Syrian Tank-Hunters in Lebanon, 1982
By Tom Cooper & Yaser al-Abed
Syrian Attack Helicopters
In the early 1980s the SyAAF operated one wing 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 wings 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 Aיrospatiale 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 Tיleguidי Tirי d’un Tube” – or “high-subsonic optical remote-guided fired from a tube”, with manual command-to-line of sight (MCLOS) 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.
Aיrospatiale 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 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°. 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. Most usually, the Syrian Mi-25s were seen in operation armed only with the machine-gun and UB-32-57 containers.
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. 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.
By early 1982 the Syrians were expecting some kind of a new Israeli operation in southern Lebanon, most likely something similar like the Operation “Litani”, from 1978, when the Israelis drove only some 40km deep into Lebanon in a search for Palestinian terrorists. The Syrians knew that in the case the Israelis would not stop on the Litani River a clash with the Israelis was inevitable. Yet, with most of SA 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, the Syrians lacked assets and space to build a strong front-line stretching over whole width of Lebanon. The best they could do was to establish defences around specific points of their interest, foremost the highway Beirut-Damascus.
Studying the local terrain, roads, dozens of villages in southern Lebanon and possible routes along which the Israelis would approach, the Syrians developed simple but effective tactics. This called for co-ordination between helicopters of the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) and specially trained “hunter-killer teams” of the Syrian Army (SA). 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 was made of between four and six men, armed with some of the best Western and Soviet anti-tank weapons of the time, including RPG-7, RPG-18 (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 the narrow streets of Lebanese towns and villages could easily be turned into shooting galleries for Israeli tanks.
Of conventional fighting forces the major Syrian unit in Lebanon was the 1st Armoured Division. This consisted of the 76th and 91st Tank Brigades – equipped with T-62s – and the 58th Mechanized Brigade. Attached to this division was the 62nd Independent Brigade and additional Commando Battalions, which defended the Beirut-Damascus highway, as well as three SAM-brigades with a total of 19 SAM-sites, deployed mainly in the area near Zahle, along the Syrian border. Also in Lebanon was the 85th Infantry Brigade, stationed in the Beirut area.
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 began with the Israeli drive into southern Lebanon around 11:00hrs of 6 June. For Syrian troops stationed in the country, however, it began only 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. While this was going on, Brig.Gen. Menachem Einan’s 162 Ugda was moving along narrow roads from south towards south-west from 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: 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. However, 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 and then fired 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). Hardly an 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, this was only the second section of Syrian helicopters to attack. The first section was active over Lebanon already around 14:00hrs. It sneaked at low level along the canyons on north-western side of Mt. Hermon and then attacked a column of the Special Manoeuvre Force, commanded by Brig.Gen. Yossi Peled, which consisted of two brigades of para-troops and infantry configured for anti-tank operations and had a task of reaching the Beirut-Damascus highway along the Syrian border. The attack was executed 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.
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. However, as the leading M-60s rolled into the place they suddenly detected several T-62s: within seconds a fierce battle at close quarters developed in which a number of tanks from both sides 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. The results of this initial clash are uncertain, then there is no reliable data about the Israeli casualties: the Syrians 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 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.
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)
Meanwhile, around 12:30hrs, a strike package of six SyAAF MiG-23BNs bombed the Israeli HQs set in Samaqiyah, which was detected by tracking Israeli radio communications and already under heavy pressure by Syrian artillery. 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 1st Syrian 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 Syrian 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 was 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 but would subsequently lose his legs during emergency surgery.
The last of 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 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 also on advance, 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 outflanking survivors 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 first element of the 3rd Armoured Division. The leading elements of the 90 Ugda joined Peled after a fighting march through Beka’a Valley. However, in the afternoon Yanta and the newly-set-up local Israeli HQs was hit by a tremendous attack of a full squadron of Syrian Sukhoi Su-22s. 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 were destroyed as well.
Clearly, until today the Israelis deny any such Syrian strikes: 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 again. These attacks bought sufficient time for the Syrians 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 SyAAF helicopter was detected by the Israelis.
The Syrian strikes 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 the air superiority, thus enabling Israeli reconnaissance assets to find the enemy and track it down. Strangely enough, this was obviously not the case. The Israelis either completely failed to notice, or misunderstood that the Syrians started pulling out their battered units of the 1st Armoured Division in intention to replace them with fresh units of the 3rd Armoured Division. The later was equipped with T-72 tanks and arriving from Damascus. The Syrians were therefore not falling back, but 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 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 highway 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 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 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 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 Ugda and the nearby 880 Ugdas were busy attempting to prevent the 3rd Syrian Armoured Division to deploy along the highway towards east. 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 and abandoned M-48s and M-60s behind.
During the battle of Sultan Yacoub the Syrians destroyed or captured at least eight Israeli M-48s and M-60s converted to Magach 6 configuration by addition of ERA. This M-48 Magach is today displayed at the Teshren Panorama Museum, in Damascus - and still in excellent condition. (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 3rd 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 Shtura 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), M-60s of the 767 Armoured Brigade, and some IDF/AF AH-1 Cobras. In a short but sharp clash that occurred in the late morning, the Israelis hit nine 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.
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. 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.
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)
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 6 and 9 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 they 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 were heavily protected by explosive-reactive-armour (ERA). Although the IDF subsequently concluded that the ERA on their M-60s 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 fact was also that the Israelis were swift to adapt the 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 with Syrians they destroyed 81 tanks, and captured 41, losing only eight M-48/60s and two Merkavas in return. Supposedly, one of destroyed Merkavas was subsequently salvaged and repaired.
The Syrians were not entirely happy. They failed to fully exploit the poor situation of several Israeli units: several of their units 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 1st Armoured Division. Nevertheless, they 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 against only something like two Syrian. 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.
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)
When it comes to Syrian anti-tank helicopters, two Gazelles were shot down and their crews killed. Two other examples were badly damaged during the fighting and subsequently captured by the Israelis: one of these two 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 it is possible this figure is slightly exaggerated, 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.
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)