Intelligence: Israeli Rules in Iraq

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April 18, 2007: While Israel is universally denounced by Iraqis, the most successful intelligence gathering efforts in the country play by Israeli rules. It's the price of success. Israel developed tactics to defeat years of Palestinian terrorist attacks, and U.S. troops were the first to try and adapt these tactics to Iraqi conditions. This wasn't easy. The key to Israeli success was an informant network within the Palestinian community. The Israelis have hundreds of police and military operatives who can pass as Arabs (their families came from Arab countries shortly after Israel was founded in 1947). These Israelis speak fluent Arabic (with a Palestinian accent) and are Arab in appearance. These agents dress as Palestinians and enter Palestinian areas and, backed up by regular troops, grab suspects and hustle them off, or kill them if they resist. But these agents also move about recruit and run Palestinian informants. Many of these Palestinian informants are doing it for the money. Israelis pay for information. They also use other inducements (help with the bureaucracy, medical care, etc). If that fails, they use blackmail and threats. Palestinian terrorist organizations have been unsuccessful in their attempts to shut down the informant networks, and many innocent Palestinians have died simply because they were falsely accused of being informants.

Actually, the Israelis gain a lot of information on terrorists via electronic intelligence work and UAVs that are constantly in the air over Palestinian neighborhoods. They seek to make the terrorists think that its the gadgets, not informants, that is gathering the information. To the Israelis, inducing paranoia among the Palestinians is seen as a successful weapon. All this has kept helped keep the terrorists out of Israel for the last three years, something no one thought was possible.

In Iraq, the U.S. has very few military intelligence people who can pass for Iraqis (and those they do have, often are Iraqis, or the children of Iraqis, who migrated to the U.S.) Using Iraqis as informant recruiters has proved difficult because the enemy, often veterans of Saddam's security services, are expert at intimidating and terrorizing Iraqis. This has made it difficult to keep the identity of informants secret.

But the Iraqis have been able to make the Israeli tactics work, or at least work better than for the Americans. The problem here is that, all too often, Iraqis are easy to bribe. Money has been in short supply in Iraq for over a decades, and too many people are willing to sell whatever they got in order to make a buck. Even when there is a family connection (which is why recruiting several members of a family as informants is so useful), people will get sold out.

And then there's the religion thing. Nearly all the former Saddam intel people are Sunni Arabs, and there little trust between them and the majority Shia Arabs. The head of the INIS (Iraqi National Intelligence Service) is a Sunni Arab, selected by the CIA because he had worked for American intelligence while Saddam was in power, and new how to run an intelligence organization. While the CIA trusted this guy, most Shia Arabs do not. So the Shia Arabs, using their control of another government agency, have set up their own national intelligence agency.

The problem here is that, members of both organizations can be reached by bribes, or threats to their immediate families. Worse, too many people, once bought, don't stay bought. The two agencies will not cooperate with each other, and the Shias are reluctant to work with the Americans. It takes American intel specialists a few months to get used to the way these things operate in Iraq, and the fact that they are the only ones who can operate in both Shia and Sunni areas. But despite it all, the basic Israeli emphasis on lots of intel, then lightning raids, and the acquisition of more intel (prisoners, documents, laptops) has remained the one successful approach to shutting down terrorist operations.

 


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