The human mind is designed to create patterns, even when those perceived patterns don’t really exists. When the world seems to descend into chaos, we will inevitably try to correlate signs that what we are seeing is part of a greater picture – perhaps the end of all things. Just as the coronavirus being coincident with earthquakes awakens us to the likelihood of some form of divine intervention, so it would have seemed, when the chaos of the Vietnam War was spreading to the streets of American and Europe, that a new war in Israel signaled the coming of the Apocalypse. In truth, we were simply seeing flare-ups in the Cold War that were possibility inevitable and mostly unrelated. Small consolation for a public mood already stretching towards a breaking point.
To get my mind thinking about the other side of the world, I decided it was time to do some reading on the subject. When I was creating my Israeli Independence timeline, and while I was trying to find descriptive information on the battles during the Suez Crisis, I encountered frequent references to The Arab-Israeli Wars: War and Peace in the Middle East by former Israeli President Chaim Herzog. At the end of that endevor, I decided to order Herzog’s book. Instead of reading it when it came, I began reading instead The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command and left my thoughts about the Arab-Israeli wars behind me. It’s time I pick that book up.
Herzog starts shortly before the British withdrawal. As such, I was treated to a written refresher of my earlier exercise. In some ways it was just a rerun, although I get a chance to look at things a little differently. Most notably, it surprises me how a loosely-organized citizen militia was able to take on multiple, established nation states and win. In many cases, a couple of dozen armed settlers held their own against regular forces. Herzog also highlights how the earliest attempts at operations by the Israelis were hampered by a lack of professional army discipline. Several times an attack failed because of an inability to coordinate the different pieces of the attack, an operational-planning capability that only came with experience.
As Herzog moves on to the Suez Crisis, he illustrates something that I struggled with when looking at the wargame depiction of this conflict. As I said at the time, it is nearly impossible to reproduce the historical results in a wargame. Israel’s defeat of fortified Egyptian positions was often the result of brilliant tactical maneuvering and “doing the impossible” on top of the factors that can modeled in games. Reading Herzog, I’m also impressed (again) with the difference in motivation between the two sides. For Israel, their struggle was for their very existence – both as a nation and (in the minds of many) personally. For the Arab nations, although many hated Israel and the Jews, they were still conscripted armies under the direction of authoritarian governments. One can imagine that the difference in will was a major factor in the lopsided Israeli victories.
As before, I plan to cycle through a handful of games and scenarios and link it all together with a master post. Herzog begins his 1967 war with the Sinai Campaign, and that also seems like a good starting point for me.