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IRAQ - The Military Angle.

From a military perspective, Iraq had until the Gulf war regarded itself as a major regional power capable of challenging Israel. Indeed, it had perhaps the mightiest military establishment in the Arab World, battle hardened after an 8-year long war with Iran. But the Gulf war of 1991 changed all that as the US air and ground assault destroyed a big chunk of Iraqi military assets. Still, on paper, Iraq's army still looks formidable, with an estimated 400,000 men, around 23 divisions (6 of them Republican Guard), some 2,000 tanks, and about 200-300 combat aircraft.

However, most of Iraq's arms are obsolete and the embargo has had a marked effect on its ability to acquire spare parts and equipment needed to keep the surviving military machine in optimal shape. As a result of the UN sanctions, Iraq has been unable to buy spare parts, tools, lubricants, and other supplies, with the result that its maintenance problems have worsened.

Many Iraqi weapons have rusted beyond use, lack critical parts, or have been cannibalised to keep other equipment running. To compensate, Baghdad has been forced to demobilize numerous divisions and reduce the numbers of weapons assigned to those remaining.

By contrast, the Israeli military forces have been constantly upgrading their capabilities - especially in the technological sphere. The US has assured additional military aid as part of an incentive package to encourage Israel to move forward in negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians. These include "Star Wars" weaponry such as the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) to knock out incoming missiles - like the Scuds which Iraq lobbed on Israel during the Gulf war.

The US also provides Israel with real-time satellite monitoring capabilities, advanced fighter jets and radar systems. In addition, the two countries are jointly working on the anti-missile missile system Arrow (Hetz), which when deployed will be another layer of defence against missiles.

These factors, combined with the range limitations on missiles imposed by the UN sanctions regime, mean that Iraq is in no position to challenge Israel by using stand-off weapons systems. There is virtually no chance that any of the "frontline" states (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel or the Palestinians) would allow Iraqi troops to go over their territory to attack Israel, unless there is another major Arab-Israeli war.

In other words, Iraq is in no position to pose a serious strategic challenge to Israel in the near future. Its opposition to the peace process, therefore, will continue to be limited mainly to rhetoric.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Strategic Balance in the Middle East
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Jun 26, 2000
Previous Article:IRAQ - Iraq's Unique View Of Israel.
Next Article:JORDAN - Opposition To Middle East Peace Ending - Part 13.

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