Center: Israel can reduce military in wake of Iraq War

Monday, September 22, 2003

TEL AVIV Israel's conventional military capability has increased sharply in wake of the U.S. defeat of Iraq. As a result, a prominent think tank has concluded, Israel can afford to reduce its armored force.

Leading Israeli strategists said the U.S. victory over the regime of President Saddam Hussein pointed to the superiority of Western platforms and doctrine over that employed by Iraq and many of its Arab neighbors.

"In the next few years, Iraq will not be able to build a military that will pose a threat to Israel," Shlomo Brom, a senior researcher for the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, said. "This [U.S. war against Iraq] campaign has stressed Israel's conventional superiority."

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Brom and other strategists made this determination on Sunday during the release of two studies by the Jaffee Center on the war in Iraq and the Middle East military balance. The strategists recommended that Israel reduce its military, particularly the armored corp, Middle East Newsline reporteds.

The strategists said Israel with powerful capabilities in command, control, communications, computers and intelligence could achieve a similar victory over neighboring Syria, regarded as the chief adversary of the Jewish state.

"When the U.S. forces against Iraq are compared with the balance of forces between Israel and Syria an interesting conclusion is reached," the center's new publication, entitled "After the War in Iraq: Defining the New Strategic Balance," said in an essay by [Res.] Maj. Gen. Issac Ben-Israel.

"Israel is military capable of attaining victory over the Syrian army to the same degree at least as the American victory over the Iraqi army. Israel has the power, technology and battlefield conceptualization necessary for this."

The strategists said Israel should reduce its armored corps and consider suspending the Merkava Mk-4 main battle tank program. The alternatives, they said, included obtaining such U.S. platforms as the M1A2 tank with American military aid.

"There's no difference between the Merkava and the M1," Brom said. "And the M1 we can buy with dollars."

Last week, Israel's Cabinet passed a 32.5 billion shekel defense budget for fiscal 2004 that marked a more than 2 billion shekel cut from the previous year. Israeli military officials said the budget reduction could result in the suspension of the Merkava Mk-4 production program as well as a slowdown in the Arrow-2 missile defense project.

The Jaffee Center's "Middle East Strategic Balance 2002-2003" said Israel has 3,930 main battle tanks, a slight increase since 1997. The force is composed of Merkava tanks and older U.S.-origin M-60 tanks.

The Israeli strategists said the military should invest in improving protection against weapons of mass destruction as well as from insurgents.

They said Israel's superiority in conventional warfare would bolster Arab and Iranian efforts in WMD and low-intensity conflict.

But the analysts said they did not see any trend by Iran or Arab militaries to reduce their conventional forces. They said the Arab military buildup was launched largely in response to Israel's force development over the last decade.

"I don't see one Arab state that has undergone a drastic change," Yiftah Shapir, one of the editors of "Middle East Strategic Balance 2002-2003," said. "Jordan tries to buy all sorts of technology. Egypt wants to advance in technology. I don't see a drastic change in their [Arab] world view."

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