Infantry: May 3, 2004

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Israel and the United States are fighting similar wars in Palestine and Iraq. In both cases the enemy force is a combination of suicide bombers and groups of gunmen wandering around seemingly at random. But the Israelis have had years to analyze their foe and develop tactics to deal with it effectively. Over the 3.5 years of fighting with Palestinians, Israeli troops have suffered about the same number of combat deaths as American troops in Iraq (adjusting for the lesser number of Israeli troops involved. That is, 170 Israeli military deaths using about a third as many troop years, or one soldier in action for 12 months.) But over that time, the Israelis have constantly refined their tactics, and steadily lowered their casualties, while killing more of the armed opponents they face. The key to this favorable trend is the greater use of intelligence (information gathered on what the armed Palestinians are up to and where they are), and using Israeli troops in high speed and unpredictable maneuvers. This is a classic military tactic. Using a combination of informers, electronic eavesdropping, overhead surveillance (cameras and spotters in helicopters) and constant analysis of Palestinian operations, the Israelis gain an information advantage over their opponents. They then use this edge to conduct raids to disrupt Palestinian combat operations.

The main objective of the Israeli operations is to stop the Palestinian suicide bombers, and the other Palestinians who seek to kill Israeli troops or civilians with bullets, rockets or bombs. The Palestinians know they are outmatched by Israeli troops, so they prefer to go after Israeli civilians, or off duty soldiers. Overall, the Israelis estimate they have stopped 96 percent of the suicide bombing attacks. They do this by disrupting preparations, and the actual movement of suicide bombers during the final stages of these attacks (when guides and bodyguards attempt to get the bomber into Israel and close to the target, which is basically any area with lots of Israelis in a small place.) 

Once a suspected Palestinian base (where weapons, personnel or bomb making personnel are), the Israelis plan a raid to basically destroy the place, and seize any material or personnel they can for further investigation. The Israelis use their armored units to quickly move the troops to the immediate area, and then let the infantry go in on foot and do the detail work. Overhead, there are helicopters and UAVs, providing the commander on the ground with a birds eye view of what is going on below. The Israelis have lots of radios, and they use them to keep everyone plugged into how the operation is going at all times. 

Information on exactly where Palestinian gunmen are is usually incomplete, so the infantry will, for example, occupy a Palestinian house (removing the residents temporarily) near where Palestinian gunmen are active. The Israeli troops then shoot at the Palestinians gunmen briefly, hitting a few. But before more Palestinian gunmen can infiltrate into the area, the Israelis will leave, and move to a new position and repeat the procedure. This throws the Palestinians off balance. They never know where the Israeli infantry will show up next, even though Palestinian civilians are passing on information about where Israeli troops are. Especially at night, the fast moving, and rapidly firing, Israelis can kill or drive away the Palestinian gunmen, get to the bomb factory or weapons storage area that is their target, destroy it, and get out before the Palestinians can organize any sizeable resistance. And even if the Palestinians do manage to corner, and outnumber, some Israeli infantry, they can expect missiles from helicopters, and bombs from jets overhead, as well as Israeli tanks and armored bulldozers literally coming through houses to rescue Israeli troops.

These tactics became the norm in 2003, and immediately had an impact. In 2002, there were 5,301 Palestinian attacks on Israeli troops and civilians, in 2003, there were only 3,823. The number of Israeli civilian dead declined from 451 to 213. The number of Palestinian dead went down also, from 1,000 to 700, because the Israeli tactics disrupted so many Palestinian attempts to launch attacks. 

The lower Palestinian deaths were also a result of the resumption of attacks on individual Palestinian terrorist leaders in early 2003. This, plus the increased number, and effectiveness, of Israeli raids, took hundreds of Palestinian terrorist leaders out of action (by death or capture). Most of these Palestinian combat leaders had years of experience in planning and carrying out attacks, and they were not easily replaced. Just promoting more junior gunmen did not replace the lost experience. Palestinian attacks became sloppier and easier to deal with. Israeli raids became more effective, and saw lower Israeli casualties as well. 

Its no accident that American tactics in Iraqi are remarkably like those in Israel. American officers and NCOs have been visiting Israel for years (usually in civilian clothes in the past decade) to observe and study the Israeli counter-terrorist tactics. This is kept quiet, but not secret. The Israeli tactics work, and have been widely adopted by American combat troops.

 


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