Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991

By Kenneth M. Pollack | Go to book overview
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UNDERSTANDING MODERN ARAB
MILITARY EFFECTIVENESS

In June 1944 the Soviet Union launched Operation Bagration against the German Wehrmacht's Army Group Center in Byelorussia. Although the Germans were a veteran army defending well-fortified lines, the Soviets had tactical surprise and overwhelming material advantages. They had three times as many troops as the Germans, six times as many tanks, and eight times as many artillery pieces. The result was a total rout. Soviet infantry and artillery blasted huge holes in the German lines, and Soviet tanks and cavalry poured through the gaps and drove deep into the German rear, encircling large formations. Two months later the Soviet advance finally came to a halt on the banks of the Vistula River in Poland, almost 1,000 kilometers from their start lines. In that time the Red Army had obliterated Army Group Center, shattering thirty German divisions and capturing or killing nearly 450,000 of Germany's finest soldiers. 1

Twenty-nine years later, in October 1973, the Syrian army launched a similarly massive offensive against Israeli forces occupying the Golan Heights. Like the Germans, the Israelis were a veteran army defending fortified lines, and like the Soviets, the Syrians had surprise and overwhelming material advantages on their side, having ten times as many troops as the Israelis, eight times as many tanks, and ten times as many artillery pieces. 2 Syria achieved an even greater degree of surprise than had the Soviets because the Israelis, unlike the Germans, were at peace and not expecting a fight. Nevertheless, the Syrian offensive was a fiasco. They were able to break through the Israeli lines in only one of two designated assault sectors. Syrian armored columns got no farther than twenty kilometers before they were stopped by tiny Israeli forces. Within two days the attack had run out of steam without accomplishing any of its objectives. An Israeli counterattack on the third day of the war smashed the Syrian forces and

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