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The Syrian military remains one of the largest and best-trained forces in the Arab World. Despite losing every major conflict since 1948, it has distinguished itself as a highly disciplined and motivated force that has gained the respect of the Israeli military. In particular, the Syrian army is known to have developed the skills necessary to breach the type of defense in depth found on the Golan Heights, obviously a potent factor in any future conflict with Israel.
However, its combat strength has deteriorated dramatically during the last decade as its equipment has become increasingly obsolescent and poorly maintained. The collapse of the Soviet Union, which created immense problems of re-supply, equipment and spare parts for the Syrians, and the slow down experienced by the Syrian economy resulted in a considerable downgrading of the military's combat efficiency. This was most evident, perhaps, in the fall of 1998 amid rising tensions between Turkey and Syria over the Assad regime's support for Kurdish PKK guerrillas, when it became quite clear that Syria was incapable of mounting a serious deployment of forces on the Turkish border.
A second weakness that pervades all branches of the Syrian military was largely inherited from Soviet military advisers over the years - the unwillingness of staff officers or field commanders to show initiative or react independently to a crisis without observing the usual chain of command, slowing down the military's ability to respond to either an enemy move or to take advantage of occasional openings for offensive action. This was painfully evident during Syria's clash with Israeli forces in Lebanon during the early 1980's, when Syrian commanders confined the operations of the forces under their command to a pre-determined course of action, irrespective of the circumstances that prevailed on the battlefield, and exhibited little combat initiative.