultural entity, i.e. Islam, remains in the cultural dark ages despite the occasional rays of light, quickly extinguished by Islamic radicals, from nations such as Iran and Turkey. Certainly, one would believe that the Palestinians were / are smart enough to realize that despite the political foolishness or idiocy of the Obama / Clinton(s) types, that isolation, while good for filling newspaper columns and TV political / editorial speak, will have no long term impact on Israel's future survival in its current political / cultural / economic form--despite the antagonistically and fearful views and ravings of the non-worldly, extreme left and liberal community. Turkey's current radical Muslim leader, Erdogon, made only one intelligent statement when he recently acknowledged Israel's nuclear arsenal, the delivery systems of which guarantee the survival of that small State or the Mutually Assured Destruction of that part part of the world and, therefore, life as we know it on this planet.

I guess the second part of the question would be, did the Palestinian leadership expect that Israel would tactically respond so successfully by very effectively fencing "out" Palestinian attacks during and after the intifada. Palestinian attackers (terrorists) only penetrated Israel due to the then open borders between their respective areas. Did the Palestinians realize the negative economic impact on their society that would result from their citizens being blocked, as a security measure, from working in Israel--where so many were once gainfully employed?

I find the Palestinian intifada strategy, if there was one, nothing short of a mystery--presuming of course that in recognition of political reality, establishing a viable State was in fact their leaderships' true goal.

Palestinian reaction to Israel's evacuation of Gaza, which historically was never a Jewish area, seems to indicate that establishing an economically and politically viable State is not part of their mental makeup. Instead, their strategic goals seems to be the forced imposition of their religious / cultural perspectives on others at any cost to themselves. While that Iranian Mullah / Taliban style set of objectives seems to be the aim of Hamas and its bedfellows, does it reflect the strategic goals and objectives of the PLO and its political bedfellows, or did they have other strategic goals?

While the author clearly noted the answer to this type question was not the aim of this paper, discerning the strategic goals and objective of the PLO's intifada would certainly be an informative exercise.