On every anniversary, people attack the 1973 October War and turn a great victory into a crushing defeat. Some are sick enough to let their imaginations take over and describe the war as an act agreed in advance by Egypt and Israel as directed by the US. Sometimes this is claimed by the Nasserites out of hatred for President Anwar Sadat (1918-1981), who managed the victory rather than their eternal leader Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970), the master of defeats. At other times, it is claimed by the Arab-Zionist lobby, which has penetrated and spread in Egypt, and redirected its compass. This lobby no longer sees Israel as the historical enemy of the Arab world, against which it fought four wars, but as a best friend to be embraced for so-called peace.
Forty-six years have passed since the war that was a turning point in Egyptian history; a watershed moment in which we transitioned from defeat to victory and from humiliation to pride. It was a great transition, in which courageous Egyptian soldiers crossed the barrier of the Suez Canal, demolished the Israeli Bar-Lev Line on the occupied side of the canal, and liberated hundreds of kilometres of land. This was the first phase that acted as the launch pad of the following phases, which would not stop until the complete liberation of Sinai.
The Egyptian army achieved this within six hours, even though its own officers had claimed that it could only be destroyed by an atom bomb. It was a miracle that is being studied in military colleges around the world. Our brave soldiers were able to destroy the legend of the “invincible army”, making the then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (1898-1978) rush to call US President Richard Nixon (1913-1994) to say, “Help us, we are losing Israel!”
“The Egyptians crossed the canal and hit hard our forces in Sinai,” wrote Meir in her diary. “The Syrians pushed deep into the Golan Heights. We incurred grave losses on both fronts. The agonising question at that time was should we or should we not inform the nation of the truth about the bad situation?”
Meir’s Defence Minister was Moshe Dayan (1915-1981). He had also told Israeli newspaper editors about the price that Israel was paying every day of the war and the losses it sustained. He mentioned the strength of the Egyptian army and the loss of the idea of Israeli superiority, as Israel’s theory of defeating the Arabs within hours if they declared war on the Zionist state was disproved.
If it wasn’t for the US intervening in the war by supplying Israel with trucks, aircraft, tanks and other military equipment directly to Sinai, Egypt would have taken all of the peninsula and would not have needed the peace negotiations to regain control of its sovereign territory. The course of the war changed, as did the enemy, and it became a confrontation with America, not Israel. This led President Sadat to say that Egypt would have achieved complete victory if it weren’t for the intervention of the United States against Egypt. He added that he could not fight the US and he feared for his children.
There is no way that the Israeli generals would accept the war ending with an overwhelming defeat of their army, such was their arrogance. They launched Operation Abirey-Halev in response to the Egyptian army’s achievements during the early days of the war. Opinions differ about the operation to counter-attack across the Suez Canal. Israel believed it to be a victorious move, while Sadat viewed it as propaganda. Some analysts have said that it placed the Israeli army in a dangerous position without achieving more than a morale boost. Others saw it as dealing a harsh blow to the Egyptian army that erased its impressive victories of the beginning of the war.
What I am concerned with here is that it led to two disengagement agreements between the Egyptian and Israeli forces and the beginning of indirect negotiations between the two sides. The first article of the second agreement, signed in Geneva on 1 September, 1975, stipulated that, “The conflict between them and in the Middle East shall not be resolved by military force but by peaceful means.” It also expressed the need to reach a final and just peace settlement in the context of the Geneva Peace Conference, by means of negotiations called for by Security Council Resolution 338, issued on 22 October, 1973.
The negotiations between Egypt and Israel led to the Camp David negotiations in 1978 and culminated in the peace treaty signed on 26 March, 1979. This pushed the Arab-Israeli conflict in a new direction and new form other than armed struggle and the liberation of the land by armed means. Liberation was being achieved by ink on agreements rather than blood on the battlefield. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (1929-2004) signed the Oslo Accords in 1993 and this was followed by Jordan’s King Hussein Bin Abdullah (1935-1999) signing the Wadi Araba agreement on 26 October, 1994. Meanwhile, Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad (1930-2000) opened negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (1922-1995) shortly before the latter’s assassination, after which Arab leaders have started to flock to Israel.
I must point out that Egypt’s President Sadat invited the Palestinians, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan to attend the Mena House Conference in Cairo in December 1977 to discuss and solve the final status issues, such as Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugee issue, but they did not attend. The Palestinian flag was raised but their seat was empty.
Sadat went to Syria and met with Hafez Al-Assad, asking him to add Syria to the peace conference in Geneva in order to regain the Golan Heights. However, Assad refused and he and the rest of the Arab leaders launched a vicious campaign against Sadat and accused him of treason after his visit to Israel. The Arab countries also boycotted Egypt and suspended its membership of the Arab League, moving its headquarters to Tunisia.
Now, they are going down the same road that they refused to go down with Sadat when they refused to be a strong front in the negotiations against the Israeli enemy. Instead, they opted to unite against Sadat. We have not seen any signs from this front regarding the liberation of Palestine, but they are rushing to Israel to gather the crumbs off the occupier’s table. Jerusalem has been annexed to Israel and is its “undivided” capital; annexation has also befallen the Syrian Golan Heights. Both moves have been recognised, against international law, by the US.
After the peace treaties were signed, Israel was keen to reiterate that the Egyptian Armed Forces were unable to liberate Sinai completely, but only managed a few kilometres and were forced to negotiate and make peace with the Zionist state to restore Egypt’s sovereignty over the rest of the Sinai Peninsula. The Israelis gloat arrogantly that the Arabs learned the lesson that Israel is good at combat and they can only obtain things through negotiations.
Unfortunately, the Zionist Arabs also speak along such lines. When they talk about the 1967 and 1973 wars against Israel, they do not refer to the latter as the enemy, but the opponent or the other party. This is a great sin against the Arab people and their history of struggle, military heroism and higher interests. It also weakens their resolve and self-confidence.
Israel will remain the historical enemy of the Arab world, no matter how much the Arab leaders run towards normalisation. This will continue to be rejected by the vast majority of ordinary Arab citizens.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.