Jonathan Marcus / BBC – 2004-04-22 00:06:54
(April 14, 2004) — With sporadic fighting in Falluja and US forces moving into position outside Najaf, the Arab press is pointing to similarities between US military operations in Iraq and the tactics Israeli forces employ in the West Bank and Gaza. Such similarities are not coincidental.
The Israeli army has long experience of offensive operations in urban areas and it is experience that the Pentagon has been eager to draw upon. Israel and the US have developed a close military relationship over the years.
Israel’s armed forces are undergoing a process of transformation similar to that advocated by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with the emphasis on lighter, more agile units employing devastating firepower and drawing on a variety of new information and intelligence gathering systems.
Go to any US military exercise and Israeli observers are much in evidence. But the transfer of doctrine and tactics is not just a one-way street.
US commanders have drawn extensively on Israel’s experiences in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for lessons that might be applicable to Iraq.
Fighting in urban areas is something that modern armies tend to avoid wherever possible. In the low-rise warren of alleys and narrow streets the advantages of technologically sophisticated soldiers are much reduced. Even lightly armed opponents with local knowledge can constitute serious opposition. And the proximity of civilians adds the risk of significant loss of innocent life and widespread damage to property.
While many of Israel’s methods are controversial it has, in purely military terms, developed highly effective tactics for offensive operations in urban areas along with a range of specialised equipment which, for example, can help troops to breach walls, gather intelligence, and locate snipers.
The Pentagon has already bought some Israeli equipment. It is planning to buy more. And senior US commanders have visited Israel specifically to discuss what the Pentagon jargon calls “Military Operations on Urban Terrain”.