Counter-Terrorism: December 15, 2004

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You dont hear much about the degree to which Israel and the United States cooperate on dealing with terrorism, but its a very good fit. The war Israel have been fighting with Palestinian terrorists over the last five years is very similar to what American troops are dealing with in Iraq. Israel has already developed equipment and tactics that work, and you can see American troops using the same methods in Iraq. 

Israel actually fights two different wars against two separate groups of terrorists. They have completely sealed off Gaza, and only fight attacks on Jewish settlements there, and the use of home made rockets against the few Israeli towns in that part of southern Israel. For this reason, Israel is planning to remove the settlers and remove most of their military forces from Gaza. This will give the local terrorists a lot fewer targets. 

The main area for their war on terror is in the West Bank. Here, two million Palestinians live, along with 229,000 Jewish settlers. About 10,000 Israeli troops are on duty at all times to keep the terrorists out of Israel, and protect the settlers. Several thousand more police and special operations troops do much of the intelligence offensive work. 

Israel has identified about 40 terrorist cells in the Palestinian territories. In the last two years, more effective Israeli tactics have killed off many of the original leadership, and cut off some of the funding. Hizbollah, the Iranian supported terrorist organization in Lebanon is now providing some kind of support (money, weapons, technical advice, even supervision), to most of the Palestinian cells. 

The Israeli counter-terrorist tactics rely on fresh intelligence, and lots of speed in carrying out raids and attacks. The objective is simple; catch the terrorists before they can attack Israelis. In the past two months, 500 terrorist suspects, and 300 known terrorists, were arrested in raids and at roadblocks. Intelligence has generated a new list of 500 more wanted men. The pressure has been so great that Palestinian families have, in the past three months, turned in twenty of their children they suspected of having been recruited as suicide bombers. Most of the current terrorists are very young, inexperienced and easy to capture.

There are several raids a day, and in the West Bank the Palestinian resistance has been so weakened that none of the raids there have used tanks in two years. The raids go in to arrest suspected terrorists, destroy weapons and bomb making supply caches, or bomb making workshops. The raids also provide opportunities to contact informants, or recruit new ones, often by first arresting them. A key source of intelligence is the extensive informant network. Israel is able to build and maintain such a network because they have so many police and military intelligence personnel who speak Arabic. A large segment of the Israeli population even looks like Arabs, because they are descendents of the half a million Jews expelled from Arab countries in the late 1940s. 

Israel also has a world class electronic monitoring system. This makes it difficult for the Palestinians to communicate. If they use a any kind of telephone or radio, they risk being overheard. If they speak in code, the Israelis have databases of information on codes used before, and codebreaking software, and analysts, to quickly try and break new codes. All information is stored in databases and can be quickly retrieved. The planning process for new raids has been automated, and the troops, police or commandoes can be briefed and on their way in hours. This means that if a terrorist operation is detected at any point, the Israelis can usually disrupt it. 

The American situation in Iraq is similar, but different in some key respects. The opposition in Iraq comes from some five million Sunni Arabs. These were the supporters of Saddam Husseins rule, and contain the most capable police and intelligence people in the country. Unlike Israel, where the West Bank is largely cut off from Israel, and the Gaza Strip completely so, the Sunni Arabs live throughout central Iraq, an area that includes some 40 percent of the population. The Sunni Arabs can travel pretty freely, and have lots of money and weapons. Iran and Syria allow personnel, weapons and equipment to cross their borders into Iraq to support the Sunni Arab gangs.

Moreover, U.S. forces have few Arab speakers, and fewer Americans that look like Arabs. But the United States does have the support of the majority of Iraqis. Unfortunately, few of these Kurd and Shia Arab Iraqis have much experience in police and intelligence work. Training and developing talent here is taking time. There are many Sunni Arabs who hate Saddam and his crowd, and would provide information if there were a safe way of doing so. So while the Israelis provide a good example of how to set up an intelligence network, the Americans are having a hard time gathering the resources to make a network happen. U.S. troops do have informant networks, and informants have led to many arrests, including that of Saddam Hussein, but the Iraq networks are not nearly as effective as the ones in Israel. The Americans do have the electronic and computer tools, and have used that to good effect. American troops are also good at executing raids, and as they train more Iraqi police to accompany them, the raids become more effective.

Ultimately, it will be up to the Iraqis to shut down the Sunni Arab terrorism in their country. But it will take years for the Kurds and Shia Arabs to recruit and train the people who can do that. In the meantime, American troops will spend a lot of time trying to do it all with a language and cultural handicap.

 


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