Israel reportedly helping with U.S. war preparation
By John Diamond, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Israel is secretly playing a key role in U.S. preparations for possible war with Iraq, helping to train soldiers and Marines for urban warfare, conducting clandestine surveillance missions in the western Iraqi desert and allowing the United States to place combat supplies in Israel, according to U.S. Defense and intelligence officials.
The activities are designed to help shorten any war with Iraq and keep Israel out of it. But working with Israel on the war effort is highly sensitive. It could undercut already shaky support for an invasion among friendly Arab states.
Because Israel's activities are classified, they have drawn little attention or criticism in the Middle East. "The Americans have asked us to keep a low profile, and we accept that," an Israeli official says.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, members of the Bush administration, intelligence officials and diplomats described Israel's involvement:
Israeli commandos, using their own satellite intelligence and imagery provided by U.S. intelligence services, have conducted clandestine surveillance missions of Scud missile sites in western Iraq, according to the intelligence official and a senior Pentagon official.
Missiles launched from western Iraq could reach Israel, potentially carrying chemical or biological weapons. That could prompt an Israeli response that would drive Arab nations to Saddam's side.
The teams have mapped concrete launch pads built by the Iraqis to improve the accuracy of their Scuds. They have also conducted reconnaissance that could help U.S. commandos attack the sites.
Israeli infantry units with experience in urban warfare during the Palestinian uprising helped train U.S. Army and Marine counterparts this summer and fall for possible urban battles in Iraq, a foreign defense official says. The Israelis have built two mock cities, complete with mosques, hanging laundry and even the odd donkey meandering down dusty streets. A defense official said the sites far surpass U.S. facilities. The location of the training centers is classified.
The Pentagon has beefed up stocks of ammunition, fuel and other basic military staples at six storage depots in Israel over the past year, U.S. Defense and intelligence officials say. The material is not part of normal U.S. military aid to Israel but would be held in reserve for possible use by U.S. forces in combat contingencies, such as a threat to Israel by a neighboring state or commando missions into western Iraq by U.S. forces. The location of the depots is classified.
Israel has declared that it "reserves the right to defend itself against an unprovoked attack," according to an Israeli official. But Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has told Bush administration officials that only an attack that caused mass casualties would prompt a massive Israeli military response.