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U.S. Seeks Advice From Israel on Iraq

As the occupation grows bloodier, officials draw on an ally's experience with insurgents.

November 22, 2003|Esther Schrader and Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writers

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 Strip.

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 occupied territories.

"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 ourselves."

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 officials said.

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 -- one of the most dangerous aspects of urban combat, because of possible booby traps.

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