October 2, 2015: Strategy Page
The Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah has been promised 75 Soviet-era tanks by the Syrian government. The gift consists of T-55 and T-72 tanks and comes as a thank you for Hezbollah not complaining about the presence of Russian forces in Syria. Apparently more such gifts are forthcoming if Hezbollah works with the Russians against Syrian rebels. Russia deployed a mix of Su-24 and Su-25 ground attack planes, plus four Su-30 fighters since early September.
Hezbollah has been a long-running client of Syria and Iran, who use the group as a proxy in Lebanon to battle Christians, Sunni Moslems, and the Israelis. The group fought Israel in the 2006 Lebanon War and came out second-best, losing as many as 800 fighters. Hezbollah has access to a number of heavy weapons, notably Russian-designed ATGMs like the AT-14 (9M133 Kornet), and Chinese C-802 missiles. Hezbollah has not been seen operating these tanks yet and it is unlikely that Israel would allow these vehicles to be moved into Lebanon. Israel and Russia have apparently negotiated an “understanding” to cover situations like this and the Israeli air strikes that would be involved.
The T-72s and T-55s will not be much help in a major battle – Israel’s Merkava tanks clearly outclass them – and their combat record against Western tank designs has been spotty at best. Still, when facing the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, the tanks will be fighting on better terms. It is believed that Hezbollah will be trained to use these tanks in western Syria against Syrian rebels.
The T-55 entered service in the 1950s, and features a 100mm main gun with 45 rounds, along with a 12.7mm machine gun and a 7.62mm machine gun. The T-72 main battle tank entered service in the 1970s, and features a 125mm main gun with 39 rounds, along with a 12.7mm machine gun and a 7.62mm machine gun. – Harold C. Hutchison