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[casi] West Bank East: Americans in Iraq make war the Israeli way

West Bank East: Americans in Iraq make war the Israeli way

BEIRUT: If the US military's escalating war against insurgent forces in Iraq
is starting to look more and more like Israel's campaign to crush the
intifada and the Palestinians' hope of an independent state it's probably
because the Americans have been increasingly turning to their Israeli allies
for advice on how to conduct just such a conflict.

Now that the United States has become an occupying power, like Israel,
(although the Israelis still like to kid themselves they're not really) it
has found itself having to grapple with a growing insurgency that is showing
every sign of escalating and expanding. The contacts between the two allies
is largely classified, mainly because the Americans would find it massively
embarrassing if they were seen to be taking lessons in crushing Arab
resistance from Israelis. The Americans' insistence that they "liberated"
Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein's grotesque regime would suffer
greatly from comparison to the internationally condemned Israeli occupation
of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

But US and Israeli officials confirm such contacts are under way, including
several visits to Israel by US military and intelligence officials in recent
months. "Part of what's going on is the culmination of years of picking each
other's brains," said Shoshana Bryen, director of special projects at the
Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs in Washington. "After Sept.
11 they discovered that they had more things to talk about."

The Americans began actively tapping into the Israeli Army's experience in
fighting guerrillas, particularly in an urban environment, about two years
ago when it became clear that the Bush administration would invade Iraq. The
April 2002 battle of Jenin was of particular interest to the Americans, who
sent troops to Israel in the spring to train in the mock Arab town the
Israeli Army built some time ago in the Tzrifin area of the southern Negev
Desert to teach its soldiers urban warfare, something that American forces
(with the possible exception of the Marine Corps) have little experience of.

On Dec. 1, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Chief of Staff General
Moshe Yaalon and other top army brass officiated at a ground-breaking
ceremony for a better "training city" at a new Negev site. Given the $2
billion or so the US gives Israel in military aid every year, no doubt it's
American taxpayers' dollars that will be paying for the construction.

Many of the tactics employed by US forces in Iraq in recent days to counter
a sharp escalation in attacks by insurgents bear striking similarities to
those used by the Israelis against Palestinian militants in the West Bank
and the Gaza Strip  a greater use of air power, surface-to-surface
missiles, round-the-clock surveillance by unmanned aerial vehicles of
suspected guerrilla centers, large-scale search-and-seize operations,
cracking down on a sullen, increasingly hostile civilian population.

Since insurgents downed three US helicopters early in November, the
Americans, long paralyzed by their agile tormentors, have launched a major
offensive that has included air strikes by fighters dropping 500-pound
(230-kilogram) bombs, satellite-guided missiles, long-range artillery
bombardments, gunship attacks and massed tank fire  in effect, using a
sledgehammer to swat a fly. Those are exactly the kind of tactics that will
alienate Iraqis who will see the Americans as a brutal army of occupation,
just as the Palestinians view the Israelis.

The Israelis' controversial use of armored bulldozers, US-built D-9
vehicles, during the Jenin operation to flatten buildings in which
Palestinian guerrillas were holed up  sometimes along with unarmed
civilians  apparently made a big impression on the Americans.
(Incidentally, Israeli forces are expected to soon start using
remote-control D-9s developed by the Technion Institute of technology).

On Tuesday, soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, sweeping through the
town of Hawija, near Kirkuk, in search of insurgents, drove a bulldozer up
to the one-story home of one Aziz Abdel-Wahhab, whose son Adel they were
looking for. They threatened to flatten the building unless he was handed
over. The Iraqi's wife, Bushra, told them where Adel was. Fifteen minutes
later he surrendered to the Americans.

As the soldiers withdrew, one told reporters: "We weren't really going to
knock down the house. We've never done it  at least not in Kirkuk. But the
woman did only start to talk when she saw the bulldozer." As US and allied
casualties mount, how long will it be before troops start blowing up the
houses of suspected insurgents?

Pentagon officials scoff at any comparison with the West Bank or Gaza, and
indeed George W. Bush cannot afford to have the US occupation seen in that
light. Maybe that's why he's trying to distance himself from Ariel Sharon so
much these days.
Israeli commentator Akiva Eldar noted in Haaretz a few days ago that US and
Israeli officials met recently during which there was "an exchange of views
and tips on how to deal with terrorism and occupation. The Israelis gave the
Americans advice on how to keep the war against terrorism separate from
innocent civilians."

Eldar did not explain how the Israeli military had supposedly mastered that
technique without anyone noticing, and went on: "Now it has become harder
for the Americans to criticize Israel. They are paralyzed, actually. Their
hands are tied. Sharon now has a free ride, because the Americans are doing
exactly what Israel is doing, in such policies as putting restrictions on
the movement of civilians. Civilians have already been hurt and now the
Americans are starting to use air strikes."

He concluded: "Sharon's challenge now is to keep from overplaying his hand,
and to refrain from making it overly obvious that he is having his policy
cake and eating it as well."

US helicopter crews, particularly those flying gunships, have made extensive
use of Israeli firing ranges, especially for night-time training they could
not get in places like Germany. The recent intensification of US
counter-insurgency operations in Iraq has included a sharp increase in
night-time helicopter operations against suspected insurgent centers and the
use of Hellfire ground-to-air missiles.

These are the same weapons that Israeli gunship crews have been using with
murderous effect to attack Palestinian militant leaders since late 2000, a
few weeks into the intifada. A lot of the "innocent civilians"  men, women
and children  that Eldar says Israeli forces have found ways of not killing
have perished in such missile attacks.

US officials also have been talking to Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security
service, which plays a major role in the war against the Palestinians. Shin
Bet and Military Intelligence have built up a vast and formidable network of
agent-informers in the Occupied Territories, even within the radical
organizations themselves. These have been invaluable in targeting militant
leaders marked for assassination and thwarting dozens of suicide bombings 
20 in the last two months alone, according to the Israelis.
Indeed, radical groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad appear to have been
seriously damaged by the Israeli assassination campaign that they have been
forced to drastically curtail their operational activity in recent weeks,
even to the point of being prepared to discuss a possible cease-fire.

The Americans badly need a similar network. Their biggest problem in
countering the Iraq insurgency is a grievous lack of good, reliable
intelligence. Even after months of warfare, it seems that the US military
has little real idea of who it is fighting. US troops claim they killed 54
insurgents in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in a fierce gunbattle the other
day, but local people say only eight people were killed and some of those
were innocent civilians. It all sounds horribly familiar.

So, it's in the realm of gathering usable, real-time intelligence on its
elusive enemy that the Americans must make some significant headway as fast
as they possibly can, and Israeli expertise in fighting Arabs, understanding
their culture and motivation, could be invaluable.

Looking at the Israelis' success in curbing Palestinian operations through
systematic assassinations and other harsh measures, the Americans may be
tempted to adopt similar tactics in Iraq, although US officials pale at such
an idea, given the criticism directed at Israel. Indeed, Ariel Sharon's
government is now coming under increasing criticism for its brutal tactics
from prominent military and security figures, such as Chief of Staff Yaalon
and four former Shin Bet directors.

For the Americans to opt for assassinations  and these have been approved
by Bush himself  would be a disastrous mistake. It would certainly make a
mockery of the administration's stated intention of introducing democracy to
Iraq, and eventually to the Middle East as a whole and could lead to the
deep divisions that are emerging in Israel infecting them too. Vietnam
In a desperate bid to improve their counter-insurgency effort, the Americans
are now rehabilitating many of Saddam Hussein's former intelligence and
secret police operatives, widely hated and feared by Iraqis, a questionable
asset at best. They're also trying to form a 1,000-man paramilitary
battalion recruited from the militias of five Iraqi factions. That sounds
horribly like the infamous "Black and Tans," mercenaries recruited by the
British to fight Irish separatists after World War I, a force that employed
tactics so brutal they drove people into the arms of the Irish Republican

The Central Intelligence Agency warned in a bleak report in mid-November
that resistance to the US-led occupation could strengthen in the coming
months. The Americans and their allies, of course, cannot just stand there
and be shot down, but using Israeli-style tactics could make the CIA's
assessment a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Shlomo Brom, a senior researcher at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies
at Tel Aviv University, recently cautioned that a prolonged US occupation
would strengthen the perception of the occupation as Western colonialism in
a new guise. "The result," he cautioned, "will be like Israel in Lebanon in
1982. It started with the population throwing rice and flowers and ended
with Hizbullah."
Ed Blanche, a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in
London, has covered Middle Eastern affairs for years and is a regular
contributor to THE DAILY STAR

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