The Jerusalem Post, June 27, 2004


by Arieh O'Sullivan

Israel is ready to participate in NATO security and counter-terrorism missions on a limited and short-term basis, according to a senior IDF officer.

The IDF is also offering to help NATO with missile defense based on the Arrow system technology as well as sharing its experience with erecting formidable security fences and border barriers, the senior officer said.

"NATO understands that we are an address for counter terrorism and we want to boost our profile in the war against terror," said the officer who could not be named but was intimately involved in the matter.

In particular, the IDF is offering to dispatch to NATO experts on counter-terrorism as well as bomb disposal units. According to the senior IDF officer, NATO is open to the idea of Israeli participation on a professional basis.

The cooperation could be part of NATO's decision to train Iraq's new army since it would not likely be in Iraq and most probably in Germany.

"We won't be able to say no to serious requests," the senior IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post. "Beating (Palestinian) terror here is not enough for us. We have to contribute to the world fight against terror."

When the heads of the enormously expanded NATO countries gather in Istanbul Monday they may be setting their sights on us.

Not us in particular, but Israel as part of the Middle East and Mediterranean basin.

With 26 nations now members of the North American Treaty Organization, the Istanbul summit marks the first time leaders of the expanded alliance have meet since seven new members - Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia - were formally added in March.

Some believe their future is south, to the Mediterranean basin nations made up of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania. Last week, NATO head Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he wants the summit build up defense cooperation with Middle Eastern and North African countries.

"In Istanbul, I am confident that we will also open up, for the first time, a security dialogue with the broader region of the Middle East," said de Hoop Scheffer on the eve of the summit. "This dialogue must be, and will be, a two-way street."
While some lip service has been given to the idea of expanding the alliance's decade-old "Mediterranean dialogue" program, few believe it to seriously move forward.

First of all, Arab countries have reacted coolly to Western initiatives to build closer ties based on promoting reform in their nations. Second of all, Israel would be hesitant to be tied down by formal military alliances with an organization of 25 European nations.

Still neither Israel nor any of the seven other Mediterranean basin member countries were invited to attend the summit; not even on an observer status.

Last month, Gen. Harald Kujat, chairman of NATO's military committee and its top military officer, paid a quiet visit to Israel. Top IDF brass briefed him and he was taken to the security fence being erected in the West Bank. Upon seeing it, Kujat exclaimed: "It should have been done long ago," a senior IDF officer quoted him as saying.

Still, at least one senior official in the Defense Ministry is skeptical of NATO's interest in Israel. The official dismissed Kujat's visit as a "punching the ticket so he could go to Istanbul and say he was here."

"NATO is floundering and doesn't know what to do with itself," the senior defense official said.

The sentiment he represents in the defense establishment is one that believes NATO has played out its role by expanding beyond effectiveness. Europe has taken a collective decision to ignore Islamic terrorism with the hopes that it will leave them alone and it seems the only thing they'll be able to agree upon is how to put that Jewish country in its place.

"We have to beware of NATO because I see it one day being directed toward us," said the senior defense official.

However this sentiment is not popular in the IDF or the Foreign Ministry or most strategic think tanks.

"NATO, in contrast to other international organizations, has the Americans playing a leading role so we get a fair hearing there," said Efraim Inbar, head of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University.

He warned that as NATO expands its role Israel should be cautious not to have them put into situations counter-productive to Israel's interests, such as deployed in the Gaza Strip.

"This would not be a good idea," Inbar said.

According to Inbar, Israel sought membership in NATO in the 1950s but was rejected. Full membership today is not on the agenda.

"Israel doesn't want to be a member. No one is going to fight for us. We don't expect it. But it is beneficial to have close links for such an important organization and make them aware of our concerns."





WASHINGTON, June 25, 2004 (Reuters) - Israeli-made bullets bought by the U.S. Army to plug a shortfall should be used for training only, not to fight Muslim guerrillas in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. lawmakers told Army generals on Thursday.

Since the Army has other stockpiled ammunition, "by no means, under any circumstances should a round (from Israel) be utilized," said Rep. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, the top Democrat on a House of Representatives Armed Services subcommittee with jurisdiction over land forces.

The Army contracted with Israel Military Industries Ltd. in December for $70 million in small-caliber ammunition.

The Israeli firm was one of only two worldwide that could meet U.S. technical specifications and delivery needs, said Brig. Gen. Paul Izzo, the Army's program executive officer for ammunition. The other was East Alton, Illinois-based Winchester Ammunition, which also received a $70 million contract.

Although the Army should not have to worry about "political correctness," Abercrombie was making a valid point about the propaganda pitfalls of using Israeli rounds in the U.S.-declared war on terror, said Rep. Curt Weldon, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the subcommittee on tactical air and land forces.

"There's a sensitivity that I think all of us recognize," Weldon told the Army witnesses, including Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, who led the U.S. Third Infantry Division that captured Baghdad in April 2003.

Blount, now the Army's assistant deputy chief of staff, said the Army had sufficient small caliber ammunition -- 5.56mm, 7.62mm and .50 caliber -- to conduct current operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

But taken together with training needs, the United States had strained its production facilities, he testified.

"To fight a major combat operation in another theater will require the Army to impose restrictions on training expenditures and to focus current inventory and new production on combat operations," Blount said.

As a result, he said the Army hoped to stretch U.S. supplies to supplement the capacity of the government-owned Lake City plant in Independence, Missouri, that currently makes more than 90 percent of U.S. small caliber ammunition.

The Lake City factory, operated by Alliant Techsystems Inc., has nearly quadrupled its production in the past four years. This year, it will produce more than 1.2 billion rounds, Karen Davies, president of the ATK arm that runs it, told the panel. Lake City provided more than 2 billion rounds a year during World War II and Vietnam, she said.

The Army's needs will grow to about 1.5 billion to 1.7 billion rounds a year in coming years, Blount said.

"In the near-term, balancing training requirements with current operational needs is a manageable risk-mitigation strategy," he said.

The Army does not want to repeat its history of building capacity during wartime "only to dismantle it in peacetime," Blount added.




The Jerusalem Post, Jun. 24, 2004


by Arieh O'Sullivan

The Air Force laid the cornerstone Thursday in the Negev for what will become the largest air base in the country.

The ceremony, attended by top IDF brass and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, was held at the Nevatim air base east of Beersheba. It is here that the Air Force is expanding to absorb squadrons from the center of the country as the IAF implements its long-range vision to move to the nation's periphery.

The construction will be part of the greater Nevatim air base, currently home to three F-16 fighter jet squadrons. The new expansion is to house the entire transport fleet of the IAF, currently based at Lod adjacent to Ben-Gurion Airport. These include the C-130 squadrons as well as the Boeing 707 refueling aircraft and the Gulfstream radar planes.

"We are going to absorb all of the transport squadrons, and this means building a totally new base," base commander Col. Erez Ron told The Jerusalem Post. "This means new runways, new air crew quarters, roads, hangars and garages."

"This is going to be the largest construction endeavor by the Air Force in the past 25 years," Ron added. "It will make our base larger and newer with an infrastructure we envision lasting for 100 years."

The cost of the new base is estimated to be about NIS 1.5 billion and is planned for completion in 2008. Ron said that the expansion is to be on the dunes south of the existing base, and it would not harm the continuous operation of Nevatim.

The IAF sees the move southward as fulfillment of David Ben-Gurion's vision to settle the Negev. But it is also an expedient measure to cash in on the rising value of its lands in the center of the country. According to an agreement reached with the government, the IAF will be generously compensated for land it gives up as it moves.

Another reason the Air Force is moving south is to reduce the friction between the noisy aircraft and the increasingly dense central regions of the country where bases, like the one in Lod, have existed since the country's birth.

"That is one of the reasons we are leaving the center and headed to the periphery. We are trying not to bother the local residents," Ron said.

He also noted that the new base was to be "environment friendly", and this included the construction of a sewage purification plant.

The Nevatim air base is one of three bases that was built to replace the airfields in the Sinai vacated by the IAF as a result of the 1979 Peace Treaty with Egypt, which required Israel to withdraw from the peninsula. Uvda and Ramon were built by the Americans with US funding, but Nevatim was a wholly Israeli affair and was opened in 1983.

Ron said that there may be an opportunity for US firms to be involved with the expansion of the base, but it was up to the Defense Ministry. Using American firms could allow Israel to utilize some of its $2 billion in annual military grant for the project.

From the IAF's perspective, the expanded presence in the Negev will provide a source of employment to the region and actually draw highly trained people southwards.

"The construction phase will provide jobs for at least the next five years," Ron said. He added that after the base opens, some functions would be outsourced to civilians with about 700 to 1,000 working on the base. These included maintenance of the transport fleets as well as food and medical services. The maintenance of fighter aircraft would remain solely in military hands, he said.

The current Nevatim air base encompasses a large swath of country between Beersheba and Arad.

A large number of Bedouins have also settled around the base, but Ron said they did not pose a threat to operations. "We try to keep good neighborly relations and hold meetings with them and include them in our public outreach programs," Ron said.

Ron said one of the main challenges of the new base once it opens would be to integrate between fighter jets and transport squadrons.

"While other countries have this mix, this will be the first time the IAF will experience both types of aircraft operating from the same base," Ron said. "It will present us with certain difficulties, particularly regarding aircraft approaches and such."

Still, it is not a challenge that will concern Col. Ron, since he will likely have moved on when the ribbon is cut in four more years.

The future could also see the role of transport aircraft undergoing a radical change as advance weaponry could turn them into "bombers" loaded with a lot of the same precision-guided missiles carried by the fighters.

The cornerstone laying ceremony came as the IDF marked the annual "Air Force Day." This year's theme was its links to the community.

This is the first year in the Air Force's history that the traditional pilots graduation ceremony will not be held, due to the transition from a two-year course to a three-year academic course.




The Jerusalem Post, June 24, 2004


by Arieh O'Sullivan

The IDF has estimated the cost of pulling out of the Gaza Strip at NIS 1 billion and the timetable for its disengagement plan is to be finalized by the end of August.

This was the conclusion of Thursday's meeting between IDF brass and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, defense sources said.

Mofaz convened in his office in Tel Aviv the first meeting with the IDF on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. Further meetings are expected as Mofaz instructed the army commanders to prepare detailed plans regarding the deployment of the divison-strength forces currently in the coastal strip. He also said he wanted to review how the IDF planned to continue fighting Palestinian terrorists after the withdrawal as well as the forces needed for implementing the plan.

Attending the meeting were IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Dan Harel and other senior officers involved in the planning of the military aspects of the disengagement plan, which is dubbed "Radiant Sky."

"The name doesn't mean anything. It's just a collection of words," said one official in the defense ministry.

The forum also discussed the Philadelphia corridor but no decisions were made on the matter. Mofaz instructed the IDF to prepare a number of possible solutions to defend the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, including digging a moat there. For the moment, there was no decision to set up any obstacles, defense officials said.

According to the officials, Mofaz, a former IDF chief of general staff, said he would personally oversee the implementation of the plan on the ground. Mofaz also informed the IDF that the war on Palestinian terror in the Gaza Strip was not contingent on the planned disengagement. He said there was no question that the IDF had a free hand to fight terror, the defense officials said.

On Wednesday, Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman met Mofaz for a meeting that was scheduled to last an hour, but instead went on for three hours.