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As he looked at the images of the dust storm yesterday in the predawn hours (Baghdad time) that threatened to disrupt his war plan, General Richard Myers pictured in his mind's eye an individual with a mustache. But if the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a pilot used to dividing his attention, had leisure to contemplate another individual, second in line after Saddam Hussein, the leading candidate would be an aggressive, silver-haired man from North Carolina. He, too, like Myers, is a general of the U.S. Air Force, and he, too, devoted time and energy and frayed nerves to the pursuit of the Iraqi president, but he is a bitter foe of Myers. His name is Buster Glosson, and Myers now has to defeat Saddam quickly, cheaply and incontestably in order to inflict a defeat on Glosson, who in recent weeks has come forward as the fiercest critic of the military planning of the war in Iraq.

It's a debate of principle, supposedly, but fraught with personal animosity. Glosson flew to glory on the wings of the planning of the air campaign against Iraq in January-February 1991. At the time, he was a one-star general, and within two years he already had three stars and a key position, head of operations in the air force. He was in line for the fourth star, on the way to becoming chief of staff of the air force or chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

He was then knocked off his perch by two more junior generals, who reported that he had engaged in improper behavior that is unforgivable in the American armed forces: an attempt to influence the results of a commission that was discussing his promotion. One of the two was Myers, who had been Glosson's successor as commander of the lead combat wing in the Air Force. Myers did not suffer from the fact that Glosson was forced to resign; he advanced rapidly, to the most senior position in the military. The second general who complained about Glosson's behavior, Michael Ryan, quickly rose to the position of chief of staff of the air force; he retired from active duty about a year and a half ago.

Together with the current air force chief, General John Jumper, they built "airborne expeditionary forces," 10 wings, in permanent alert readiness for dispatch to distant arenas. If the Myers-Jumper school is even more successful than the operational results of Glosson's planning a dozen years ago, his glory will be dimmed.

The criticism that Glosson leveled at Myers is supposed to be based on knowledge of the plans - for the past five years, Glosson was a special adviser to the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet, and his former subordinates today hold senior posts in the military. However, the critique is replete with internal contradictions, such as warning against inflicting excessive harm on Iraqi civilians alongside an emphasis on the supreme importance of minimizing the casualties among the American forces.

Glosson's major argument is that the Myers plan for almost simultaneous air and land action is fraught with disaster. Two concurrent tactics still don't add up to a strategy, Glosson maintains. Myers, he says, is endangering the American divisions because he does not intend to devote enough time to the obliteration from the air of the units of the Republican Guard, which are waiting for the Americans around Baghdad. A rash and premature start of the ground campaign - contrary to the campaign Glosson planned 12 years ago, which involved five weeks of softening up the Iraqi forces from the air before the start of the land invasion - will cost the Americans heavily in casualties, some of them from encounters with Saddam's chemical weapons, Glosson maintains.

Israelis who are familiar with the operational ideas of the American high command are inclined to bet that in this dispute, which has now moved into the field, Myers will be the winner. A week, at most a week and a half, they say, and the impact of the combined strike - from the air, from the flanks (bases that will be seized in western Iraq and other areas), from the underground that the CIA will activate - will be enough to subdue the regime and its loyalists.

The battle of Baghdad will also be waged from the air. The director for operations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a protege of Myers, is Air Force Lieutenant General Norton Schwartz. "Don't go into town without us," Schwartz urged three years ago in a reasoned article he published in a professional monthly, explaining why the exploitation of air power is essential for combat in a built-up area.

Ahead of the war in Iraq, the U.S. Air Force asked for urgent assistance from Israel's military industry in arming RPVs (remotely piloted vehicles, or drones): fear of losing air crews is shared by all armed forces. Glosson, in contrast to the approach of Myers and Jumper, is against closer cooperation with Israel. Two years ago, he assailed a decision of Congress to oblige the U.S. Air Force to arm bombers with Popeye air-to-surface missiles manufactured by Rafael (Israel Armament Development Authority). It's an expensive, faulty missile and in the Kosovo campaign it didn't hit its targets, Glosson stated, hinting that the decision to acquire it was tainted by political considerations and perhaps by corruption. Israeli experts say that the missile software suffered from a certain defect, which was corrected after the Popeye underwent a series of tests as called for.

Glosson's commanders in the 1991 war, Generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Charles Horner, belittled the possible effect that Scud missile attacks on Israel would have on the war as a whole. The current senior level of the American armed forces, known in the IDF as "the partner," is far more sophisticated. This week representatives of the American liaison delegation came to the bureaus of major generals such as the deputy chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, and the head of the Planning Branch, Giora Eiland, and installed scrambler telephones with special keys, thus effectively making the General Staff a branch of the Pentagon and of Eucom, the U.S. European Command.

The "procedure for arena missile defense," which was formulated for the combined operation of the Israeli Arrow and Patriot missiles with the Patriot and the American guided missile destroyer Aegis - the IDF was hesitant about requesting its implementation as this would narrow Israel's freedom of action - is being carried out in practice but not in theory.

It turned out that the fact that the American units who took part in the combined exercise codenamed "Juniper Cobra" in Israel, made the procedure unnecessary. The IDF's calendar of exercises is filled with joint activity, bearing names such as "Stallion," "Miranda" and "Falcon."

In the winter of 2003-2004, 30 years after the Yom Kippur War, an exercise will be mounted to test an American airlift to Israel - transport planes will bring symbolic containers of essential munitions in order to close the gap between the time needed for manufacture in Israeli industry and the time needed by the IDF to fight on the front.

In the dialogue ahead of the fighting, the Americans were very generous in their willingness to listen to Israeli advice and in arranging channels of communication between the commands, but very stingy in regard to everything east of the non-Scud land in western Iraq (which, on the H-3 line of bases, the Arrow missile's "Green Pine" radar can already see). This presented no great difficulty, as consistent information focused on Iraq's meager aerial capability, which was intended to be destroyed in the first American strike, and on missiles whose range does not permit them to reach Israel. It was suspected that the short-range "Samoud" missile had two engines (that were dismantled from SAM-2 surface-to-air missiles), which would make it capable of reaching Israel, but that suspicion stemmed from a guess and was not borne out by evidence.

So there was no justification for the ludicrous situation in which Israel found itself because it has no serious, courageous leadership. The right person to describe the situation would have been the World War II cartoonist Bill Mauldin, who died a few weeks ago, at the age of 81. One of his best-known cartoons, from the campaign in Italy, shows a bloated general standing on a hilltop and looking at a spectacular vista. He turns to his adjutant and says, "Beautiful view! Is there one for the enlisted men?"

In the entire top echelon of the defense establishment there wasn't one volunteer on Wednesday who dared to say that he truly understands the instructions, guidelines and recommendations that were foisted on the public. There is one law for the country's leaders, whose evaluation is that no danger looms and behaved accordingly - winking broadly at all mention of the need to seal rooms, keep protective kits close and check the masks - and another for the ordinary citizens.

From Prime Minister Sharon down, everyone hid behind the back of the major fomenter of the unnecessary panic, Major General Yossi Mishlav, the head of the Home Front Command. In internal discussions, in the light of the absence of information about Iraq's ability to attack Israel with chemical and biological weapons, officers from intelligence and planning argued with Mishlav, but to no avail. It being impossible to prove the negative - in this case, what Saddam Hussein does not have - the government and the IDF, despite what they knew, were dragged into an internal contradiction between what they agreed among themselves and what they said out loud.

In fulfilling its duty, the organization went haywire. By the same logic, if Home Front Command or any other body were given responsibility to protect citizens against suicide bombing attacks, the public would be called on not to go into the streets without a flak jacket, a helmet and a personal first-aid kit in their right-hand pocket. Who can deny, on the basis of military events and operations research, that protection of this kind will increase the prospect of survival in the event of the low-probability event - though hundreds of times more probable than the danger from Iraq - that a person will find himself involved in an attack?

The miserable performance of the leadership, the shepherds who frightened the flock, overshadowed one of the most important moments in the history of the region and of Israel's status therein: the moment that the American superpower leaped, with both feet and not as a passing guest, into the sands of the desert. Thanks to this leap, the gap between Israel's pretensions and its capability may yet be closed.

On Monday morning, two or three days before the expected opening of the campaign, the General Staff convened for its weekly meeting - and Iraq was not the major subject on the agenda. The chief of staff, Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon, did away with the custom according to which such discussions are preceded by an intelligence and operational briefing - the generals can garner that information effectively by the use of other methods. Ya'alon prefers discussions according to subjects. This time the subject was the IDF's work plan for 2003 and beyond, for the next five-year period, a plan that was delayed until the government's decision on the budget.

The IDF partially repulsed the treasury's assault on it, but senior officers, the commanders of the majors and the master sergeants who feared they would lose their jobs or have their salaries cut, agreed with comments that were attributed to Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "You want to install newer, heavier cannons on the bridge, but if the ship sinks, the cannons won't do you any good."

The decision in Washington to invade Iraq, remove the Saddam Hussein regime, to preemptively destroy what is intended to be used as weapons of destruction, and to remove the strongest Arab state (apart from Egypt) from the circle of enmity can, if the operation succeeds, give Israel time and space to restart the thrust for arrangements of peace and security, which will be based on a different army, smaller and more developed than the current one.

America in Iraq means a superpower buffer between Israel and potential enemies, of the kind that has not existed in the region for almost half a century, since the British evacuation from the Suez Canal. The British, in Iraq, in Jordan and in Egypt, were not an effective buffer because they supported the Arabs. The Americans, sympathetic to Israel, though not to its conquests, are capable of providing the component that is lacking for a separation between Israel and the Arabs.

Two additional components will be the "seam-line obstacle" - the fence between the West Bank and Israel, not along the route of the peace settlement but in a manner that will hamper an invasion from both sides (like the wall that was recently built in Rafah, which also obstructs IDF raids, it will also block Israeli encroachment into Palestine) - and the renewed IDF. Like the United Nations and NATO, the IDF is an organization that was established toward the end of the first half of the last century, grew old and is in need of rejuvenation and change.

Just like the Americans, the IDF is trying to figure out how to transfer the baton from grandfather to father to son, from a "heritage" army to an "interim" army to a "changing" army. Put simply, the intention is gradually to sever the IDF from reliance on the obsolete power of infantry, armor and artillery and move to technology-intensive frameworks. All armies are conservative and encounter the same problem: They want to replace the old with the new but are afraid of being caught unprepared in the transition stage. The IDF is aware of the need to get rid of hundreds and thousands of tanks and armored personnel carriers and to eliminate brigades and divisions, whose existence was intended to protect Israel against the realization of a traditional clash between armored forces, now an increasingly less likely scenario.

The future belongs to the activity that is under way in the "compucation" branch (communication, computerization, command and control) that was established last month in the IDF under the command of Major General Yitzhak Harel. Its purpose is to engage in information warfare and to realize the potential of the forces - in the near future, the ground command, following its air and sea colleagues, will also see all its assets and targets on computer screens. When that happens, the commander can, among other abilities, use idle cannons of one unit for a mission assigned to a neighboring unit.

Disasters such as the killing of the security guards near Hebron will be averted if the laptop computer of every lieutenant general shows clearly, with the precise location, symbols of soldiers, enemies and civilians. The units that are combating the Palestinians are lagging behind taxis and trucks in this regard, and even after certain units in the IDF itself (the Jordan Rift Valley Division, an armored corps under Harel's command). The IDF has no convincing explanation of why it refrained from making use of these systems in the protracted fighting in the territories.

The American presence in liberated Iraq, which will remove the Iraqi threat to Israel, will also project eastward, on Iran, and westward, on Syria and Hezbollah. As such, it will create bridging loans in the form of the years that will be needed for the transition from the old to the new army. Israel got a similar loan after the 1991 war, but it was wasted, not least because Israeli governments flinched at the price that has to be paid to achieve peace with Syria. The renewal of contacts with Damascus, ahead of such a settlement, will be a vital part of the effort that will follow the current war in Iraq. Peace with Syria and Lebanon will heighten the pressure on a moderate Palestinian leadership to cut a deal with Israel.

The first step in this journey is the decapitation of the Saddam Hussein regime. On this point, Generals Myers and Glosson are not in dispute. In 1991, Glosson related after the fact, in a report strikingly similar to the opening blow delivered by Myers yesterday, the Americans monitored the five senior figures in Saddam's chain of command, and almost hit them while they were in bunkers or part of a convoy. We knew in which bloc of buildings in Baghdad and in which house Saddam was located, as he spoke with one of his aides by mobile phone, but we couldn't take advantage of the information - we couldn't destroy a whole city block that was inhabited by women and children, according to Glosson.

Yesterday Myers continued from the point at which Glosson stopped in 1991. The opening air and missile strike against top figures of the regime was a matriculation exam for the intelligence and operational system, that the Americans toiled to create in the past dozen years. The exam was not intended for Israelis, despite the examination anxiety that their government succeeded in implanting in many of them.