Van Creveld (History/Hebrew Univ.) offers a comprehensive account of the Israeli armed forces, tracing it back to its pre-state predecessors in the beginning of this century. The IDF (Israel Defense Force) has its roots in the early days of the Zionist enterprise--in the people who first took up arms to defend the Jewish settlers in Palestine. Its growth from ""a few dozen loosely organized, inexperienced, and ill-armed men and women"" into one of the world's most technologically sophisticated and admired fighting forces is a story fraught with political and military minefields. To his credit (and probably to the dismay of some readers), van Creveld mostly picks his way adroitly through these hazards. He makes his point of view clear throughout: the once-great IDF has suffered a precipitous decline since the unpleasant surprise of the Yom Kippur War. That decline was speeded up by the brutal fiasco of the 1982 Lebanon invasion and, most painfully, by the use of IDF troops in an attempt to control the lntifada in the occupied territories. Van Creveld doesn't stint in his analysis of the rise and glory of the IDF. But his often barbed take on the military's political role qualifies his praise. And his work is dryly written, even though the sometimes tart-tongued author shows a welcome willingness to contradict commonplaces. In his chapter on the Six-Day War, for instance, he suggests that the danger imposed on the State of Israel was exaggerated to the benefit of the IDF. Such points will upset many supporters of Israel. Drawing extensively on Hebrew-language sources, this serves as a useful corrective to American worship of the IDF, though perhaps it's pitched too much the other way.