Intelligence: January 18, 2005


The United States has relied a lot on Israel for help in dealing with anti-government forces in Iraq. Israel has been battling Palestinian terrorists for five years, and has developed many successful new methods for the very similar situation in Iraq. U.S. troops have been able to make use of Israelis new military techniques, like the huge D9 armored bulldozer (for plowing through buildings to avoid enemy booby traps and ambushes). Israeli infantry tactics for urban combat have also been adopted. But the most useful Israeli techniques have been in the intelligence area, and these have been more difficult to implement. 

Israel pioneered the tactic of identifying the key individuals responsible for building bombs, and recruiting and training suicide bombers. This included collecting DNA evidence from bombs that went off, and data from informers to fill out the history and capabilities of the technicians essential to producing more and more suicide bomb attacks. Israel then went after the bomb makers, killing or jailing them. Without these key support personnel, the number of terrorist attacks fell dramatically.

The Israelis developed a network of thousands of Palestinian informers. They obtained these, often unwilling, informers by blackmail (threatening to reveal a shameful criminal or immoral act from the past, like being an informer), bribes (cash, or permits for things like driving a cab or building a house) or altruism (many Palestinians do not approve of suicide bombing or the current Palestinian leadership.) Informers getting caught by other Palestinians are often lynched, or eventually executed, so Israeli intelligence keeps it's informers alive by not asking for a lot of information from any one informer. But thousands of little bits of information make it possible (especially using computerized database systems) to spot the teams getting suicide bombers ready. The Israeli army or police then sweep in, arresting the team members. Often they will pick up some of their informers as well, to give them a little street cred and an opportunity to debrief them in a more leisurely fashion. 

The problem in Iraq is that all the Iraqi intelligence experts used to work for Saddam, and some still are. Saddam is out of the way, but his Baath Party cronies are still out there, and they know how to recruit, and use, Iraqis to be informers, helpers or even suicide bombers (kidnap a close relative and give the prospective suicide bomber an offer he cant refuse.) The Israelis have thousands of Israeli Jews whose grandparents were forced to flee their homes in Arab countries in the late 1940s and early 50s, as anti-Semitism grew in response to the creating of the State of Israel. These Israelis look like Arabs (their families have lived in the region for thousands of years) and many learned Arabic from parents or grandparents. Those recruited into the Israeli police are further trained to use Palestinian accented Arabic, and in Palestinian customs (which are often quite similar to those their grandparents followed in Arabic countries, where Moslems and Jews lived side by side for a long time, absorbing customs from each other). These special commandos can go into Palestinian neighborhoods without raising suspicion, and gather information, meet with informants, or make arrests. These police commandos are a pretty colorful crew, and very effective.

In Iraq, the United States has been helping the Iraqis to set up similar police intelligence units, but its been slow going. Nearly all the recruits are raw, with no police or intelligence experience. So it takes time just to teach them the basics. Then theres the problem of using Israeli recruiting tactics. In most cases you cant. Israel is operating with a hostile population, whereas in Iraq, most Iraqis are opposed to the Baath Party thugs. But the thugs are more experienced, and accustomed to using brutal and generally unsavory tactics. So the newly minted Iraqi police intelligence operators are very vulnerable to being identified, and killed, before they can make much progress.

The United States has been able to build enormous, and very useful, intelligence files. America also has excellent electronic warfare gear (for bugging locations, eavesdropping on radio communications). Most importantly, U.S. troops have developed excellent quick reaction teams. If an Iraqi agent gets in trouble, help can be on the scene quickly. But this still does not overcome the fear most Iraqis, especially Sunni Arabs, have for the Saddams intelligence and secret police operatives. The tactics so far seem to be an attempt to develop experience for the new intelligence agents in areas that are intensely anti-Saddam. This means towns in central Iraq where most of the population is Shia Arab. But this is a slow process, and it will probably be a generation before Saddams secret police are completely out of business. In the meantime, when American intelligence has identified a Baath Party or al Qaeda terrorist cell, it will send in the best trained Iraqi police agents and SWAT teams, backed by American troops, to make the arrests. Each of these operations builds confidence among the Iraqi police, and civilians who see the bust, and the disappearance of men they have feared for decades.


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