Inside Track / Blast From Their Past

Iraq and Israel learned the lesson of the Gulf War and prepared for it again. The result was that they were prepared, 12 years late, for the war of 1991 - not for the war of 2003.

Two countries prepared well for the war the Americans waged on Iraq. The two: Iraq and Israel. They learned the lesson of the 1991 war and prepared for it again, like a person who is not going to be surprised when watching the rebroadcast of a film he's already seen. The result was that Israel and Iraq were prepared, 12 years late, for the war of 1991 - not for the war of 2003.

The American aid to Israel can bridge many gaps and fill critical shortages. Without it, there is no defense budget; not only in dollars - about $2 billion a year - but also in billions of shekels in direct aid in local currency. There is one product, though, that can't be imported, either from Washington or from any other capital: leadership.

In the current mode of operation of the government headed by Ariel Sharon and the defense establishment, the poverty of leadership is glaringly apparent.

The most striking example is that of the protective kits. From the time Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 until the present, Israel has spent about NIS 3.5 billion on gas masks and their attendant paraphernalia. In the top brass of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), people whispered for years that in terms of a cost-benefit analysis, this was an unnecessary expense: Like the "lone terrorist" - a Baruch Goldstein or an Yigal Amir, or an anonymous Palestinian - there is no real possibility of blocking the sudden lone missile.

Nor is there any justification for spending a fortune and disrupting an entire country in a hopeless campaign to minimize the damage of the lone event. There is greater danger in taking the bus to the depot where gas masks are "refreshed" than there is in not having a mask.

The IDF this week blamed the politicians for refusing to take a courageous stand - something that would run contrary to the nature of politicians - and tell the public that there is no absolute protection for individuals, that there is national security but not personal security. It's not the masks that separate the Israeli citizen from the poison and sickness that are contained in the warheads of Syrian missiles, and no private pit that the citizen will dig for himself in his backyard is going to protect him from the nuclear weapons in the possession of the Iranians.

As the General Staff sees the situation, the original sin lay in the panicky distribution of protective kits by the government of Yitzhak Shamir, Moshe Arens and David Levy. The bizarre spectacle of the past few months, to get a mask, keep it close, open the kit, examine the filter (known as "Id al-filter" in the previous round) was the result of that first sin, and its direct continuation is the delay in canceling the "emergency routine."

Who cares if soldiers are hanging about in the radio studios in Tel Aviv or that physicians who are confined to their departments in Haifa are not permitted to go to Italy for the Pesach week? No one in a leadership position has volunteered to stick out his neck and demand that the authorities come to their senses, lest despite everything, and precisely now, a moment before the decision, some missile will be sent flying and make the person's name forever synonymous with bad luck.

There was no real reason to wait for a display of leadership from the defense minister. Shaul Mofaz instructed the public to stay close to its protective kits, was caught violating his own instruction, and since then, like a new recruit who is being punished by the sergeant, the cardboard box is strapped around his shoulder with the zealotry of the newly religious.

The chief of staff, Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon, understood early and correctly the meager threat posed by Iraq, but in contrast to other defense issues (the budget, the Palestinian Authority's involvement in terrorism), he kept mum in public, and no objections were heard this week from his office about the decision to wait for the search of the last of the suspected buildings on the Iraq-Syria border. According to the logic of that decision, we should stay close to our gas masks for all time, in case some commander of a missile brigade in Syria goes off his rocker and presses the button.

The expectations from Ya'alon, which have yet to be realized, were higher, because in his three posts as a major general - director of Military Intelligence, head of Central Command, deputy chief of staff - he was able to evade the usual military trap of preparing for the last war. He excelled particularly in his preparations for the confrontation with the Palestinians, as chief partner but exempt from supreme responsibility, and not alone but with two other major generals, Uzi Dayan and Yitzhak Eitan, and with other officers, in the field and at headquarters.

The first lesson

Once again, as in the initial period of the Oslo process, there is talk of a window of opportunity, this time an opportunity of Iraq without Saddam Hussein and Palestine with Abu Mazen: a different era, obliging a different IDF, and also a different structure in the defense establishment that envelopes the IDF - so that, standing in front of this window, everyone will have an eye to the next war, or the war that the agreements will be able to prevent, and not to the previous war.

An Iraq that is bereft of its hostility to Israel, perhaps even the third signatory of a peace treaty, will utterly change the scenario and the narrative according to which the country deploys in the face of enemies and other neighbors in the political and military arena.

In building the force for future combat, the IDF, even more than other armies whose interest is primarily professional, will have to learn the lessons of Iraq quickly. The first of those lessons resides in the multi-branch integration of air and land, with air taking the lead role. In Iraq, the Americans put fewer divisions into the field than the IDF did in Sinai, the Golan Heights, Lebanon and Operation Defensive Shield.

Ahead of Iraq, the General Staff ran study groups led by the commander of its colleges, Major General Amos Yadlin, an air force officer who was also in charge of coordinating the insights gleaned from the campaigns in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Yadlin's team included other officers from the air force as well - the heads of the departments of combat means and intelligence research - and representatives of the land forces.

The American success was achieved in a decade, and in certain cases even in two decades, of diligent work at the military academies, the training fields and the preparation of the officer corps. Of course, not everything can be learned, and even less copied, from the Americans. They have different constraints and different resources, which span the globe, and unlike Israel they are free of one big worry: What the U.S. administration will say.

Reverse logic

In contrast to the Iraqis and the Israelis, the Americans prepared well for this war, not least because a cornerstone of the planning of the operation was that Saddam Hussein would prepare for the previous war. The domestic critics, the pensioners zealous to guard their glory from 1991, who angered the current generation of commanders, also unwittingly helped them: By adopting the logic of those who defeated him a dozen years ago, Saddam forfeited the possibility of preparing a suitable response for the logic of the present.

The earlier logic, now obsolescent, sought to make use of the Americans' prodigious firepower to erode the Iraqi force completely - and especially the divisions of the Republican Guard - before sending in the ground forces. The logic of General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and of General Tommy Franks, the theater commander in the Iraq war - who both consulted with the other joint chiefs and with the commanders of the air, land, sea, Marines and Special Forces subordinate to Franks - also said that there was no reason to place the tanks and the combat troops within the range of Iraqi fire.

But the order of operations had to be reversed, land first and air afterward, in order to take Saddam by surprise. If the massive bombing hadn't yet begun, that meant the war was being delayed.

That surprise was crucial: It was intended to prevent Saddam from doing what the evaluations said he would not do - because it would not be worth his while and he would not want to show forbidden cards - without any certainty that the war had broken out, but that he was liable to do at the critical moment of its start.

The three problematic sectors were west (launching missiles at Israel), south (sabotage of the oil fields) and north (a provocative strike at the Kurds). In narrow military terms, the operations in these sectors were deemed secondary to the main effort of the thrust to Baghdad and the battle to topple the regime there.

The brilliant stroke in the American plan was to reverse the order - secondary first, primary afterward. The result was that the first to be activated were the Special Forces, in the west and the north. After them, while Saddam waited for the massive blow from the air, the land forces were sent in and grabbed the oil fields. It was only then that the bombing began.

This is a simplistic description; the reality is more complex than a division between air (including aircraft that lift off from the sea) and land. The movement of the land forces was sometimes preceded by air strikes at local targets, especially cannons, surface-to-surface missile launchers and rockets suspected of having chemical capability.

Special emphasis in the training of the American troops, and afterward in the war itself, especially against the Republican Guard, was placed on integrated fire - remote precision bombing and shelling from aircraft of all types, from helicopters, from surface- to-surface missiles and from cannons.

A dress rehearsal for the premiere in Iraq took place at the huge U.S. Air Force base at Nellis, near Las Vegas, with its desert spaces, half the size of western Iraq. It served as the site of three or four large-scale exercises on seizing airfields and missile sites. The road tryouts took place in Afghanistan, which is also part the Americans' Central Command, with the participation of many of the staff officers who were to see action in Iraq. This made it possible to correct some of the faults that were revealed in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, such as the connection between the land forces and close air support (which requires marking targets from the ground, in contrast to the bombing of targets far from the forces).

Bonding with the media

Even before Iraq, the American military understood how essential is the bond with the society that sends the troops into their wars. In 1991, the Marines stood out in integrating journalists, not least because their commander, General Walter Boomer, had previously been the spokesman of the Marine Corps. The current commander of the joint air force, General Buzz Mosley, was until this assignment the air force liaison officer to Congress.

Aware of the importance of the relations with the media and with the legislature, the army assigns top officers to these posts and rewards them with even more senior assignments. Ahead of Iraq, the Pentagon's media expert, Jim Wilkinson, was seconded to Franks to polish the messages, train the officers in giving press interviews and choosing the faces that would represent the armed forces in the daily briefings - the balding and smiling General Victor Renuart, from the air force, and a black officer, General Vincent Brooks.

There is very little that is left to chance in these selections, which go through a process resembling a Hollywood screen test. In the U.S. military, "information operations" appear on the list of the three key subjects for military thought. Information operations are efforts to influence the enemy, the population, the domestic public, and they entail a calculated risk in terms of field security, but what is lost there is gained in a sympathetic media. The two other key subjects are "blue on blue" fire (our forces on our forces) and combat in built-up areas.