The ongoing Turkish operation “Euphrates Shield“, launched on August 24 to keep both Islamic State (ISIS) and Kurdish forces off Turkey’s southeastern border, shares some important similarities to the 1982 Israeli Operation “Peace for Galilee” which are worth exploring and pondering.
One similarity between Operation “Peace for Galilee” and Operation “Euphrates Shield” is the fact that both operations had been planned for quite some time before they began. Years before the Israeli armada rolled into Southern Lebanon to oust Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters from their strongholds they had long sought a pretext to do so.
In 1978 following a massacre of Israeli civilians on the Coastal Road to Tel Aviv by PLO infiltrators the Israelis, under Prime Minister Menachem Begin, launched Operation “Litani“, named after the river in Lebanon which they hoped to push the PLO north of, to oust the PLO from the Lebanon-Israel border.
The Israelis managed to push the PLO briefly past the north of the Litani River during that week-long operation. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was set up to police a tentative ceasefire between the two sides after Israel withdrew. Israel was itching for another chance to finally push the PLO from that border region, from where they were launching indiscriminate rocket attacks from Lebanese territory into Israel in spite of the ceasefire and UNIFL’s presence.
Israel final got its pretext to go after the PLO in early June 1982 when the Israeli ambassador Shlomov Argov was shot by terrorists in London. The assassins were Palestinians, but not members of the PLO. Argov was shot by Abu Nidal, a Palestinian terrorist network and sworn enemy of the PLO which was sponsored by Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. The Israelis, keen on using that assassination attempt as their casus beli, immediately launched a long-planned assault against the PLO two days later. Begin was even said to dismiss the distinction when it was brought up by remarking, “They’re all PLO. Abu Nidal, Abu Shmidal. We have to strike at the PLO” (Dan Murphy, “For Israel in Gaza, a war of choice and an uncertain outcome“, The Christian Science Monitor, 29.07.2014).Similarly in northwestern Syria Turkey had long sought to intervene over its border to establish a border zone against ISIS and Kurdish forces it opposes given their links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). However after over a year of planning for such an intervention it never got off the ground. They initially hoped to intervene against ISIS with American support in June 2015. That plan, however, had to be abandoned following the Russian intervention in Syria later that year and the fallout between Ankara and Moscow over the warplane incident in November. Since the thaw in strained relations with Russia over the summer Turkey had more freedom to intervene in Syria.
Ankara watched with great annoyance over the summer as Kurdish-led forces got closer to the northwestern part of Syria where they wanted to intervene. Then 53 Kurds in Turkey were killed in a suicide bomb attack perpetrated by ISIS on a wedding in the Turkey’s frontier Gaziantep region on August 20. Four days later Turkish tanks had rolled over the border and ISIS quickly withdrew from the border-town of Jarabulus .
There is one small distinction in this broad comparison: Israel used an attack by a non-PLO group against one of its ambassadors as the main justification for taking immediate action against the PLO. Turkey was actually attacked by ISIS. However, when Turkey went into Syria it was clear that its primary aim is preventing Syrian Kurdish forces, who haven’t leveled terrorist attacks against Turkey, from making any more advances in that region.
Initially Operation “Peace for Galilee” envisioned a large Israeli push into South Lebanon to push the PLO 40km north of Lebanon’s southern border. However Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon clearly had other things in mind and had misled Prime Minister Begin about the extent of the operation. Israel’s enormous ground invasion far exceeded a limited 40km incursion and pushed deeper into Lebanon, eventually besieging PLO forces in the capital Beirut.
After a negotiated agreement the PLO left their positions in Beirut for Tunisia, effectively ending the war. Although out of that Israeli invasion came Hezbollah, which fought the Israelis for a subsequent 18 years (along with a war in the summer of 2006 and various skirmishes since) and remains a threat to Israel today.
While it’s unclear how far Operation “Euphrates Shield” will go – Ankara incidentally has said it wants to push at least 40km deep into Syria to create a large buffer to keep the Syrian Kurdish Cantons of Kobanî and Afrin separate – it’s already showing signs that it may exceed its mandate of making a limited push into Syrian territory to occupy that country’s northwestern border from Jarabulus westward to Azaz. Already extra Turkish tanks are reportedly entering Syria near the border at al-Rai, bringing the total number of Turkish tanks in Syria approximately to 80, where they may well punch further south to ISIS-occupied Al-Bab to head-off any advances by Syrian Kurdish-led forces in that area.
Such an advance would bring them at least 40km south from their border, putting them deeper into Syria’s war-wrecked Aleppo province, where just another 40km down the road from Al-Bab is the city of Aleppo, the largest battlefield in the Syrian war.
Both campaigns saw armor working with allied forces in the respective countries. The Israelis worked with the South Lebanese Army (SLA) militia while the Turks are backing Syrian militiamen fighting under the flag of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) group.
Both campaigns also rely on quite conventional tactics. Israel sent approximately 78,000 soldiers along with 3,000 tanks and armored vehicles into Lebanon during the Galilee operation, along with air support (Robert A. Pape and James K. Feldman, “Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It“, University Of Chicago Press, 2012, p. 196). Turkey sent far fewer soldiers, less than 500 are in Syria as of writing, many of them special forces, along with estimated 70-80 tanks (50-60 tanks in the eastern battlespace of Jarabulus – Qiratha – Arab Hasen – Arab Ezzeh respectively around 20 tanks in the battlespace of al-Rai) and armored vehicles covering the advances of at least 1,500 FSA gunmen, along with both air and artillery support. Its reliance on heavy firepower and overwhelming force to advance across short distances is not unlike how the Israelis used overwhelming force in their thrust into, and through, south Lebanon.
Even with so much force at their disposal the Israelis did get bogged down in urban fighting with PLO guerrillas in the coastal Lebanese cities of Tyre and Sidon, guerrillas who attempted to bleed the Israeli attackers out, and successfully managed to kill scores of them in the process. Overall though the Palestinians lost far more fighters than the Israelis lost soldiers.
As the Turks advance further south into Syria they too may have to endure fighting against an entrenched enemy which may attempt to bleed them out and make their intervention as costly as possible. Given this and other precedents this present war has with Operation “Peace for Galilee” it would do the Turks good to learn the lessons from that operation before pushing any deeper into Syria.