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The War Nerd May 3, 2003
Syria: Plenty of Nuthin'
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
Page 2 of 2
Once the Syrians were sure the Israelis weren't going to Damascus, they started talking big again, trying to get the Egyptians to attack Israel. I read a great line in one Egyptian's story about this. He said, "The Syrians were willing to fight Israel right down to the last Egyptian." And the Egyptians weren't buying it anymore. They made peace and left the Syrians to deal with Israel on their own.

The Syrians' next showing was their worst. In 1982 the Israelis invaded Lebanon to force out the PLO. The Syrian Air Force sent 90 of their Russian fighters to take on the Israeli AF. The result was the biggest turkey shoot since the last battles in the Pacific in '45. The Israelis shot down every one of those Syrian planes without losing a single plane themselves. 90-0. That's what you call a decisive score.

Then The Israelis went after the big, expensive, Soviet-built Syrian air-defense network. They knocked out 17 of 19 Syrian SAM sites in a day -- and yep, they didn't lose a single of their own planes doing it. From there on, it just got worse for the Syrian armed forces. For one thing, they depended on the Soviets more than any other country. All their hardware was Russian, and they haven't been able to maintain or repair it since the USSR went out of business. Like a lot of Russian client states, they went for the big, impressive numbers instead of coming up with a sensible force mix. They bought 5,000 Soviet tanks, but half of them are T-55s, old enough to draw a pension. The newer ones, T-62s and T-72s, could be tough with real soldiers manning them. But the Syrians turned most of them into wheeled artillery, basically put them up on breeze blocks like old cars in a Mexican neighborhood, and let them rust.

The AF is in even worse shape. Losing 90 planes out of 90 in your last war can't be good for morale. Besides, the Syrian AF is all-Soviet, nothing but Sukhois and MiGs. And they can't get Soviet repairmen to make house calls to Damascus anymore.

Tanks can run for a while without an overhaul (especially Russian tanks) but fighters take more fuss than racehorses. You can pretty much take it for granted that the Syrian AF won't be flying if there's a war. And once you give an American invasion force total air supremacy, it's all over.

There's one wild-card, and that's WMDs. Saddam didn't have any, but the Syrians might. After their air force and SAM network got smashed in '82, they invested in bio- and chemical-weapon components. It was like a poor man's nuke program -- a last-ditch Hell weapon to use if anyone invaded.

Thing is, even if the Syrians do have some chemical weapons, there's no way they'll ever use them. They're not crazy. They're cowards, but they're sane cowards.

There's only one country on earth that really would use everything it's got against us, and that's the one country nobody wants to talk about: North Korea.

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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.
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