Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ha'aretz analysis of what an Israeli-Syrian war would look like

"If war breaks out"

By Reuven Pedatzur

The next war with Syria, if there is one, will be different from every other war we have known. Granted, there might be tank battles on the Golan Heights, as in the past, but it is doubtful that the war will take place solely at the front, while the civilian rear stays out of it.

If, as expected, the fighting expands to include the home front, residents of Haifa, Hadera and Tel Aviv will be targets for the Syrian army's rockets and missiles. Anyone who wants to imagine what is liable to happen in the streets of our cities if war breaks out with Syria and degenerates into mutual attacks on the civilian rear need not look far. The 4,000 rockets Hezbollah launched during the Second Lebanon War, which paralyzed the lives of some one million residents of the North, provide an example of an attack on Israel's home front.

The Syrian army has about 1,000 ballistic missiles of the Scud B, C and D models, whose ranges are between 300 and 700 kilometers. These missiles can reach anyplace in Israel (the distance from the southern Golan Heights to Tel Aviv is some 150 kilometers). The Syrian missiles are armed with chemical warheads, and Syria is also thought to have experimented with biological weapons. To these must be added Syria's SS-21 missiles, which have a shorter range (about 80 kilometers), but are much more accurate. The Ramat David airfield, for instance, is within range of these missiles. And, having learned a lesson from the Second Lebanon War, the Syrians have protected their missiles by putting them into concrete bunkers.

Even more problematic, from the Israel Defense Forces' perspective, is the Syrian army's store of rockets. Faced with thousands of rockets, both 220mm (whose range is about 70 kilometers) and 302mm (with a range of 90 kilometers), the IDF has no real answer - just as it had no answer to the thousands of rockets launched by Hezbollah. And to these must be added Hezbollah's approximately 20,000 rockets, which the organization will almost certainly use if war breaks out: Cooperation between Syria and Hezbollah has grown even closer since the war.

The Israel Air Force will try to destroy the ballistic missiles and their launchers (the launchers number no more than a few dozen), but it will be powerless in the face of thousands of rockets.

Over the last decade, the Syrian army has gradually become less armored and less mechanized; it is more and more based on infantry, commando units and antitank weapons. The idea behind this structural change is that Syrian forces will wage a defensive war on the Golan Heights and thereby bleed the IDF. The plan is to let the IDF attack and then engage in "close combat," during which they will wear out the attacking forces via numerous antitank missiles borne by infantry troops, including the advanced Metis and Kornet models.

In addition, the Syrian army has positioned tens of thousands of BM-21 rockets, which have a range of about 20 kilometers, at the front. These are liable to exact an extremely heavy price from the IDF.

In recent years, many villages, containing thousands of houses, have been built on the Syrian heights. If the IDF advances toward Damascus, it will have to fight in a built-up area. The residents will be evacuated as soon as the fighting begins, and they will be replaced by Syrian commandos, who will lie in wait for the IDF's tanks and armored personnel carriers. Numerous irrigation channels, dug in order to water the local fields and orchards, will also constitute a barrier against the IDF's tanks.

Therefore, every possible scenario for a war with Syria indicates that the price paid by the IDF, and almost certainly by the civilian rear as well, will be extremely high. Those who failed in a war against a guerrilla organization numbering only a few hundred fighters ought to be very cautious about going to war against a regular army that has learned the lessons of the Lebanon war and intends to exploit every Israeli weakness that it revealed.