The Hebrew of the IDF, and What It Says about Israeli Society

When an Israeli infantryman radios for a helicopter to remove two wounded comrades, and the corpse of a third, from the battlefield, he says, “We have two flowers and one oleander. We need a thistle.” Other militaries, writes Matti Friedman, have their own jargon that similarly obscures what goes on in war, but IDF lingo may be uniquely horticultural. “What,” Friedman asks, “does this say about Israel’s military?”

Perhaps [it says] something about the agricultural preoccupations of the kibbutz and of the socialist militias that spawned the army in the early years of the state. Even after he became the country’s most famous general and the defense minister in the Six-Day War, Moshe Dayan used to say his profession was “farmer”—the point being that war was to be treated as something you were forced to do, though you’d rather be plowing. This is still close to what I experienced as the Israeli military’s ideal approach to soldiering or command. . . .

According to the Israeli linguist Ruvik Rosenthal, author of a recent book on military language, the floral euphemisms reflect the fact that while Israelis recognize the necessity of war, they don’t celebrate it and would rather not think about it. The fact of the country’s mandatory draft means that people are too close to the army to wax romantic about the institution or what it does. There are no military parades here and haven’t been for years. So though as soldiers we did violence and had violence done to us, we were armed with peaceful language. A forward operating base sounds dangerous; a “pumpkin” doesn’t.

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More about: Hebrew, IDF, Israel & Zionism, Kibbutz movement, Moshe Dayan, War

A Lesson from Moshe Dayan for Israel’s Syria Policy

Dec. 11 2019

In the 1950s, Jerusalem tasked Moshe Dayan with combating the Palestinian guerrillas—known as fedayeen—who infiltrated Israel’s borders from Sinai, Gaza, and Jordan to attack soldiers or civilians and destroy crops. When simple retaliation, although tactically effective, proved insufficient to deter further attacks, Dayan developed a more sophisticated long-term strategy of using attrition to Israel’s advantage. Gershon Hacohen argues that the Jewish state can learn much from Dayan’s approach in combating the Iranian presence in Syria—especially since the IDF cannot simply launch an all-out offensive to clear Syria of Iranian forces:

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More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Moshe Dayan, Palestinian terror, Syria