The IDF as never seen before

"Snapshot" ranks among the most important books about modern Israel with its clearheaded explanations about security and safety, military technology and prowess, and the military’s impact on social and political institutions. Review.

Dr. Harold Goldmeier

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See 'Snapshot,  and you will read it and refer to it time and again. Snapshot is a phenomenal visual and thought-provoking book.

The Israel Defense Forces function on a daily basis employing stealth and deception more than raw power.  Yoav Limor and Ziv Koren created a tome using the same techniques. The size is for a coffee table throw down. The presentation is a work of art.

The photography is efficient, elegant and powerful. The photos express the pieties of reverence for Israel’s soldiers, their selflessness, respect, loyalty and their devotion to saving a nation. The photography is so engrossing the reader might too easily forget to read the brilliant text of every tightly knit chapter. Snapshot is a must have book to understand the modern Jewish State, how and why the IDF became the central feature the inflection point of the Jewish people.

The Holocaust and centuries-long persecutions of the Jewish People paved the way for the revolutionary thinking among Jews called Zionism. A homeland by legal authority, defended by a Jewish army, morphed into a political ideology, yet, there is room for those who also believe in diplomacy, democracy, prayer, and pleadings.

Security and safety are the central missions, but the IDF is also the vehicle to assimilate and acculturate refugees, immigrants and native residents of other races and faiths. The IDF accepts people from disparate cultures arriving from the far corners of the world…white, black, brown, Caucasian and Oriental, religious and secular, Jew, Bedouin, Arab, Christian or Druze, educated and illiterate, survivors and sabras. They meet in IDF tents and training grounds and the photographs so eloquently make the point. Their lives depend on one another.

It’s the IDF that is responsible for the Jewish condition today that among the world’s 65M refugees there is not one Jew for the first time in 2,000 years. “Either (the IDF) is fighting, or else it is preparing for war.” In between battles, “the shadow war, the purpose of this state is to carry out quiet activity to eliminate the enemy’s capabilities and prevent an all-out war.” Special units travel the world and inside the country to fulfill this mission, and Snapshot has the pictures to prove it.

By the 2017 democracy index, Israelis “trusted the IDF…vastly exceed(ing) the number of Israel’s citizens who declared their trust in any other institution of the state—more than the presidency or the Supreme Court.” Limor, the journalist, and Koren the photojournalist share a “love and concern for it.” But they are not hesitant to expose the structural cracks, the enormous stress from supporting a high-tech volunteer military diminishing domestic needs and priorities, the costs to moral, and shifting agendas from pressures by decorous political and public relations vagaries.

The authors go into detail about why some people serve in the IDF and others are exilic willing to risk government benefits and jobs in Israel. It worries military commanders because it increasingly seems “the ethic of service as contribution to society is shattered, the more worthy may not enlist—and this will lead to a vastly different army.” The authors relate a conversation between Brig. Gen. Eran Shani and his daughter who when asked if there was no mandatory service will she enlist? Her answer makes the point: “Maybe I would contribute to society in another way—science, medicine, or academia.” Avidity among the vast majority of youth for serving seems to be on the wane but they show up for the draft. “Draft classes are expected to grow dramatically, with thousands of additional soldiers per year.”

I disagree with the authors on several points the most important of which is their opinion that the existential threat is slim. “In terms of national security, these threats are only tactical.” They admit the Israeli public does not agree either. “The public conceives of each missile, each terrorist, and each bomb as an existential threat.”

The public is right to do so because the rule of engagement in the Middle East is for every action there is an unintended consequence. Hamas building attack tunnels as the authors describe stimulates new technologies to destroy tunnels. But tunnels were one of the considerable factors contributing to the military collapse in Vietnam because while tunneling terrorists are not an existential threat they have a powerful demoralizing effect on the population.

Moreover, Israelis live with a siege mentality evidenced by politics shifting more rightwing over ensuing decades. Who can say where that will lead society and Israel’s unremitting generational enemies—nuclear Turkey and Iran today; Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and the Gulf States in the past.

Snapshot ranks among the most important books about modern Israel with its clearheaded explanations about security and safety, military technology and prowess, and the military’s impact on social and political institutions.  Limor and Koren engross the reader. The book demonstrates how the IDF is, to paraphrase, a lurching work in progress. While politics may be a poisoned chalice, the IDF is what protects the state, thus the Jewish People, from becoming an endling. Behind every weapon is one of Israel’s children, and nothing makes that point more emphatically than the book’s cover picture.

Harold Goldmeier is a public speaker on business, social and political issues. He is an award winning leader teaching international university students in Tel Aviv. and was a Research and Teaching Fellow at Harvard.