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Syrian Tank-Hunters in Lebanon, 1982 PDF Print E-mail
Contributed by Tom Cooper & Yaser al-Abed   
May 11, 2009 at 10:37 PM
One of little-known aspects of the Lebanon War, fought between Israel, PLO, and Syria, in June 1982, was a complex anti-tank battle fought by helicopters of both sides. While at least some details about Israeli attack helicopters were published ever since, almost nothing is known about the Syrians, regardless how interesting and innovative some their tactics was.
Syrian Attack Helicopters
In the early 1980s the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) operated one brigade with four squadrons of SA.342L/M Gazelles (976, 977, 988, and an unknown unit – probably 989 Sqn), and one wing of three squadrons equipped with Mi-25s (765, 766, and 767). Both brigades had units based at Marj al-Sultan and al-Jdaydeh airfields, but part of Mi-24s was permanently deployed to Sueda AB as well.

Syria was a relatively new operator of combat helicopters, having obtained the first 18 French-built Aérospatiale SA.342 Gazelles only in 1977, in response to Israeli acquisition of Bell AH-1 Cobras. These 18 Gazelles entered service with the 976 Attack Helicopter Squadron, based at al-Jdaydeh AB, and were originally equipped with AS.12 anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). Later on, additional SA.342s were supplied, enabling the SyAAF to organize a full brigade of three squadrons, and one unit used for liaison and cooperation with police. Also supplied to Syria by France were HOT ATGMs. HOT is essentially a French-German equivalent to the US-made TOW, this designation actually standing for “Hautsubsonique Optiquement Téleguidé Tiré d’un Tube” – or “high-subsonic optical remote-guided fired from a tube”, with semi-automatic command-to-line of sight (SACLOS) guidance, with guidance inputs being transferred via a thin wire connecting the missile with the helicopter. As delivered to Syrians, the HOT was considered one of the most advanced ATGMs world-wide, claimed as capable of penetrating 700mm of steel armour at 0° and 288mm armour at 65°. The missile was delivered in tubes, of which each Gazelle could carry four, mounted on stubs behind the cockpit.

Aérospatiale SA.342 Gazelle was the main anti-tank weapon of the Syrian Air Force in this war. The three units equipped with the type flew slightly over 100 combat sorties during four days of battles between the Syrians and Israelis, in June 1982. Their crews claimed well over 30 kills against Israeli tanks and additional hits on a number of other vehicles. In exchange the SyAAF Gazelles suffered a loss of five helicopters. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Given that SyAAF purchased no Western-built aircraft or helicopters already since the late 1950s, the acquisition of Gazelles was quite surprising for many observers in the West. But, the fact was that this deal came as a result of Saudi efforts to orient as many Arab states towards West as possible, as well as Soviet inability to supply the number of Mil Mi-24 (ASCC-Code “Hind”) helicopters required by Syria. The Soviets needed any Hind they could get at the time for their units based in East Germany. Nevertheless, once the French started delivering Gazelles to Syria, the Soviets followed the suit, and in spring of 1981 the first squadron of four - later to rise to 12 - Mi-25s was organized at al-Mezzeh AB, near Damascus, followed by another unit, then based in al-Ladahiqiyah. The Mi-25 was considered a “monkey” version of the Mi-24, a downgraded variant supplied to “less reliable” customers. Its main anti-tank armament was the 9M17 Skorpion from the Falanga family of ATGMs (ASCC-Code “AT-2 Swatter”). This was a relatively primitive but simple ATGM with MCLOS radio-guidance. Each Mi-25 could mount four Swatters on launch rails mounted bellow wing-tips. The AT-2 was supplied in several variants, of which the B was sold to Syria. This version could reach targets out to a range of 3.500m, and had a claimed capability of armour penetration of over 500mm at 0°. Arabic Mi-25-pilots in generaly considered it useless, foremost because of its poor reliability. In addition, the Mi-25 was equipped with the YakB-12,7 machine-gun, mounted in a barbette underneath the front cockpit, as well as UB-32-57 rocket launchers for unguided rockets.

After closely monitoring the Iraqi experiences with Mi-25s, the Syrians relatively early dropped the use of AT-2 almost completely, and were arming their Mi-25s with machine-guns and unguided rockets, or bombs only. For various reasons that stood in no relation directly to the SyAAF, the introduction of Gazelles and Mi-25s in service with SyAAF was not entirely complete by spring of 1982. In fact, eventually the Syrian Hinds were not to see any kind of combat service during the fighting against Israelis. Consequently, although there is a number of reports of the contrary – especially in the Russian and Ukrainian, but also in specialized Western publications - the SyAAF Mi-25s did not fly even a single combat sortie in 1982: when it comes to the SyAAF anti-tank operations Gazelles fought almost alone.

Hunter-Killer Tactics
By early 1982 the Syrians were expecting some kind of a new Israeli operation in southern Lebanon. Their commanders calculated that the IDF would most likely launch an attack similar to the Operation “Litani”, from 1978, when the Israelis drove only some 40km deep into Lebanon in a search for Palestinian terrorists. However, the Syrians knew that in the case the Israelis would not stop on the Litani River a major clash with IDF was inevitable. Yet, with most of Syrian Army important units being deployed either along the Golan Heights or in Damascus, and given the burden of sustaining a sizeable force inside Lebanon already since 1976, as well as because of their commitment in the local civil war, Damascus lacked assets and space to build a strong front-line stretching over whole width of Lebanon. In fact, by early June 1982 the majority of Syrian units in Lebanon was deployed in centre of the country, between Beirut and Zahle, with established defences only around specific points of interest - along the highway Beirut-Damascus, and especially in the area of the village of as-Sultan Yac'ub at Tanta.

Studying the local terrain, roads, dozens of villages in southern Lebanon and possible routes along which the Israelis could approach, the Syrians developed simple but effective tactics. This called for co-ordination between SyAAF helicopters and specially trained “hunter-killer teams” of the Syrian Army. The aim was to ambush and tie down Israeli mechanized formations by ground-forces, preferably at short range and within urban areas, and then hit them by attack helicopters that would approach using local hilly terrain.

Syrian Army anti-tank team seen displaying its main weapons: RPG-7s. (US DoD via Tom Cooper)

By early June 1982 the SA had the whole 20 Commando Battalion with a total of 50 hunter-killer teams deployed in Lebanon, mainly in the areas south and west of Beirut, but also in eastern and southern suburbs of the city. Each of Syrian teams consisted of between four and six men, armed with some of the best Western and Soviet anti-tank weapons of the time, including RPG-7s, RPG-18s (disposable 64 mm antitank rocket launcher), AT-4 Spigot ATGMs (only early-production 9P135 units), and MILAN ATGMs from France. Usually there were two shooters and two loaders in each team. Every six-man team had two additional members equipped with SA-7 MANPADS. Syrian anti-tank troops were older, more experienced soldiers of the SA, showing strong military skills and determination, and were later described by the Israelis as having a very professional attitude towards their mission. They operated with predilection in urban areas, where narrow streets of Lebanese towns and villages could easily be turned into shooting galleries for Israeli tanks.

Of conventional fighting forces the major Syrian units in Lebanon were the 10th and the 3rd Armoured Divisions. The 10th Armoured Division was deployed south of the Beirtu-Damascus road, and inside Beirut, and consisted of the 76th and 91st Tank Brigades – equipped with T-62s and BMP-1s – and the 85th Mechanized Brigade, equipped with T-55s and BTR-60s. This division was in control of the 20 Commando Battalion as well. The 3rd Armoured Division included the 58th Mechanized Brigade and the 62nd Brigade, as well as two armoured brigades with T-62 tanks. This unit controlled an additional Commando Battalion, and defended the Beirut-Damascus road, as well as three SAM-brigades with a total of 19 SAM-sites, deployed mainly in the area near Zahle, along the Syrian border.

Abandoned Syrian T-62 MBT as found in southern Lebanon. The T-62 proved well during fierce battles with Israelis, although the 76th and 91st Tank Brigades suffered a loss of something like 60 tanks of this type. In return the T-62s scored at least two confirmed kills against Merkavas. (ACIG.org archive)

The Three Days Battle: Day One, 8 June
The war actually began already on 1 June 1982, with massive Israeli air strikes against PLO bases and ammunition depots along the Mediterranean coast. On the ground, however, the Israelis drove into southern Lebanon only around 11:00hrs of 6 June.

For Syrian troops stationed in the country, however, the fighting began two days later, near Jazzin, in central Lebanon, as the IDF Task Force Vardi – a specially configured task force under command of Brig.Gen. Danni Vardi, the task of which was to take Jazzin and then push north along the eastern side of Lake Qaroun towards the Beirut-Damascus highway – attacked positions of the 76th Syrian Tank Brigade.

The Syrian positions in the area were not well-established: most of the units deployed in southern Beka'a Valley were ordered there only on the afternoon of 6 June, when news arrived that Israeli tanks were pouring over the border. The two armoured brigades of the 10th Syrian Division were ordered to take positions south of the Lake Karoun and attempt holding the Israelis so these could not reach strategically important area of Zahle.

While Vardi's force opened the attack on the 76th Brigade, in his rear Brig.Gen. Menachem Einan’s 162 Ugda was moving along narrow roads from south towards south-west, passing Jazzin with objective Beit en-Din, in the Shouf Mountains. Hampered by several massive traffic jams and fuel shortages Einan had experienced massive difficulties in organizing his movement so far and now his problems were to increase by a magnitude: shortly after 14:00hrs, the two lead columns of his unit that travelled on two parallel roads opened fire at each other in a case of mistaken identity. The results of this clash remain unknown, but it took Einan at least an hour to solve the chaos.

Barely that the 162 Ugda began to move again, around 15:30hrs, several of its vehicles suddenly received heavy hits. Four SA.342s of the 977 Sqn SyAAF approached Einan’s columns flying between hills and trees before taking positions and then firing their HOTs before their presence was ever detected. An unknown number of Israeli tanks and armoured personnel carriers was hit in this attack, but the IDF subsequently reported only slight casualties (four injured, one of which seriously). Barely one hour later, Task Force Vardi was also attacked by SyAAF fighter bombers, the pilots of which reported, "leaving several tanks afire".

Advancing along narrow roads in long columns, as seen here, forward Israeli units were easy target of Syrian (and Palestinian) ambushes. The Syrians combined effectivelly the ambushes set by their commandos with helicopter attacks, apparently with considerable success. (ACIG.org archives)

In fact Einan's Ugda was attacked by only the second section of SyAAF helicopters that had a contact with enemy on that day. The first section was active over Lebanon already around 14:00hrs. It sneaked upon the Israelis by flying at low level along the canyons on north-western side of Mt. Hermon/Mt. Jabel Sheikh, and then attacked a column of the Special Manoeuvre Force, commanded by Brig.Gen. Yossi Peled, which consisted of two brigades of paratroops and infantry configured for anti-tank operations, and had a task of reaching the Beirut-Damascus highway along the Syrian border, thus outflanking Syrian positions in the Beka'a Valley. Syrian helicopters launched their attack when the Israelis were stopped by elements of the 91st Syrian Tank Brigade on the road from Hasabaiya towards Rashayya, but its results remain unknown.

The final Gazelle strike of the day was delivered around 17:30hrs, by two pairs that executed a pincer attack against mechanized IDF units on the road from Shab’a to Rashayya and from Barouch to Ayn Dara. The results of all these operations remain unknown, but in general the Israelis denied suffering any losses.

Day Two, 9 June
Around midnight of 9 June, the 162 Ugda reached the Druze village Ayn-Zhalta, in the middle of the Shouf Mountains, and only some 15km south of the Beirut-Damascus highway. With this, the two armoured brigades of the Syrian 10th Division south of Lake Karoun were encircled. However, as the leading M-60s of 162 Ugda rolled down the road into the village they suddenly detected several T-62s: within seconds a fierce battle at close quarters developed in which a number of tanks from both sides - including three T-62s - was hit. As the Israelis pulled back to re-group the Syrian commandos attacked, engulfing the column in a barrage of RPGs. Namely, Einan’s Ugda drove directly into the centre of the Syrian 58th Mechanized Brigade, part of the the 3rd Armoured Division. The results of this initial clash are uncertain, then there is no reliable data about the Israeli casualties: the Syrians are said to have lost at least three T-62s and 20 soldiers, while the Israelis pulled back to Barouch. Certain is also that the Syrian resistance was fierce enough to cause the IDF in the morning to move a part of the Task Force Vardi with help of CH-53D helicopters behind the right flank of the Syrian position. As the Israeli paras - driving M-151 jeeps armed with TOW-ATGMs – were concentrating along the Ayn Zhalta–Barouch road, around 09:30hrs they were hit by the next SyAAF Gazelle attack that left several M-151 jeeps destroyed. However, Vardi managed to reorganize his force and deploy it in three blocking positions north and east of Barouch. At least in theory, Vardi’s force was now also only 15km away from the Beirut-Damascus highway. If it could reach it, it would not only cut off the Syrian units in the Beirut area from supply bases in Syria, but also have an open way into the rear of the 1st Syrian Armoured Division.

The problem was that the Israelis could not advance, at least not immediately: the 162 Ugda continued battling Syrians in Ayn Zhalta – in part because of another Gazelle-attack that left six Israeli tanks destroyed - until evening. It was only then that Einan’s units broke through towards Ayn Dara, a village only few kilometres south of the strategic highway. However, while advancing the Israelis were first ambushed by elements of the Syrian 51st Brigade and several anti-tank teams that went after M-60s and Merkava tanks for the most part: in a series of sharp clashes they hit a number of vehicles.

Meanwhile, furhter to souther-east, two Syrian armour brigades encircled south of Lake Karoun were fighting for their naked survival, keeping the main group of Israeli forces busy. In the words of Syrian officers that survived this battle, the fighting was savage: the two front T-62-companies from his battalion were completely destroyed, and his company lost several tanks as well. In return, the Syrians destroyed six and captured three M-60s. By the noon, their situation worsened when surviving Syrian tanks began to run out of ammunition and fuel while under increasing Israeli pressure. Concerned with the situaiton of the 76th and 91st Tank Brigades, the Syrian General Headquarters ordered a brigade of the 1st Armoured Division, equipped with T-72 tanks, and moving along the road from Damascus towards the Lebanese border, to move straight ahead, cross the border and hit the right flank of the Israeli units advancing along the eastern side of Beka'a.

The Syrian counterattack that came from east towards west, passing few kilometres north of Rashayya, is described as the "most savage tank battle of the whole war" by Syrian veterans. The T-72s clashed with several companies of M-60s, destroying some of these in process while suffering only a few losses in exchange: in fact, the officer in command of one of leading Syrian companies was subsequently decorated for his unit successfully penetrated the Israeli ring around the 76th and 91st Brigades, without loosing a single tank in the process. During the Syrian breakthrough south and east of Lake Karoun, on the afternoon of 9 June, several officers noticed an Israeli F-16A falling in flames behind the Israeli lines, the pilot ejecting in the process - only to be recovered by IDF ground troops. The cause of this loss remains unclear until today, but no local air-defence units claimed any kills, while a number of Syrian veterans - interviewed independently - recall this event very vividly.

Despite the Syrian success, and the fact that the two armoured brigades managed to escape throught the corridor that remained open for several hours, the 10th Armoured Division of the Syrian Army paid a heavy price, losing almost 200 T-62s in the course of the fighting. At least 90 of these were captured intact. Eventually, this unit has had to be pulled back and swiftly re-armed with T-55 tanks from strategic reserve stocks. In turn, the 1st Armoured Division was ordered back behind the Syrian border, to regroup and continue its trip to Zahle.

The ER-armour of Magach 6 was effective against anti-tank missiles and rocket-propelled grenades used by the Syrians, but not yet perfect. This Magach was one of two confirmed victims of Syrian Army anti-tank teams during the fighting in June 1982. (US DoD via Tom Cooper)

In the meantime, around 12:30hrs of 9 June, a strike package of four SyAAF MiG-23BNs bombed the Israeli HQs set up in Samaqiyah, which was detected by tracking Israeli radio communications and already under heavy pressure by Syrian artillery. Additional Syrian strikes were flown in support of the 1st Armoured Division's counterattack to relieve the armoured brigades besieged south of the Karoun Lake.

Two hours later, in order to be able to better support their ground troops in fighting Syrians, the IDF/AF launched the Operation Drugstore – a concentrated attack against the Syrian SAM-sites in the area between Zahle and the Syrian border. This operation was highly successful and resulted not only in the neutralization of the Syrian SAMs, but also in downing of 23 SyAAF fighter-bombers scrambled into the Lebanese skies.

With Syrian SAMs neutralized, an IDF corps under command of Maj.Gen. Avigdor Ben Gal, consisting of Ugdas 90 and 252, opened a major, three-pronged offensive against the remnants of the 10th Syrian Armoured Division, as well as forward elements of the 3rd Armoured Division in the Beka’a Valley.

SyAAF MiG-23BNs flew over 100 combat sorties between 8 and 11 June 1982, repeatedly hitting advancing Israeli units. However, usually being deployed in the first attack wave they suffered heavy losses to Israeli F-15s and F-16s. (via Yaser al-Abed)

Day Three, 10 June
By the morning of 10 June Einan’s 162 Ugda – supported by vicious attacks of IDF/AF fighter-bombers and attack helicopters - broke through the positions of the 51st Syrian Brigade at Ayn Dara, destroying a number of T-62 tanks in the process. In return, it was hit by several Gazelle- and attacks by SyAAF fighter-bombers between 07:15 and 08:30hrs, losing additional vehicles in the process. Namely, the SyAAF has sent a large number of Gazelles into “search and destroy” missions over Lebanon, as the Syrian army was unable to confirm location of enemy units due to a very fluid situation. The Gazelle-crews were thus roaming deep over the Beka’a Valley, searching for suitable targets. Several times they were successful, in other cases not: as by the time the IDF started deploying M-163 Vulcan self-propelled anti-aircraft guns with its forward mechanized units, their task became extremely dangerous. One of the Gazelles was indeed badly damaged by 20mm AAA after attacking a column of Israeli tanks and claiming four direct hits. The pilot was badly injured but flew his smoking SA.342 back to al-Mezzeh and laded it safely: he was immediately hospitalized and managed to recover only after emergency surgery.

The last in this series of attacks, executed around 09:00hrs near the Hill 1943, reportedly left a number of Israeli vehicles afire. Simultaneously, another Gazelle-attack was flown against the Task Force Vardi, in the area between Ayn Zhalta and Azzoniyeh, and two hours later Gazelles of the 977 Squadron attacked also a column of Israeli tanks moving from Barouch towards Ayn Zhalta. Eventually, Einan’s advance was stopped cold only few kilometres short of his objective: it remains unclear if this happened due to fierce Syrian counterattacks or because Einan was ordered to turn and attack towards east. Certainly, the IDF was interested in capturing at least a section of the Beirut-Damascus highway and thus splitting Syrian forces in Lebanon in two, as well as advancing into the rear of the 1st Armoured Division. There must have been a strong reason for them not to attempt doing this.

Meanwhile, the 252 Ugda was moving as well, despite very difficult terrain and poor roads, and by the noon its leading elements were in full advance towards north. However, around 15:30hrs it was hit by an attack of SyAAF Gazelles while struck in a traffic jam near the Hill 1794, north of Shab’a. As the helicopters targeted one tank and APC after the other, firing their missiles outside the range of Israeli machine-guns, a chaos broke out. Syrians claimed seven M-113s and M-60s destroyed during this attack. Ignoring his difficult situation Ben Gal was pushing his units forward, reorganizing 252 Ugda for an advance by night.

What the Syrians were facing: against an equivalent of two Syrian, the Israelis deployed at least five divisions in Lebanon, equipped with some of best protected armour of their time. However, narrow communications and difficult terrain frequently caused tremendous traffic jams along the routes of Israeli advance. Whenever the Syrians detected such points they would send a flight of SA.342 Gazelles to attack: the Israelis deny suffering heavier losses, but some sources clearly indicate the horror of attacks from Syrian helicopters experienced by IDF troops. (US DoD via Tom Cooper)

To the right of the Ugda 252, after overruning vacated positions of the Syrian 91st Tank Brigade, the Task Force Peled reached Yanta, near the Syrian border, where it was stopped by the Syrian 21st Mechanized Brigade – the second element of the 1st Armoured Division that was still on march from Damascus. The leading elements of the 90 Ugda joined Peled after a fighting march through Beka’a Valley. Despite fierce air battles raging overhead, in the afternoon Yanta and the newly-set-up local Israeli HQs was hit by a tremendous attack by several waves of Syrian Sukhoi Su-22s, in which the IDF vize-Chief of Staff, Gen. Yekotai Adam, was killed as well (according to Israeli sources, Adam was killed by a Palestinian boy, using an RPG-7).

Gazelles followed in the wake of the fighter-bombers, hitting a number of M-60s and M-113s along the road from Ayn Ata to Rashayya. Given that this communication is running parallel to the Syrian border and only few kilometres away from it, the SyAAF now had it very easy to deploy an increasing number of attack helicopters. 12 Israeli tanks were reportedly hit during this attack alone and a number of other vehicles was destroyed as well.

Clearly, until today the Israelis deny any such Syrian strikes, and none of their sources mentions large tank battles in the area south and south-east of Lake Karoun: according to their reports issued to Pentagon their whole force in Lebanon suffered only four injured troops on that day. However, the following comment from an IDF/AF F-16-pilot who scored the only kill against a Syrian Su-22 of that war, on 11 June 1982, is clearly indicating what must have happened at Yanta:
- Of all the four kills I made, downing the Su-22 gave me the greatest satisfaction because I saw the horrendous results of a Sukhoi attack on our ground forces a day earlier.

SyAAF MiG-23BN seen while pulling up from low-level attack. The type proved capable of moving considerable combat loads at high speed and low level, but suffered during the war in 1982 from the lack of advanced self-protection equipment like RWRs and ECM-systems. At least seven were shot down by Israeli F-15s and F-16s, and at least one by MIM-23B I-HAWKs of the Israeli Air Force. (via Yaser al-Abed)

Another Gazelle-raid then hit the Peled’s Special Manoeuvre Force on the road from Ayn Ata to Rashayya. These attacks bought sufficient time for the Syrians not only to pull back the survivors from the 10th Armoured Division back behind the border, but also to deploy reinforcements in anti-tank commandos by Mi-8 helicopters into the Ghazzah area: despite the supposed “total” IDF/AF air superiority, not a single of at least a dozen of involved SyAAF helicopter was detected by the Israelis. Nevertheless, the SyAAF did lose a Mi-8 to Israeli anti-aircraft fire during another operation.

The Syrian air strikes and fierce artillery attacks against all known forward Israeli headquarters, as well as a fluid situation in Lebanon now obviously resulted in a critical mistake of the Israeli leadership. The situation on the battlefield was far from clear, then the two opponents were deeply wedged into each other. But, at least the IDF/AF should have been in possession of air superiority, enabling Israeli reconnaissance assets to find the enemy and track the Syrians down. Strangely enough, this was obviously not the case. The Israelis either completely failed to notice or misunderstood that the Syrians were reorganizing their units after the battering experienced by their 10th Armoured Division. This elements of this unit that were originally surrounded south of the Lake Karoun were pulled out of Lebanon, regroupped and - as already mentioned - later re-equipped with T-55 tanks. The rest of this division pulled back towards the north. Simultaneously, two armoured brigades of the 3rd Armoured Division were moved towards south from the Beirut-Damascus road, with intention of closing the gap that came into being through the collapse of 10th Armoured Division's front south of them. The 1st Armoured Division, equipped with T-72s and still fresh despite the fighting along the border, was then to enter Lebanon along the Beirut-Damascus road and replace the 3rd. The Syrians were therefore not falling back, just replacing their units: however, the IDF considered the movement of the 1st Armoured Division towards north for a general withdrawal. Consequently, the Israelis immediately pushed their units into “pursuit” towards north. The IDF was to pay a high price for this mistake.

Members of a Syrian Army anti-tank team taking rest between two engagements with Israelis, somewhere in central Lebanon. (US DoD via Tom Cooper)

Chaos of "Sultan Yacoub": 11 June
On the evening of 10 June, Ben Gal once again rushed his troops forward. To the north of them was an area known as well-fortified by the Syrians. Nevertheless, the Israelis considered their opposition as weak: only two commando battalions of 250 men each, and few tanks was what – at least in theory – was standing between them and the Beirut-Damascus road in this part of Lebanon. “In theory”, then the Israelis were already informed about deployment of a strong Syrian mechanized force along the strategic highway, from east towards West. Obviously, the IDF HQs concluded that the Syrians were rather preparing for a “last-ditch” counterattack, then bringing serious reinforcements to the frontlines.

The task of leading this final advance fell on 90 Ugda; a unit that was previously successful in fighting the Syrian 91st Armoured Brigade, and destroying no less but 35 Syrian tanks in exchange for five own losses. Commander of the 90 Ugda, Brig.Gen. Giora Leo, received the corresponding order around 19:00hrs. Several hours later, its 362 Battalion, equipped with M48A-3 Magach-3 tanks, drove through the village of as-Sultan Yac'ub at Tanta – only to receive strong fire of all calibres and have its leading element cut off deep inside the Syrian positions.

By 01:30hrs in the morning of 11 June the trapped Israeli battalion was in a state of chaos, blocked in a narrow valley on the end of which was another village, drawing heavy direct- and artillery-fire from several sides. It was not until 04:00hrs that the situation slowly improved, although during the permanent contact with Syrians around it the unit lost several tanks and a number of crewmembers. Several Syrian Army anti-tank teams participated in this battle, attacking from very short ranges with RPGs, as well as Milan ATGMs. Early in the morning the Israelis were also strafed by two MiG-21s, but these dropped no bombs due to close proximity of their own troops. Eventually, the IDF was unable to mount a large-scale operation in time to recover the embattled battalion; the 90 and the nearby 880 Ugdas - deployed to Lebanon only a day earlier - were busy attempting to prevent the 3rd Syrian Armoured Division's attempt to advance towards the south, and preven the 1st Armoured Division from deploying along the Beirut-Damascus road towards west.

Eventually, what was left of the 362 Battalion had to dash for Israeli lines in the course of the morning, with massive artillery support, but leaving some eight destroyed or abandoned M-48s behind.

Syrian troops parade one of captured Israeli M-48 down the streets of a city in Lebanon. (via A.A.)

During the battle of Sultan Yacoub the Syrians destroyed or captured at least eight Israeli M-48A-3s converted to Magach 3 configuration by addition of ERA. This M-48 is one of former mounts of the 362 Battalion IDF and today displayed at the Teshren Panorama Museum, in Damascus - still in excellent condition, and complete with all markings. (Photo by Tom Cooper)

There was a sense of urgency in extracting the remnants of the 362 Battalion from behind the Syrian lines, then meanwhile the final Israeli push towards north was in full swing, while the Syrian 1st Armoured was deploying along the highway from the border towards Beirut. Besides, the Israeli and Syrian governments agreed to a ceasefire, to start at noon of 11 June, and now both sides were in a rush to grab as much as they could.

Final clashes occurred in two sectors. Early in the morning, the 81st Syrian Armoured Brigade, equipped with T-72 tanks, reached Shtawrah - where a forward repair shop was set - and then turned south along two parallel roads – driving directly into positions of the 409 Israeli Anti-Tank battalion (originally part of the Task Force Peled), and M-60s of the 767 Armoured Brigade. The Syrian tankers, emboldened by their first success from 9th of June, advanced without careful reconnaissance of the area in front of them. In a short but sharp clash that occurred in the late morning, the Israelis hit 12 T-72s with TOWs, forcing the Syrian brigade to pull back to Beirut-Damascus highway. This vital communication, however, remained in Syrian hands: in fact, the Syrians also claimed up to ten M-60s destroyed during this battle while collecting their destroyed and badly damaged T-72s back in Shtawrah.

Meanwhile, in the Beka’a Valley 7th Armoured Brigade of Eitan’s 162 Ugda engaged T-62s of the 58th Syrian Brigade due south of Jub Jnin: in exchange for two destroyed Merkavas, the Israelis knocked out at least a dozen of T-62s. The Syrians claimed destruction of 21 to 30 Israeli armoured vehicles during this battle - which culminated shortly before noon, with attacks of attack helicopters from both sides. Israeli AH-1s and MD.500 Defenders claimed destruction of 15 T-62s and few T-72s near Zahla. However, they encountered fierce anti-aircraft fire and were not able to execute their attacks as expected. One of Defenders was badly damaged by explosion of a shell nearby, so that it crashed on the ground in front of Syrian positions: the navigator was heavily injured but the pilot pulled him out of wreckage and both were recoered by an AB.212. Another Defender was apparently lost to anti-aircraft fire from Israeli armoured units after being misidentified as a Syrian Gazelle: obviously, after previous experiences with SA.432s the Israeli gunners were exceptionally nervous by the time. In return, the Merkavas of the 7th Israeli Brigade shot down at least one Gazelle using their 105mm cannons, and another Syrian SA.342 should have been shot down by a long-range TOW-shot from an Israeli Cobra helicopter.

How fierce and bitter the fighting on the groud was shows the fact that - according to contemporary reports in Israeli press - in the fierce fighting of this day a single Israeli Brigade suffered a loss of 18 KIA - including its commander, Col. Avigdor Shriper - 87 injured, and 22 tanks destroyed.

Although the Israelis claimed possession of air superiority over Lebanon since afternoon of 9 June 1982, the SyAAF continued dispatching ever larger formations of fighter-bombers to attack advancing Israeli units. MiG-21s mainly acted as close escort for MiG-23BN and Su-20/22 fighter-bombers, but were several times also deployed in air-to-ground role - like on the morning of 11 June, when two straffed the trapped elements of the 362 Tank Battalion IDF. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Mixed Results
Despite the ceasefire, the fighting was to resume several days later: in fact, by the end of 1982 there were to be no less but eleven additional ceasefires agreed between the Israelis and Syrians.

Bean-counting began already on the afternoon of 11 June, of course. On a press conference in early July 1982, the representants of the Syrian Ministry of Defence stated that SA hunter-killer AT-teams destroyed 23 Israeli tanks during the first three days of fighting (between 8 and 11 June) for only minor losses to themselves (overall, the Syrians claimed destruction of “more than 120 Israeli tanks, APCs and mine-clearing vehicles by their ATGMs by the time). Subsequent studies proved that Syrian "hunter-killer" teams in fact hit a total of some 60 Israeli M-60s and Merkavas. However, no less but half of these remained operational, while only few of the others were completely destroyed (some sources state that SA anti-tank teams destroyed only two IDF tanks). As well-known, the Merkavas were heavily armoured and had very good anti-detonation as well as fire-protection equipment, while M-60s, M-48s and Centurions were heavily protected by explosive-reactive-armour (ERA). Although the IDF subsequently concluded that the ERA on their tanks needed improvement, and that at least two Merkavas were indeed destroyed by Syrian anti-tank teams (the IDF lost a total of seven Merkava Mk.1s written-off during this war), it is obvious that these tanks were extremely problematic opponents. The situation with M-113s was less satisfactory: these APCs apparently suffered such losses in the first few days of the war, that by the time the IDF reached Beirut the Israelis were doing their best to avoid deploying them in combat first of all. The Israeli infantry therefore marched beside its APCs for the best part of their way into Lebanon.

Nevertheless, the fact was also that the Israelis were swift to adapt tactics of their mechanised formations against Syrian AT-teams. They would use 20mm M-163 Vulcan guns to spray their possible positions and TOW-missiles to hit them precisely – usually with deadly results. To counter such weapons the Syrians preferred fighting at shorter range and using lighter anti-tank weapons. This forced the Israelis to deploy their commandos in order to tackle the Syrian anti-tank snipers: much more often than expected the Syrians had the unpleasant experience of being hunted instead of hunting. The resulting clashes were extremely bitter and brutal. This is at best illustrated by the fact that only between 10 and 15% of Syrian anti-tank hunters survived this war. Very few were captured alive, including only one officer: 1st Lt. Mehdi fell into Israeli hands in a badly injured condition, but defied all the IDF efforts to break his spirit before being returned to Syria. As Captain he was later to fight against the Iraqis, in 1991, together with US forces.

Despite immense problems, quite a few surprises, and losses, the Israelis were eventually satisfied with results of the conventional part of the war in Lebanon: in four days of battles they claimed destruction of 81 Syrian tanks, and capturing 41 (mainly T-62s), losing only eight M-48s and two Merkavas in return. Supposedly, one of destroyed Merkavas was subsequently salvaged and repaired. Pictorial evidence exists for a number of additional M-60s being destroyed as well, while the losses of M-113s were obviously so heavy that they were not deployed in forward lines until much later, when most were equipped with additional protection against anti-tank missiles.

The Syrians were not entirely satsified, even if their local commanders showed great initiative and tactical skill on the battlefied, proving that the additional training and decentralization of the command system of the SA were proper decisions. The main problem of the SA was that some of its larger units failed to fully exploit the poor situation of several Israeli units: there was a number of situations in which Syrian brigades and battalions stopped and started digging-in instead of advancing towards south where they could establish better defensive positions. Consequently, they did not manage to deploy the 3rd Armoured into the old positions of the 10th Armoured Division. Nevertheless, they fought with vigour and ferocity surpassing anything seen before from a Syrian soldier, and eventually stopped the Israeli advance. In fact, the IDF failed to reach its objectives in the Beka'a Valley as by the ceasefire on 11 June the Syrians still held the Beirut-Damascus highway after fighting an opponent that was superior in numbers and quality: the IDF deployed an equivalent of five divisions with something like 1.000 tanks against only something like two Syrian.

Syrian anti-tank teams successfully deployed French-made Milan ATGMs during the war in Lebanon as well. The effectiveness of this weapon in combat against well-protected Israeli armour remains unknown. (US DoD via Tom Cooper)

The SyAAF, of course, came away in a very bad shape, losing between 85 and 87 fighters and 24 or 27 pilots (Syrian sources differ on this issue) in air battles and to Israeli ground defences between 6 June and 8 July 1982. Yet, the Syrians were proud with performance of their attack helicopter- and fighter-bomber-crews. Although flying well over 150 attack sorties, only two Gazelles were shot down by the Israelis (both crews were killed). Two other examples were badly damaged during the fighting and subsequently captured by the Israelis: one of these was rebuilt and test-flown in Israel (for comparison, the IDF/AF lost only one Defender). At least an additional SA.342 was badly damaged but flown back to Syria. In exchange the SyAAF claimed destruction of 95 ground targets by Gazelles, including 71 tanks, five APCs, three trucks, two artillery pieces, nine M-151 jeeps, and five tanker trucks. While these figures are usually considered as exaggerated, a closer examination of all known reports about IDF losses as published in the Israeli media, shows that the Israelis very likely did lose as many tanks, and certainly many more APCs and other vehicles. Besides, one should not forget that attack helicopters are considered extremely effective by most armies of the world, and that this fact was proved not only in a number of exercises, but also in several wars.

Overall it is sure that the Syrian Gazelles proved their worth during this war beyond any doubt. When they were pulled from the battlefield, in the wake of the cease-fire from 11 June, the SA.342s were badly missed by remaining Syrian troops in Lebanon. For the rest of that war the Syrian Army's anti-tank teams had to fight alone.

Another victim of Syrian anti-tank teams was this Merkava Mk.1, destroyed in Beirut, in early summer 1982 by an RPG. The Israelis subsequently mounted a local counterattack and recovered the wreckage. (ACIG.org archives)
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