Thu December 11, 2003 05:00 PM ET
A key U.S. ally behind-the-scenes in the war in Iraq, Israel has been contributing intelligence, tactics and technology mostly in secret to avert an Arab backlash, congressional aides and analysts said on Thursday.
The commander of the Israel Defense Forces' Golani Brigade briefed U.S. Marines in mid-June on the lessons the IDF has learned from its conflict with the Palestinians.
The Israelis have supplied the American military with aerial surveillance equipment, decoy drones and D-9 armored bulldozers, sources close to the Israeli government said.
The Israelis are also considering sharing new training software designed for Israeli commanders stationed in Palestinian areas, the sources said. Israeli tactics, which have been honed against a 3-year-old Palestinian revolt in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, have prompted protests by international human rights groups.
Neither the White House nor the Israeli Embassy will openly talk about connections between U.S. operations in Iraq and Israel's hotly-contested tactics in Palestinian areas. Such connections could spark a backlash against Washington in the Arab world, where suspicions of U.S. intentions are already rife.
In keeping with its low profile, Israel was left off the White House's much-publicized list of coalition partners, and this week was denied -- along with anti-Iraq war countries France, Germany and Russia -- eligibility for lucrative post-war reconstruction contracts.
"It's hard to believe that a country like Moldova has done more for the U.S. war effort than Israel. And yet the former is eligible and the latter is not. That doesn't make any sense," said David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a strong supporter of Israel.
The White House justified its decision to deny eligibility to certain countries as a matter of national security but said they would be eligible to work as subcontractors.
Israel benefits in other ways -- it gets about $3 billion a year from Washington and was promised in the run-up to the war in Iraq up to $9 billion in loan guarantees. In contrast, the Palestinians get between $100 million and $200 million.
Israeli officials and their supporters in the United States say it is no surprise the administration would play down the contributions of the Jewish state.
"It's not PC," said a pro-Israel lobbyist. A senior congressional aide said acknowledging Israel's role would be like "pouring gas on the fire."
"Admitting Israel's involvement in how to fight the resistance in Iraq does not advance the cause of winning hearts and minds in the Arab world," said another congressional aide involved in Middle East policy in explaining the secrecy.
U.S. and Israeli officials would not provide any specific details about U.S.-Israeli cooperation in Iraq.
"Obviously the two countries have a very close relationship. ... This has been going on pre-Iraq and it'll be going on when Iraq is behind us," an Israeli official said.
According to congressional aides and analysts, U.S.-Israeli military contacts have expanded from intelligence sharing to direct consultations on defensive tactics and urban warfare.
They said the IDF gave the Americans detailed information about its methods before the war, and that Israeli and American officers have held regular meetings since.
Brig. Gen. Michael Vane, a senior officer in the U.S. Army's Doctrine and Training Command, said in a letter to Army magazine in July that U.S. officers had gone to Israel to discuss urban combat and intelligence.
A senior official in the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency recently met with Defense Ministry Director General Amos Yaron and toured several high-tech Israeli defense firms. More recently, Israeli officials have met with U.S. officials in Washington about sharing software used to train commanders.
U.S. Navy F-18 planes routinely used an Israeli glider, and U.S. A-10 Thunderbolts, F-15E Strike Eagles and AV-8B Harrier jets were equipped with "pods" that provided real-time images of the battlefield in Iraq.
American forces also made limited use of a helmet system which allows a pilot to more easily target the enemy without maneuvering the aircraft into attack position.
Israeli security sources say mass assaults by covert squads of soldiers and swoops by troops posing as Arabs were among the tactics U.S. forces were studying for use in Iraq.
According to The New Yorker magazine, Israeli commandos and intelligence units have been working with their American counterparts at the Special Forces training base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (Reuters)
GRINGO STARS found this article at;