- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

Anthony Cordesman here does what he does best. In his latest of a long series of books on the Middle East, “Arab-Israel Military Forces in Asymmetric Warfare,” he evaluates the military forces of Israel and its surrounding Arab neighbors with particular emphasis on unconventional warfare, or what is now called asymmetric warfare, meaning war where one side mingles with the civilian population causing moral confusion to the enemy. His book consists of an overview along with a segment for each of the countries involved.

His findings are what most of us have already surmised: that in a conventional army-to-army war, Israel will triumph. He gives us detailed proof as to why, and as we learn more about their armies, we get a better understanding of each of the countries.

The Syrian army he calls hollow. At one time it had been dangerous, as much from its paranoid leadership as its extensive armament, but with the demise of the Soviet Union and its series of military grants, the army has collapsed into a relatively immobile garrison force. Much of the armament is obsolete if not unusable through poor maintenance, while the officers are chosen for political reasons and the men are under-trained.

Egypt suffers somewhat from the same deficiencies though not on such a large scale. The author feels the army has too many men for the resources the country can give it. Savings in salaries could pay for better armament and more training. However, because of American aid both the Egyptian army and air force are potent forces that cannot be discounted.

Israel is still the dominant military power in the region. Even with conscription, however, its small population does not allow for a large standing army, and so it depends heavily on reserves. It does have a large innovative industrial base which gives it an elasticity its neighbors lack. It strives constantly to discover technologies to compensate for its manpower shortages. It depends heavily on American assistance but can produce winners on its own.

The Merkava tank, one of the best in the world, is a good example. More importantly, Israel is playing a prominent role in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles, missiles and anti-missile technology, all of which are critical in today’s arena.

Because of this Israeli dominance, a conventional Arab-Israeli war seems improbable. But Iran is the wild card here. Muslim, though non-Arab, it has a population considerably larger than its neighbors, and a leadership that is not averse to talking of coming population exterminations.

Israel is reputed to have the atomic bomb and is accordingly an extremely dangerous country to make war against. Reason dictates against a resort to arms, but as the author points out, the history of rational deterrence is the history of wars that did not occur; the history of modern war is the history of the failure of rational deterrence.

An alternative to cataclysmic war is the arming of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel has responded by initiating intensive detective work utilizing a large network of informers in the Palestinian territories (how these informers continue to operate successfully after so many years of conflict is worthy of study); by building a fence with sensors that makes transit between it and Palestine possible only at controlled checkpoints; and by assassinating identified leaders of terrorist groups.

The fence or wall is criticized because of certain inequities it has imposed on nearby inhabitants. Some Palestinians have sued the government in Israeli courts and have gained favorable judgment; others have lost. The Israeli government states that everything is proceeding legally, and that proper compensation for land use is provided when needed.

Assassination is a different story, and though it has been used by the secret services of many countries (Congress expressly forbids the CIA to indulge in it), it is contrary to world opinion and presumably international law. The question of whether it is morally permissible for a state to kill a killer without a fair trial is a difficult one to wrestle with. The Israeli response would ask whether it is morally permissible for a state to allow a killer to continue, thereby condemning a random number of innocents to death.

The author fortunately approaches these questions from an effectiveness point of view rather than a moral one. Suicide bombings have dramatically declined in Israel to the point of rarity. One cannot say with certainty why, but the Israelis feel their countermeasures are working and they will continue with them. Mr. Cordesman simply reports the facts with masses of corroborating detail and leaves moral judgments to others. We need not ask for more.

Sol Schindler is a retired Foreign Service Officer who writes and lectures on international affairs.

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