With removal of Iraqi threat, Israel prepares force reduction

Special to World
Friday, May 9, 2003

TEL AVIV Israel's military has launched the most significant review of its force level in wake of what officials term the elimination of the Iraqi threat.

Israeli defense and military officials said the review has been undertaken by the General Staff under the supervision of Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon and seeks to determine revisions to the force level by 2006. The study include options to cut manpower, reduce combat and support units and determine the number of reservists required.

"It will take a few months to prepare this multi-year plan for the government," Defense Ministry director-general Amos Yaron said. "The Israel Defense Forces has been examining its priorities and the resulting possibilities of cuts. It is clear that the changes in the region will allow us to reduce our force level, reduce our commands and allow us to decrease our budget."

Officials said the review will be concluded in July and presented to the government in September. The review will take into account the U.S.-led victory over Iraq, the lessons to be learned from the U.S. war and the need to significantly reduce the military budget.

Among the lessons already drawn from the war include the need to focus on advanced technology, latest-generation fighter-jets and the reduction of the standing army. Officials said weapons and platforms would be examined for their lethality rather than for their requirement by any unit or service.

The effort to reform the military began in November 2002 when the Israeli leadership determined that the United States would attack and defeat the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Ya'alon established steering committees that dealt with the insurgency threat, the threat from Israel's Arab neighbors, weapons of mass destruction threat and the structure of the military.

The General Staff has determined that the fall of the Saddam regime eliminated the threat from Israel's eastern border. The military assesses that Syria has become unable to launch an attack by itself and that Iran might be deterred by the presence of U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq.

Another conclusion was that the fall of Iraq would significantly reduce the prospect of an Arab military coalition against Israel. Officials pointed to the commitment by Egypt and Jordan to their peace treaties with Israel.

Officials said these developments could allow the military to significantly reduce Israel's armored corps and freeze procurement of additional aircraft. Israel is said to have about 4,000 main battle tanks and nearly 800 combat aircraft.

Another option could dismantle at least one of the three regional commands in the military. The most likely command to be eliminated is Southern Command, which is deployed long the southern Egyptian and Jordanian borders.

Yaron said the Defense Ministry's agreement to cut at least 2.8 billion shekel [$550 million] from the budget was based on the disappearance of the Iraqi threat. He said the ministry plans to maintain major research and development and procurement projects.

"We must have less statistical weapons and more precision-guided weapons," Yaron said. "We must invest more in intelligence and surveillance systems because this can reduce the quantity of the weapons required. The intelligence and surveillance must continue to be a prority."

Officials said Ya'alon and his aides agreed on the outline of the restructuring of the military and the revision of Israel's combat doctrine.

They said this would be based on the bolstering of special operations forces, unmanned air vehicles, and fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.

In 1997, the Defense Ministry launched a review of Israel's military doctrine, an effort that was never completed. The ministry has also established a new political-military unit, headed by Maj. Gen. Amos Gilead, authorized to update the military doctrine.

Officials said a one threat that will not be significantly reduced by the fall of Iraq is that of Palestinian and Islamic insurgency. They said this threat would require the development of new technology, including improved command and control, intelligence and surveillance and precision weapons.

"We are amid a regional earthquake that stems from the U.S. national security strategy that has designated targets in the sphere of counter-terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and irresponsible regimes," Ya'alon said. "If they succeed in introducing a democratic and stable regime in Iraq this will influence way beyond Iraq."

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