The Guns of October

I played every game about the Yom Kippur War, so you don't have to. Here's what I learned.

It was at 2 p.m. on the sixth day of October 1973 -- the afternoon of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement -- when a barrage from 2,000 artillery pieces along the Suez Canal signaled the start of an epic war. It was epic as a chapter of history, when an overconfident Israel saw its vaunted army and air force battered by an Arab surprise attack, only to reverse the fortunes of war in a week with a counteroffensive that left the Egyptian armies surrounded and Damascus in range of Israeli artillery. It was epic in its military implications, as the Yom Kippur War shaped the way that the U.S. military would fight for decades. And, it was epic in its what-ifs: What if Israel had mobilized its reserve troops sooner? What if the Syrian tanks had not paused on the Golan Heights after breaking through the thin Israeli defenses, and had clanked down toward Haifa and Tel Aviv? What if the Egyptians had pressed their initial advantage and drove on southern Israel?

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War (or the Ramadan War, as the Arabs called it, in an ironic simultaneity of dueling religious holidays). Not surprisingly, such a dramatic conflict has spawned numerous wargames that allow armchair generals to simulate the conflict. Like an array of spotlights, each game illuminates different facets of the struggle.

For example, the most pressing question for Israel in 1973 wasn't how to fight, but where to fight. Vastly outnumbered by the Egyptians in the south and the Syrians in the north, Israel confronted its ultimate nightmare; fighting simultaneously on widely separated fronts, creating a strategic dilemma of where to send its hastily mobilized reserves. "Bar-Lev," a board game first published in 1974 and later updated in 1977, is probably the best simulation of the Yom Kippur War. The game begins with the Israeli defenders badly outnumbered, but each turn the Israelis get new reserve troops which must be sent to either the Sinai or Golan fronts. The dilemma for the Israeli player is that once a unit is allocated to a front, it is committed; it takes at least a whole turn to transfer it to the other front, and a tank battalion in transit from Golan to Sinai is one less desperately needed battalion on either battlefield. Thus the Israeli player must anticipate his needs. If the war is going well in Sinai, it is easy for an Israeli player to send all his reinforcements to the Golan, only to be caught flat-footed by a lucky Egyptian attack. To play Bar-Lev is to understand why Israel has always feared fighting the combined Arab armies on its borders.

Any Yom Kippur wargame must also simulate a contradiction: the ability of Israeli units to outfight their Arab counterparts, and yet at the same time, show how the Arabs were able to nullify those advantages so much that Israel could only achieve a tactical victory by war's end (some might even argue a draw). In Bar-Lev, Israeli units are often stronger and move faster than their Arab counterparts, especially the Israeli tank formations. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) can decimate the Arab air forces in aerial combat at virtually no loss, and then go on to pound Arab ground troops. But the game also gives the Arabs certain advantages, such as a combat bonus for their infantry when fighting Israeli tanks (reflecting their huge quantities of Soviet-made anti-tank weapons). More important is their huge number of surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft gun batteries, creating an air defense system denser than those faced by U.S. pilots over North Vietnam. The Israeli player can choose to preserve his air force by staying at high altitude and dogfighting the Arab air forces; the Israeli Air Force will be toasting plenty of new fighter aces, but that will be cold comfort to the hard-pressed troops on the ground. Or (as was historically the case), Israeli jets can come in low and support the ground troops, but will take heavy losses from flak. The Israelis relied on the IAF to be the "flying artillery" that saved the ground troops, but instead in Bar-Lev, it is the tanks and infantry who have to knock out the Arab air defense network before the Phantoms and Skyhawks can do their work.

"You can ask me for anything you like, except time," Napoleon told his generals, an admonition that the Israelis have always appreciated. The longer the conflict goes on, the more the Israeli economy grinds to a halt, the greater the expenditure in blood and munitions (the latter of which must be resupplied by the United States), and the higher the risk that the superpowers and the U.N. will impose a cease-fire that will favor the Arabs. Thus time is a crucial feature in Multi-Man Publishing's two October War games:  "Heights of Courage," which covers the Golan front, and "Yom Kippur," which covers the Sinai battles. In "Heights of Courage," the game is played over 17 turns. But after Turn 8 (Oct. 12), dice are rolled to see whether the international community imposes a cease-fire. Because the Syrians make their gains during their initial assault, they can grab the Golan and then dig in, placing the burden on Israel to race the clock to recapture lost territory before the war ends.

Time is both an Israeli enemy and ally in 1981's "Suez '73," perhaps the most insightful Yom Kippur wargame besides Bar-Lev. The game simulates the vicious Battle of the Chinese Farm on Oct. 15-19, when an Israeli counteroffensive found a weak spot in the Egyptian defenses that allowed the IDF to cross to the Egyptian side of the Suez Canal, tear a hole in the Egyptian air defense network, and surround the Egyptian armies on the Israeli side of the canal. Each 12-hour game turn can be divvied up into 10 "impulses" or mini-turns where each player can move his units and conduct combat. While the Egyptians can only get a maximum of three mini-turns, the Israelis can get up to 10, allowing the IDF to accomplish much more over those 12 hours than its enemies.

However, time is also as dangerous a foe as the Egyptian Sagger anti-tank missiles. In Suez '73, the Israelis have only eight turns to accomplish the following: carve a corridor through two fortified Egyptian infantry divisions, heavily reinforced by additional tank and anti-tank units; move slow and bulky mobile bridges down a single road already clogged with tank columns needed to penetrate those Egyptian defenses; erect a bridge over the Suez Canal under Egyptian artillery fire; send tank and infantry units to form a bridgehead on the western bank; and send out raiding columns to destroy Egyptian air defense sites. Egyptians don't need to defeat the IDF on the battlefield, just delay it. To play Suez '73 is to understand why Israeli commanders always seem to be in a hurry, even if it means taking risks.

Ultimately, and in real life, Israel's narrow victory rested on its battlefield performance. It was not that the Arabs couldn't or wouldn't fight -- the Yom Kippur War disproved that unfortunate myth of 1967 -- but that superior training, tactics, and initiative allowed an Israeli unit to accomplish more than its Arab counterpart. In Suez '73, every unit has a numerical rating for "proficiency" that affects everything from how well it shoots to how well it rallies under fire. Israeli units, especially elite formations such as paratroopers and commandos, have higher proficiencies that give them an edge in combat. In 1977's "Arab-Israeli Wars," Israeli superiority is shown through mechanisms such as morale, which means that an Israeli Centurion tank platoon disrupted by enemy fire will rally and return to the fight sooner than a Syrian platoon of T-62 tanks. But the Arabs usually have numbers on their sides, and quality versus quantity can be a tough fight.

These are essential facets that shaped the Yom Kippur War. But part of the fascination of wargaming is discovering the small historical details. In Suez '73, the Israeli Ha Sinai reconnaissance unit, equipped with captured Arab vehicles, can slip past the Egyptian defenders guarding the road to the Suez Canal. And in Heights of Courage, the Israelis have the "Force Zvika" piece to inflict extra losses on the Syrians; this reflects the exploits of Lt. Zvi "Zvika" Greengold, who with one or two tanks managed to seriously disrupt the Syrian offensive (dice are rolled each time to see whether he survives).

Fascinating and compelling as these October War games are, there is a touch of ancient history about them. Thousands of tanks churning dust storms through the Sinai desert seem almost as anachronistic as Napoleon's Old Guard at Waterloo. Warfare today is ballistic missiles, laser-guided bombs, chemical weapons, and cyberviruses like Stuxnet. A nation's strength is now reckoned more by its quantity of hackers than infantry battalions. The year 1973 was the mid-point -- chronologically and militarily -- between the mass warfare of the Battle of the Bulge, and the high-tech combat of Desert Storm and the Second Iraq War.

Since 1973, Israel has never faced such a dire military situation. And perhaps not coincidentally, the quality of its military -- or at least of its regular tank and infantry troops -- has never appeared quite so brilliant, especially in the 2006 Lebanon War. Perhaps necessity is the mother of battlefield prowess, but that's a bargain that most Israelis and Arabs would rather not make.



The Case for Canamerica

The far-out, incredibly earnest argument for why the U.S. should merge with its northern neighbor.

Imagine, if you will, a moment in the not-too-distant future: A decades-long effort by Chinese companies to infiltrate Canadian banking and drilling firms has succeeded in securing Canada's oil and natural gas fields for pillage. At least some money from these deals trickles into Ottawa's coffers, which is more than the government can say for its oil in the Arctic, where Canada has been muscled out of its claims by extraction companies with the backing of the Russian government. A network of Chinese ports has secured the sea lines along the Northwest Passage, circumscribing Canadian sovereignty, and Canada's military, enfeebled after years of reliance on the United States, is powerless to resist. Canada effectively lapses into a vassal state, reliant on neocolonial patriarchs in Beijing and Moscow.

This dystopian scenario isn't the plot of an episode of The Twilight Zone or some modish alternate-history, sci-fi story -- it's the threat laid out by Diane Francis, a veteran business reporter and current editor at large of Canada's National Post, in her newly released book, Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country. And while she frames the book as a "thought experiment," she believes a U.S.-Canadian union is essential to both countries' futures -- that facing economic infringement, "a merger makes good business sense." She's thought it through, down to the last dollar each Canadian should be compensated for their natural resources in a U.S. buyout.

"The Russians have thrown down the gauntlet in the Arctic.… And the Chinese have targeted our resources, along with everyone else's," Francis told Foreign Policy by phone from Canada. They're "the wolves at the door," Francis says; she frames the situation in terms of "prey and predator" in the book. "They're gaming the system," she told FP. "And I think they're brilliant. I think they're doing a great job feeding their population, frankly, and educating them, but we understand that they have an objective." Their goal is to break into the biggest, wealthiest markets: the United States and the European Union. "Canada is … peripheral to the United States, as Turkey is [to the EU], and you'll notice that the Chinese start to do business not in the EU, but in the periphery -- Bulgaria, Turkey. They just landed a big contract for their avionics, their air-traffic controls. They're building bridges; they're building roads." Canada, she says, "is a back-door entry into the main markets that they really want to get into but are somewhat prevented from."

For now, the United States and Canada are "nations in distress," falling prey to dangerous investments while their military and diplomatic power slips relative to the rest of the world's. "Without dramatic change," she writes, "Canada will remain … somewhat sleepy and vulnerable. The United States will continue to go broke buying foreign oil and cheap goods from Asia, then guarding countries that could and should pay for their own protection and, while they are at it, 'buy American.'"

"There has to be some kind of strategy," she told FP.

Francis was born in Chicago and holds dual citizenship -- but she's not some American agent provocateur. She acknowledges there is a certain paranoia about American intentions north of the border. "I think it's a function of being the little guy next to the big guy and always having to worry," she says. But there are real benefits to the merger -- "synergies," she notes in corporate terms -- especially for Canada. By erasing the border, Canada would gain a military with a stake in protecting its resources from foreign incursions, and the investment capital and people to develop oil, natural gas, and other mining projects in the country's undeveloped north. The United States, for its part, would have access to an estimated 13 percent of the world's remaining undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of its undiscovered natural gas. "The most obvious synergy," she writes, "would be matching Canada's undeveloped resource potential with America's money, markets, and workers."

In particular, Francis, who is a director for Aurizon Mines, Ltd., which operates a gold mine in Quebec, wants to see the United States invest in infrastructure in Canada's far north, which currently lacks the roads, ports, and pipelines necessary to make resource extraction possible. "That kind of a Marshall Plan with infrastructure and so on -- that would create millions of jobs, both sides of the border," she says. "The Americans should just roll up their sleeves and get on with it, because they've got the capital and they've got the market for the stuff. At the very least, there's got to be some kind of a joint venture, economically, and I say, 'Let's pick our partners.'"

It's a perspective that smacks of protectionism -- though Francis objects to the word. "It's protectiveness," she stresses. "I think that investing should only be done with one test in mind, and that's reciprocity. If the Chinese can buy Smithfield Foods, then the Americans can buy the Chinese company that wants to buy Smithfield -- but we can't. It's all one-way, and that's what they're doing and they're doing that everywhere. It's like, 'Heads, I win. Tails, you lose.'" In the book, she describes a "new cold war … being fought on economic grounds."

Francis imagines a half-dozen ways a merger could take place -- how the United States might buy out Canada, Louisiana Purchase-style, or set up resource funds to pay dividends to Canadian citizens. Politically, Canada's provinces might seek entry as U.S. states -- or perhaps as a commonwealth if Quebec wished to preserve a government of its own. They could form a federal union, à la unified Germany, create an overarching council (the Swiss model), or establish a coordinating government (the EU model). Francis never coins a name for her potential superstate. If Canada's provinces became U.S. states, then they would simply be absorbed into the United States of America. But as for the other models, who knows? Canamerica reads too much like a question, while Ameri-Canada sounds slightly better.

What would a united Ameri-Canada look like? In terms of acreage, it would be the largest country in world -- surpassing Russia, even all of South America, in size. Its economy would be larger than the European Union's. Since each country is the other's largest trading partner, trade deficits would shrink. Canadian oversight at the Fed would bring stability to American banking. With all its energy needs met domestically, Ameri-Canada would be a lucrative petrostate, exporting oil to the developing world.

For all the benefits -- energy self-sufficiency, secure borders, a cross-border maple syrup pipeline if we're lucky -- the merger would not be without consequences. Francis bets that the long-term economic incentives would outweigh the baggage Canada brings with it. But is that really the case? Would it be worth grappling with how to integrate U.S., Canadian, and Québécois laws, or trying to standardize health care across the two countries? Would Washington ever want to inherit First Nations land disputes, Quebec separatists, or Justin Bieber? And would Canadians want Washington, especially after such a case study in dysfunction this week?

They're questions that probably won't need to be asked -- and not just because the Republican Party would never allow it. (If Canadians were to vote in the presidential elections, the GOP would never take the White House again, Francis speculates.) The reception to Francis's proposal has been something between knee-jerk reactionism and hand-waving dismissiveness. Jonathan Kay, a managing editor for the National Post, where Francis also works, described the book with prototypically Canadian polite understatement: The book is Francis's "most ambitious. Perhaps a little too ambitious, many readers might conclude."

It's creating "a huge emotional stir," Francis says. "The idea of the book is to start a conversation.... The conversation isn't that enlightening yet, but it will be." And she knows it's ambitious: She never shies away from the biggest parallels she can draw -- there's that "Marshall Plan" for investment in Canada, and comparisons to German reunification or potential Korean reunification abound.

But there's an analogy Francis doesn't make. In 1985, Ibrahim Ibrahim, then a professor at Georgetown, presented a Cassandra-like proposal. With economic challenges looming in North Africa, Ibrahim suggested a three-way merger of Egypt, Libya, and Sudan. Egypt's abundant population and technological development could provide the impetus to turn Sudan into a "breadbasket" for the region, Ibrahim argued, and Libya could find political unity and integration, lest it be "abandoned to the wiles of history." The plan was similar to the one Francis proposes: "Initially, a common market would be created among the three, one in which free movement of labor and capital would be guaranteed.... In the second phase of the common market, the three countries would establish a formal political confederation, allowing for free trade, the integration of production, and technical integration. Only then can the three embark on a systematic, long-term plan of investment for the twenty-first century."

Like Francis's proposal, the plan was politically outlandish but economically sensible. Twenty-eight years later, after political and economic desperation have brought revolutions in Libya and Egypt, and with Sudan now partitioned but still underdeveloped, was this period of decline inevitable? The sensational, possibly hyperbolic future Francis envisions, of rising powers whittling away at Canada's -- and ultimately America's -- resources and sovereignty, is similarly dire.

"It doesn't have to be," she tells FP. "I'm not trying to be alarmist, or paranoid, or conspiratorial. [China and Russia] are just doing business, except that they're big and organized."

In many ways, Ameri-Canada is already a reality. "We're merging in some ways," Francis says. "We're merging in investment and ownership and people traveling," and she points out that three million Canadians live in the United States, and another million Americans have headed north. "But this border is really thickening," she says, pointing to immigration disputes since Sept. 11, 2001 and a growing cross-border drug trade. Since negotiations ended on the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement on Oct. 4, 1987, "we haven't moved one nudge up from just taking down a few tariff barriers." It's time for that to change, she says, so she's "starting a conversation."

Francis wants to see the two countries go all the way. "We're dating heavily -- let's think about common law, maybe marriage," she explains. More likely, though, is something less formal, more gradual. "Perhaps this glacial drift from sovereignty," she writes, "will be the chosen path of Canadians and Americans -- a tacit, unacknowledged coasting into one another's arms."