Israel's critics in the United States portray it as a strategic burden. They argue that during the Cold War there was value in cooperating with the Israel Defense Forces, which gave the Americans useful information on Soviet weapons systems used by Arab armies. But the Soviet Union collapsed and all the value Israel offered to U.S. national security evaporated with it.
These critics are wrong in a big way: The U.S. military effort against Al-Qaida and the Taliban is based on a doctrine developed by Israel. The IDF was a global leader in targeting terrorists from the air. When Israel embarked on its assassinations policy in the summer of 2001, the United States condemned it. Several weeks later the Twin Towers were brought down in a terrorist attack and Washington's approach changed. Instead of condemning Israel, the Americans simply copied its methods, foreign sources say. Unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs), armed with missiles, started being used to kill terrorists, first in Yemen and later in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
U.S. President Barack Obama has proved to be an enthusiastic student of the doctrine of targeted killings, even more than his predecessor George W. Bush. According to the New America Foundation, between taking office in January and early October, the Obama administration authorized 42 UCAV strikes. Bush authorized 40 such attacks during his three final years in office.
Six senior Taliban and Al-Qaida figures were killed in Obama-ordered operations, as were some 450 others. Judge Richard Goldstone would be advised to note that a quarter of those killed were civilians, while the rest were low-grade fighters. The assassination three months ago of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, also killed 11 civilians, including his sister and father-in-law, much like the Israeli bombing that killed Salah Shehadeh along with his relatives and neighbors in 2002.
Human rights groups have warned that the United States is violating international law, but the Obama administration is not particularly moved by this. According to The New Yorker, CIA chief Leon Panetta has described the UCAV attacks as "the only game in town." American antiterrorist experts with close ties to the administration told Jane Mayer, who wrote the article in The New Yorker, that the United States has no more-efficient weapon against Al-Qaida. The Pentagon has been accelerating its procurement of UCAVs and is cutting down on its development of manned fighters.
Palestinian eyewitnesses and human rights groups have claimed for several years now that the IDF has been using UCAVs in its aerial operations in the Gaza Strip. The UCAV is the West's response to suicide bombings and terrorist rocket attacks by Islamist groups. It can be described as the Jewish mother's aircraft: the operator sits far from the front and combat is sterile. There are no sirens, no blood, no smell of gunpowder and corpses, and most of all, no risk to the attacker and no casualties on that side.
A debate has been raging in the United States on whether it is appropriate to use a weapons system that does not expose its user to the horrors of battle. There are also concerns about the inherent appeal of robot warfare; at first the attacks are only against senior terrorist figures. Success encourages the lowering of standards to include lesser-grade targets until UCAVs are used every time there is a sign of the enemy or information about the presence of a wanted terrorist on the ground. The number of sorties has risen, and with it the number of civilian casualties.
It would be interesting to know if Obama, who is due to decide on the future of the war in Afghanistan, knows from whom the Americans have learned the modern doctrine of antiterrorism warfare, and whether he is grateful to the IDF.
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