- Martin van Creveld's advice to the US marines on what
lessons to draw from Israel's bloody urban battle in Jenin was precise:
Forget the helicopters, invest in armoured bulldozers.
- For months now, the Pentagon has been taking notes from
the Israelis in preparation for what looks increasingly likely to be an
arduous house by house, street by street, fight for Baghdad. Pentagon strategists
have pored over videos of the Israeli military's assault on Jenin a year
ago, when 150 lightly armed but determined Palestinians kept the army at
bay for 11 days and killed 23 soldiers.
- US officers watched Israeli tank raids into West Bank
cities in February, and American soldiers have learned in the Israeli desert
how to blow their way from house to house to avoid booby traps and street
fighting. The Israeli insights build on years of exchanges of military
technology and intelligence between the deeply intertwined armies. Among
other things, the US is using Israeli-manufactured drones to scout across
- But with the US army faced with fighting through Baghdad's
sprawling maze of streets and alleyways, known intimately by its enemy,
American technological superiority is probably worth less than the Israelis'
bitter experience. And now there is the added factor of suicide bombers.
- As the war with Iraq loomed, the US marines called in
Mr Van Creveld, a military strategist at Jerusalem's Hebrew University
with close ties to the Israeli army. At a briefing in North Carolina in
September, he offered some lessons.
- "There were three key things," he said. "How
to clear streets house by house, particularly using bulldozers. They're
very useful in this kind of war to break houses.
- "How and when to use helicopters to take out snipers.
And when not to, and I'd say Baghdad is one of those situations. And how
to avoid civilian casualties."
- The Israeli army used giant armoured Caterpillar bulldozers
and helicopter gunships to crush and rocket a square kilometre of Jenin,
killing dozens of Palestinian fighters and civilians and destroying hundreds
of homes. The American-made bulldozers - originally used in Vietnam - are
in themselves weapons, bringing buildings crashing down on an enemy without
having to engage him room by room. It was a widely condemned tactic in
Jenin, which the Israelis claim saved civilian lives even though, like
bombs, the killing is not selective.
- But US forces have also been receiving insights into
how to fight room by room if it becomes necessary. Close to 1,000 American
soldiers were sent to Israel for joint manoeuvres at the beginning of the
year. Some were sent to a mock Arab town in the Negev desert to draw on
Israeli experience. Among other things, they were shown how Israeli soldiers
avoid having to show themselves on the street by moving from inside one
house to another by blowing a hole in the wall without bringing the building
- In February, residents of Nablus reported seeing English-speaking
troops in unfamiliar uniforms accompanying Israeli soldiers during a two-week
incursion into the old city, where just such tactics were used. US army
officers have observed Israeli units at first hand in Jenin and Bethlehem.
- The traffic has been two way. Israeli officers have visited
the US marines' thinktank at Quantico, Virginia. Its commander, Colonel
Randy Gangle, confirms the visit took place but declines to discuss it
other than to say he "appreciated the insights offered by the Israeli
experience of the intifada".
- Mr Van Creveld told the Americans that for all the lessons
learned from the West Bank, the fight for Baghdad was likely to be a lot
tougher. "The Americans and Brits are taking measures very similar
to the ones we've being using for years in the [occupied] territories,"
he said. "But whatever resistance we faced in Jenin and Gaza is nothing
compared to what the Americans can expect.
- "The Palestinians are empty handed compared to the
weaponry the Iraqis have. The Americans can expect heavier casualties.
Baghdad will be really brutal."
- Because the Iraqis are better armed, Mr Van Creveld warned
the Americans that the Israeli experience of using helicopters to kill
snipers was probably of little use to the US. That is almost certainly
a lesson the Pentagon has already taken on board from its disastrous foray
- The Israelis say they had another advantage the Americans
- "We have built a very robust intelligence structure
which Americans don't have in Iraq," said retired Brigadier-General
Shlomo Brom of the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv.
- "On the other hand, I think the Palestini ans are
more motivated than the Iraqis."
- Israeli officials believe that Saddam Hussein has also
learned some of the lessons of Jenin, particularly the use of booby traps
and suicide bombers. After just one such bombing the Americans have swiftly
adopted Israeli tactics at roadblocks - with tragic consequences for one
vehicle full of women and children.
- Gen Brom said possibly the best advice the Israelis had
offered was to take it slowly until victory, and then get out fast.
- "An urban environment is the great equaliser,"
he said. "You can't utilise your superiority in training and equipment.
It's very easy for your adversary to hide and he usually knows the terrain
much better than you. There is the need to be cautious and understanding
that it takes time.
- "But once it's over, the most important lesson is
not to stay there any longer than is absolutely necessary. I see the similarity
between the situation in Iraq and when we invaded Lebanon. Our mistake
was to stay there much too long."
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