Is Baghdad Falling?

Despite the conventional wisdom - including the IDF - that no military round will take place before another round of visits by weapons inspectors, the Bush administration has made clear that the pretext doesn't have to be new.

Last weekend, the UN Security Council turned the U.S. into a mandatory power. It granted Washington the mandate over Iraq. The world government installed an executive council, headed by President George Bush, to conduct affairs for Baghdad and its environs. Iraqi sovereignty has been compromised in the north and south since the spring of 1991. The decision now put an official end to Saddam Hussein's regime and opened the Bush era in Baghdad, not unlike the transitional period between the Clinton era and Bush's.

The real significance of the decision is that now Bush is free to choose the moment that appeals to him most, when intelligence and operational readiness merges into military action. Despite the conventional wisdom - including the Israel Defense Forces - that no military round will take place before another round of visits by weapons inspectors, the Bush administration has made clear that the pretext doesn't have to be new, for example, an Iraqi provocation against the latest diktat, like hiding data and means of production for weapons of mass destruction. It would be enough for Iraq to go on with its quasi-traditional violations, like shooting at American or British plans enforcing the old decisions. An American operation can now begin at any moment.

In recent months the American military has been conducting a major battle - not against Saddam or even Qaida, but against itself. Conservative elements among the senior officers, especially in the ground forces, are fond of their outdated combat doctrines, which called for massive preparations to clash with the armies of the (then) Soviet Union in Europe, the Chinese Red Army in Asia, or even the Iraqi army in Kuwait.

More up-to-date and innovative officers, particularly in the air force, special forces and Marines, are using the intellectual patronage of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to advance an approach other than that proposed by the conservatives. That second approach is gradually conquering Washington, while the first controls the arena with Gen. Tommy Franks in command. On the way to toppling Saddam, Rumsfeld will have to neutralize Franks.

The two most interesting ideas coming from American military planing, are "firm bases" and "effects-based operations." Unlike 1991, when American goals were two-fold, to defend Saudi Arabia and to evict the Iraqi invaders from Kuwait, the Americans don't need huge bases for the upcoming operation. The opening strike will come from bombers and missiles mostly based in the U.S., Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and aircraft carriers and other vessels. Then, inside Iraq, a base will be built for land and air forces in the western stretches of H-3 in western Iraq.

Taking over that area, from which missiles were fired at Israel in the 1991 war, will enable the Americans show consideration for domestic sensitivities to launching attacks from countries like Turkey, and will reduce the risk of Israeli involvement.

Fundamentally, it's an old idea, conceived by Israeli army officers decades ago when they looked for a way to deal with Iraqi expeditionary forces that might join Arab wars against Israel. In a more creative version, never implemented, the IDF takes H-3 and armored corps teams trained on Soviet tanks captured from the enemy, ambush some Iraqi tanks, take them over and use them to attack other Iraqi tanks.

The title "effects-based operations" refers to giving up the clumsy, expensive methods that were costly both in human resources and time, and involved grinding down the enemy and advancing gradually, until reaching the heart of the enemy. It means preventing Franks from regarding Baghdad as another version of Berlin, Tokyo or even Kuwait. The alternative plan is being translated into an operation plan in which advanced technologies will be used: precision munitions, stealth weaponry, and unmanned vehicles. To strike at the heart and paralyze the body, there's no need to first cut off the armed fist protecting them.

The sexual revolution's here, say the pilots to the infantrymen, it's time to give up the tradition of going from one date to the next, or in baseball terms, from base to base. Instead, it's time to go straight to the point.