Israel's Contribution to the Gulf War

by Mitchell Bard


The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait dramatically illustrated the potential of regional states to threaten vital U.S. interests. Israel again demonstrated its reliability as it maintained a low profile and absorbed the Scuds.

Israel's posture reflected a deliberate political decision in response to American requests. Nevertheless, Israel did aid the United States' successful campaign to roll back Iraq's aggression.

- The IDF was the sole military force in the region that could successfully challenge the Iraqi army. That fact, which Saddam Hussein understood, was a deterrent to further Iraqi aggression.

- By warning that it would take military measures if any Iraqi troops enter Jordan, Israel, in effect, guaranteed Jordan's territorial integrity against Iraqi aggression. Jordan's continued existence as a buffer state between Iraq and Israel is indispensable for the maintenance of regional stability.

- The United States benefitted from the use of Israeli-made Have Nap air-launched missiles on its B-52 bombers. The Navy, meanwhile, used Israeli Pioneer pilotless drones for reconnaissance in the Gulf.

- Israel provided mine plows that were used to clear paths for allied forces through Iraqi mine fields.

- Mobile bridges provided by Israel were employed by the U.S. Marine Corps.

- Israel Aircraft Industries developed conformal fuel tanks that enhance the range of F-15 aircraft. These were used in the Gulf.

- Israeli recommendations, based upon system performance observations led to several software changes that make the Patriot a more capable missile defense system.

- General Dynamics has implemented a variety of Israeli modifications to improve the worldwide F-16 aircraft fleet including structural enhancements, software changes, increased capability landing gear, radio improvements and avionic modifications.

- An Israeli-produced helicopter night-targeting system was used to increase the Cobra helicopter's night-fighting capabilities.

- Israel also produced the canister for the highly successful Tomahawk missile.

- Night-vision goggles used by U.S. forces were supplied by Israel.

- A low altitude warning system produced and developed in Israel was utilized on Blackhawk helicopters.

- Other Israeli equipment provided to U.S. forces included flack vests, gas masks and sand bags.

- Israel offered the United States the use of military and hospital facilities. U.S. ships utilized Haifa port shipyard maintenance and support on their way to the Gulf.

- Even in its low-profile mode, Israeli cooperation was extremely valuable: Israel's military intelligence has focused on Iraq much more carefully over the years than has the U.S. intelligence community. Thus, the Israelis were able to provide Washington with detailed tactical intelligence on Iraqi military activities. Defense Secretary Cheney said, for example that the U.S. utilized Israeli information about western Iraq in its search for Scud missile launchers.

During a visit to Israel May 30, 1991, Defense Secretary Cheney said: "We think that the cooperation that we were able to engage in during the war in the Gulf...emphasizes how important the [U.S.-Israel] relationship is and how well it works when put to the test."

Critics have argued that the U.S. desire for Israel to maintain a low profile to facilitate holding the coalition of Arab states opposing Iraq together reflects a diminution of Israel's strategic value; however, Israel was never expected to play a major role in hostilities in the Gulf. American officials knew the Arabs would have to be prepared to defend themselves. Moreover, the fact that it was possible to build this U.S.-Arab coalition at the same time U.S.-Israel strategic relations are closer than ever, illustrates the two are not contradictory. The United States can continue to strengthen its ties with Israel without worrying about jeopardizing ties with the Arab states.