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Israeli military amazed, 'jealous' at U.S. war against Iraq

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Monday, April 14, 2003

TEL AVIV Israeli defense officials and military commanders have expressed amazement over the capture of one of the largest and most powerful Arab countries by what they say amounted to fewer than three U.S. Army divisions.

The officials said the U.S. strategy of avoiding enemy troop concentrations as well as exploiting combat air supremacy comprises methods far more advanced than those employed by the Israeli military.

"This has been a very strange and unprecedented war and it will take us awhile to learn what took place," Yuval Steinetz, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said. "We will have to learn from this war and draw the conclusions."

"I am jealous of them [U.S. military]," Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, head of the Israel military's C4 directorate, said. "They have advanced in areas that we were leading in only a few years ago. They have the ability to put everything together in command and control. Our navy and air force have systems. but we have to integrate them."

Officials and military commanders agreed that the U.S. war in Iraq overshadowed the 1967 Israeli victory over four Arab countries, including Iraq. They said the United States sustained about 100 casualties in three weeks of fighting that resulted in the capture of Baghdad and most Iraqi cities. In contrast, about 600 Israeli soldiers were killed in the six days of the 1967 war, most of them in the ground battle with Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula.

"In the 1967 war, we also had complete supremacy, but we lost several hundred soldiers," Steinetz said. "This is where technology comes in."

Steinetz, regarded as one of the most prominent Israeli strategists in government, said Israel will have to understand the significance of technology in combat. He said Israel's military must absorb the U.S. model of avoiding direct engagement with enemy troops.

Israeli officials said the military will have to learn the war strategy espoused by the late British general Basil Henry Liddell Hart. In a series of books, Liddell Hart advocated the "indirect approach" to warfare where attacking forces avoid enemy troop concentrations and focus on key targets that could result in the downfall of the regime. The approach stresses maneuver, cunning, and forces the enemy to prepare for multiple contingencies.

The Israeli model has focused on air supremacy, speed and direct confrontation with the enemy. Strategists said this approach led to nearly 3,000 casualties in the 1973 war, with many of the soldiers killed in waves of assault on Egyptian armored units in the Sinai Peninsula.

For some strategists, the lesson is clear: Israel needs to deploy fewer and faster forces backed by a range of air power. Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon said the war in Iraq would require significant revisions of Israel's security doctrine. Ya'alon said this would affect the force structure of the military.

"The [next] conflict will not engage air forces against ground forces," [Res.] Col. Shmuel Gordon, an air force pilot and a leading military strategist, said. "The conflict will be between air forces across the services and special operations forces against ground forces."

Israeli commanders, who are currently drafting a multi-year plan for procurement and force development, agreed that the U.S. war in Iraq would serve as a model for future engagements. But they stressed that such a war requires the procurement and absorption of advanced technology from the individual soldier to the division level.

Harel called Tikshuv, said the budget cuts over the last two years have prevented several projects meant to integrate the armed services. He said the war in Iraq has stressed the need for the full integration between the air and ground forces.

The C4 directorate, formerly a part of the Technology and Logistics Directorate, has been authorized to digitalize the military. This includes the integration of all ground force assets through fiberoptic cables, cellular and broadband communications and the expansion of military satellite communications.

Israel's Ground Forces Command has launched a project called Digital Ground Warfare, or Tsayad, which is meant to integrate all units of the army and allow the General Staff to obtain a realtime picture of the battlefield.

But commanders said the project has been hampered by a lack of funding. "All this takes several hundreds of millions of shekels," Harel said. "You have just have to concentrate this funding and put it in the right place."

But commanders said the military has sustained a $600 million shortfall in its budget for fiscal 2003. This has slowed down progress in virtually every new procurement program based on local contractors. Elbit Systems has been entrusted to administer the Digital Ground Warfare program.

"The Israel Defense Forces has already demonstrated leading-edge capabilities in connecting real-time intelligence to firepower in its targeted anti-terror operations in the territories," Harel said. "But these capabilities are not yet widespread in the ground forces."

For his part, Gordon has urged the military to study the U.S. battle for Baghdad. In a report, Gordon, who has served as a consultant to the Israel Air Force and Defense Ministry, said the U.S. capture of the Iraqi capital has "historic importance to the development of the Israel Defense Forces."

"If air power and special forces are given the opportunity, the conclusion is sharp and clear," the report said. "But if such an opportunity is not implemented to allow for their dominance, the revolution will be delayed."

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