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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

April 01, 2003

U.S. Military Studied Israel's Experience in Close-Quarter Fighting in Refugee Camps

This article in The New York Times (free reg req'd) is a good example of how the U.S., fighting a new kind of war, can learn from its friends in Israel
JERUSALEM, March 31 — As they prepared for war in Iraq, American military officers studied Israel's use of helicopters, tanks and armored bulldozers to fight in the claustrophobic quarters of Palestinian refugee camps.

But Israeli veterans and other experts said the Americans might also learn from the political dimensions of Israel's war in Lebanon and its occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip: how hard it can be to sift civilians for potential threats without enraging a society and alienating world opinion; how inspiring it can seem to face up to an enemy and to try to improve the lives of its victims — and how agonizing it can be to sustain, or to end, an occupation.

"We also think that we are very, very moral," Martin van Creveld, professor of military history and strategy at Hebrew University, said of Israelis. "And we wonder why they hate us so much." Professor van Creveld briefed officers of the Marine Corps in North Carolina in September.

Israeli officials who are usually quick to draw parallels between the American and Israeli experiences have been reticent to do so recently — even after a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself apart and wounded dozens of people outside a cafe in an Israeli city on Sunday, the day after an Iraqi bomber killed four American soldiers at a checkpoint.

But to any Israeli — and any Palestinian — the parallels are inescapable. "I have a déjà vu feeling," said Yoni Fighel, a colonel in the Israeli reserves who served as an intelligence officer in the Lebanon war and later as a military governor in the West Bank.

He said the Iraqis also appeared to have studied the Israeli experience. "I do believe that some conclusions from Lebanon, and from the West Bank and Gaza, were adopted by the Iraqi regime," said Mr. Fighel, now a researcher at the International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism. He called suicide bombing and guerrilla warfare "an excellent tool to build a fence" between the American and British soldiers and the Iraqi civilians they hope to win over.

The military tactics on both sides in Iraq, and their political effects, may change quickly, as they already have. But the soldiers who are setting up checkpoints in Iraq, demanding identification, frisking men and examining even the most innocent-seeming bundles, are doing what Israeli soldiers do daily in the West Bank.[more]