A Requiem for the Syrian Army?

The book by Col. (res.) Pesach Malovany attempts to closely examine the history of the Syrian Army, with the emphasis placed on the confrontation with Israel. The result is expansive in its scope and in the profoundness of its probing into the depths of the Syrian defense system, but is also overloaded with details

A Requiem for the Syrian Army?

Colonel (res.) Pesach Malovany labored for four years collecting the information for this book, checking and verifying it and weaving the factual tapestry, while synchronizing the veracity of testimonies by Syrian military and political leaders. Along with the extensive knowledge he had acquired during his many years of service with the Israeli intelligence community, Malovany endeavored to pick up every possible snippet of information, including newspaper articles, radio and TV broadcasts, and more recently – information published on the Internet. Additionally, he had at his disposal, as a researcher, the volumes of the official history of the Syrian military, “written” by the long-serving Syrian Minister of Defense, Colonel General Dr. Mustafa Tlass, as well as memoirs published only recently by Syrian Army unit commanders, including commanders who had fought in the Yom-Kippur War of 1973.

The result presented in the book is expansive in its scope and in the profoundness of its probing into the depths of the Syrian defense system. It is a study of the years that passed since the days of the struggle against the Ottoman Empire (the Syrian Army was established in 1918 as a colonial armed force, through the assistance and on the basis of the French armed forces in the Levant), to the days of the internal rebellions and the revolution in Syria in 2011 and thereafter. The book contains numerous footnotes that mostly refer the reader to the numerous sources on which the author had based his research.

Malovany draws a portrait of the Syrian Republic using the military as his paint palette and viewing his subject through a “Syrian” perspective. The notes on the back cover state as follows: “The Syrian Army is the backbone and solid foundation on which the Syrian state and ruling regime have relied since the birth of Syria, but particularly over the last 50 years, since the Ba’ath party had risen to power. The evolution of Syria cannot be described without the Syrian Army, which enabled the Syrian Republic to develop in the form of a state, despite the diversified ethnic composition and the forces that threatened to split it apart and even to destroy it.”

The expansive scope of the book evolves into a disadvantage. The amount of details and events it presents is almost indigestible. The author’s extensive reliance on Syrian sources, including sources that became available just recently, sometimes does injustice to historic accuracy. Commanders bragging about their accomplishments or presenting excuses for their failures are not always a reliable historic source. Some of the accounts in the book do not match information from other studies, or the facts on the ground – as in the case of the Yom-Kippur War – even the data actually collected on the battlefield. For example, the commander of the Syrian 51st armored brigade during the Yom-Kippur War claims that his tanks reached as far as, and actually fought a heroic battle at the foot of the Golan Heights, to the north of the “upper customs house”. In fact, his brigade fought to the south of the Nafah junction (on the Golan Heights), and only one APC of his forces reached IDF Camp Znobar, to the south of the customs house.

In his book, Malovany reviews numerous significant points in time as far as the conduct of the Syrian Army is concerned, relating to events in the border sectors around Syria (with the emphasis placed on Israel), on the inter-Arab arena and vis-à-vis the superpowers. The book describes, from a Syrian point of view, episodes dealing with the operations of the Syrian Army in the context of the invasion of the Arab armed forces into Palestine in 1948; the fighting on the Golan Heights in the Six-Day War of 1967; the War of Attrition; the intervention of the Syrian Army in the incidents of “Black September” in Jordan in 1970; the Yom-Kippur War on the Golan Heights; the involvement of the Syrian Army in Lebanon, since its invasion of that country in 1975-1976 to its combat encounters with IDF elements during the First Lebanon War of 1982 and its withdrawal from Lebanon.

According to the book, the Syrian Army played two prominent and mutually-contradictory roles vis-à-vis Israel: until the Yom-Kippur War of 1973, it had served as a primary factor in the hostile activity initiated against Israeli, be it through continuous attrition operations or the full-scale wars in which it took part. On the other hand, following the Yom-Kippur War of 1973, the Syrian-Israeli border, and the entire Golan Heights area, evolved into Israel’s most tranquil border  – until the rebellion against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus expanded into this area. 

Colonel (res.) Pesach Malovany had served in senior intelligence gathering and analysis positions within the Israeli intelligence community. Today, he studies the history of the Arab armed forces as an independent researcher.


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