The Middle East's 5 Most Lethal Militaries

The Middle East is full of chaos. These militaries are leading the pack.

It’s easy to look around the Middle East right now and see nothing but conflict. A quarter of a million people have been killed in Syria over the past four and a half years as a result of the civil war in that country; close to 4,000 people have died in the midst of an ongoing civil war in Yemen; and 1,132 Iraqis were killed in acts of terrorism and violence in the month of July alone. These numbers don’t even take into account the millions of innocent civilians that have been displaced from their homes or forced to flee their own country since the hopeful Arab Spring movements first erupted in 2011. Nor do they touch upon the vast swaths of the Arab world, particularly in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, that are largely ungovernable or under the domain of terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or the Islamic State.

The region, in short, is in the middle of a dramatic transformation that is challenging the concept of the strong nation-state and the very idea of permanent borders. In many cases, terrorist groups that are trying to upend the status-quo to their own benefit (the Islamic State first and foremost) have contributed to the disarray and terrible humanitarian situation that families are experiencing throughout the Middle East. But traditional armies are just as responsible in certain instances for the deaths of innocent civilians and the destruction of national infrastructure.

These are the five Middle Eastern militaries that are the most active in the region today — activity that more often than not produces unnecessary and unfortunate deaths and injuries among civilians caught in the middle of a war zone.

1. Syria

While the United States and its partners in Europe are fixated on the Islamic State’s brutality and deprivations in the Levant, the Syrian Arab Army remains the principal cause of killings in that country. Indeed, ever since hundreds of thousands of Syrians took to the streets in the spring of 2011 to demand peaceful reform, the government of President Bashar al-Assad has unleashed a systematic campaign of collective punishment on anyone who dares question its authority. Frederic Hof, the former Obama administration's point man at the State Department for the Syria transition, appropriately calls it a “mass homicide strategy” perpetrated by the Syrian army on its very own people.

Of all of the conflicts present in the Middle East today, none is as vicious and inhumane as the civil war in Syria — a conflict that has killed an estimated 250,000 people and displaced half of the country’s pre-war population. These horrific figures would be nowhere near as high were it not for the Assad regime’s war strategy: bombing neighborhoods packed with civilians with unguided, indiscriminate barrel bombs; arresting and torturing to death political activists and rebel fighters caught in the government’s net; closing off and subjecting entire suburban areas of its own capital to a debilitating siege; preventing food and medicine into rebel-held areas; and completely disregarding international humanitarian law in its pursuit of a total-war victory.

“Indiscriminate bombardment of civilian populated areas has been a major component of the Syrian State forces strategy in the on-going conflict,” wrote Paulo Sergio Pinhiero, the Chairman of the U.N.’s Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. In short: conducting war crimes is the bedrock of the Syrian army’s strategy.

2. Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia historically tries to keep its men in uniform within the Kingdom’s borders. When Riyadh seeks to project power in the region, it usually opts for more covert means: writing checks to allies in order to sway their opinion, bankrolling governments that are having trouble paying their bills, and sending cash and weapons to proxy forces in order to ensure that the Saudis have skin in the game. However, that technique changed as soon as the Houthi militia seized the Yemeni capital of Sanaa and attempted an assault on the southern port of Aden, where the Saudi-backed government of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi was on its last legs.