In 1973, Israel and Syria Almost Started World War III


Here’s What You Need to Remember: After having just extricated itself from Vietnam, America was in no mood for another war. Yet, the White House felt it could not risk the loss of prestige and influence—especially in the oil-rich Middle East.

On the night of October 24, 1973, came the dreaded words: Assume Defcon 3.

On bases and ships around the world, U.S. forces went to Defense Condition 3. As paratroopers prepared to deploy, B-52 nuclear bombers on Guam returned to bases in the United States in preparation for launch. On another October day eleven years before, the United States had gone to the next highest alert, Defcon 2, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This time the catalyst of potential Armageddon wasn’t the Caribbean, but the Middle East.

In fact, the flashpoint was Syria. And as tensions rise today between America and Russia over the Syrian Civil War, and U.S. and Russian troops and aircraft operate in uncomfortable proximity in support of rival factions in the conflict, it is worth remembering what happened forty-five years ago.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Cold War is what didn’t happen: the United States and Soviet Union managed to avoid fighting each other directly, and instead waged their conflict through proxies.

But as usual, the Middle East upset the status quo. On October 6, 1973, on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on the Sinai and the Golan Heights. The stunned Israeli defenders held on desperately, even as their leaders and senior commanders feared this might be the end for their nation. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union, followed by the United States, airlifted in massive amounts of military equipment and supplies.

By October 11, Israel had halted the Syrian offensive: Israeli armor and infantry had crossed into Syria, and would eventually advance to within artillery range of Damascus. In the Sinai, an Israeli force, led by the flamboyant and aggressive Gen. Ariel Sharon, had stealthily crossed the Suez Canal on October 15 and seized a bridgehead on the Egyptian side of the waterway. This time it was the Egyptians who were surprised as their Third Army found itself trapped in its positions on the Israeli side of the canal, its supply lines cut.

With attempts at working out a ceasefire failing, and with their Arab clients facing military defeat, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev sent a message to Richard Nixon’s White House: “I will say it straight that if you find it impossible to act jointly with us in this matter, we should be faced with the necessity urgently to consider taking appropriate steps unilaterally.”

A crisis atmosphere gripped the White House as reports arrived that that Soviet airborne divisions and amphibious troops had been placed on alert, while Moscow nearly doubled its Mediterranean fleet to a hundred ships. The Minister of Defense, Marshal Andrei Grechko, “recommended in particular that an order be given to recruit 50,000-70,000 men in the Ukraine and in the northern Caucasus,” recalled Soviet Foreign Ministry official Victor Israelian. “His view was that, in order to save Syria, Soviet troops should occupy the Golan Heights.”

After having just extricated itself from Vietnam, America was in no mood for another war. Yet, the White House felt it could not risk the loss of prestige and influence—especially in the oil-rich Middle East. “We were determined to resist by force if necessary the introduction of Soviet forces into the Middle East regardless of the pretext under which they arrived,” Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recounted in his memoir Years of Upheaval.

It may or may not have been coincidental—and cynics wondered—that the U.S. alert came as Nixon’s presidency was beginning to crumble under the Watergate scandal. Nonetheless, Moscow appeared ready to cross a red line that Washington could not allow.

In the confined waters of the Mediterranean, the tension was palpable. “Nerves in both fleets frayed,” wrote Abraham Rabinovich, an historian of the 1973 October War. “The solitary Soviet destroyers that normally shadowed the carriers—’tattle tales’ the Americans called them—were reinforced by heavier warships armed with missiles. Although ranking officers had never before been noted on the tattle tales, the Americans now became aware of two admirals on the ships following them. The Americans, in turn, kept planes over the Soviet fleet prepared to attack missile launchers being readied for firing. Both sides were aware that their major vessels were being tracked by submarines.”

Soviet leaders were shocked by the American response. “Who could have imagined the Americans would be so easily frightened?” asked Soviet premier Nikolai Podgorny, according to Rabinovich in his book The Yom Kippur War. Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin said “it is not reasonable to become engaged in a war with the United States because of Egypt and Syria,” while KGB chief Yuri Andropov vowed “we shall not unleash the Third World War.”

Whatever the reason, the Soviet kept their forces on alert, but agreed not to dispatch troops to the Middle East. By the end of October, a tenuous ceasefire put an end to that chapter of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In the forty-five years since that troubled autumn of 1973, the world has changed. The Soviet Union is no more, Egypt is a U.S. ally, and Syria…well, is not Syria anymore. But it not hard to imagine a scenario where the superpowers—or rather one current and one former superpower—find themselves at odds again. For example, Israel may strike Syria in order to drive out Iranian and Hezbollah forces that are edging toward the Israeli-Syrian border. Russia could choose to intervene to save its Cold War client, perhaps by providing air or air defense cover, which leads to a real or threatened clash between Israeli and Russian forces.

As in 1973, it is hard to imagine that Washington would allow the Russians to get away with attacking its Israeli ally.

But what was really different about the 1973 crisis? Nixon and Brezhnev weren’t firing belligerent Tweets at each other (heck, tweets back then were something that birds did outside your window). There is little reason to be nostalgic for the cynical realpolitik game of the Cold War. But at least the game had rules, and the players were conscious that a false move could end in mutual annihilation. Cooler heads prevailed, and the crisis was resolved.

Imagine such a crisis now, with Trump’s prickly belligerence and Putin’s macho nationalism. This time, the world might not be so lucky.

For further reading:

– The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter that Transformed the Middle East by Abraham Rabinovich

– Years of Upheaval by Henry Kissinger

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

This article first appeared in 2018 and is reprinted here due to reader interest.

Image: Wikimedia Commons



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Russia and West clash over Syria chemical weapons sanctions


UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Syria and close ally Russia clashed with the U.S. and other nations Tuesday over a Western initiative to suspend Syria’s voting rights in the global chemical weapons watchdog for failing to provide details of three chemical attacks in 2017 that investigators blamed on President Bashar Assad’s government.

The confrontation in the U.N. Security Council foreshadowed a showdown when the 193 member states of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons meet in The Hague, Netherlands, in April to consider a French-drafted measure, on behalf of 46 countries, to suspend Syria’s “rights and privileges” in the body.

The French proposal was a response to Syria’s failure to meet a 90-day deadline set in July by the OPCW’s executive council for Damascus to declare the nerve agent sarin and chlorine, which OPCW investigators said last April were dropped by the Syrian air force on the central town of Latamneh in late March 2017.

The Western effort reflects a much broader effort to obtain accountability for Syrian chemical attacks and highlight claims that Assad’s government is secretly continuing its chemical weapons program.

Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2013, pressed by Russia after a deadly chemical weapons attack that the West blamed on Damascus.

By August 2014, the Assad government declared that the destruction of its chemical weapons was completed. But Syria’s initial declaration of its chemical stockpiles and chemical weapons production sites has remained in dispute.

Ireland’s U.N. ambassador, Geraldine Byrne Nason, a new council member, said it was “deeply disturbing” that the OPCW still cannot determine whether the initial declaration was accurate or complete because of gaps and inconsistencies. She said the problems are not “minor” as some would portray, alluding to Russia.

“Over those seven years, the number of issues that need to be addressed has expanded from five to 19,” Byrne Nason said. “There have been 17 amendments to Syria’s declaration including the addition of a production facility, four research and development centers, and doubling of the amount of declared agents and chemicals.”

In addition, she said, there are issues related to “hundreds of tons of missing agents and munitions reported destroyed” before Syria joined the chemical convention as well as recent reports of a production facility that Damascus declared as never having been used, “where there is clear evidence to the contrary.”

Norwegian Ambassador Mona Juul, another new council member, also expressed concern at Syria’s failure to explain an unnamed chemical that can be used in chemical weapons but also has non-weapons uses. It was detected at the Barzah facilities of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center.

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, again accused OPCW investigators of being “unscrupulous” and alleged they used “forgeries” and “manipulations” to blame Syria.

He called the chemical watchdog “seriously ill with politicization.” And he accused a number of unnamed countries of “playing this `chemical card’ to step up pressure on the Syrian government that they failed to overthrow in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring.”

As for the initial Syrian declaration, Polyansky said Damascus was not “an extraordinary case,” pointing to amended declarations by Western countries including France and Germany as well as Libya. He accused Western delegations of trying to “inflate agitation” around Syria.

French Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere expressed regret at “the false accusations of those who seek to discredit OPCW” and its findings about Syria’s attacks.

“There is simply the reality of the facts,” he said. “We all know them: the regime used weapons of war prohibited by international law against its own population, and since then we have seem chemical weapons re-emerge and become commonplace in Syria and elsewhere.”

British Ambassador Barbara Woodward said OPCW investigators, alone and initially with a U.N. team, determined Syria used chemical weapons on at least six occasions.

“These are not hypothetical issues for the thousands of Syrian civilians who have suffered the horrifying effects on the body of nerve agents and chlorine,” she said.

Syria’s deputy foreign minister and former U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, accused some unnamed Western nations of using the OPCW “as a platform to fabricate allegations and then justify an assault and aggression on Syria.”

The aim, he said, is “to frame the Syrian government for the use of chemical weapons and exonerate the terrorists and the sponsors … and give them the necessary means to escape through the occupied Golan area through Israel to the capitals of Western states where they can live.”

Russia’s Polyansky said Syria could not meet the OPCW’s anti-Syria demands on Latamneh because it “simply doesn’t have” the chemical weapons and facilities the organization is seeking.

“Hopefully, the majority of delegations at the member states’ conference in April will reject this provocation, and the West-initiated decision, which is `punitive’ by nature, will not pass,” he said.

U.S. deputy ambassador Richard Mills said neither the Security Council nor the world “is fooled” by Russia’s accelerated campaign to discredit the OPCW.

He urged council members to call on all countries to support the French draft against Syria in April “aimed at promoting accountability for the Assad regime’s actions.”

“It is time that the Syrian people, and indeed all the globe’s people, be allowed to live in a world free of the threat of chemical weapons,” he said.

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Car Bomb Hits Near Russia Base in Northeast Syria


A car bomb detonated near a Russian military base in northeastern Syria Friday in the first such jihadist attack in the area against the ally of Damascus, a war monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported several wounded in the attack after midnight in the Tal Saman area in Raqa province, but did not give an exact figure.

There was no immediate Russian report of the incident, which occurred in a broader area controlled by Kurdish-led forces but where the Syrian regime and its ally Russia are also present.

A statement circulated on social media and attributed to the Al-Qaeda-linked Hurras al-Deen jihadist group claimed the attack.

The Observatory said two men parked an explosives-laden pickup truck outside the base and fled, in what was a rare such assault by Hurras al-Deen in the area.

“It’s the first such direct attack against a Russian base in northeastern Syria,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Hurras al-Deen has fighters in the country’s last major rebel bastion in the northwestern region of Idlib, but very rarely operates outside that area.

Russia entered Syria’s war in 2015, and its air force has backed Damascus regime forces in several deadly military campaigns against Idlib.

Russia has repeatedly accused rebels in Idlib of attacking its Hmeimim airbase west of the opposition stronghold with drones, but car bomb attacks are much rarer.

Russian troops are stationed in northern Syria, including as part of several deals brokered with rebel backer Turkey.

Syria’s war has killed more than 387,000 people and displaced millions from their homes since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.



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Chemical weapons watchdog criticizes Syria over 19 issues


UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The global chemical weapons watchdog criticized Syria for failing to declare a chemical weapons production facility and respond to 18 other issues, while Russia accused the watchdog of conducting a “political crusade” against its close ally, the Syrian government.

The clash Friday came at the U.N. Security Council’s monthly meeting on Syria’s chemical weapons, where the director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Fernando Arias, briefed members for the first time since May and was pummeled with questions from Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia.

Arias said seven years after Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013, its initial chemical declaration has unresolved “gaps, inconsistencies, and discrepancies” and “still cannot be considered accurate and complete.”

He told the virtual meeting that one of the 19 outstanding issues is a chemical weapons production facility that President Bashar Assad’s government said was never used to produce weapons, but where the OPCW gathered material and samples indicating “that production and/or weaponization of chemical warfare nerve agents took place.”

Arias said the OPCW had requested Syria to declare the exact types and quantities of chemical agents at the site, but got no response.

Britain’s new U.N. ambassador, Barbara Woodward, said another unresolved issue in Syria’s declaration is the thousands of munitions and hundreds of tons of chemical agents that Syria has not accounted for.

A joint U.N.-OPCW investigative mechanism accused Syria of using chlorine and the nerve agent sarin during its civil war, while the Islamic State group was accused of using mustard gas twice in 2015 and 2016.

In April this year, an OPCW investigation blamed the Syrian air force for a series of chemical attacks using sarin and chlorine in late March 2017 on the central town of Latamneh. Arias said in late October that Syria failed to meet a 90-day deadline set in July to declare the weapons used in the attacks on Latamneh and to disclose its chemical stocks.

France, backed by over 40 countries, has proposed that the OPCW suspend Syria’s “rights and privileges,” which would include its voting rights in the OPCW, for failing to meet the July deadline. The OPCW’s 193 member states are expected to take up the proposal at their spring 2021 meeting.

Russia’s Nebenzia accused the OPCW of backing Western nations who tried “in vain” to topple Assad’s government with the help of opposition groups. “And they maintain this anti-Syrian narrative despite all the discrepancies or counter evidence presented by Syria, Russia and independent experts and exploit these allegations in their political crusade against Assad government,” he said.

Nebenzia posed eight detailed questions to Arias, alleging the OPCW used double standards, didn’t maintain the “chain of custody” of evidence, and attempted “to turn a blind eye” to 200 tons of chemical weapons precursors missing in Libya “while in parallel pressuring Syria to explain the `disappearance’ of even tiny amounts o chemical substances.” He also questioned why concerns by inspectors allegedly weren’t considered by the OPCW.

Arias responded in a closed session after the open meeting, so his answers were not made public.

Before the meeting, council members Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Estonia along with Ireland and Norway, which are joining the council on Jan. 1, issued a joint statement expressing “full support to the OPCW” and to Arias.

The seven European nations backed action against Syria for the attacks on Latamneh and stressed their support for efforts to collect evidence of violations of human rights, international humanitarian law and abuses “with a view to future legal action.”

Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen accused Russia of “undermining the OPCW” but he told the council it has failed because the organization remains strong and respected.

U.S. deputy ambassador Richard Mills supported the OPCW’s “impartial and independent work” and urged “the Assad regime’s enablers, particularly Russia, to encourage Syria to come clear about its chemical weapons use and current chemical weapons stocks.”



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Syria Declarations On Chemical Arms Lacking: UN, Watchdog


UN officials and a global watchdog on Friday criticized incomplete declarations from Syria on chemical weapons while its ally Russia sought to push back against the accusations.

During a videoconference at the UN Security Council, officials from the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Syria had failed to respond to a series of 19 questions involving toxic arms.

Izumi Nakamitsu, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, said the OPCW had found that because of unresolved gaps and discrepancies Syria’s declarations “cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias said one of the questions involved a chemical weapons production facility declared by Syria as never having been used for chemical weapons production.

Information and material gathered since 2014 indicates the facility was used for “production and/or weaponization of chemical warfare nerve agents,” he said, without specifying the location.

OPCW investigators have accused President Bashar al-Assad’s regime of sarin gas and chlorine attacks in Syria in 2017.

Russia and Syria have dismissed the charges, saying Western powers have politicized the work of the OPCW.

“What we reject is speculations and political smear campaigns, which, unfortunately, more and more often poison the OPCW,” said Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya.





A man tries on an air permeable charcoal impregnated suit during a simulation at OPCW headquarters in The Hague, The Netherlands, on April 20, 2017
 AFP / JOHN THYS

He alleged the organization was relying on remote investigations instead of on-site collections of samples.

In a joint statement ahead of the meeting, European members of the Security Council expressed their full backing for the OPCW.

Germany, Belgium, Estonia, France and Britain praised “its professionalism, impartiality and well-established technical expertise in implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention and tasks assigned by the states parties.”

The United States also said it “strongly” supported the global watchdog.

Russia and Syria have been under pressure for months by the UN and the OPCW to provide clarification on chemical attacks carried out in Syria and poisonings of Russian nationals.

Although the meeting was devoted to chemical weapons in Syria, Arias spoke at length on the case of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who says he was poisoned by the Kremlin.

He particularly regretted that Moscow is still blocking a technical visit by the OPCW to Russia.

The OPCW has said samples taken from Navalny have contained a Novichok-type nerve agent.





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Syria claims Israeli attack on post south of capital


DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria’s military said suspected Israeli warplanes struck locations south of the capital Damascus late Tuesday, causing only material damage, state-run media reported.

The report, which quotes an unidentified military official, said the warplanes struck shortly before midnight south of Damascus, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The statement didn’t elaborate on the target or the damage.

Earlier, the state Syrian Arab News Agency SANA said Syria’s air defenses responded to incoming missiles. Later reports on SANA and Syrian Al-Ikhbariya TV said Israeli warplanes struck in a village in Quneitra province on the edge of the Golan Heights and in southwest of the capital Damascus. They offered no details.

Israel last week acknowledged attacking Iran-linked targets in Syria along the Golan Heights after spotting a squad planting roadside bombs near one of its positions.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes on Iran-linked military targets in Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges such operations. Last week’s operation appeared to be sending a public message to Iran and Syria after discovering the anti-personnel mines near its troops.

There was no immediate Israeli comment late Tuesday.

Last month, an overnight attack on a location in Quneitra was reported by Syrian media, which also said Israeli warplanes were behind it. A war monitor said three people were killed in that attack on a post used by Iran-allied militias.

Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move that is not internationally recognized. It says it targets mostly sites of Iranian units and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in Syria, seeking to curb Tehran’s influence near its borders. Such attacks have increased in recent months.

is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s civil war.



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Iran vows to crush any Israeli attempt to hit its ‘advisory’ role in Syria


November 22, 2020

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran on Sunday vowed to defeat any Israeli attempt to harm its role in Syria, saying the era of “hit and run” attacks by Israel there was over, days after Israel carried out air strikes on Syrian army and Iranian paramilitary targets in the country.

Israel, which views Tehran as its biggest security threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets and those of allied militia in Syria, where Tehran has backed President Bashar al-Assad and his forces against rebels and militants since 2012.

On Wednesday, an Israeli military spokesman said eight targets were attacked, including an Iranian headquarters at Damascus international airport and a “secret military site” that served as a “hosting facility for senior Iranian delegations when they come to Syria to operate”.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khateebzadeh told a virtual weekly news conference: “The Zionist regime (Israel) is well aware that the era of hit and run is over and therefore they are very cautious.”

Iran denies having military forces in Syria and says it has sent commandos to the country as military advisers. Tehran says it will provide military advisers to Syria for as long as necessary.

“Iran’s presence in Syria is advisory and naturally if anyone disrupts this advisory presence, our response will be a crushing one,” Khatibzadeh said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said at least 10 people, including five Iranians from the Quds Force, a branch of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards responsible for operations outside of Iran’s own borders, were killed during the attack.

“I do not confirm the martyrdom of Iranian forces in Syria,” “Khatibzadeh said.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)





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Russia allocates more than $1 billion not to its people, but to Syria


Russia allocated more than $1 billion for the restoration of electric power lines, the industrial complex of Syria, as well as for other humanitarian purposes, Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of the Russian-Syrian interagency coordination headquarters for the return of refugees said on Wednesday at the International Conference on the Return of Refugees to Syria.

“For humanitarian purposes, the restoration of power grids and industrial production, objects of religious worship, Russia has allocated more than $1 billion,” RIA Novosti quoted Mizintsev as saying. He did not specify when and for what period the funds were allocated.

According to the official, as part of the development of interstate cooperation and the provision of humanitarian assistance to Syrian people, Russian ministries and departments consistently promote projects in such important areas as education and medicine, environmental management and housing construction, trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation.


“The Center for Open Education works in Damascus, where more than 100 teachers of the Russian language have already completed advanced training. As many as 1,319 Syrian citizens currently study at Russian educational institutions. More than 1,900 young specialists have already completed their education,” he said.


The official reminded that Russia and the UN World Food Program signed a memorandum on the procedure for targeted voluntary contributions to provide food assistance to Syria. As part of this arrangement, Moscow will wire $ 20 million in 2020 and 2021 to Damascus. The money will be used to purchase food for those in need, support school nourishment programs and distribute vouchers for the purchase of food for pregnant and lactating women.

Earlier, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that Damascus pins hopes for the conference on refugees, which took place in the Syrian capital on November 11 and 12. He noted that the Syrians are not only ready, but are very enthusiastic to implement practical agreements over the next few months after this conference.

Bashar Assad thanked Russia and its administration for help in organizing the International Conference on the Return of Refugees to Syria, despite international pressure. Assad hopes that it would help break the economic blockade of Syria and create necessary conditions for the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland.

Russia launched a military operation in Syria in 2015. According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, over 800 terrorist leaders and more than 133,000 militants, including 4,500 from Russia and the CIS, have been killed as a result of special operations in Syria in five years.



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America’s TOW Anti-Tank Missile Dominated in Syria, But Can It Stand Up to Modern Tanks?


Here’s What You Need To Remember: Despite its staying ahead of countermeasures, the design itself is getting dated. Traditional wire-guided TOWs face limitations when shooting across bodies of water and can’t shoot neat razor wire or downed power lines due to electrical effects on the control wires. Recent radio-controlled TOWs remedy this issue, at the cost of potentially being jammed by radio jammers on future tanks.

America’s TOW anti-tank missile has been one of the most enduring anti-armor weapons in the U.S. Arsenal.

First used to bust North Vietnamese tanks during the Vietnam war, the BGM-71 TOW has since served admirably in U.S. and foreign service. It’s the staple anti-tank guided missile of any U.S. mechanized formation, being mounted on the Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and a myriad of dedicated TOW missile carriers, such as the Marines’ LAV-AT.

But as the technology behind enemy armor advances, is the TOW keeping up?

Today’s TOW is a fairly far cry from the original missiles that served in Vietnam, featuring radio guidance (changing the “W” part of the original designation, from wire-guided to wireless-guided), tandem warheads, and ever more sophisticated firing posts. But even with all these upgrades, could the TOW be nearing obsolescence?

The way the TOW works is fairly simple. As a second generation, Semi-Automatic Command Line of Sight (SACLOS) anti-tank missile, the gunner simply keeps crosshairs on the target and the missile guides itself onto the target.

It accomplishes this by means of an optical tracking (which is O in TOW) system. An infrared flare or two in the rear of the missile is tracked by the missile’s launching post, which references the position of the missile relative to the gunner’s aim point. Then, commands are sent through wire or radio link to the missile to correct it if necessary.

The missile is controlled in flight by four control surfaces at the midsection of the missile, two surfaces control vertical motion, and the other two control horizontal. The missile does not spin in flight, so control is simple. Two rocket engines at the midsection of the missile provide thrust. The engines are mounted in the midsection so as not to burn the guidance wires and to accommodate the infrared flare in the rear. Once the missile reaches the tank, a contact fuzed HEAT warhead goes off in the front, sending a shaped charge projectile into the tank’s armor.

The Soviet military recognized the threat that the TOW posed and started fielding counters through the 1970s. Composite armor that was more effective against HEAT charges was one of the first innovations, followed by explosive reactive armor that was incredibly effective against HEAT.

The TOW evolved as well to counter these upgrades. The Improved TOW (I-TOW) added a standoff probe that increased the effectiveness of the TOW’s single warhead, and the TOW 2A introduced tandem warheads. The latest TOWs, the TOW 2B, goes even further, installing a HEAT warhead that’s angled downwards and changing the missile flight pattern, so that the missile shoots it’s shaped charge projectile into the roof armor of an enemy tank (an innovation pioneered by the Swedish RBS 56 BILL missile).

However, in the 1990s the advanced Russian/Soviet “Shtora” active protection system entered service. This system used two powerful infrared spotlights (the “eyes” seen on T-80UK and T-90 tans) to jam the optical tracking mechanism. The spotlights would wash out the TOW’s infrared flare’s signal in the firing post’s optical tracker, preventing the missile from being guided past a certain point near the tank.

The TOW-2 introduced an upgraded flare to counter this. A visual encoder was installed on the flare to make it emit a pulsed coded signal that the firing post receptor was tuned to receive. This prevented “brute-force” jamming of the signal. Later a xenon beacon was also added, which emitted on two different infrared frequencies to make it even harder to jam. With upgrades, the TOW is immune to Shtora.

Despite its staying ahead of countermeasures, the design itself is getting dated. Traditional wire-guided TOWs face limitations when shooting across bodies of water and can’t shoot neat razor wire or downed power lines due to electrical effects on the control wires. Recent radio-controlled TOWs remedy this issue, at the cost of potentially being jammed by radio jammers on future tanks.

The other potential problem with the TOW is its speed. While the speed of a TOW has slowly been increasing, only so much can be squeezed out of the missile with its engine and control surface design. Current variants travel around 320 meters per second. This is slower than Russian systems such as the 9M123 “Khrizantema” (~400 meters per second), 9M120 “Ataka” (between 400 and 500 meters per second), and 9M119 “Svir” (around 350 meters per second). To contrast, modern tank rounds fly in excess of 1500 meters per second.

This means that in at ATGM duel, the TOW-equipped vehicle could be destroyed. It also means that TOWs will likely be intercepted by any hard-kill active-protection system, as the slow speed allows for easy interception. The U.S. military is aware of this deficiency and has tried ATGMs such as LOSAT and CKEM, which are much faster (CKEM reaching up to 2200+ meters per second).

Despite its drawbacks, the TOW is a proven and reliable ATGM. The recent development and adoption of the radio-controlled TOW means that it’s likely to serve far into the future, even as armor-technology advances.

Charlie Gao studied political and computer science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national-security issues. This article first appeared two years ago.

Image: Reuters.



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UN Envoy Sees Delay In Syria Political Process


A UN envoy acknowledged Tuesday that a new meeting aimed at winding down Syria’s civil war would not happen as planned this month but voiced hope it would take place in November.

Geir Pedersen, the UN special envoy for Syria, said after a trip to Damascus that there had been no accord on the agenda for a meeting in October in Geneva aimed at revisions to Syria’s constitution.

“We have no agreement yet,” he told a virtual UN meeting.

“But assuming full agreement is confirmed, the plan would be to reconvene sometime in November,” he said, without confirming the date of November 23 mentioned by some diplomats.

It would be the fourth meeting of the small group on constitutional reform and involve some 45 representatives of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the opposition and civil society.

Richard Mills, the US deputy representative to the United Nations, called the lack of progress “both regrettable and unacceptable.”

“We believe it is time now to tell the Assad regime that enough is enough,” Mills said.

The French ambassador, Nicolas de Riviere, accused Assad’s regime of playing for time.

“The political process is at a complete impasse,” he said, calling the achievements of the constitutional committee so far “almost nothing.”





Syrian artist Aziz Asmar paints a mural depicting US President Donald Trump fighting with the coronavirus in October 2020 in Idlib province, which has remained a zone of fighting in the country’s brutal war
 AFP / Muhammad HAJ KADOUR

The United States and France want to see an inclusive political solution in Syria and accountability for atrocities after nearly a decade of war that has claimed more than 380,000 lives.

But Assad, with support from Russia and Iran, has won back control of most of the country.

“It is important to give the Syrians the opportunity to negotiate without interference from the outside,” said the Russian ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia.

“The work of the constitutional committee should not be subject to any deadlines,” he said.

The constitutional process, launched in October 2019, aims at drafting a constitution acceptable to all sides that will pave the way for elections.

Mark Lowcock, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the session that the world body was seeking another $211 million to fight Covid-19 in Syria.

The money will be used to provide medical supplies, improve water access, sanitize displacement camps and improve conditions at schools, he said.

Lowcock said that Syria likely had “far greater” than the 13,500 Covid-19 cases officially reported and voiced particular concern for the spread of the pandemic in densely populated camps.





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