THE HOFFMAN WIRE
Michael A. Hoffman II, Editor
Nov. 22, 2003
U.S. Seeks Advice From Israel on Iraq
As the occupation grows bloodier, officials draw on an ally’s experience
By Esther Schrader and Josh Meyer
Los Angeles Times | November 22, 2003
EXCERPT: “After years of working closely together at all levels, the
Israeli and U.S. militaries in some respects think increasingly alike,
said Shoshana Bryen, director of special projects at the Jewish
Institute for National Security Affairs, a nonprofit group in Washington
interested in links between U.S. and Israeli defense tactics and
policy…The Americans learned a lot from the Israelis’ use of them
[bulldozers] in urban combat…[they] learned that if you have fighting
in an urban area, you just take down the house.”
WASHINGTON Facing a bloody insurgency by guerrillas who label it an
“occupier,” the U.S. military has quietly turned to an ally experienced
with occupation and uprisings: Israel.
In the last six months, U.S. Army commanders, Pentagon officials and
military trainers have sought advice from Israeli intelligence and
security officials on everything from how to set up roadblocks to the
best way to bomb suspected guerrilla hide-outs in an urban area.
“Those who have to deal with like problems tend to share information as
best they can,” Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of Defense for
intelligence, said Friday at a defense writers breakfast here.
The contacts between the two governments on military tactics and
strategies in Iraq are mostly classified, and officials are reluctant to
give the impression that the U.S. is brainstorming with Israel on the
best way to occupy Iraq. Cambone said there is no formal dialogue
between the two allies on Iraq, but they are working together.
Indeed, the U.S. is loath to draw any comparison between what it says is
its liberation of Iraq and what the international community has
condemned as Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza
But Israeli and American officials confirm that with extremists carrying
out suicide bombings and firing rocket-propelled grenades and missiles
on U.S. forces in Iraq, the Pentagon is increasingly seeking advice from
the Israeli military on how to defeat the sort of insurgency that Israel
has long experience confronting.
The Israelis “certainly have a wealth of experience from a military
standpoint in dealing with domestic terror, urban terror, military
operations in urban terrain, and there is a great deal of intelligence
and knowledge sharing going on right now, all of which makes sense,” a
senior U.S. Army official said on condition of anonymity. “We are
certainly tapping into their knowledge base to find out what you do in
these kinds of situations.”
Many of the tactics recently adopted by the U.S. in Iraq increased use
of airpower, aerial surveillance by unmanned aircraft of suspected
sites, increased use of pinpoint search and seizure operations, the
leveling of buildings used by suspected insurgents bear striking
similarities to those regularly employed by Israel.
Two Israeli officials one from the Jerusalem police force and a second
from the Israel Defense Forces confirmed on condition of anonymity
that U.S. officials had visited Israel to gain insight into police and
military tactics. They also said Israeli officials have visited
Washington to discuss the issues.
U.S. officials were particularly interested in the “balancing act” that
Israeli officials say they have tried to pursue between fighting armed
groups and trying to spare civilians during decades of patrolling the
“There are routine channels that have been there for years, and those
channels have been energized,” an Israeli official said of the
communications. “The American military has been very interested in our
lessons in how do you do surgical strikes in an urban zone, how do you
hit the bad guy with minimum collateral damage.”
Some U.S. officials acknowledge that they blanch at the idea of the
Pentagon adopting tactics from Israel, a nation regularly criticized for
security tactics it employs to battle armed groups it has never managed
to quell. And even Israeli officials acknowledge that they are somewhat
reluctant to give advice.
“After all,” one Israeli official said, “we’ve made plenty of mistakes
Indeed, criticism of the Israeli army’s tactics against Palestinians has
been mounting within Israel. The current chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon,
along with a group of retired heads of the Shin Bet internal security
service and even some active-duty soldiers say the methods have been
unduly harsh and threaten to destroy Israeli and Palestinian society if
no solution is found to the conflict.
But such concerns have not slowed the flow of information between
Washington and Jerusalem.
When Iraqi insurgents began firing from vehicles on U.S. troops at
checkpoints, U.S. officials were prompted to reinforce their ties to the
Israeli military and glean tips on how to prevent such attacks, Israeli
Now, in frequent meetings with their American counterparts, Israeli army
officials share ideas on how to protect soldiers from attacks and booby
traps, Israeli officials said.
U.S. military officials also have reviewed a common Israeli tactic of
conducting house-by-house searches for armed fighters by knocking down
interior walls with a portable battering ram. The tactic eliminates the
need to pass through doors and windows Ñ one of the most dangerous
aspects of urban combat, because of possible booby traps.
In the last week, U.S. soldiers began leveling houses and buildings used
by suspected guerrillas, a tactic long employed by the Israeli military
in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where they use bulldozers to knock
down the homes of militants or their families.
“The Americans learned a lot from the Israelis’ use of them [bulldozers]
in urban combat,” a former Israeli official said. “Israelis learned that
if you have fighting in an urban area, you just take down the house.”
This spring, U.S. soldiers, anticipating that they could be fighting on
the streets of Iraqi cities, traveled to Israel to train in a mock Arab
town that the Israeli army uses to simulate the urban battlefields of
the West Bank and Gaza, U.S. and Israeli officials said.
That training was an extension of the growing use of Israeli military
ranges by the U.S. over the last decade. During that time, said Lenny
Ben-David, a former Israeli deputy chief of mission at the embassy in
Washington, Israeli military ranges have been increasingly used by
American helicopter pilots for training, because they could not fly at
night in places like Germany.
“There are bases in Israel that for the last couple of years would be
turned over to a foreign army for a few days, a week or so. The Israelis
would be hosts. The U.S. is one of them,” said Ben-David, now a private
security consultant. “They could use equipment, they could use
facilities, use the ranges. You’d get a mix of pilots and they would sit
and talk tactics.”
After years of working closely together at all levels, the Israeli and
U.S. militaries in some respects think increasingly alike, said Shoshana
Bryen, director of special projects at the Jewish Institute for National
Security Affairs, a nonprofit group in Washington interested in links
between U.S. and Israeli defense tactics and policy.
“Part of what’s going on here is the culmination of years of picking
each other’s brains,” Bryen said. “There is no sudden alliance, but what
you end up with over the long term is a lot of guys from both countries
who think and look at things the same way. After 9/11 they discovered
they had more things to talk about.”
For generations the Israeli military has enjoyed close relations with
the Pentagon, which prides itself on its ability to learn from, not just
preach to, the armed forces of its allies. At any time, dozens of
Israeli officers are studying at Pentagon-run war colleges and training
American special forces regularly train with their Israeli counterparts,
both in the U.S. and in Israel. After the Israelis used unmanned drones
in battlefield situations in Lebanon in 1982, the Pentagon studied the
tactic. Some of the sensor technology that the United States military
uses to protect the perimeters of its bases was pioneered by Israel.
Much of the information shared with the U.S. involves the defensive
tactics and training that Israel has constantly updated for its troops
and police in the occupied territories, where they are familiar not only
with the most current tactics and code of ethics but the international
laws that apply as well, the two Israeli officials said.
This month, for example, Lt. Col. Amos Guiora, the commandant of the
Israeli army’s School of Military Law, was in Washington to demonstrate
some new software developed by the Israelis to train commanders how to
conduct themselves in the occupied territories. During his visit, he
showed the software to a group of American officials, he said.
“I’ll say only this,” he said. “They saw it, and they were impressed.”
Israel’s defense minister typically visits the Pentagon three to four
times a year. The current defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, met Nov. 10
with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Officials privy to the
meeting said the subject of Iraq came up, but declined to elaborate.
The two nations also compare notes on battle operations and equipment,
particularly if something goes wrong.
“After some incidents, if there is a failure in the system an F-16
goes down there is discussion, cooperation among the armies that use
these and the United States,” Ben-David said.
“It used to be that generals and admirals would come by in almost
state-like visits,” said Ben-David, who in his consulting works with
Israeli and U.S. officials. “But the relationship is such that you now
get line-type soldiers coming here to meet with their counterparts.”
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