America’s gift for Pessah

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After three weeks of intense fighting, the American military offensive

 

against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq more or less ended last Saturday.

 

 

The military operation can be compared to smashing down pieces on a chess

 

board by a violent hand and rearranging them according to a new guiding

 

logic. The manner in which the pieces of the Iraqi regime were smashed down

 

and are now being rearranged will serve as a basis for the work of

 

politicians and an inspiration for military planners for years to come.

 

I was privileged to bear witness to large swathes of the chess pieces

 

falling down. The 2-7 Mechanized Infantry Battalion from the US army's 3rd

 

infantry division's first brigade whose forces I joined in the Kuwaiti

 

desert five weeks ago fought its way across Iraq from east to west, south to

 

north.

 

Its engagements began just west of al-Nasariya and continued through

 

a-Samwa, an-Najaf, Karbala, al Musaaib, Baghdad International Airport and

 

into Baghdad itself. When I parted from the troops on Sunday evening, they

 

were resting in western Baghdad at a luxurious villa outside a presidential

 

palace.

The battalion's resident military strategist is operations officer Maj. Rod

 

Coffey. Coffey, a 41-year-old, blond-haired, blue-eyed, square-jawed former

 

actor and student of the Catholic priesthood, is an avid follower of the

 

work of retired IDF Brig. Gen. Shimon Naveh. He believes that what the US

 

military accomplished in its offensive has shown that as Naveh argues, the

 

German all-out combined arms operations from World War II is not necessarily

 

the key to winning in modern warfare.

 

'What we did here on an operational level has never been done before,'

 

Coffey explains. 'We showed that if your objective is to destroy a regime,

 

you do not have to engage at every location. We made very clear to the

 

regular Iraqi army before we invaded that it was not our target. We also

 

signaled very clearly to the Special Republican Guard that it was our

 

target. We rightly assumed that the Iraqi people themselves would not fight

 

for Saddam's regime.

 

'All of these actions and presumptions informed our military planning and

 

operations. We did not get bogged down. we moved straight to our objective.

 

Our messages were received by the proper Iraqis and they behaved

 

accordingly, ' Coffey concludes.

Because the US forces had a clear military objective – ending Saddam's

 

regime – they did not allow themselves to be diverted by pockets of

 

resistance.

 

'Brute force and ignorance' is how Lt. Col. Scott Rutter termed his

 

battalion's offenses to his troops. 'Keep moving with brute force and

 

ignorance. Kill the enemy and move on,' he yelled repeatedly into the

 

battalion's radio network.

'I think one of the most significant aspects of our operation is that we

 

never stopped moving. The battalion commander said to keep moving and we

 

did. We drove for 18 hours straight and pissed in bottles, stopping only to

 

refuel. The enemy could never sway us from where we wanted to go,' says

 

25-year-old Steve Gleason, scout platoon commander.

On a larger scale, the focus, discipline and success of the US ground

 

offensive in Iraq has sent a clear message to terror-supporting regimes

 

throughout the region and the world.

 

 

'What this operation has done is to tell every regime in the world, 'if you support terrorism even tangentially, we will destroy you.' No doubt the regime in Iran, Syria and even Saudi

 

Arabia are taking note of this,' says Coffey.

 

 

'They will think twice about supporting terrorism in the wake of this operation in a way they never did before.'

 

AS FOR terrorism, the result of the offensive shows just how dependent on

 

terrorism Saddam's regime had become. While the 2-7 battalion was the only

 

task force to directly engage Iraqi tanks in battle, the most prevalent

 

fighting tactic of the Iraqi forces was indiscriminate RPG fire, small arms

 

and truck-mounted anti-aircraft artillery guns – that is terrorist warfare.

 

Interestingly, Baghdad itself was defended not by the Iraqi military, but by

 

a smattering of special Republican Guard troops bolstered by Palestinian and

 

Syrian irregular forces. It was these terrorist elements who fought hardest

 

for their patron Saddam, thus giving lie to the accusation that the US

 

operation in Iraq had nothing to do with its war against global terrorism.

 

An important lesson of the US offensive is that it is possible to deter the

 

use of weapons of mass destruction if one's offensive posture is

 

sufficiently strong. The 2-7 battalion acted as a buffer force on the

 

western edge of the city of Karbala as the rest of the 3rd infantry division

 

bypassed the city to the battalion's west. At the Karbala gap, a flat of

 

land only 8.5 km. wide, the Iraqis could have broken the US offensive at

 

least temporarily if they had used chemical weapons against the troops. Two

 

hours before the advance began, 3rd infantry division soldiers donned their

 

protective rubber boots on top of their protective chemical suits.

 

'I believe the Iraqis were deterred by our show of force. If some Lt.

 

Muhammad was ordered to chem us, he probably decided not to bother after he

 

saw our tanks and Bradleys plowing through,' says Gleason.

 

 

As it was, Iraqi resistance at the Karbala gap – where US forces were most vulnerable – was

 

negligible.

No doubt the most important and most daring aspect of the US operation in

 

Iraq is found in its name – Iraqi freedom. The attempt to bring freedom and

 

democracy to Iraq is the first time since the end of World War II that the

 

US has set for itself the aim of forcing freedom on a people that has never

 

been free.

 

Tonight, the Jewish people begin a week of celebrating our own emergence as

 

the first people in human history forcibly freed from bondage. We know that

 

had it not been for Moses we would have never left Egypt. In retelling the

 

story of the Exodus, we learn that while freedom can be won by the sword it

 

can only be maintained in the mind.

 

Watching thousands of civilians looting and plundering in the streets of

 

Baghdad, it was clear to me that the Iraqi people already have the first

 

inklings of what freedom can be. In raiding Saddam's store houses, they

 

quite clearly were saying 'no more' to his tyranny. In the days since, Iraqi

 

civilians have actively sought out US forces to point out weapons caches and

 

suspected chemical weapons depots.

 

At the same time, anti-US gunmen and terrorists proliferate. The sullen

 

faces of young men with neatly cut hair in civilian clothes are seen next to

 

the exuberant pillagers throughout the city. If these men, Saddam's

 

soldiers, are not separated from positions of influence they may convince

 

the people to return to their lives as slaves.

 

For Israel, the American experiment of bringing freedom to Iraq is

 

enormously significant. The core of Arab rejection of Israel is the absence

 

of freedom in Arab lands. Israel must be hated, otherwise our success in

 

making our desert bloom is proof that tyranny stands at the heart of Arab

 

backwardness and defeat. A free Iraq may be a seed for change in the

 

mind-set of the Arab world and hence the first seed of true peace for

 

Israel.

On the eve of the Seder, as we celebrate our freedom from bondage, we must

 

also celebrate the possibility that the same freedom may become the lot of

 

our neighbor to the east spreading from Baghdad to Damascus, Teheran,

 

Beirut, and Cairo.

Originally published in The Jerusalem
Post.

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