War Games Depict History of Israel and Challenge Players To Win Conflict

October 04, 2013

Source: The Jewish Daily Forward 


Thousands of wargame titles have been published over the last 50 years on every conceivable conflict, from the wars of ancient Greece to the Napoleonic Wars and World War II, to science fiction universes like Star Trek.


Not surprisingly, dozens of war games on the Arab-Israeli conflict have been published since war games first became popular in America in the 1970s. In fact, the history of modern Israel can be captured in wargaming, a fact as tragic as it is fascinating.


Playing a historical game offers insight into matters such as how Israel’s narrow geography has led its leaders to be fixated on maintaining defensible borders, or why the Arab armies could not translate their numerical superiority into victory.


We can start our tour of Arab-Israeli war games with “Israeli Independence,” a simple game depicting the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Designed by attorney Darin Leviloff to teach modern Jewish history to his Hebrew school class at Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo, Calif., “Israeli Independence” is a solitaire game in which the human player assumes the role of the Israeli commander, while the five Arab army tokens (Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq) are controlled by a deck of cards that randomly move them on the game map towards their objective of Jerusalem.


Each card also specifies a certain number of Israeli counteroffensives that push back Arab armies further from Jerusalem; the challenge for the Israelis is they can only push back one or two armies at a time, leaving the remainder to continue their advance. Thus the Israeli defense is like a fire brigade racing from blaze to blaze.


The cards also contain brief historical commentary; for instance, a Deir Yassin card penalizes the Israelis and helps the Arabs. “One of the difficult issues of designing the game was how to approach the Palestinian Arab issues,” said Leviloff, who describes himself as a Zionist. “I didn’t want to sugarcoat the historicity of the struggle.”


In “Six Day War: 1967,” one player controls the Israeli forces facing Egypt in the south — and the Arab armies on the Syrian and Jordanian fronts in the north and east. The other player controls the Israeli forces on the Syrian and Jordanian fronts — and the Egyptian troops in the Sinai. Thus each player must orchestrate an Israeli offensive on his own front, while controlling the Arab forces that will try to thwart his opponent. Whichever of the Israeli players does best on his own front wins the game.


The dramatic 1973 war, during which Israel transformed initial defeat into battlefield success, has spawned several games, such as “Heights of Courage” and “Yom Kippur,” which simulate the Golan and Sinai fronts respectively. Perhaps the best games are the 1974 and 1977 editions of “Bar Lev,” (named after Israel’s fortified Bar Lev Line along the Suez Canal) a few copies of which are available on eBay.


The Israeli player, outnumbered on both the Sinai and Golan fronts, must carefully choose which front to deploy his troops to as they mobilize, which involves weakening one front to strengthen another.


Perhaps the most intriguing game is one about a war that has not (yet) happened. “Persian Incursion” is a complex simulation of a hypothetical Israeli air campaign to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities. Co-designed by techno-thriller writer Larry Bond, the game comes with reams of background material on Iranian nuclear sites and their defenses. “The most obvious challenge was getting reliable information on the Israeli and Iranian orders of battle and their capabilities,” said Bond. “Israel’s special challenge was their secrecy. What had they done that they weren’t sharing with us? Iran’s was understanding and modeling their difficulties operating a military with ‘legacy’ equipment.”


In “Persian Incursion,” the Israeli player must allocate his limited number of strike aircraft among various nuclear targets in Iran. But first his aircraft must get to Iran; the Israelis must choose an approach route that violates the airspace of Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Turkey, each of which has political consequence for whether the international community will aid Israel or Iran. For its part, Iran can’t hope to stop the Israeli air offensive, but it can hope to score a propaganda coup by downing a few F-15s and F-16s, while it retaliates by lobbing ballistic missiles at Tel Aviv.


Read the entire story at the Jewish Daily Forward.

Updated: Oct. 16, 2013