- (Note - In addition to the weapons listed below,
one must make note of the fact that Israel is the world's third or fourth
ranked nuclear military power. -ed)
- WASHINGTON -- There was a
time, in the tortured history of Israel and the Arab world, when the United
States was the unquestioned military superpower in the Middle East and
drew obedient, if grudging, respect from all sides.
- No more.
- Now Israel is the region's superpower, and where it once
looked to the United States not just for diplomatic support but for
rescue, now Israel can thumb its nose at Washington and go its own
- Israel can field 19 divisions of ground troops, by some
counts; the United States boasts 13 divisions worldwide and would need
weeks to move any significant military force into the region.
- Israel's air force, which flies souped-up U.S. F-15 and
F-16 fighters, can generate nearly 3,000 sorties, or combat missions, per
day. The United States can sustain about 1,600 sorties a day. That kind
of combat punch has given Israel unprecedented freedom of action, not just
against lightly armed Palestinian street fighters, but against its
enemies of Syria and Egypt as well.
- "We have created an 800-pound gorilla," said
Kenneth Brower, an independent military consultant in Washington, assessing
decades of U.S. military aid to Israel.
- Yesterday, the 11th day of its invasion of Palestinian
territories, Israel appeared to respond to U.S. pressure by announcing
it would begin withdrawing its troops from two of the six West Bank cities
it had occupied, Qalqiliya and Tulkarem, but would maintain a cordon around
them. The Israeli defense ministry gave no indication when it would pull
out of the other four target cities, where fighting with Palestinian
- The United States has given Israel about $3 billion a
year for weapons purchases since the late 1970s, and has transferred new
or used weapons and military technology for free or at deeply discounted
prices under other government programs and commercial arrangements.
- In addition, the United States has stored millions of
dollars worth of ammunition, fuel, spare parts and even a field hospital
in Israel, ostensibly for use by American forces. The agreements under
which the equipment was stored in Israel are secret. But most analysts
assume Israel has access to the storage sites.
- "It's always been said there are 'tripwires' that
would permit Israel to use that stuff," said Shoshana Bryen, an
for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a think tank in
Washington. "My guess is if Israel needed the stuff, they'd get
- The increase in Israel's combat clout comes less from
size than from other, intangible factors. For instance, Israeli technicians
have added digital and other improvements to their F-16 fighters, making
them even more capable than versions used by the U.S. Air Force, Brower
- And Israel can fly so many combat sorties per day because
it has a huge pool of seasoned combat pilots. That enables its air force
to use one aircraft again and again during a 24-hour period while
fatigued pilots for fresh ones. The United States does not maintain as
many combat pilots per airplane as Israel.
- Israel relies heavily on its reserve forces. There are
almost 1 million Israelis under the age of 48 liable to be recalled to
duty. All have done three years' active duty, as well as reserve training.
Reserve troops are organized into units already matched up with vehicles
- "It's one of the most efficient military forces
around," said Anthony Cordesman, a senior analyst at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "Can they thumb
their nose at us? Well, for a while. But they don't have the technical
or production base to sustain these capabilities without some resupply
- But Cordesman estimated it would take about two years
of fighting before Israel needed some outside help.
- It was a much closer thing in 1973, when Egypt and Syria
attacked Israel on Yom Kippur, one of the Jewish high holy days. As
tanks swept across the Sinai Peninsula and plunged through Israeli
a panicked Israeli government pleaded with the United States for
- Then-President Nixon quickly stationed two aircraft
off the Israeli coast and put U.S. combat forces on alert. Eight days
U.S. cargo planes began delivering what would be more than 22,000 tons
of supplies to Israel, including tanks and jet fighters.
- The deliveries tipped the military balance. Israel
with its tank forces, under the leadership of then-Gen. Sharon, chasing
Egyptian troops back across the Suez Canal and reclaiming the Sinai.
- Out of that experience came the U.S. pledge that Israel
would never lose its "qualitative edge" in military power to
any of its Arab neighbors, and the U.S. military aid to Israel that backed
up that pledge. U.S. military support to Egypt, which began after Egypt
and Israel signed their 1979 peace treaty, is about two-thirds of U.S.
aid to Israel.
- Despite the images of violence broadcast from the
territories, very little of the Israeli military is being used in current
operations, analysts said. Israeli officials declined to say how many tanks
have been deployed in the current fighting, but analysts estimated that
not more than a few dozen of Israel's 4,000 main battle tanks were on the
- In an all-out war where civilian casualties were not
a concern, Israel "could roll up the West Bank in 36 hours,"
- As for igniting a wider Middle East war, most analysts
said the Israelis are confident they can handle any contingency -- at least
in the short run. Syria's military forces have atrophied badly since the
collapse of the Soviet Union, its main benefactor. Egypt is said not to
have the stomach for another wider war.
- In any event, "The Israelis are not depending on
us to come rescue them," Brower said. "We have to be realistic.
We are the world's superpower in some respects, but we don't have a big
capability in the Middle East, and the Israelis know that. They can
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