WASHINGTON (Feb. 5)
Neither the United States nor Israel wants the Jewish state involved in an anticipated war against Iraq.
To minimize the chances of that happening, however, Israel has become very involved in planning an attack.
U.S.-Israel coordination becomes ever more crucial after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s briefing to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday. The briefing is seen as the major U.S. effort to convince the international community that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is flouting weapons inspections and must be disarmed by force.
Powell used audio tapes and satellite images to prove that Iraq has been hiding weapons materials from U.N. inspectors and continues to produce dangerous weapons. He also claimed that members of the Al-Qaida terrorist network are hiding in Iraq.
The presentation touched only briefly on Saddam’s support for Palestinian terrorists and the threat Iraq poses to Israel.
“Baghdad trains Palestine Liberation Front members in small arms and explosives,” Powell said. “Saddam uses the Arab Liberation Front to funnel money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers in order to prolong the intifada. And it’s no secret that Saddam’s own intelligence service was involved in dozens of attacks or attempted assassinations in the 1990s.”
Both Israel and the United States are trying to minimize reports of their coordination ahead of any U.S.-led attack on Iraq. But if the United States does go to war with Iraq, Israel’s fingerprints will be on the battle plans.
The two counties have been spending years coordinating information, developing technology for battle in the Middle East and trying to protect Israel from weapons of mass destruction.
The most visible sign of such cooperation is the Arrow Missile Program, a joint U.S.-Israeli program to protect Israel from missiles.
In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel, Israel and the United States used Patriot missiles in an attempt to bring the Scuds down. However, Patriots are designed to protect airbases and specific landmarks, not full cities, and proved largely ineffective.
The Arrow was crafted with a much broader footprint, and is viewed as the only missile that can shoot down another missile at high altitudes and speeds.
“It’s as reliable as anything in the position it’s in, which is not used yet in wartime,” said Marvin Feuer, director of defense and strategic issues at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “The Arrow does what we had hoped the Patriot would do in the first war.”
Both Israel and the United States have been impressed with the Arrow’s success in test firings, Feuer said.
An improved version of the Patriot missile was tested Tuesday in Israel. Israeli and American officials say the tests were routine, but analysts say the Patriot will be an important backup if the Arrow does not perform as well as anticipated.
Still, analysts say the surest way to keep Israel safe is to take out missile bases in Iraq’s western desert from which it could attack Israel.
Iraq is believed to have far fewer weapons than it did in 1991, but Pentagon officials believe that Iraqi missile bases will be targeted in the early stages of a war to minimize the possibility that Israel will be attacked and will feel obligated to respond.
“America has made a commitment to take out Scud launchers in the west within 72 hours” of the beginning of a war, said Tom Neumann, executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
Still, similar promises in 1991 didn’t stop the Iraqi Scuds.
“We did a very poor job of stopping Scuds, and we learned from it,” said Gen. David Grange, who during the 1991 war worked in Army Special Forces to eliminate Iraq’s Scud capabilities. “I believe that intelligence and information will be shared in more robust ways than in 1991.”
Neumann said some American military officials resented the effort to protect Israel during the Gulf War, viewing it as a diversion from the main battle.
Protecting Israel is less of an issue this time around, as U.S.-Israel coordination has cemented their mutual agenda.
Even if Israel does stay out of the war, its technology and equipment will not.
Among the Israeli technology that American forces may use is the HAVE NAP air-to-ground missile, which the Israelis call Popeye. It is used to destroy targets such as concrete military bunkers from great distances, and can be re-targeted while already in the air.
The United States also is using Israeli-made Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, which allow the military to identify targets and assess bomb damage without risking pilots’ lives.
The Israeli-made Litening device uses heat sensors to enable aircraft to fly and target in bad weather.
Israel and the United States also share communications channels that could prove vital in any war.
“This kind of coordination between the United States and Israel is qualitatively different from the first war,” Feuer said.
Senior officials of the first Bush administration, such as Paul Wolfowitz, who was then an undersecretary of defense, and the deputy secretary of state, Lawrence Eagleburger, were sent to Israel late during the first Iraqi crisis. This time, the United States has made coordination with Israel and other regional allies a priority.
Gen. Charles Wald, deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, who has been put in charge of ties with the Israeli military, recently visited Israel.
Gen. Charles Simpson, director of air and space operations at the European Command, has been assigned as chief liaison between the two countries if war begins.
Feuer said the coordination has allowed Israel and the United States to narrow their disagreements about the possible scope of a war.
The Bush administration has hinted that Israel has the right to retaliate if it is hit with weapons of mass destruction, or with missiles that cause mass casualties. But both the U.S. and Israeli governments would prefer that Israel not have to get involved.
“The United States and Great Britain do not want Israel to have to enter the war,” Grange said. “They will go to extraordinary measures” to prevent that.