As Palestinians brace themselves for the first anniversary of the Israeli occupation forces' bloody invasion of the West Bank's Jenin refugee camp, it has been revealed that an Israeli expert has guided US marine officers through its putrid alleys to give them a sense of what street fighting will be all about in Baghdad.
For months now, the Pentagon has been learning from the Israelis in preparation for what experts say will be a tough street battle, in a bid to capture the Iraqi capital.
Videotapes of Israel's military onslaught on Jenin have been shown to US officials, depicting methods of house-to-house searches and learning the new Israeli tactics of blowing "rat" holes inside Palestinians' houses to avoid street fighting.
Israel's reoccupation of the West Bank last April was met with tough resistance from Palestinians, most notably in the poverty-stricken Jenin refugee camp, which surprised military experts. Dozens of Palestinians armed with light weapons kept the world's toughest army at bay for 11 days and killed 23 Israeli occupation soldiers, using primitive, homemade booby-traps.
Using 11-tonne bulldozers backed by helicopter gunships, Israeli occupation forces drove their way through the crammed refugee camp, killing dozens of Palestinians and demolishing houses, at times with their inhabitants inside. Amnesty International reported how one disabled man was crushed to death as a bulldozer levelled his house, ignoring pleas by his family that he could not get out in time.
For years, the US and its key Middle-Eastern ally Israel have exchanged military technology and intelligence. The US is said to be using Israeli-made unmanned aircraft for surveillance and spying in Iraq.
However, with US fears mounting at the prospect of bitter urban battles in the streets and alleys of Baghdad, which would be very new to them, Israel and its brutal military tactics have come to the rescue.
US marines sought the advice of Martin van Creveld, a military expert with close ties to the Israeli army, who teaches at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. At a briefing in North Carolina in September, van Creveld offered advice to the Americans.
"There were three key things", he said. "How to clear streets house by house, particularly using bulldozers. They're very useful in this kind of war to break houses. How and when to use helicopters to take out snipers. And when not to, and I'd say Baghdad is one of those situations. And how to avoid civilian casualties."
The massive bulldozers, manufactured by the US Caterpillar corporation can bring down buildings without having to engage with an enemy inside. Human rights groups have slammed Israel for using them in densely populated areas.
A few weeks ago, eyewitnesses said they had seen US soldiers in the Jenin area. In February, residents in Nablus also reported seeing English-speaking troops in unfamiliar uniforms accompanying Israeli soldiers during an Israeli raid on the West Bank city.
Close to 1000 US marines were sent to Israel to receive instructions on ways of fighting house-to-house urban style. Some were sent to a mock Arab town in the Negev desert, south of Israel, where they were taught, among other things, how to blow "rat holes" through walls to get from one house to another.
Israeli officers have also visited the US marines' think tank at Quantico, Virginia. Its commander, Colonel Randy Gangle, confirmed that the visits took place but declined to discuss it other than to say he "appreciated the insights offered by the Israeli experience of the intifada", according to the British Independent.
Van Creveld told the Americans that the fight for Baghdad, a city with a population of 5 million, will be a lot tougher than what the Israelis experienced in Jenin. "The Americans and Brits are taking measures very similar to the ones we've been using for years in the [occupied] territories", he said. "But whatever resistance we faced in Jenin and Gaza is nothing compared to what the Americans can expect.
"The Palestinians are empty-handed compared to the weaponry the Iraqis have. The Americans can expect heavier casualties. Baghdad will be really brutal."
[From the Palestine Media Centre.]
From Green Left Weekly, April 9, 2003.
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