Britain looked to Israelis when seeking the masters of military deception

Declassified documents: Military was much less impressed with American approach to battle tactics.

basra uk troops 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
basra uk troops 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
When British military leaders set up a special task force in 1969 to study how best to use deception to achieve their battlefield aims, they turned their attention to the tactics used by the Israelis - not the Americans. Formerly classified documents released Friday by the National Archives show that many officers felt the Americans didn't have a knack for deceiving the enemy. Americans were judged to be so open and friendly that they lacked cunning. The so-called Defense Deception Advisory Group studied in detail the way Israel's military and political leaders used a complex series of intertwined deceptions to fool their Arab enemies about the Jewish state's intentions and its military capabilities. The British found, for example, that the Israelis confused their adversaries by deploying fake soldiers - actual mannequins in battle dress were used - near one border crossing to make their enemies think an attack was coming, forcing them to deploy troops to defend the area. "The British are impressed to see how those techniques could be used in a modern era," said Mark Dunton, contemporary history specialist at the National Archives. "Their anxiety is that unless Britain kept its thinking fresh on this, they would lose their expertise, and the Israeli tactics are seen as ingenious and clever." The three-year study was prompted by the fear that Britain's vaunted ability to deceive enemies at key points in battle was fading because of the long period of relative peace that followed World War II. Fearing Britain was growing soft, officers thought they could learn from the battle-hardened Israelis. The template was the Six-Day War in 1967 in which Israel seized large amounts of land from Jordan, Syria and Egypt in a lightning-fast confrontation that left Arab nations reeling. After Egypt blocked the strategic Straits of Tiran and expelled UN forces from the Sinai Desert, Israel launched pre-emptive strikes on June 5, 1967, against Egyptian and Syrian air forces, destroying them on the ground. In six days of one-sided battles, the IDF captured the West Bank, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip and Sinai from Jordan, Syria and Egypt. In an unsigned top secret military document, the war is cited as "an example of how deception can be employed in the modern era and in such a way that the enemy decision making process is placed at a severe disadvantage." The documents describe how Israel implemented a sophisticated, pre-planned deception strategy that included statements made by its political leaders and top diplomats during the tense prewar period. This included the well-known decision to send many IDF soldiers on their regular weekend home leave to convince the enemy to lower its guard just before hostilities began. An April 10, 1972, document credits the Israelis with using a variety of strategies to confuse and demoralize their enemies, including: -Maintaining strict secrecy about modern bombs in their arsenal, leading Arab nations to believe Israel had only World War II type bombs, and misleading the enemy about new systems that would allow Israel to service its bombers in just 7.5 minutes so they could resume attacks. -The use of Israeli intelligence agents who spoke Arabic well to take part in Egyptian military radio communications, giving them vital information about Egypt's military plans. -The ability to delay information about the capture of key Arab towns, thus luring Arab patrols into devastating ambushes. -The use of Israelis who spoke Arabic with an Egyptian accent to man the control tower at a captured airfield so that Egyptian military pilots would land their planes and be captured. -The use of small deployments of tanks and torpedo boats to coax the enemy into defending borders where no real attack was planned. The deployment of the dummy military units seemed to captivate the British. Typically deadpan officers used a rare exclamation point to describe the tactic. Uri Bar-Joseph, a security and intelligence specialist at the University of Haifa, said this tactic was successful because it led the Egyptian army to send units to the south when Israel planned to attack in the north. "It made it easier for Israel to go through the north," he said. "In general this has been known, but not many details have come out." The British were much less impressed with the American approach, even though the task force made an extensive tour of US military bases and met with senior US commanders to discuss how best to use deception. A "Top Secret UK Eyes Only" document from June 1, 1972, states that radical differences in the national character make it unlikely that American officers will be able to use deception to their strategic advantage. "For the British, on the other hand, it could be said that the inclination to deceive is already available as a national asset," the report states, adding that every British citizen uses guile "as a way of life."