The American military has been asking the Israeli army for advice on fighting inside cities, and studying fighting in the West Bank city of Jenin last April, unnamed United States and Israeli sources have confirmed. Reports that US troops trained with Israeli forces for street-to-street fighting have been denied.
If the US army believes the road to Baghdad lies through Jenin, there is reason for Iraqi civilians to be concerned. During fighting in the Jenin refugee camp last April, more than half the Palestinian dead were civilians. There was compelling evidence that Israeli soldiers targeted civilians, including Fadwa Jamma, a Palestinian nurse shot dead as she tried to treat a wounded man. A 14-year-old boy was killed by Israeli tank-fire in a crowded street after the curfew was lifted. A Palestinian in a wheelchair was shot dead, and his body was crushed by an Israeli tank.
Israeli soldiers prevented ambulances from reaching the wounded and refused the Red Cross access. Using bulldozers, the Israeli army demolished an entire neighborhood– home to 800 Palestinian families – reducing it to dust and rubble.
Martin van Creveld, a professor of military history and strategy at Jerusalem's internationally respected Hebrew University, has told reporters that, following his advice to US Marines, the American military bought nine of the converted bulldozers used in the Jenin demolitions from Israel.
Professor van Creveld said he gave advice to marines last year in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He said he was questioned about Israeli tactics in Jenin, and told them the giant D9 bulldozers, manufactured for civilian use in the US but fitted with armour-plating in Israel, were among the most useful weapons.
Israeli troops at first found they could not get their tanks and armored vehicles into the narrow alleys of the refugee camp, so they bulldozed wide swaths through houses to get them in.
If the US military intends to use converted D9 bulldozers in Iraqi cities, there is cause for concern. When reporters got into the Jenin refugee camp, we found the fronts of houses neatly scythed off so the insides of the houses were visible from the street, with personal belongings, sofas, beds, children's toys, hanging precariously from half-collapsed floors.
Israeli use of the bulldozers has not been limited to clearing the way for tanks. They have also been used in collective punishment, such as the destruction of an entire neighborhood in Jenin after the fighting ended.
In Nablus last April, eight members of the al-Shubi family were killed when an Israeli soldier bulldozed their home, burying them alive, despite shouted warnings from neighbors that they were still inside. The Israeli military has supplied US forces with video of incursions by Israeli soldiers into Palestinian cities, said unnamed "security sources". They added that Israeli officers have given their American counterparts extensive briefings on Israeli tactics.
One of the tactics identified was the Israeli army's practice of moving from house to house by knocking holes in connecting walls to avoid being exposed in the streets, a practice that has wrecked the homes of thousands of Palestinians.
The Israeli army has also routinely used Palestinian civilians as human shields to protect them as they advance, a practice that has continued despite Israeli court rulings forbidding it. There was no word on whether Israeli officers had briefed American troops on this tactic.
There were reports in the US and Israel media last November that American troops had been trained by Israeli instructors in a mock-up of a Palestinian city inside an army base in Israel. Those reports have been denied, but an unnamed Israeli source told the Associated Press that US officers did visit the mocked-up Palestinian city and attended a briefing on Israeli training methods.
There have also been reports that Palestinians who have fought against Israeli forces in Jenin and other Palestinian cities during Israeli offensives last year have telephoned friends and acquaintances in Iraq to advise them on tactics to use against American and British forces if street-to-street fighting begins.
There is another lesson to drawn from Jenin. The Palestinians who defended the city were armed only with assault rifles and crude, home-made booby-traps and pipe-bombs, against the massively better-equipped Israeli army.
But they held out for 11 days, and managed to kill 23 Israeli soldiers, 13 of them in a single ambush. When the Palestinians ran out of ammunition, they kept fighting and started throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers. If the much better-equipped Iraqi forces take the same attitude to defending Baghdad and other cities the battles could be bloody.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd