- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

The deaths of 13 Israeli soldiers yesterday, the biggest blow to one of the world's most admired and feared armies in its latest West Bank incursions, raise serious questions about its tactics and capabilities.
The Israeli army, which has 163,500 officers on active duty and 425,000 reservists, is used to fighting asymmetrical war. The Israelis are equipped with the likes of modern tanks and F-15 and F-16 aircraft, while the Palestinians have only explosives and small arms.
Israel undoubtedly remains the superior military power in the Middle East, but the incident in the Jenin refugee camp shows that overconfidence can lead to mistakes and an inability to recognize the enemy's improving capabilities.
"The Israeli army is supercompetent and has all the advantages in the world, but they just blew it," said Edward Atkensen, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The reservist soldiers, some of whom were just recently called up and injected into the Jenin arena, fell victim to a coordinated ambush by Palestinian fighters, including a suicide bomber, said Gen. Ron Kitrey, an army spokesman.
"They should not have exposed themselves to such trickery," he said. "They were surprised the Palestinians have been so professional and have clearly demonstrated capabilities that the Israelis would not have attributed to them. They need to redo their tactics."
"It was obviously a military failure it was a clever ambush, and they moved right into it," said Jim Colbert of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs in Washington.
As part of its latest operations against the Palestinians, Israel is mobilizing thousands of reservists but is far from calling up its entire force.
The last time the country put all its men in uniform was in 1973, when Egypt and Syria surprised Israel in an armored blitz on its borders.
But for the first time in 20 years, the army is calling up entire units, knocking on doors at night and plucking men from their jobs and families to scour Palestinian cities for militants and weapons.
Mr. Colbert said Israel "can mobilize all its reserves" but needs to "win quickly" if it does not want its economy destroyed because all men 18 to 40 will be in uniform.
Amir Oren, a military analyst who writes for Jerusalem's Ha'aretz newspaper, said the army does not like mobilizing reserves, mainly because their high wages drain the military budget.
Under law, the army must pay each reservist the same salary he would have received from his civilian employer during the time served.
"This comes out to a great deal of money, which the army would rather spend on other items, such as military hardware," he said.
Israel's "tiny" $9 billion defense budget for 2001 is a major concern because it takes up a "high percent of the gross national product," Mr. Colbert said. But the silver lining, he said, is that the limited resources have forced Israel to produce cheap and effective military systems, which have done well on the world market.
Some analysts are upbeat about Israel's capabilities and argue that they surpass those of the United States in the region. Washington's annual military aid to Israel is more than $3 billion.
"The Israelis are not depending on us to come rescue them," Kenneth Brower, an independent military consultant, told the Newhouse News Service. "We have to be realistic. We are the world's superpower in some respects, but we don't have a big capability in the Middle East, and the Israelis know that."
In February, Palestinians renewed debate about their own capabilities when they launched two Qassam-2 rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel. These crudely built rockets have an estimated range of only five miles, but their 20-pound warheads pose a threat greater than any previous Palestinian projectile weapon.
The State Department called these rockets "deeply troubling" and urged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to end their use.
The Islamic group Hamas says it is developing longer-range Qassam-3 and Qassam-4 rockets that will carry larger warheads.
The Israeli military has been criticized for focusing on conventional land battles and not adapting quickly enough to face new threats.
Mr. Colbert said Israel should be prepared for "every contingency" it is believed to have about 200 nuclear warheads but that it made sense for conventional warfare to remain a top priority.

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