Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What would a war between Syria and Israel look like

Israel has surprised me with its last two wars in 2006 and 2008. I didn't expect either.

The lesson of both wars is that Israel's military is capable of killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure and not much else. Israel pathetically did not even try to hold territory in Gaza, facing a literally smuggled-in armed opposition.

Gaza was a unique situation because it is surrounded by Israel and an Egypt ruled more by AIPAC than by Egyptians. Israel, through the US Congress is able to order Egypt, under pain of withholding effective bribes to Mubarak's family, to prevent Hamas from importing both rebuilding materials and basic food and clothing. This has increased the impact, in this unique situation, of the expertise Israel has developed in destroying civilian infrastructure from the air.

Syria is surrounded by Iraq and Turkey and has free access to the sea. There is absolutely no chance Syria will not, one year after the bombing stops, pose much more of a threat to Israel than it does now.

So how would a conflict look? Israel is not going to put tanks onto Lebanese or Syrian territory. If it does, it will lose more soldiers than its opponents. Israel will bomb Territory, Syria and Lebanon will fire missiles back, Iran and Turkey will rebuild Syria and Lebanon and the one change will be that the people of the middle east will have a new reason to hate the US.

Is this something Israel would do? I'm not sure. There will not be a green light from Washington, which may answer the question right there.

This is not something Syria or Lebanon want, but anti-American forces in both countries would be strengthened. The entire Middle East would veer further against the US. Which is to say that the overall effect of the conflict would be positive for Syria and the resistance countries and negative for the US and it's controlled countries.

One question, if a war happens, is how many missiles will reach major Jewish population centers this time and how much damage they'll do. The easy answer is more than has ever been done and enough to make safety a primary concern of people deciding if they wasn't to live in that country.

An attack on Syria is a bad idea for Israel, but Israel is in an interesting position, managing a decline in its strategic position that may well end in there no longer being a Jewish majority state. There is no guarantee or even strong expectation that Israel can behave rationally under these circumstances.

I can't predict that a war will happen, I can easily predict that Israel's rivals will emerge from any war in a better regional position than Israel's supporters. I hope it does not come to pass. Not for Syrians sake in a strategic sense but for the sake of the thousands if civilians who would die and have their lives disrupted by the conflict.


Lysander said...

Good to have you back :-)

"So how would a conflict look? Israel is not going to put tanks onto Lebanese or Syrian territory. If it does, it will lose more soldiers than its opponents."

Therein lies the rub. Israel can't have with Syria the kind of war it had with Lebanon. It either must launch a full scale ground assault, or it must do nothing. Any bombing campaign where Syria fires missiles for weeks on end, without halt, would be a catastrophe for Israel. They will have to invade, take ground and defeat the Syrian army on the ground.

I'm no military expert, I'm convinced Israel "could" do this. The technological gap is too large. It will be bloody and slow, but the Syrian army is not a guerilla force. It cannot hide. It depends on lines of supply. It has to maneuver and will have to do so under arial bombardment. Airpower works for this.

Unless Syria has gotten an effective air-defense system, it must do what it can to avoid a war with Israel. If it is attacked anyway, then, yes. Try to hold ground and fire missiles as much as possible.

Also, I'm unfamiliar with the Israel-Jordan border. Could Israel bypass Syria's defenses and attack through Jordan? Sadly, King Abdullah could be persuaded to betray his country.

Off topic, but there have been a bunch of reports that Iran is running out of Uranium. Any info on this?

Arnold Evans said...


I think the lesson of Iraq (also of Vietnam) is that every non-Western army, when faced with a Western opponent, may do well converting to a guerrilla force.

Syria is not going to try to block Israel's tanks from reaching Damascus. Instead, the trained soldiers who would operate Syria's tanks will form mobile anti-tank teams. Tank shells will be converted to IEDs. The tanks will remain on their bases except as a token show of resistance where Syrian commanders expect them to be most effective.

Israeli tanks are powerful moving forward, but eventually they stop. Once they stop they become targets. Does Israel really want to occupy Syria the way the US occupies Iraq? If not, what can it do? It has to retreat.

And since Syria is fighting anyway, importantly a fight between Israel, and Syria would force Iraq to declare sides, and it will not side with the US and Israel - so Iran would be able to supply Syria over land, the fight may not stop until Israel is out of the Golan.

It may be long and drawn out, like it was with Lebanon in the 80s, but there is no question about the outcome if Israel was to actually try to hold Syrian territory.

How much support will the US be willing and able to give Israel for that type of occupation? We're talking about an occupation of almost comparable size to the US occupation of Iraq. It just cannot be done.

This is interesting because Iraq proved that the US cannot win a direct war with Iran because the US barely got passable results against a much smaller and weaker opponent. Lebanon proved the same thing for Israel. Israel just barely reached the Litani river in Lebanon and therefore of course could not reach Damascus.

Israel may put ground troops into Syria, but it is just wasting them. Any fight has to be from the air, and would be horrible for Israel in the short term and as a long term strategic matter would quite possibly mark the end of Israel's viability.

The war would end with the precedent set that in Israel's wars, Israel's cities are bombed causing substantial casualties. And Israel will continue getting into wars. Why would anyone live there?

Getting past defenses is not Israel's problem. Israel has to either stay or leave. If it stays it will face a situation so much more difficult than the US ever faced in Iraq.

Now Iran running out of uranium. Iran has about 10 bombs worth of uranium. It does not have enough uranium in its domestic stock to power a electricity reactor for long but it does have enough for a deterrent nuclear capacity and enough that Israel would lose its effective monopoly in the region.

If the US gets Iran to accept an agreement in which Iran keeps its LEU stock under one ton, then eventually it would run out of uranium years from now. Because of that, Iran would if it made such a deal, slow its enrichment or suspend it.

Iran has converted most of its yellowcake to the form that can be enriched, but it still has a lot of unenriched uranium that it can bring to LEU.