Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel Considers War with Syria as It Ponders 1982 Invasion of Lebanon

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel Considers War with Syria as It Ponders 1982 Invasion of Lebanon

Article excerpt

Israel Considers War With Syria as It Ponders 1982 Invasion of Lebanon

The 10th anniversary of the invasion of Lebanon, which fell on June 5, 1992, was commemorated in Israel by a profusion of analyses, some containing previously unpublished data. They further vindicate the conclusions of Col. Emmanuel Wald of the Israeli General Staff in his 1987 book, The Curse of the Broken Vessels: The Twilight of Israeli Military Might (1967-1982).

Col. Wald's highly critical assessment of the performance of the Israeli army in general, and during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon in particular, was published in Hebrew by Shocken Press of Tel Aviv. For that, the army first tried to place him in a mental hospital and, after that attempt backfired, dismissed him. The book he wrote provides the best available analysis of the Israeli army's structure and also of the aims of Israel's invasion of Lebanon which, according to Wald, "had been under preparation during the preceding 14 months." He also says of the invasion that, "during its first days, it was quietly approved, by the U.S."

Wald says that under Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon's master plan, codenamed "Oranim," in eastern Lebanon the Israeli army was supposed "to defeat the Syrian troops deployed in the Bekaa Valley, between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains, all the way to the district of Baalbek," in the north of Lebanon.

"The occupation of Baalbek by the [Israeli] army was to pose a direct threat to Damascus" from the north, where the approaches to the Syrian capital were unfortified, according to Wald. Had the war unfolded differently, the plan probably would have been carried out.

In June 1982, the Syrian troops in Lebanon were stationed at a distance from the Israeli border and also from the area then controlled by Major Sa'ad Haddad, commander of the Israeli-directed South Lebanon Army. Separating the Syrian troops from Haddad's troops were three PLO brigades. Except for a small Syrian force in Beirut, all Syrian troops were deployed in central and eastern Lebanon.

On June 6, 1982, the Israeli army opened a three-pronged advance into Lebanon. Its advance on the eastern front was halted, however, by the Syrian army in the battle of Sultan Yakub. The central Israeli advance also was halted by the Syrian army, at the battle of Ain Zahalta.

Following those battles, the Israeli army was unable to resume its advance until after the cease-fire of June 12. Those two defeats by Syrian forces were decisive factors in thwarting Sharon's plan to conquer all of Lebanon and destroy Syria as a military power.

Unless Israel wins a war quickly, it cannot win at all.

Three recent articles now permit a reconstruction of these battles. They are: "Sultan Yakub, a Battle Which is Not Yet Over," by Menachem Paz (Davar, June 5); "Ten Years After a Mishap," by Yuval Peleg (Yediot Ahronot, May 28); and "Anyone Moving Was Fired Upon," by Noam Taper (Ha'aretz, June 5). The articles are based upon extensive interviews with participants in the battles.

Descriptions of the Sultan Yakub battle by Paz and Peleg show that a large force of Israeli tanks, unsupported by infantry, was ordered to advance northward by night and at top speed, a very unusual order.

Shortly after midnight, the force was halted by an ambush laid by Syrian infantry and artillery, which inflicted heavy casualties on the Israelis. The latter grasped the full scale of their plight only after sunrise, and then began radioing appeals for reinforcements.

The appeals were disregarded, and the force was ordered to keep advancing. Its commanders reported to headquarters that "the only options we now have are to be killed, to commit suicide or to retreat," and that they were contemplating mass suicide. Only then were they permitted to retreat.

The order to advance in such an unusual manner, according to Paz and Peleg, relied on erroneous information supplied by Israeli Military Intelligence that Syrian soldiers were retreating in panic and abandoning their equipment. …

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