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ArabsatWar Intro .pdf



Nombre del archivo original: ArabsatWar_Intro.pdf
Título: map-01.eps
Autor: Chris Brest

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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.∞
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.≤ 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

2 understanding arab military effectiveness

sent them reeling, driving them off the Golan and erasing all of their
modest gains. The Israelis then continued on, pushing toward Damascus
itself before they were forced to stop because of the unexpected arrival of
reinforcements from Jordan and Iraq.
In 1973 the Syrians had all of the advantages that the Soviets had enjoyed
in 1944, probably even more. But the Syrians were unable to achieve the
same results as the Red Army. Whereas the Russians went on to win one of
the most stunning victories in modern history, the Syrians suffered one of
their nation’s worst defeats. The Soviet success in Byelorussia was so crushing that it paved the way for the final Soviet assault on Germany and ended
the threat to Russia from Hitler’s Reich. The failed attack on the Golan was
equally decisive, persuading Syria that it had no option to regain the area
from Israel by conventional assault, a conclusion that has held firm for
nearly thirty years.
Comparing Syrian and Soviet fortunes demonstrates that the history of
warfare in the Middle East defies understanding by traditional, material
measures. Since the end of the European and Ottoman empires, the Middle
East has been consumed by conflict. The Arab states have repeatedly gone
to war with Israel, with Iran, with indigenous ethnic groups, with Africans,
with Europeans, with Americans, and with each other. Yet in each of these
wars, the Arabs have fared worse than expected. The Soviet-Syrian comparison demonstrates that when traditional Western (particularly American) methods for assessing military power are applied to the Middle East,
they generally fail to explain the actual outcomes. The Soviets prevailed in
1944 because of the advantages of surprise and numbers. Yet the Syrians,
with the same advantages, lost badly.
Nor can other conventional measures of military power adequately explain the outcome of modern Middle Eastern wars. In addition to the
numeric balance and considerations of surprise, Western military analysts
have traditionally explained battlefield outcomes by reference to imbalances in firepower, the quality of weaponry employed by the combatants,
air support, foreign intervention, and a variety of lesser factors. However,
the history of Arab armies in combat demonstrates that none of these
factors could reasonably explain the outcomes. Numerous examples can be
found of Arab armies that, like the Syrians in 1973, enjoyed commanding
advantages in one or all of these categories yet still lost, often disastrously.
For example, Libyan forces defending Tripoli’s conquests in northern
Chad in 1987 deployed far more advanced and more powerful weaponry
than their Chadian opponents but were crushed nonetheless. The Libyans
were armed with Soviet-made T-62 and T-55 tanks, btr-60 and btr-70

understanding arab military effectiveness 3
armored personnel carriers (apcs), D-30 and M-46 artillery pieces, and
MiG-21, MiG-23, and Su-22 fighter-bombers. In contrast, Chadian forces
possessed nothing more sophisticated than a handful of older Western
armored cars and mostly relied on Toyota pick-up trucks mounting crewserved infantry weapons. The Chadians had no tanks, no apcs, no artillery, no air force, no infantry weapons heavier than the Milan antitank
guided missile, and only the complicated and ineffectual Redeye shoulderlaunched surface-to-air missile (sam) for air defense. What’s more, the
Chadians did not operate their weaponry very well. Nevertheless, an army
of as many as 20,000 Libyans was demolished by 10,000 Chadian regulars
and 20,000 tribal militia during eight months of fighting.≥
Similarly, against Iran in 1980, Iraqi forces enjoyed a heavy advantage in
the firepower they could bring to bear. Iraq boasted 2,750 tanks, 1,040
artillery pieces, 2,500 apcs, and 330 fighter-bombers. Against this, Iran
could muster no more than about 500 operational tanks, probably no more
than 300 functioning artillery pieces, and less than 100 operable aircraft.∂
In every battle the Iraqis were able to bring enormous firepower to bear
against the outgunned Iranians. Despite this advantage, Iraq’s invasion of
southwestern Iran hardly dented the disorganized and demoralized Iranian
military, nor did Baghdad conquer anything of military or economic value
in three months of largely unimpeded offensives. By the end of that same
war, Iraqi forces not only enjoyed very sizable advantages in numbers of
equipment but also possessed an equivalent edge in the sophistication of
their weaponry. For instance, Iraqi forces deployed nearly 5,000 tanks compared to the less than 1,000 operable tanks Iran could muster—and most of
the Iraqi tanks that saw the brunt of the fighting were advanced T-72s and
T-62s, while the Iranians were mostly equipped with miserable Chinese
Type-59s. Whereas the Iraqi Air Force had nearly 700 combat aircraft,
including new French Mirage F-1s and Soviet MiG-29s, the Iranians had
less than 100 flyable U.S. F-14s, F-4s, and F-5s, few of which were fully
functional as a result of the U.S. arms embargo. Still, Iraq was able to eke
out a win in 1988 only by resorting to liberal doses of chemical warfare and
creating local force ratios of 20- or even 30-to-1 in tanks, troops, and guns.
In short, conventional measures cannot explain Arab experiences in battle. Since 1945 the Arab states have experienced problems that have denied
their armed forces the success on the battlefield that objective factors suggest should be within their grasp. The source of this problem is what is
often referred to as the ‘‘human factor’’ or military effectiveness. Military
effectiveness is the ability of an armed service to prosecute military operations and employ weaponry in military operations.∑ It is therefore a mea-

4 understanding arab military effectiveness

sure of the quality of an army’s personnel—not the quality of its weaponry
or the quantity of its men or materiel. Military effectiveness refers to the
ability of soldiers and officers to perform on the battlefield, to accomplish
military missions, and to execute the strategies devised by their politicalmilitary leaders. If strategy is the military means by which political ends are
pursued, military effectiveness refers to the skills that are employed.
Of course, military effectiveness is not the same thing as victory and is
only one of many factors that determines victory or defeat. Highly effective
armed forces may still lose wars, and highly ineffective militaries may still
win them. For example, the Germany army from 1914 to 1945 is widely
considered to have been extremely competent in many areas of military
operations, yet it ultimately lost both world wars. But George Washington’s
Continental Army could never match the battlefield proficiency of its British foes, yet it found a way to win the American Revolutionary War.
It is clear from the comparisons above and a raft of other examples that
in the Middle East military effectiveness has played the decisive role in
determining the outcome of the various wars fought between the Arabs and
their foes. Israel’s triumphs over larger and better-armed Arab armies have
been a clear sign that the military balance in the region has primarily been
driven by the military effectiveness of the opposing forces rather than numbers, equipment, or any other material factor. Thus, since 1948, military
officers, analysts, politicians, journalists, and historians have all concluded
that war in the Middle East has principally been decided by the quality of
the combatants, not their numbers or weapons, their industry or technology, their morale or allies.∏
Explanations for Arab Military Ineffectiveness
Although there is a consensus that the principal culprit hobbling the Arab
states in war is the limited effectiveness of their armed forces, there is disagreement over the specific problems they encounter in combat.π Over the
course of time, different military officers, analysts, and historians have offered divergent assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of Arab armies
and air forces.∫ In every case they have identified certain kinds of military
operations they believe the Arab armed forces perform poorly and have
claimed that it has been these specific problems that have limited Arab
victories and exacerbated their defeats.
Unit Cohesion
Among the most well-known arguments regarding Arab military ineffectiveness is the claim that their armies have been plagued by poor unit

understanding arab military effectiveness 5
cohesion, or the willingness of small military formations—platoons, companies, battalions, squadrons, and such—to stick together and continue to
fight and act as a team in the stress of combat. Since the Second World War,
a number of American authors, particularly the distinguished combat veteran S. L. A. Marshall, have argued that an army’s tactical unit cohesion is
probably the single most important element of its overall effectiveness.Ω
Several months after the Six Day War, Israel’s military intelligence chief,
Yehoshofat Harkabi, wrote an article arguing that the collapse of the Arab
armies during that war and the 1956 Sinai-Suez War derived from poor
unit cohesion, which he in turn ascribed to societal influences in Arab interpersonal relations. Harkabi asserted that Israeli victory had been possible—
in fact, easy—in these conflicts primarily because the Egyptian, Syrian, and
Jordanian units they fought fell apart quickly when attacked by the Israelis.
He described the fighting as consisting of sharp blows from Israeli forces
that caused the Arab units to dissolve and left every man for himself. Since
Arab units fragmented upon contact, the Israeli victories were quick and
required little fighting.∞≠
Generalship
Another explanation for Arab military ineffectiveness is that Arab armies
have regularly been disappointed by the performance of the generals who
led them. This argument is frequently heard in the wake of Middle Eastern
wars, especially from the Arabs themselves, many of whom claim that their
troops fought well but were betrayed by the incompetence or perfidy of
their senior leaders. For example, after the Six Day War, the Egyptians
blamed Field Marshal ¡Amr for the catastrophe; the Jordanians heaped all
fault for their defeat on the Egyptian commander of the eastern front, Lt.
Gen. ¡Abd al-Mun¡im Riyad; and the Syrians nearly ousted Hafiz al-Asad
from his post as defense minister for losing the Golan Heights.∞∞ Likewise,
the generals who led the Egyptian, Iraqi, and Syrian armies were all held
culpable for their defeat at the hands of the Israelis in 1948, and Saddam
Husayn purged nearly all of his top army and air force commanders for the
poor showing of Iraqi forces during the 1980 invasion of Iran.∞≤
Tactical Leadership
Another explanation for the problems of Arab armed forces is that Arab
junior officers are unable to conduct modern maneuver warfare. Competent tactical leadership is crucial to contemporary military operations.∞≥ On
land, combat is dominated by infantry, artillery, tanks, and other armored
vehicles, often engaging in fluid battles of maneuver. In the air, combat is

6 understanding arab military effectiveness

dominated by nimble fighter and attack aircraft, whose pilots likewise must
prevail in chaotic and quickly changing engagements. The fluidity of these
battles places a tremendous burden on tactical leadership.
To succeed on the modern battlefield, a military must be able to decentralize command and have the kind of leaders at the scene with the right
demeanor to seize fleeting opportunities to defeat the enemy. In a tank
battle it is the commander who recognizes a gap opening between two
enemy units and plunges in immediately, before his adversary can close
it, who usually prevails. It is the same in air combat, in which a pilot
must recognize in the midst of a swirling dogfight—or an airstrike against
a heavily defended target—when an opportunity arises allowing him to
drive home an advantage. Consequently, modern combat demands tactical
leaders—platoon, company, battalion, and brigade commanders as well as
pilots and squadron leaders—who are aggressive and have the initiative to
take immediate, independent action; who are innovative and able to find
creative solutions to battlefield problems; who are flexible and can quickly
change their actions to adapt to unforeseen circumstances; who realize the
importance of maneuvering to gain a spatial advantage over the enemy and
constantly search for ways to achieve this; and who understand how their
own mission fits into the larger battle so that they can improvise solutions
to unexpected problems and help the efforts of their commanders.
Success on the modern battlefield also requires the tactical integration of
the various combat arms. Normally, it is the army that can best coordinate
the actions of its infantry, armor, mechanized infantry, artillery, antitank
units, aircraft, combat engineers, and antiaircraft forces (to name only a
few) that prevails. Because the whole of a modern military working as a
team is much more powerful than the sum of its parts, it is crucial for any
army to demonstrate good combined-arms operations if it is to perform at
its peak. This means that tactical commanders must ensure that their armored forces are properly supported by infantry and artillery to suppress
enemy antitank teams, that their infantry is able to advance by using armor
to punch through enemy lines and air power to silence enemy artillery, that
their engineers clear routes for the tanks and infantry over minefields and
across water obstacles, and that their air forces are able to fly unhindered by
using armored forces to disrupt enemy air defenses in addition to other
considerations.
Many Israeli military officers and Western military historians have cited
problems in these areas as the greatest failings of Arab armed forces.∞∂
Israeli field commanders, almost to a man, aver that Arab junior officers are
unable to function in the manner required of tactical leaders in the kinds of

understanding arab military effectiveness 7
fluid ground and air battles that frequently prove decisive in modern wars.
Indeed, the Israelis have consciously structured their own military doctrine
to take advantage of this perceived weakness.∞∑
Information Management
Another problem of military effectiveness frequently ascribed to Arab
armed forces is poor acquisition and management of information. Knowing
more than one’s adversary is often a decisive advantage on the battlefield and failing to get the right information into the hands of those who
most need it is often a crippling liability. Israelis, Westerners, and even
many senior Arab military officers have acknowledged that Arab armed
forces have tremendous difficulty handling information. Here the claim is
that Arab militaries pay inadequate attention to gathering intelligence—
especially at tactical levels—about their adversaries and that Arab soldiers
and officers do not properly pass information along the chain of command
to ensure that every unit has the information it needs to execute its mission.
In particular, these officers state that Arab militaries compartmentalize
information, that little information flows from top levels down to field
formations, and that lower levels of the chain of command regularly distort
or even fabricate information to exaggerate successes and hide failures.∞∏
Technical Skills and Weapons Handling
Machines are an integral part of modern warfare. The weapons of modern
armed forces—even the simplest ones such as pistols and rifles—are all
mechanical devices. Moreover, since World War II, increasingly complex
weapons have been added to the national arsenals. The relatively simple
antiaircraft guns of 1945 have been superseded by highly complicated sams
and radar-controlled guns. Even the most complex tanks of World War II
are child’s play compared to the computer-controlled versions of the Persian Gulf War of 1990–91. Likewise, the propeller-driven airplanes of the
1940s are a different kind of machine altogether from the jets of the 1990s.
In short, throughout the last fifty years, technology and machines have
been the sinews of war. It is almost inconceivable to make war without
them, and the more powerful the machines an army possesses, and the
better an army is able to employ the machines at its disposal, the better it is
likely to fare on the battlefield.
A charge frequently leveled against Arab armed forces is that they are
unable to fully exploit the capabilities of the weapons and other military
equipment they possess. On some occasions, they have complained that the
equipment they fielded was either inferior to that of their opponents or

8 understanding arab military effectiveness

obsolete altogether. However, the large number of wars the Arabs have
waged in which their equipment was equal or even superior to that of their
foe undermines this claim. But Western and Israeli military personnel who
have faced the Arabs in battle have repeatedly opined that Arab soldiers and
officers are rarely able to employ their equipment to the full extent of its
capabilities. They argue that Arab personnel are not technically expert
enough to handle their weapons in the fashion intended by the manufacturer, and that the more sophisticated the weaponry, the less able are Arab
personnel to employ it properly. Thus, Arab armies have fallen victim to
their own lack of technical proficiency and their own inability to use their
tanks, artillery, aircraft, and other weapons properly.∞π
Logistics and Maintenance
Closely related to these charges is the claim that Arab armies likewise have
difficulty sustaining their forces in battle. Logistics has always been the
linchpin of military operations, and today, because of the mechanization of
armies and the development of air power, supplying military forces has had
to become vastly more complex to handle the quantum increase in logistical
demands created by mechanization. Quartermasters now have to worry
about not only feeding, clothing, and quartering troops but also ensuring
an adequate flow of fuel, lubricants, spare parts, ammunition, and other
consumables for the vast array of vehicles and weapons a modern army
deploys.
Moreover, it is not enough simply to provide supplies for this equipment; it must be maintained as well. This entails both routine preventive maintenance to ensure that the machinery continues to function properly and repair work to fix or replace equipment damaged by movement,
weather, neglect, or combat. Just as supplying a modern army demands
technically sophisticated personnel who understand the needs of a mechanized force and can see that its supply requirements are met, so maintenance demands large numbers of technically able support personnel who
can keep this military hardware functioning.
Morale
Still another explanation offered for Arab military problems is poor morale.
Many observers, particularly in the Arab world, have excused the performance of their armed forces by claiming that the soldiers and officers have
lacked the will to fight. They often note that a despotic regime fought these
conflicts for goals that were less than compelling to their troops. The Iraqi
collapse during the Gulf War is often cited as an example of this phenome-

understanding arab military effectiveness 9
non. In other cases, class differences resulting in friction between officers
and enlisted men have been cited as the culprit, creating a spirit of ambivalence or even hostility that sapped any commitment to the cause. This
charge is often leveled at the Egyptian army during the Six Day War, in
which Egyptian officers—having no ties to their men—allegedly abandoned them to their fate as soon as the Israelis attacked, demoralizing the
soldiers and leading to the rout of the entire army.∞∫
Training
Some scholars of the Middle East have asserted that Arab defeats resulted from misguided or inadequate training and claim that because Arab
militaries are often charged with defending their regime against internal
threats, their forces are preoccupied with policing the streets to guard
against any popular revolt and shielding the palace of the despot to prevent
a coup d’état. Proponents of this explanation argue that Arab militaries
train and prepare to deal primarily with internal threats—riots, coups, and
revolutions—and not for conventional military operations against foreign
armies. It is this lack of preparation that has plagued Arab armed forces,
they charge, and claim that if the Arabs were ever to dedicate themselves to
a training regimen for conventional warfare, they would do just fine.∞Ω
A few Western military officers and analysts aver that Arab militaries
simply do not train ‘‘seriously’’ for modern combat. By this they mean that
training is lackadaisical, sporadic, and often entirely neglected. This is not
to say that the preparation is ‘‘bad’’ or ‘‘misguided,’’ as those who believe
Arab training focuses excessively on internal threats argue. Instead, these
commentators assert that rather than being inappropriate, Arab training is
simply inadequate. They believe that this lack of attention to training causes
poor tactical leadership, poor morale, poor combined arms operations,
poor weapons handling, and poor intelligence gathering. Thus, they claim
that many, if not all, of the problems diagnosed by other experts are ultimately the result of inadequate training.≤≠
Cowardice
Perhaps the most malicious theory offered to account for the failings of
Arab armies in combat is that Arab soldiers and officers are simply cowards
who break and run at the first sign of danger. Few military experts subscribe
to this, but it has been a widely held belief among Western civilians and
even a number of Western military officers, including some with considerable experience fighting the Arabs. For example, Winston Churchill once
remarked, ‘‘It appeared easier to draw sunbeams out of cucumbers than to

10

understanding arab military effectiveness

put courage into the fellah,’’ referring to Egyptian peasants.≤∞ Some Israeli
military officers have also suggested this explanation.≤≤
Assessing Arab Military Effectiveness
Clearly, there is no shortage of explanations for Arab military ineffectiveness. The goal of this book is to examine these explanations and assess their
validity, both in an absolute sense and relative to one another. Thus, the
following chapters attempt to answer two questions: first, to what extent
did Arab armies and air forces suffer from each of the problems claimed to
be the cause of their difficulties in battle? And second, which of these
problems was most detrimental to their fortunes in war? After all, it may
well be that while the Arabs experienced a range of problems that all contributed to their poor military effectiveness, some problems may have been
more harmful than others. By answering these two questions, one can
determine both the problems the Arabs experienced in battle since 1945
and the true causes of their defeats and costly victories.
To accomplish this task, this book recounts the post–World War II
military history of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Syria in
some detail to allow the reader to observe how each of these armed forces
performed a broad range of operations. These six states encompass the
lion’s share of Arab experience in war since 1945. Moreover, plumbing their
military history allows one to examine a range of battles that pitted Arab
forces against a variety of different opponents, in a variety of different kinds
of terrain, and in a variety of different missions. This spectrum is important
to ensure that any conclusions do not depend on who the Arab armies
fought, or where they battled, or what they were trying to accomplish.
Warfare is a competitive activity. Consequently, in any particular conflict an army’s effectiveness can be measured only in relation to that of its
opponent. It may be that against certain adversaries an army will conduct
one type of mission well, but against another opponent it will conduct the
same type of mission poorly because of unique features of that adversary’s
forces. To ensure that any conclusions about a military’s effectiveness are
not warped by who they are fighting, it is important whenever possible to
measure them against a number of different opponents. By examining the
full military histories of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Syria
since 1945, one can observe these Arab powers in combat against Israelis,
Europeans, Americans, Kurds, Persians, Africans, and each other—a wide
enough range to ensure that any conclusions do not simply reflect the
interaction of Arab forces with one particular adversary.
By the same token, it is important to observe an army in different geo-

understanding arab military effectiveness 11
graphic settings to properly assess its effectiveness. Land warfare is highly
dependent on the terrain in which it is conducted. Deserts, mountains,
jungles, forests, rivers, swamps, farmland, grassland, and cities all shape
military operations in very different ways. Each constrains some types of
operations and aids others. For instance, forests impede the movement of
armored vehicles and greatly hinder aircraft attempting to locate and attack
ground targets. But forests also can conceal the build-up of forces and
hamstring a defender from rapidly shifting reserves to a threatened sector.
Because of the tremendous effect of topography on ground combat and on
the ability of air forces to contribute to the ground battle, it is important to
examine military performance in a range of environments. The Egyptians,
Iraqis, Jordanians, Libyans, Saudis, and Syrians have fought in almost every
kind of terrain imaginable—except for triple-canopy jungle. Arab armies
have fought in the mountains of Lebanon, the deserts of the Sinai, the
marshes of Khuzestan, the fields of central Iraq, the savannah of East Africa, the hills of the West Bank, and the streets of Khorramshahr, Port Suez,
Port Sa¡id, and Jerusalem.
Finally, when attempting to assess the effectiveness of a country’s military, it is important to examine its execution of a range of different missions.
Different political goals and different military strategies tend to demand
certain military skills over others. For instance, a purely defensive strategy
probably will test an army’s ability to perform tactical defensive operations,
counterattacks, and defensive counterair missions more than its ability to
conduct large-scale assaults and offensive counterair missions. Thus, the
performance of the military in such a role will tell somewhat more about its
abilities in defensive operations than in offensive operations. Consequently,
it is useful to examine the forces in question while attempting to perform
various missions. The history of the six Arab armies investigated here includes all-out offensives, limited attacks intended to serve narrow political objectives, protracted attrition battles, border skirmishes, counterinsurgency campaigns, and defensive operations of every stripe.
The History of Arab Military Effectiveness
Each of the following chapters contains a description of the course of the
wars fought by Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. These
accounts are not so much meticulous lists of details so much as broader
analyses of how well the Arab armies and air forces prosecuted their missions in each campaign. Consequently, I have left out much extraneous
material—peacetime operations, the army’s relationship to its broader society, and even some minor military operations—that might be important

12

understanding arab military effectiveness

for a pure history of the armed forces but is irrelevant to the development of
its effectiveness. In addition, in several cases I have glanced over or left out
altogether certain minor skirmishes and peripheral operations that shed
little light on the question of military effectiveness. For instance, I do not
address the remarkable Israeli drive along the eastern coast of the Sinai
toward Sharm ash-Shaykh during the Six Day War because this operation
offers no insight into Egyptian military effectiveness.
Another important consideration in writing this book was to present the
development of Arab military effectiveness in the proper political and strategic setting. As Clausewitz admonished over 150 years ago, war is a political action fought within a political context. It is impossible to judge the
competence of an army if one does not know what it is trying to accomplish.
Therefore, for each Middle Eastern war examined, I also outline the strategy and goals of both the Arab militaries and their adversaries to provide
the political yardstick against which their military performance must be
judged. This is particularly important when attempting to assess generalship because the crucial measure of a strategic plan is its ability to translate
political objectives into military operations. The overall mission is less
important when assessing tactical performance because a battalion can fight
just as well trying to secure what ultimately may prove to be a meaningless
objective as it can trying to secure what turns out to be a vital one.
Each chapter also addresses the question of why the Arab militaries won
or lost each campaign in which they participated. It is critical to know not
only the patterns of military effectiveness evinced by Arab militaries but
also the importance of each pattern. Since I am attempting to identify the
greatest problems afflicting the Arab armies since 1945, their patterns of
poor performance are only important to the extent that they influenced the
outcome of the conflict. For this reason, each chapter not only describes the
course of each war but also includes an assessment of the various factors
that resulted in victory or defeat.
For the same reason, each chapter also considers a number of other
factors that often are important in deciding the outcome of a conflict. It is
important to keep these other influences in mind so that the effect of the
different aspects of military effectiveness can be placed in the right context.
For instance, it may be that an army not only had awful strategic leadership
in a given campaign but also was surprised by an enemy with superior
weaponry and a huge advantage in numbers. In this case, the army’s poor
generalship would not loom as large as a source of defeat as it otherwise
might. After all, given the huge disparity in numbers and weaponry, as well
as the disadvantage of having been surprised, the army might still have lost

understanding arab military effectiveness 13
the battle even if its generals had been more competent. Therefore, for
each campaign, I note the quantitative balance of forces, the effect of the
terrain, any weapons superiority, and any advantage of surprise. Another
factor I consider is which side was on the defensive. In the modern era,
there is an inherent advantage to the defense and therefore the attacker
must have some kind of an advantage—quantitative or qualitative—to allow him to prevail.≤≥ In Clausewitz’s words, ‘‘The defensive form of warfare
is intrinsically stronger than the offensive.’’≤∂ Finally, for every engagement, I address the capability of the opponent, even if only implicitly,
because warfare is always a competitive activity, and one side’s skill level can
only be judged relative to that of its adversary.


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