The demise of Ayman Zawahiri was a welcome event. It would have been unfortunate to allow him to die in bed. Moreover he did not die on the battlefield but in his comfy Taliban supplied lodging.. ..a rather unheroic death for the Al Qaeda number two man. Kudos to the intel people who ferreted out his hiding place…hiding in plain sight as we now know. How long he was ensconced in Kabul we do not know but most likely quite some period of time. So much for the Taliban promise to the hapless Biden administration to not harbor terrorists. Of course Islamist terrorists have no problem with prevarication to Westerners. The Shi’a call it taqiyya ( to conceal their faith for survival) but the Sunni terrorists have appropriated it as they have found it very useful in dealing with gullible Westerners. There are many bits and pieces of information floating around about the life and times of Zawahiri but one I found useful was one from the Washington Institute of Near East policy.
Primarily Zawahiri was long ago nothing more than elder statesman of terror. He has been irrelevant for quite some period of time and was never close to being the charismatic leader bin Laden was. He mostly wrote long rambling esoteric “think” pieces that only Western anti-terrorist gurus read. He was sort not a Pancho of don Quixote fame to Bin Laden. But these Islamist terrorist leaders get very officious and bumptious because of the Western media fascination with mass murderers and suddenly become terror celebrities very much enjoying the spotlight–which is often the reason for their demise. One may have noticed that these terror leaders, when they appear, are often surrounded by a retinue of bodyguards who always seem to be tall and stalwart fellows. Always reminds me of Hitlers body guards, the Leibstandarte.
The point here is that these terror celebrities were able to do their evil because of the Western proclivity to believe that one can transform an evil serpent by being nice. Zawahiri, for instance spent quite a while in the US going from mosque to mosque, preaching murder and mayhem while collecting money. Western anti- terrorism efforts, especially in the US, were mostly mediocre and at times inept. In the United Sates, the 9/11 report laid it out pretty well…bureaucratic infighting plus our leaders inability to understand that some people are so evil they have to be killed. For example, the “blind Sheikh” Omar, who was being treated by badly by the Egyptian government and was rewarded with sanctuary in the states. His entrance into the US was an example of the complacency and ignorance of the Islamist threat. For example when two FBI agents came to see me about a former co worker Ali Mohammed …the so-called “Green beret” terrorist, they displayed woeful ignorance about Islamism. See my post “The terrorist and I ” in 2013.
Ali Mohamed. When he departed the army -with an honorable discharge- he asked me to write a reference letter for the FBI. I didn’t.
But the real destruction of the Al Qaeda organization came about the way most terrorist organizations disintegrate….they splinter into warring factions, partly based on obscure theology or ideology but mostly on personalities. When Bin laden wrote Zarkawi, the Jordanian terrorist heading an embryonic ISIS organization suggesting that he stop killing Shi’a civilians he was ignored. That to me was the beginning of the end for the Middle East AQ. ISIS as it grew became the nemesis of Al Qaeda and using differing points of ideology and theology, which their foot soldiers did not understand, the leaders, puffed up with power, spawned all sorts of various branches of terror groups. Finally in Syria, the last remnants were dispersed and its successor only clings to a small part of Syria, possibly not evicted in order for the Russians and Syrian government to maintain a convenient enemy.
Now the Terror gurus speak of the growth of AQ elements in Africa, but in reality, they do not follow any orders from whatever remains of AQ leadership. Their main activity seems to be the murder of defenseless Christians, left unprotected by corrupt regimes and their inept security personnel. Somehow, however, the murder of Christians in Africa, does not sound any alarm bells in Western capitols, except in case of a threat to the regime itself.
Zawahiri supposedly did not agree with perpetrators of the Sadat assassination but he was rounded up anyway with other known Jihadi sympathizers, in sort of the famous “rounding up the usual suspects” way. He was tortured, as all prisoners of the Egyptian regimes, from Nasser to Al Sisi routinely are, quite badly it seems. But ironically his anger seems to be directed at the Americans in his “Far enemy” concept. His idea was that the primary enemy was the West, and by crippling it with terror acts, they could then deal with the little Satans like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
But I see no real end to Jihadism until there is a Qu’ranic “New Testament,” which in effect modifies the sword passages of the Qur’an specifically the fifth verse of the ninth surah. Now the Western academics usually reinterpret this verse in a different way, claiming it is taken out of context but the reality is that the Islamists, the Jihadis, see it exactly the way it was written and therefore consider themselves the only true Muslims. The up and coming terrorists elite see this as their path to power…inciting the downtrodden of the dysfunctional Islamic societies and corrupt, dictatorial regimes they must endure, to vengeance and criminal violence.
So western academics can write the most erudite treatises in the world claiming the passage does not mean what it says but until it is modified or reinterpreted by all the learned Ulama in the entire Islamic world, this verse and a number of others inspiring violence against non Muslim, ( or anyone they consider non-Muslim) will continue.
Al Qaeda and even the ISIS have mostly run their course but there can be no doubt that Jihadi impulse is alive and well.
Well President made it to Israel, sniffed the air in the West Bank and spent some time trying rot avoid doing much of anything, which BTW he does very well. Thje Israelis, having a dysfunctional government off their own now , and are well versed in the vagaries of American politics, so they know that Biden was simply to be feted and allowed a perfunctory nod to Palestinian demands …whatever one decides they are….. and sent on his way. Nothing accomplished but no real harm done. It was in the Arabian peninsula that real harm to American interests occurred. For this reason; In the Arab world, leaders personify their country. The local despot is the country., For example. I once had. young lady professor come to. my class and she made the statement that Saddam is Iraq. Break Saddam and Iraq breaks up…which is exactly what happened. Same in Libya. Qaddafi went down and Libya fractured. Across the Middle East with very few, if any, exceptions when the ruler goes down the country rents itself apart. The Arab world has always been ruled by despots, some brilliant, some incompetent, but all hard nosed and suspicious men. To some degree they all rule by fear. As the professor said…Saddam is Iraq. al Sisi is Egypt, MbS is Saudi Arabia. The same families have ruled the Gulf states for hundreds of years. The Hashemites rule Jordan. When papa Assad died, junior could not control Syria and were it not for Putin’s intervention Junior Assad would be back in London checking eyes –or dead.
So what do you think the impression of these tough hardened rulers are when they had personal face to face contact with President Biden? In their mind Biden is America. Q.E.D. American is weak. Despite that fact that tons of smart young Arabs have advanced degrees from Ivy league colleges, they still think that way. The fist bump, an adolescent gesture at best, is only one small part of the contempt many hold us in. And holding the Ukrainian coat until they fight to the last Ukrainian has not covered us with glory either, especially coming on the heels of the Kabul debacle. While manliness in the West has become a politically incorrect trait, evoking elitist cynicism, it has not among our enemies. As the history lesson of uncouth barbarians butchering the effete, sophisticated Romans, one can only hope intelligent life once more sprouts in the Western world led by a morally rearmed America.
But Biden is not America, despite the fact that a discouraging number of the “unawake,” may think so. Our centralized country of many diffuse centers of power thankfully have …so far… prevented that. So far, despite the fact that the elitist ruling class in Washington, would like us to accept the soft despotism of many European countries, our federation of states and counties, all with their own governments have prevented this…so far.
It s too easy to be cynical about almost anything that is or will happen in the Middle East. Mostly because it is so patently stupid to be otherwise. One can always hope for the best as apparently President Obama did. He built his foreign policy around “hope.” As we know it did not turn out well. But as I read the various op-eds on Biden’s upcoming visit quite a few, based on” informed sources”, or “people close to the White House”, or newspapers with a leftish ideological bent ( that includes most of the media in the US) see something good happening. And to be sure, what ever the results, the correspondents, knowing which side their bread is buttered on, will find those good things. I do not have any” informed sources,” and certainly I know no one in the U.S.ruling class these days, but I do know history, especially Middle Eastern history.
The Israeli” government”, if one wishes to call it that, seems totally incompetent. They apparently plan to go all out to butter up Biden, still assuming he is really in charge of the American State. Despite two years of Biden’s handlers sticking their collective fingers in the eye of the Israelis, the liberal segment of the Israeli population still clings to the fallacious idea that America is their forever protector. This despite the supine Biden offerings to “make nice” with the corrupt Palestinian leadership and their president -for -life Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas stays in power because the US pays for his huge pretorian guard and at one time helped train it. ( Maybe still does. lost contact). Meanwhile the more sentient Israelis, looking around them at the growing power of evil despots combined with the incompetence, weakness and indifference of the Western leadership, are worried about the possibility of another “Galut” i.e., another period of exile of the Jews from their promised land.
At present, the West Bank is again at the powder keg point, awaiting a spark to blow it into another intifada. Not only are daily attacks on Israelis, but the Arabs, as usual, are at each others throats, with criminal gangs and terrorists taking orders from none of the establishment terror groups and getting into firefights with each other. One such is the “Jenin group,” supposedly an ad hoc group of terrorists/freedom fighters vowing to fight any Israeli trespassing into their turf. Jenin, of course, is the scene of one of the bloodiest Palestinian battles with the Israeli defense Force in 2002. Its is seething again. Abbas is making noises about keeping things quiet while Biden is around but the Palestinian Security Forces ( PSF) ,( Abbas’s army) are afraid to go into the refugee camps in Jenin; and Hezbollah, if ordered by their Iranian masters, may also instigate more trouble. The Iranian leaders must be as bewildered as people like me are- despite years of provocations and public displays of utter contempt for the United States, the Biden regime still cloyingly seeks some accommodation with Iran. Maybe it’s just part of the Panglossian Obama world.
Apparently there is this hope that perhaps a dramatic breakthrough like the Saudi tough guy MbS, crown Prince Mohammed( Salman al Saud, or ,maybe his aging papa, the king showing up in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem and the coveted Saudi -Israeli partnership will be forged. Biden in so much political trouble at home he may have to swallow his words of distaste for MbS and speak to him in order to get the oil he needs to keep his flickering political hopes alive. Or perhaps more likely Lapid or some other Israeli functionary will show up in Riyadh to exchange pleasantries with MbS. That way Biden can talk through Lapid and not anger the Georgetown crowd about forgetting their Martyr Jamal Khashoggi, apparently murdered in a rare act of muscle by a Saudi king. Of all the people to mourn, I would say that Jamal, the Muslim Brotherhood aficionado, would be way down on the list. But as is the fashion these days these days celebrity politics, not those people with talent or courage or moral fortitude count.
Ok Bottom line. Not much will come of the visit, but applying a sort of political Hippocratic oath, one hopes that the trip and the Biden “stumblilitis” will not make things worse.
The depth of Russian immersion into the La Brea tarpits of Middle Eastern fanaticism and polarization is graphically illustrated by the level of Soviet/Russian involvement in terrorist activities in the Middle East. As the flip side of Russian counterinsurgency, which the Russians always linked with anti-terrorism, it should be of little surprise to note that the Russians were up to their necks in subsidizing, training, and organizing terrorist groups. Nor given the CIA’s predilection for making poor intelligence assessments, should it be a surprise that the CIA in 1981 rendered a judgement that the Russians did not support terrorism. This facile judgement was based on the theory that while the Russians trained and financed them, they eschewed acts of terrorism against civilians. It is an early indicator of the present U.S tortuous attempts to find the hair -splitting separator between the terrorism and political aims of Hezbollah and the PLO. See a complete exposition of the Russian attitude to terrorism in Walter Laqueur’s The Age of Terrorism.
Russians initially used Arafat and he was enthusiastic to do Russia’s bidding the Russians but soon realized that as a factor he was pretty much useless.
Cristopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin ( The World was Going our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World) found immense amount of materiel linking the Russian KGB to PLO terrorism, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, (PFLP) the Popular Democratic Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, (PDFLP), the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) and the Black September Organization. Much of this was done through the good offices of Wadi Haddad, the chief of operations of the PFLP and the primary link between the KGB. And the various terror organizations of the Middle East. Those who have closely examined the Russian link to terrorism found that the Russians were fully aware of the operations targeting civilians. The Russians also cultivated Yasir Arafat, ( Aka Abu Ammar) Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) but apparently the Russians considered him as a poseur and not useful to the Russian objectives. The Russians loved having Israel intact in the Middle East. It gave them access to the “right side” of the Palestinian question. They played both ends of course, as they always have, but integral to their intervention in the Middle East an engrained and easily aroused and popular anti-semitism among the people. From the times of the Czars till now anti-semitism has always been a popular meme among the Russian intelligentsia. This is true despite the large percentage of Jewish leaders among the Bolsheviks. The term “rootless cosmopolitans” were generally applied to Jewish writers, and the Jews in general were always assumed to be a fifth column. Moreover their exodus from Russia, when it became possible to do so, was seen by many patriotic Russians as a sign to the world that Russia was a poor place to live. They did not want them in Russia but were angry when they had the effrontery to leave…..an other symptom of the Russian split personality.
In consonance with the normal state of internecine warfare, murderous rivalries, and general chaos which characterizes much of the Middle East, the terrorist groups and individuals cultivated by the Russians warred on each other and the Russians were unable to stay aloof. Much of the history of Putin’s rise to power and his decision to invade Chechnya was based on the alleged terrorist acts of the Islamist Chechens but many observers have concluded that Putin used these false flag atrocities to create fervor for another war in Chechnya. The biographies on Putin ( The Man Without a Face) by Masha Gessen, squarely point to his involvement in the terrorist attacks imputed to Chechen terrorists giving Putin the reason to invade Chechnya. As a former KGB officer Putin was reared on the efficacy of terrorism. In fact the present Russian way of war could be termed “terrorism as conventional war.” The destruction of Grozny and Aleppo are two examples to compare to the destruction inflicted on Ukraine.
Syrian students wave the Syrian, Russian and Palestinian flags under a billboard bearing the portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a demonstration in support of Russia, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the Aleppo University campus in the Syrian city on March 10, 2022. (Photo by AFP)
The Russian prepossession with terrorism, which in the final analysis, was of little value to the Russians, can only be seen as one more piece of evidence illuminating the Middle Eastern moral and spiritual rot the Russians inflicted upon themselves. They came. They Stayed (too long) and they degenerated.
Word has it that President Biden will make a belated trip to the Middle East, including Israel , the Palestinian West Bank and Saudi Arabia.
The question being bandied about is…. why at this point? In fact the main reason is to flee the multitude of domestic problems that keep piling up without any leadership to face them. Galloping inflation, an unchecked alien invasion at our southern border, a totally polarized population, a spiraling crime rate out of control, and an uncertain and probably unhappy ending for the Ukraine war. It seems obvious at this point that Russia has the upper hand and as we deplete our stocks of war materiel the uncomfortable reality is that under the present leadership of the West, there is nothing much we can do to reverse the tide of war.
Of course there is the mending fences reason for the trip. The incompetent and unworkable political leadership of Israel, bending at the whims of the Washington political elites, have allowed Israel to put itself in peril at the hands of international organizations with an anti-semitic agenda posing as human rights agencies. Meanwhile the lefties in Israel are hoping that their frequent parades lauding gays, transgenders, etc. featured on I24 American TV, the Leftie Israeli channel, will somehow endear them to the Wokies. Delusion followed by illusion! Biden, as he has almost every other issue of importance, ignores the looming war in Palestine leaving the Middle East to the most inept foreign service American has had in my long memory.
The Lapid-Bennet crew of revolving rulers
The Palestinian issue is mostly one continued by Western leftists, as folks like me who have spent years in the Middle East, know the Palestinian issue is a manufactured issue. Of the many issues that face the Arab world, the “burdens of the Arab world” as I put it in a presentation, Palestine is one of the least. The Middle Eastern rulers use it as distraction from their endemic corruption and ingrained anti semitic prejudices, while the Western “intellectuals” for whom anti – semitism is catnip, use it as a parallelism (read Jean-Francois Revel or better yet Barry Rubin) to their inveterate anti Americanism. Thinking about the Palestinian Issue in its entity, as few of the Middle East scholars do, it is apparent that the UN organizations like UNRWA, the Arab regimes, and Western assorted anti Semites, have colluded to keep the Palestinian refugees holed up in desolate refugee camps as a means to keep the Issue alive. Where are the many millions of other displaced minorities, the Christians, Jews, Armenians, Bahai, etc? Why no world-wide demand that Armenians be allowed to return to their homeland, one which they lived in long before the Turks arrived?
Meanwhile the “woke” generation, mostly a collection of ill-educated spoiled youth, frightened corporate gurus, political charlatans, media moguls, and journalists “wanting to make a difference” wet themselves at the mention of sexism, racism, or other assorted mostly mythical ills of our fractured society, have added Israeli to the lengthening hate list, usually in the form of poorly disguised modern version of the blood libel.
Of course, Saudi Arabian leadership got on the bad side of the Georgetown elite cocktail party circuit by doing away with Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post reporter, who led two lives, one as an advocate for the “Arab Spring uprising,” and a favorite among the Georgetown circuit ( whether he drank martinis or grape juice I do not know), and the more important role as a celebrity voice for Islamist supremacy. He was an unabashed proponent of the murderous Muslim Brotherhood. His adoring WDC fans are an example of many western liberals who have an affinity for totalitarian ideologies. ( read Paul Johnson). I applauded the boldness of the Saudi regime in eliminating Khashoggi. It was a welcome change from the usual wimpy Saudi practice of buying off enemies.
even code pink is out there at Jamal way!
In the end this Trip is one of those “GOTTA DO SOMETHING” events that politicians in trouble frequently use. It will of course get rave reviews from the New York Times and the even from the Washington Post despite their lingering hurt over losing their best Muslim, Brotherhood reporter to Saudi malice.
The Saudis will make the appropriate noise but do very little to raise oil production, and whichever Israeli PM for a Day politician greets Biden he will also make effusive lyrics featuring the forever Israeli-American friendship. In the West Bank, the PA president for life, Mahmoud Abbas, will ask for more money to keep his amoral regime in power. To please the Wokies in the US, Biden may re-establish the Palestinian consulate somewhere….another sinecure for an ambitious diplomat. I suspect that Biden with his wit and eloquence will attempt to convince the Israelis and Saudis that they should not fight the JCPOA,( the forever nuc deal) assuring them that John Kerry told him that while the Iranians say mean things, up close they are really swell guys,….And so forth…. wahaluma jarana.
Post note. I see in then news the the leftist Washington fashionistas have named a street after Khashoggi.
On 6 June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in what was intended as a limited operation to drive the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) away from Israel’s northern border. Tasked with carrying out the invasion, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) prepared detailed operational plans which were well conceived, based on good intelligence and very well executed. . Upon execution, Israeli units overran south Lebanon in a matter of days despite arduous terrain and in some places tough resistance, mostly by Syrian units as the Palestinians collapsed in most areas. The lead-in to the war is a sad story for all involved, and the end of this phase of the never-ending Israeli -Palestinian war was even more unhappy.
general Ariel Sharon Hero of the 73 war goat of the war.
After and during the 67 war many Palestinian refugees swarmed into into Lebanon. They were put into a number of refugee camps , home of which later became notorious as death camps. The Lebanese, especially the Lebanese Christians, were not welcoming, and the Shi’a were not very happy either as the Sunni Muslim Palestinians were mostly located in the south–the Shi’a heartland. It was near impossible for a Palestinian to get Lebanese citizenship, at one time requiring about 50, ooo $ US, at least, in bakshish (bribes )to get approval through the corrupt Lebanese bureaucracy. A few, mostly Christian Palestinians were able to do so. One of them was our family doctor, who hated the Lebanese and complained that the Lebanese spit on him when he opened his mouth and the Lebanese recognized his Palestinian accent.
There was no doubt that sooner of later a war would erupt. This was in 68-70 time frame. As the Palestinians organized under the Palestinian Liberation Organization, they began to establish what was called Fatahland in the south. A clash occurred in 1968 between the Lebanese army and the Palestinians and the Lebanese prevailed, but the Egyptian ambassador who was known as the “procurator” of Lebanon, as the representative of the all powerful Nasser Egyptian regime , intervened. At a Cairo meeting under the glare of Abdul Nasser and an Arab world berating the Lebanese for being “UnArab” the Lebanese agreed to awarding the” Arafat trail” to the PLO. It was access to the Israeli border, enabling the Fedayeen to instigate cross border attacks, rocket attacks etc. unimpeded by Lebanese forces. As part of the agreement the Palestinian fighters were supposed to stay out of the cities, but of course that was immediately violated and the Fedayeen in their camouflaged tiger suits with weapons began to appear in the streets of Beirut, and the Lebanese rulers, in their usual fashion, temporized and did nothing.
The Palestinians set up a de facto autonomous state in south Lebanon, and acting as conquering victors, lording over the Shi’a villagers of the South. This was to have a significant effect in the war of 1982. The Palestinian inclination toward hubris, a character trait of their society as well as their usually higher level of education never endeared them to their hosts. As the Shi’a said, when they left Palestine we invited them to take a room in our house but then they wanted the whole.
massacre of Christian Lebanese by Libyan and Palestinian Muslims 1976
Meanwhile the Civil war in Jordan 1970-71 erupted between the West Bank Palestinians and East Bank Jordanians. It was an ethnic struggle which as the Military attache in Amman I observed. The Palestinians in Jordan adopted the same attitude as they had in Lebanon. They had established a dual government in Jordan, with separate customs, security responsibilities etc, and most of all looking down on the East Bank Bedouin soldiers, at times taunting them. This, as anyone with eyes and ears knew, was not sustainable. In the ensuing war, the PLO in Jordan was crushed, and many more Palestinians arrived in Lebanon. Among them were about 2000 Jordanian soldiers of Palestinian origin who deserted the Jordanian army during the war.
Late Yasir Arafat leader of the PLO and its most powerful group, Fatah
They formed a separate Palestinian unit in Lebanon and were the best fighting materiel the Palestinians had. Their commander was a graduate of the American Command and General Staff School ,later killed by members of a rival Palestinian terror group. At the time the PLO was made up of 12 disparate organizations who seldom functioned in unity. Some were under direct Arab government control, e.g., Al Saiqa under the Syrians, Arab Liberation Front under the Iraqis, etc. Moreover there are other groups like the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) who were not part of the PLO. The Palestinian Liberation Army (PLA) was originally the “conventional” force of the PLO having Soviet artillery and armor but gradually disappeared under the constant rebranding and reforming of the various organizations.
So in June of 1982, by Israeli statistics, more than 290 terrorist incidents had taken place and the Israelis for some time had been trying to decide what to do… total invasion….limited invasion …? The basic worry was what would Syria do? The Syrians had come into Lebanon in 1978 with the blessing of the great powers to stop the Lebanese civil war. First they turned against the Maronite Christian militias and after subduing them, took on the Sunni Muslim Palestinians who were contesting the Alawite Syrian control of Lebanon.
As so often happens the invited guests, the Syrians, stayed well beyond their welcome, but formed a tacit working relationship with the Palestinian factions who accepted their inferior status. To the Syrian regime the Palestinian cause was officially semi sacred but in reality, in Syria, as elsewhere in the Arab world, they were generally viewed as troublemakers and a problem. Useful at times for political reasons but internally always viewed with suspicion. In Syria, as elsewhere,. they were confined to refugee camps and movements were strictly limited. Of course it has to be remembered that Syrian rulers had never accepted that Lebanon was independent of Syria.
With the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador to London, in 1982, the Israelis had enough, and the the plans for invasion were dusted off and revised and an operational plan to developed to push back the fedayeen forces 25-40miles from the Israeli border. At the time it was considered the minimum amount of distance to prohibit Fedayeen artillery and rocket attacks on the northern towns of the Galilee region of Israel. There were three plans contemplated. Two consisted of the Israeli defense forces (IDF) pushing the PLO back away from the border a certain distance. the third plan ( AKA “the big plan”)was for the IDF to destroy the PLO and eject them from Lebanon completely along with the Syrian forces. This was Sharon’s plan and was favored by most of the commanders . They had learned their lesson from “Operation Litani” in 1978.
In that operation the Israelis had pushed into Lebanon to sweep the PLO back from the border, only to have international pressure applied requiring them to withdraw. Shortly thereafter the PLO moved back into the positions they held before. The UN, in its wisdom, established the UN peacekeeping organization, United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon ( UNIFIL). Its purpose was to ensure the IDF departed from Lebanon and “assist the Lebanese army in regaining control of the south.” For all these years it has failed miserably. The Lebanese army has never regained control of the south. After the PLO it became Hezbollahland. Most of the small nations who sent a battalion sized unit to Lebanon did it for the money, and many of the units were incompetent . Some sold arms to the Palestinians. As of a few months ago there were over 10000 UNIFIL troops in south Lebanon.
1982 war was warmup for 2006 war but this time not the Palestinians but Syria, Iran and Hezbollah
In the end the Israeli PM Begin and the civilians decided on a less ambitious plan, Sharon, the MINDEF, and his generals were overruled and an only a limited incursion was authorized.
In planning for the invasion, The Israeli government tried very hard to alleviate Syrian fears that the Israeli objective was to supplant Syria in Lebanon, and were encouraged to step aside and not interfere with Israeli operations in Lebanon. Initially they did so. They departed from the Lebanese coastal areas, but later, probably under Soviet pressure, they ignored pleas of the American special envoy, Philip Habib, to not get involved. they moved additional armored, Special Forces, and air defense units into Lebanon.
The ground attack kicked off on 6 June 1982 with the Israelis attacking on three axes. Within a day or so the Palestinian forces had been overrun and many were fleeing back to Beirut. If you want to read about the war day to day read the WIkistrat version. (Operation Peace for Galilee) which by the way I consider somewhat biased favoring the Arab version. It reflects the trend which has only become more pronounced as the years have gone by. The Western news media decided that Israeli is no longer the little beleaguered state battling hordes of Arab fanatics, but now the devil incarnate, using, disguised in leftist rhetoric, every anti semitic theme from blood libel to the protocols of Zion to justify their new “woke” viewpoint.
According to conventional history that has been retold over and over again until it has been enshrined as truth, Sharon deliberately manipulated the reports going back to his superiors in Tel Aviv to make it appear the Syrians were attacking his troops. this enabled him to unwisely enlarge the war. Sharon tells a different story in his autobiography. Anyway after crunching the PLO the IDF took on the Syrians in a number of pitch battles, stopping at the Beirut airport, with a concurrent push into the Bi’qa valley where they engaged a Syrian armored division divisions. This was the real fighting that occurred in this war. The quick war that PM Begin has envisioned became a political nightmare as the IDF pounded Beirut, civilian casualties mounted, and the tragedy of the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps became known. The Christian militia, known as the Phalange, with their black shirted uniforms, were unable to do their part in the overall plan. I.E., take over Beirut and oust the Palestinians and Muslim allies. Their massacre of Palestinians in the two camps became the single most remembered event of the war. 1
In the end the Palestinian power in Lebanon was crushed, their leaders, protected byAmerican troops, left Lebanon bound for Tunisia But on the con side, in the aftermath of the war, and the Syrians were able to secure even greater control of Lebanon, the IDF initially welcomed by the Shi’a villagers as saviors from their Palestinian overlords, overstayed their welcome and the resistance morphed into the Shi’a Amal and Hezbollah. Much more dangerous than the Palestinians, they were soon interlocked with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a fact facilitated by the ancestry of many Lebanese Shi’a to their original Iranian home. The Christian population that the Israelis were hoping to take over the reins of power in Lebanon found themselves embroiled in ininternecine warfare, and almost a million Christians, feeling hopeless, departed Lebanon ,probably never to return.
The IDF fought well, the plan was good and they destroyed the hagiographic Western media image of the of the Palestinian PLO. Despite years of provocation and forays across the border, the Palestinians had never concocted a plan of defense against a full scale IDF assault. Moreover their training was poor, their leaders mediocre, and overall it was more of a political organization than a fighting outfit. Even Yusuf Sayigh,. a die hard Palestinian political supporter, admitted their problems.( “Palestinian Military Performance in the 1982 War. “) Moreover the IDF pretty well destroyed the Syrian 2nd armored division, and most of their air defense. In one of the celebrated AirPower debacles of the modern era, the Syrians had 89 aircraft shot down by Israeli fighters without a single loss to the Israelis. Part of the Syrian problem was of course the Russian training which directed that the Syrian pilots fight according to directions from their ground controllers. The young Israelis pilots were able to use their own instincts and initiative against the WWII moribund Russian tactics of the Syrians. One has to marvel at the courage of the Syrian pilots whom kept on flying into the maws of death.
Overall a tactical military win but a horrible political outcome.
I read Sharon’s book aptly entitled Warrior. He is not the ogre the Western media likes to portray him. He is a George Patton type. You probably would not like to work for him but if you need a leader to win you would call him. I think he is the scapegoat for many of the political ills of the 1982 war.2 Western journalists covering the war and the historians who used their stories, are, in the famous words of David Hackworth,” unable to tell the difference between a turd and a tank.”
The Shatila, Sabra story is a typical one for the tribal, clannish Middle East. The Christian Phalange (Kata’ib) considered it payback for the Muslim massacre of Christians in the town of Damour.
I consider Sharon to be a victim of what I call the “princess Di effect.” Certain people, ideologies, movements , even nations, suddenly become, by virtue of a lock step, self reproducing media, all that is good without any rational reason to support it. Sharon suffered from the reverse of this. The Kahan commission that placed blame on Sharon was a political witch hunt. And off course he had many jealous generals in the IDF. Always a toss up— who hates Sharon the most, The Palestinians or the Israeli left?
This is the first part of an article I hope to present at the ASMEA conference in November in DC. Inshallah. Adding footnotes later
Ivan Meets Ahmad copy
The war in Ukraine grinds on at this writing and will likely be continuing at the time of the presentation of this paper. The surprise has been the apparent ineptness of the Russian forces, an incompetence that has been so blatant and inexplicable that many who study military history have continued to wait for the other shoe to drop, assuming that the Russians had some monstrous deception plan at work and waiting for an opportune time to launch and overrun Ukraine.
In the past few years there have been plethora of books and articles viewing the Russia intervention in the Middle East since 2014 as a game changer, i.e., that the long-awaited military reforms have finally come about and the humiliation of the Chechen and Afghan war inflicted on the Russian army had been redeemed. Particularly this centered on Russian intervention in Syria and a lesser amount on Libya. In the minds of many military analysts, Syria became the test bed of a revolution in military affairs, with new technology, a new confidence in their military prowess and strategies. The moribund and lackadaisical military reputation was seen as reversed and a new Russian military was making Russia a world power once again. According to this theme, just as the Desert Storm operation in Iraq regained some lost U.S. prestige from Vietnam, so did the Russian intervention in Syria and Ukraine in 2014. The lessons learned were reportedly many and the Russians seemingly were making full use of them to exhibit a military prowess not seen since WWII. Alas as it turns out the military interventions into the greater Middle East has had a deep debilitating effect on the “soul” of the Russian army.
In so doing I will trace the Russian military and intelligentsia interest in the “southward” expansion of the Russian empire and the depth as of the Russian immersion in the Greater Middle East, using an example the Russian investment in the Egyptian and Syrian war against Israel in 1973. Integral to the Russian century old interest in the greater Middle East is the rather startling similarities in political/cultural traits. These traits have produced a sort of cultural bonding, being played out today in the reluctance of Middle Eastern countries to blame the Russians for the war in Ukraine. Much of the knowledge of the Russian investment in the Middle East has been revealed by former military advisors and veterans of the Chechnya and Afghan wars, disgruntled by the callous Russian government treatments after the wars.
This paper is not an exploration of Soviet/Russian policies in the Middle East except where some context is required to surface the cultural interchange between Russian and Middle Easterner.
I have written extensively on the Arab military cultural affinities and way of war and also on the generally ineffectiveness of Western training of Arab militaries. In my experience the Russians were better in training Middle Eastern militaries, not because of better systems or more knowledgeable trainers, but because of the many cultural affinities of the two cultures, Russian and Middle Eastern. There have been articles which claimed the Russians were not popular among the Arabs but from my experience that was not true. It is true that that the Russians, especially the women, sometimes outraged the more conservative Egyptians with their immodest dress and behavior, but generally there were no severe clashes. At the top, especially in Egypt, there was considerable rancor but at the bottom, Russian advisor and Egyptian soldier, got along quite well.
My contention is that the long Soviet/Russian involvement, in the Middle East has corrupted their military ethos, and gave the Russian military leaders a false sense of capabilities in conventional warfare they do not have. Since the massive wave of Soviet weaponry and trainers pouring into Egypt in preparations of the 1973 war, the Russians have been deeply immersed in Middle Eastern politics, culture, and feeding a militaristic trend in the Middle East. This has had an adverse effect for both Middle Easterners and Russian military effectiveness.
Absorbing cultural traits is a two- way impact on both the foreign trainers and the indigenous students. I learned this working with Arab and Korean soldiers. I saw the way American liaison officers and advisors with the South Vietnamese assumed some of their ways of fighting a war, I also learned this teaching high school in a poor southern rural county. While hopefully one can pull the students up, all too often the environment pulls the instructor’s standards down. Russian military advisors who have served in the Middle East generally achieved a measure of success elevating the standards of their students in improving the status and effectiveness of the Middle East militaries with which they served, especially in Egypt, but they did it at the price of lowering their own. Nor did the Russian, contrary to what some analysts believe, absorb the lessons learned by others, especially the Americans in Vietnam and Iraq. One specific problem the Russians have always had is that they cannot bring themselves to deeply adversely criticize their way of war and leadership. Like the Arabs, Russian illusionary thinking is the norm.
Moreover, they confused the successful strategy and tactics of counterinsurgency with that of conventional war. In Vietnam I observed how we applied conventional ways of war to an insurgency and now we are witnessing how the Russians applied their counterinsurgency war lessons, albeit with to conventional war. No doubt the Russians believed they had made the transition, and cosmetically they had, but in reality, the tempo of counterinsurgency, the methods applied, and the enemy faced, was so different that only delusional thinking could have convinced the Russian leaders that all was well. Just as the Arabs have a trait of self-delusion and take flights of imaginary deeds in rhetoric so did the Russians.
The immersion of the Russian soldier into Middle Eastern culture was greatly facilitated by the congruities of Russian and Middle Eastern culture. This is a crucial point as Russia soldiers participated in the expansionism of the Russian empire in a southward direction for the past two centuries and in the modern context in the last 60 years.
My sources on middle eastern culture include my nine years’ experience in a number of Arab countries, often working with their militaries in which I made a point to understand their impressions of their earlier training by Russians. For a number of years, I have studied the available information on the Russian experience training and maintaining their Arab and Greater Middle Eastern clients as well the wars fought against them. Raphael Patai’s and Sylvia’s Haim’s books, as well as the works of Ali Al Wardi were the guideposts buttressing my observations of Arab culture.
My sources for the Russians include the most informative books written in English on the Russian military, and importantly the stories of my father, a Russian from Vitebsk, himself the son of an officer in the Czar’s army.
I will support my contentions first by examining the depth of Russian involvement in the Greater Middle East, using the Russian massive support for Egypt in the 1967, and especially the 1973 war, then examining the congruities of Russian and Middle Eastern cultures. In part two I will assess the Russian military problems in Afghanistan, and Chechnya and how they impacted on the war in Ukraine.
Finally I will address the illusion of the Syrian war used as test bed for the new Russian weaponry and training of their army
Writing of the 1973 war Vladislav Zubok, The Failed Empire wrote, “He ( President Sadat) kept the politburo and Soviet representatives in the dark- although, of course, the KGB, and military must have known about the preparations. As with the North Vietnamese earlier, the Kremlin leaders could not control or restrain their foreign clients.” Zubok’s book is a highly acclaimed work, especially by the Western elites, and as a well written analysis of the Soviet dissolution, but also it conforms to a rational world, in which even the Hitlers, Stalins, Saddams, the Ebrahim Raisis and now Putin, will ultimately bow to reality ( as the Western Elite see it). Unfortunately, the Russian world of reality is far different from the that of the Western world. In one of many sectors, the Russian political and military world view sees Russia in near eternal conflict with the Western world, embodied by NATO as the eternal enemy. As to turns out….Zubok’s view was very wrong.
The Russians were not restraining or even trying to restrain the Egyptians in the 1973 war. They were , in fact, urging the Egyptians to advance further in the Sinai, to carry on the war, and had thousands of advisors, and Russian units assisting the Egyptians in that effort. It was the Egyptian leaders who put the brakes on any further enlargement of the war. Sadat was fearful of the lessons of the 67 war and the possible loss of the entire Egyptian force.
The historical revisionist books have turned to the more comfortable view of disobedient clients, Egypt and Syria, being disciplined by cautious Russian leadership, striving to contain the war. Not so writes, Isabella Ginor and Giddeon Remez, in two powerful and carefully researched books, Foxbats over Dimona:The Soviets Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War and The Soviet-Israeli War196-1973: The USSR’s Military Intervention in the Egyptian-Israeli Conflict.
So how did the authors arrive at such a drastic revisionist history of the 1967 and 1973 war? Mostly because of the rise of Russian veterans organizations who felt they were being forgotten by the people for their sacrifices in the forever wars fought in the Middle East, not just Afghanistan, but also Egypt, Chechnya, Syria, and Africa, such as Angola, Many served in the sweltering heat of Iraq and Yemen, as well. The Soviets, always secretive, did not publicly recognize these veterans but with the limited openness of the Gorbachov and Yeltsin regimes, letters, diaries, memoirs, and books by these veterans surfaced in the West. Books like Zinky Boys by Svetlana Alexievich, One Soldier’s War by Arkady Babchenko, and Afghanistan, A Russian Soldier’s Story , by Vladislav Tamarov, revealed the ineptness and corruption of the Soviet military machine.
The authors of The Soviet-Israeli war 1967-1973, scrutinized these new sources and discovered a massive trove of information which, insofar as the Russian involvement, totally changed the conventional histories of the 67-73 war. The conventional histories written by Yevgeny Primikov, ( Russia and the Arabs) and the tons of books written by Western and Egyptian diplomats and historians, especially Henry Kissinger ,and Mohamed Hasanein Heikel, as well as the key figures in the wars, including Anwar Sadat, General Saad al Shazly, and many others all pointed to the same story, massive Russian military assistance, but only very limited Russian active support with regular units. These narrations were echo chambers and not factually correct.
The Soviet desire to keep their interventionism secret, and the Egyptian military’s understandable efforts to credit their forces with the entire success of the Suez crossing were key factors in the well told- but often wrong- histories of the war. Some, of the many key factors of the conventional treatment of the war were overturned in by the new information.
One of the more startling facts surfaced is that the widely conventional belief in the “expulsion of Russian advisors” in 1972 was not true. Nor was their a rift in Soviet-Egyptian relations to cause the “expulsion.” The Russians withdrew certain Russian units from Egypt in 72 but not the advisors, who from the beginning, remained with Egyptians units, continuing training and sometimes in front leading right up to the Crossing of the Suez. They did not venture across the Canal ( at least none were captured) but kept up active war support until the war ended. It did not end because of Soviet constraints on the Egyptians but because Sadat allegedly got cold feet and worried that the Egyptian army would be trapped and wiped out as in 1967 war . In fact, the Soviets were urging the Egyptians to go for the Sinai Mitla passes which were the main geographical and terrain obstacles to invading Israeli itself.
The Soviet weapons, especially the air defense , were highly successful in countering the best weaponry of the US and Israel. This created a pre-condition for the Egyptians and Soviets to agree to the cessation of the offset artillery and air war along the canal 68-70.In short The Russians wanted to redress the humiliation of 1967 in which the Egyptians tried to pin the blame on inferior Russian war equipment.The Russians would not allow another Egyptian defeat…not for Egypt’s sake for rather of the prestige of the Soviet Union.
I visited Egypt in 1978 with the US Chief of Staff for Intelligence at the advent of the hot phase of cordial US-Egyptian relations, almost humorous in the efforts of the Egyptians to incur our favor, including playing Fiddler on the Roof songs on the Hotel music systems. While visiting their G2 Hq. I was shown the beautifully hand drawn Egyptian diagrams of the Israeli side of the canal, the Canal berms , land mines, and the petroleum outlets for igniting flames on would be canal crossers. The Egyptians knew where they were and Frogmen turned them off prior to the crossing. But quite tellingly, midst the Arabic script writing I noticed a number of Cyrillic notes on the diagrams.
The Soviets were deeply involved in the planning and orchestration of the canal crossing from day one. ” The writers sum up…” we found the Soviet input in all these junctures to have been proactive, purposeful, and even aggressive in encouraging and supporting Egypt’s military challenge to Israel, rather than a moderate and restraining influence as it was almost universally characterized.”
None of the above detracts from the courage and capability of the Egyptians to assimilate modern equipment, train up to standard, and prosecute the war with determination and verve. They should be proud.
The above is a cautionary tale. We hear, read and see every every day lots of information ( propaganda?) depicting Ukrainians knowing out Russian tanks and shooting aircraft out of the sky. What we are not getting is any reliable information from the other side. President Zelensky’s impassioned pleas for more help do not seem to square with the experts positive analyses of the war. So in the Russian style of war we could be in phase one with phase two to follow in a couple of months or years. As in the Soviet-Israeli War one of the reasons for the massive Russian assistance Egypt was the humiliation of Russian arms in the 67 war. Like Syria in 2014, Egyptian success was entangled in Russian honor and Brezhnev’s monumental ego. Putin is even more egomaniacal. See The Man Without a Face: the Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen.
There has been some reporting and analysis by Western pontificators, on the apparent reluctance of Middle Eastern ruling elites to part company with the Russian Goliath, but not very much. Almost all of it centers on some economic, military program, or historical bond. And to be sure there is much truth there. The support of Middle Eastern dictators by the Russian depots are warmly welcomed. This has been true in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Iran, Palestine, and Yemen, and from time to time, by Egypt as well. The anti-colonialism stand by Russia was very popular in the sixties and seventies. As the Western colonial powers tried to hold on to their influence and surrogates in the Middle East, the Russians were able to claim ( erroneously) that the Soviet Union had no colonial aspirations.In fact their history in central Asia and the Islamic world is one of unceasing quest of domination. The ordinary folks, Arabs, Turks and Iranians were usually kept ignorant of that aspect of history because the elite, whether secular or the mullahs, controlled the media and the Mosques. The elites loved the authoritarian despotism of the communist world. The messy decentralized aspects of democracy were an anathema to the elites. As political elites do everywhere in the world, they believed that only they were smart enough to manage a modern state.The heady smell of power was of course the ultimate prize.
Moreover the elites of the Middle East, ironically mostly educated in the West, were enamored of the the heavy industry, socialist model of the communist world. As Abdul Nasser would say ( often) he instituted “socialism with as Arab face.” The Middle Eastern socialist minions or sympathizers worked feverishly to build a proletariat class from peasants and small shop owners. Proletarians, especially the urban type, are much easier to control. They are totally dependent on the services of the State. The elite created what Jean Francois Revel termed “pidgin marxism” ( The Totalitarian Temptation) a disastrous cocktail of quasi socialism, warlordism, and bombastic militarism. The militarism was particularly fatal. It created armies of leaders plotting coups, or clueless ciphers of the party in power, basically just corrupt inept politicians in uniform. The militarism actually inhibited the Middle Easterners from creating military forces with a martial spirit and effective fighting units. The best of the units were just praetorian guards. Militarism is basically another tool of the despots to control the flow of information and legitimize disastrous programs and ambitions of the ruling Elite. It has very little to do with creating an effective fighting force.
Syrian students wave the Syrian, Russian and Palestinian flags under a billboard bearing the portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a demonstration in support of Russia, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the Aleppo University campus in the Syrian city on March 10, 2022. (Photo by AFP)
But there is one other factor of considerable importance but almost never surfaced. That is the culture affinity of the Russian and Middle Eastern cultures. There are a couple of books that take that up indirectly but do surface it. The affinity can be found in the realm of a high context and low contact culture. Americans, and British, at least the original predominate native born, are low context people. They emphasize direct, precise language and meaning, emphasize action over planning, are monochromic, tending to do one thing at a time, while high context people get involved in many projects all at the same time, are vague and imprecise in speech patterns . Often the high context people invest in highly imaginative and ambitious projects and never finish them. The Russians and Arabs are both low context people. There are unfinished massive construction projects rusting away all over the former Soviet Union attesting to the massive communist bid to “catch up to the West,” While in Egypt I saw the same thing in German technology- built industrial projects paid for by Arab money, but never finished……. or the Sadat City, Built with the ostensible purpose of getting the large government worker population out of overpopulated Cairo. It is a dismal place of half built and falling down apartments now…at least when I was last there in the early nineties. This facet of Russian culture has manifested itself in the many military reforms, ostensibly to create a new professional army, to replace the massive conscript army that beat the Germans. Both military cultures have little regard for the lives of their soldiers. Recently the Russian Mom movement has modified that a bit but the culture of hiding ineptness with soldiers lives has not.
The Russians have a culture of survival. Historically the lives of the poor, the 90%, have been brutal and short, under brutal regimes, made livable by toughness, faith ( either in their authorities, ironically, or their religion) and often generous amounts of vodka. They are a people of contradictions, as are the Arabs. Humane, gentle, humorous then suddenly brutal and capricious. The story of Bucha in Ukraine is one example. Russian soldiers at first were polite and undemanding but as the war turned ugly the same soldiers killed civilians randomly and without a shred of sympathy. Similarly for the Middle East, Arabs, Turks, and Persians….As Sania Hamady, in her book, The Temperament and Character of the Arabs, wrote,” Arab society is ruthless, stern and pitiless. It worships strength and has no compassion for weakness.”Again this facet of character has been shaped by a hard natural environment, and an unending history of brutal Sultans, Caliphs, totalitarian dictators, and ruthless tyrants wearing religious garb. Both peoples( I write of the elites, because the fellahin of the Arab world and peasants and workers of Russia have little time to devote to metaphysical theories of worldly trends), believe they have a special mission. Te Russians like Fedor Dostoevsky, the Russians had a mission as the leader of Christianity to dominate the world. The Islamist elite believe the Arabs had a special mission to create the house of peace( Islam) that encompasses the whole world. This evangelistic impulse propels the elite of both cultures. There are many there factors that can be glean ed from the books below.
Putin I need you and I am beginning to think he may need me.
The above is why the Russian and Arabs have empathetic factors that enhance their mutual empathy.
I used information from the following:
National Identity in Russian Culture by Simon Franklin ed
The books by Edward T Hall, The Silent Language, Beyond Culture, and the Hidden Dimension
Isaiah Berlin, the Soviet Mind
Dima Adamsky The Culture of Military Innovation
and many years of reading the wisdom of Bernard Lewis, Albert Hourani, Gibbs, Raphael Patai, and the other classics on Arabdom by the great writers of Arab history.
Syria had become extolled as the Russian bridge to world status once again after the upheaval of the Soviet Union dissolving to the Russian Federation and military debacles or poorly conducted military operations in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Georgia, and in South Asian republics. The alleged successes were both in political and military spheres.
Ann Borshchevskaya ( Putin’s War in Syria) a noted scholar on all things Russian has, in a number of articles, depicted the Russian successes in using Syria as a test bed for new weapons, new military doctrine, and criticized the American leadership for standing aside and letting the Russians control Syria with their military and influence over President Assad. Writing in 2018 she wrote,
“As of this writing, Putin has obtained most of what he wanted in Syria: Assad is in a strong negotiating position; his traditional foes are increasingly coming to accept Moscow’s view, and Russia’s presence and influence in Syria are assured. As Putin gears up for a presidential election in March 2018, in which he is all but assured another six-year term, he is not bogged down in Syria. He can tout his peacemaking ability and cooperation with the West even as he is mocking it. Moscow’s cooperation with Tehran shows no signs of abating, a relationship that holds great implications for U.S. regional policy.”
Umer Khan of the University of Buckingham an astute observer of Russian activities in Syria wrote,
“Syria turned out to become a transformative conflict for the Russian military. It became the primary theatre for the Russian forces to attain operational combat experience. It provided the Russian general officers, the staff officers, and the other ranks valuable lessons on modern warfare and an opportunity to develop innovative tactics for the future conflicts. The Russian president Vladimir Putin said, ‘the use of our armed forces in combat conditions is a unique experience and a unique tool to improve our armed forces’, he also commented that ‘no exercises can compare with using the armed forces in combat conditions’. According to Kremlin the conflict provides an opportunity to the Russian Forces to refine its newly developed precision-guided strike capability. As Putin said, ‘Syria is not a shooting range for Russian weapons, but we are still using our new weapons there and it has led to the improvement of modern strike systems, including missile systems. It is one thing to have them, and quite another thing to see how they perform in combat’. The Russian Premier also acknowledged that Syria is important for the Russian defence industry promotion, marketing and growth. ”
Chechens enjoying war in Ukraine
But I have a bit of a totally different view, at least in the military arena. I think not only did the Russians learn very little from their use of Syria as a test bed for weapons and training officers, but actually became immersed in a tar baby of Syrian incompetence, corruption, brutality, and military leaders prevarication. It is true that the Russians wisely avoided any semblance of “nation building” but their exposure to Syrian malfeasance in military affairs rubbed off on the Russian military personnel rotated through Syria. The inhibiting cultural aspects of the Arab military described by me (“Why Arabs Lose Wars.” Middle East Quarterly, December 1999.https://www.meforum.org/441/why-arabs-lose-wars, and Ken Pollock ( Armies of Sand: Past, Present and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness have hampered their military effectiveness for decades. It has never been a product of a lack of intelligence or bravery, but rather engrained cultural traits which have acted as an anchor on the best efforts of Arab military reformers to up their level of competence in conventional warfare. As I have written, this does not apply to insurgency at which then Arabs have done very well for reasons I surfaced in my chapter of Barry Rubin’s book Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East, “ The Arab as Insurgent and Counterinsurgent.”
Syrian city after Russian and Syrian army shelling
However the successes of western training of an Arab military are near non -existent for reasons I elucidated in https://www.academia.edu/9494672/Western_Training_Arab_armies. In some cases the military trainer in the Arab world rather than applying his skills to the training program gradually absorbs the Arab way.
When one spends a considerable amount of time with a foreign military, as I have, I can vouch for the two way learning process that occurs being with Arabs, who are very congenial hosts. As Lawrence of Arabia, in one of his axioms wrote, “Better the Arabs do it tolerably than you do it perfectly.” Being immersed for a year of two in this milieu gradually shapes an advisor’s viewpoint especially in terms of urgency and most importantly the officers role as a leader and trainer and treatment of soldiers.
There are a number of factors within the military culture of the Russians that mesh nicely with Arab military culture. First, and perhaps foremost, is that both cultures emphasize officer training at the denigration of non- commissioned officer training. and the acceptance and need of an authoritarian type leadership in lieu of leadership at the bottomLeadership at small unit levels was missing even during World War II as evidenced by many German memoirs after the war (with some room for exaggeration). In fact the Arab and Russian dependence on officers, especially junior officers was, and is, not a remedy because the junior officers were ( and are not) well trained either. Thirdly is the small value put on human life by commanders, especially by the Russians, who often made up for inadequate leadership and tactics with brute overwhelming force in which massive casualties were considered the price of victory.
mass grave for civilians from Grozny
Often there was a lack off trust between the units based on ethnicity as is the case with Arabs in which ethnicity and tribal affiliations remain the source of overall loyalties. Despite the fact that the Ukrainians fought loyally for the Soviet Union in World War II, there has always been deep animosity between the two nationalities, even in the Gulag as noted by Solzhenitsyn. The lack of concern for enlisted men in both the Arab and Russian armies are a well established observer. My experience with Arab militaries, as well as that of many other observers and trainers on the ground, convinced me of the disconnect between officer and enlisted. My reading of the available information of the Russian performance in Chechen and Afghanistan wars is ineluctably convincing of the same problem in the Russian military. See Arkady Babchenko, One Soldiers War or Svetlana Alexievich, Zinky Boys, or Roderic Braithwaite , Afgantsy. Or as a counterweight read Alexander Werth’s hagiographic Russia at War balanced by Stalins Reluctant Soldiers by Roger Reese. Best of all read Ivans War by Catherine Merridale. The last three books are on the struggle of the Russian and Ukrainian troops to stop the Germans and destroy their war machine, and a glorious fight it was, but the problems of today were there as well, but muted by the united war against the Nazis.
Dr Bashar the esteemed president of Syria teaching strategy
So what we have here is is not a learning process but a mutual congruence of military culture engraining mutual bad habits in which both sides are losers. So despite the fact that by the end of 2017, 48,000 Russian troops had rotated through 3-month tours in Syria, and commanders had acquired experience in combined arms warfare, inter – service cooperation, and “complex employment of intelligence, C2 and fire destruction means,”..The quote is by according to Dmitry Adamsky, IFRIRussia /NIS Center, July 2018, . He goes on to write that that the “General Staff (GS) turned Syria into an incubator learning, training, and innovation.” Many writers, including me, before the the Ukraine invasion thought so, but the bottom line is always the same….. however many alphabet soup labels one wishes to use e.g., Information Technology Revolution in Military Affairs, (IT-RMA), etc etc. the basics of discipline, hard tactical training, tough leadership, and imaginative competent generals are the path to victory, not withstanding the fact that “military intellectuals'” make big bucks spinning old threads into new tapestries constantly coming up with new acronyms and terms for old lessons.It seems thew Syrians did more of the teaching than the Russians.
Perhaps the most salient lesson learned from the Russian-Syrian symbiotic relationship is the use of brutality, transforming conventional war into terror, as demonstrated by the Syrian and Russians over the past century. The penchant for brutality goes back a long way in their histories. For example; The Russian looting and rapine of eastern Germany at the close of world war II( somewhat understandable however, given the methodical German atrocities while occupying Russian cities). The mass execution of soldiers and civilians perpetrated by both sides of the Russian civil war following on the heels of WWI is one other example. In more recent history the total destruction off Grozny in Chechnya in both wars.In the final battle only 20,oo0 of the original 400,000 inhabitants remained in the city which was leveled by ceaseless bombing and artillery. In another war, the Russians systematically destroyed Afghan villages after a single shot was fired in their direction. There was no hearts and minds campaign!
The Syrians under Hafez Assad replicated the destruction off Grozny in the reduction of the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood rebellion in the city of Hama.Twenty to thirty thousand people, mostly civilians were killed by airstrikes and area type artillery bombardment. When I was in Syria in the mid 1990’s the scars of war were still evident in the patched up apartment buildings and the sour demeanor of the people.The Russian provided the lesson for Syria in total destruction of Afghan villages in the Afghan Russian war as well as Grozny in the two wars on Chechnya.
another day…. picking up bodies in Syria
This type of warfare is inordinately simple. Position your missile launchers and artillery within range of the city and keep shelling and bombing until the body and mind of the defenders give way. Atrocities are calculated to instill terror using quasi military units like Shabiba in Syria and the Chechens in Ukraine.
A Lesson for the Western “military intellectuals”…. Terror works.