General Tactical Observations from the 1982 Lebanon War

Ideas mostly taken from the MOUT page for Operation Peace for Galilee

PLO and Syrian snipers

Both PLO and Syrians snipers were effective in blocking Israeli advances. Although poorly trained and equipped PLO snipers delayed IDF operations in Sidon, and Syrians snipers held up IDF operations in the southeastern suburbs of Beirut. The snipers main effect was psychological, forcing IDF personnel to keep their heads down. However, they were also an important source of intelligence about battle field conditions.

IDF Infantry & Tanks

The IDF found that armor attacks into urban areas that lacked proper infantry support were almost always more costly in lives and equipment than properly supported operations. During the siege of Beirut the IDF used combined task forces. Tanks and self-propelled artillery were attached to infantry units with the infantry generally retaining command for the duration of the operation. The armour suppressed enemy fire and the infantry shielded the armour from man-portable anti-tank weapons.

The IDF lost few tanks in urban fighting, although it is unclear whether this was due to good design, effective infantry support, or poor PLO anti-tank tactics.

IDF weapons

The IDF issued larger numbers of hand grenades, RPG launchers, light anti-tank weapons, illumination rounds for mortars, short-range tactical radios to infantry platoons deployed to urban centres.

IDF Small Unit Command and Control

IDF authorises small units like companies to operate with substantial independence throughout the battle zone. Juniors are expected to exercise discretion without referring to their superiors.


Israeli forces made considerable use of smoke in the battle for Sidon, but made relatively little use of it in the siege of Beirut. Smoke had mixed advantages and disadvantages as it:

  • Reduced losses as it prevented PLO forces using RPGs and light weapons against the advancing IDF.
  • Interfered with visual communication among attacking Israeli forces
  • Taxed the driving skills of vehicle operators
  • Slowed the overall rate of advance.


Mortars were generally considered useful because of their psychological effect. Their high angle of fire allowed their use in built up areas. Mortars were extensively used to fire smoke and illumination rounds.

The IDF used small infantry mortars (60mm and the 81mm) that could not penetrate the upper roofs.

The heavier Soviet 120mm mortar could penetrate roofs. (Presumably used by the Syrians.)

The Syrians used the Soviet 240mm towed mortar to gut the top 1 to 3 stories of buildings. It could also crater roads.


The Syrians found machine-guns, especially heavy machine-guns (12.7mm), more useful in urban combat than assault rifles.

Anti-aircraft guns in ground support roles

Both the IDF and their opponents used anti-aircraft guns in urban settings. The AA guns had a sufficiently high elevation to be able to target upper stories of buildings (unlike other vehicle mounted weapons, for example the machinegun on the M113 couldn’t reach upper stories), and a high rate of fire to suppress enemy forces (including snipers) to peel off the facade of buildings.

The IDF used the M163 Vulcan 20mm anti-aircraft guns.

The Syrian tactical doctrine used an anti-aircraft section of ZU-23 23mm cannons with a tank battalion whenever operating in an urban environment.

The PLO also used anti-aircraft guns in a ground-support role.


The PLO produced self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery by mounting Soviet ZPU-1/2/4 14.5mm heavy machine-guns and ZU-23 23mm autocannons on light commercial trucks.


The Israelis made virtually no use of helicopter gun-ships in cities due to their vulnerability to anti-aircraft weapons and ground-fire.

Helicopters were only widely used in cities for transporting men and materiel from rear areas to just behind the front lines.


PLO forces were equipped with one RPG for every 3-6 fighters, although training in their use was often poor.

In an anti-tank role RPGs had little success against the Israeli Merkava tank, but forced the IDF to stop using M113 APCs in combat. The M113’s aluminum armor tended to catch on fire after being hit by anti-tank weapons.

RPGs were more widely used as general purpose weapons for attacking troops in buildings, behind barricades, or for harassing fire.

Armoured bulldozers

IDF combat engineers used armored bulldozers to clear barricades, to smother bunkers, establish firing positions, widen and grade roads, and to create alternative avenues of advance to by-pass the urban infrastructure


The IDF had little success when using the M113 in Tyre. The limitations included:

  • Vulnerability to RPG fire. Their aluminum armour burst into flame when hit causing extensive IDF casualties.
  • Inability to provide suppressing fire. Their machine-guns lacked sufficient elevation to use against upper stories of building.
  • Extreme vulnerability to sniper fire for the crews serving out-side mounted machine-guns.
  • Inability to maneuver in narrow roads and allys of cities and refugee camps.

Increasingly IDF fear of RPG ambushes meant the infantry simply walked next to their APCs or rode outside. By the time of the siege of Beirut APCs were not used in the front line.

The IDF resorted to some make shift transport for their infantry:

  • With it ammunition racks removed the Merkava tank could transport 10 troops who entered/exited via the rear door. Similarly the Merkava was also used as an improvised armored ambulance.
  • The IDF also adapted an armored engineering vehicle called the Nagma-chon. Normally used to carry engineering troops it could also take infantry. It was relatively invulnerable to RPGs because its glacis and superstructure were protected by Blazer reactive armor.
  • The Israelis added passive spaced-armor to existing APCs.

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