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The October victory that the Arabs lost

October 2, 2023 at 9:23 am

Egyptian soldiers stand as the Egyptian flag is raised on the BPC Anwar el Sadate military cruise ship during the flag ceremony. [Photo by LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images]

As soon as the month of October arrives every year, knives rain down on it from every direction to undermine the 1973 war; to turn the victory into defeat. Sometimes this is done by the Nasserites, out of hatred for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, at whose hands victory was achieved; and sometimes it’s done by the Arab-Zionist lobby, which has infiltrated the Arab countries and changed their direction. They no longer see the Zionist state of Israel as a historical enemy of the Arabs against whom we have fought major wars. Rather, they see it as a close friend in whose arms they threw themselves under the pretext of a warm peace, normalising their relations with it and signing the Abraham Accords without any shame.

Half a century has passed since the glorious October War, as it is called in Egypt; the October Liberation War, as it is called in Syria; or the Yom Kippur War, as the settler-colonial state calls it. The names are many, but the result is the same: the war was a turning point in the history of our nation and a critical moment in our struggle against the Zionist enemy, in which we crossed from defeat to victory, and from humiliation to pride.

It was the fourth war between the Arabs and the Zionists after the Palestine War of 1948, the 1956 Suez War, and the Six-Day War of 1967, in which the Arabs were defeated, and the Zionist enemy occupied the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, the Golan Heights in Syria, the West Bank, which was under Jordanian rule, and the Gaza Strip, which was under Egyptian military rule. The October War came to restore the reputation of the Arab army, as it was the only war in which it was victorious over the Zionist occupation army.

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This great victory allowed the brave soldiers of Egypt to cross the Suez Canal, demolish Israel’s Bar-Lev defensive line, and liberate land east of the canal as a first stage to serve as a launching pad for later stages. They would not have stopped until after the complete liberation of Sinai soil.

The Egyptian army was able to cross the Bar-Lev line in six hours, although they claimed it could not be destroyed other than with an atomic bomb. The Syrian army was also able to enter the Golan Heights and reach the Hula Valley and the Sea of Galilee. The Egyptian and Syrian armies achieved a military miracle since taught in military colleges and institutes around the world. Our brave soldiers were able to destroy the myth of the invincible Israeli army. This made Israel’s Prime Minister, the Ukraine-born Golda Meir rush to ask US President Richard Nixon for his help because they were losing Israel.

“The Egyptians had crossed the canal, and our forces in the Sinai had been destroyed,” wrote Meir in her memoir My Life. “The Syrians had penetrated deep into the Golan Heights… The losses on both fronts were very high, and a fatal question arose: Shall we inform the nation of the extent of the situation?”

Moshe Dayan, the Israeli defence minister told the editors-in-chief of the Israeli newspapers of the day: “We are now paying a heavy price every day in this war. Every day we are losing dozens of planes, pilots and equipment, and hundreds of tanks. Some of these tanks fell into the hands of the Egyptians. This is a hefty price for Israel to pay. The Egyptians succeeded in passing through with more tanks and armoured vehicles than we have in the Sinai. The Egyptians have a lot of armoured vehicles, and they are strong. We withdrew from the Bar-Lev line because of the severity of the Egyptian attack. The Bar-Lev line is no longer a reality for us, and we do not have the power to expel the Egyptians who destroyed it.”

Dayan admitted that it had become clear that Israel was no stronger than the Egyptians. The belief that Israel was militarily superior to the Arabs was ended, and the theory that the Arabs would be defeated in hours if they declared war on Israel was proven wrong. With Egyptian military superiority in Sinai unable to be confronted, Israel and its supporters had to accept that the occupation state was not the only military force in the Middle East; that there were other facts to be considered.

Had it not been for the direct intervention of the US… peace negotiations would not have needed to recover all Egyptian territory occupied by Israel

This was the situation in Sinai at the beginning of the war, and the course of the battles taking place on occupied Egyptian soil, according to the words of the Zionist leaders themselves. Had it not been for the direct intervention of the US, establishing an air bridge through which a total of 27,895 tonnes of military aid were transported, including aircraft, trucks, tanks and military equipment, we would have recovered all of Sinai, and peace negotiations would not have needed to recover all Egyptian territory occupied by Israel.

The course of the war changed, as did the enemy, and it became a confrontation with America, not the Zionist state. This prompted Sadat to say, “We [could have] achieved complete victory if the US had not intervened against us in the war. I cannot fight America; I fear for my children.”

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It was not possible, under any circumstances, for the Zionist generals to accept that the war would end with a crushing defeat for their army. Their arrogance would not allow that. They were able to push back against the Syrian forces and reoccupy the Golan Heights. Indeed, they took even more land, with an additional 500 square kilometres in what was known as the Sa’sa’ pocket.

The Israelis were able to open the Deversoir Air Base corridor, cross to the western bank of the canal and besiege Egypt’s Third Field Army and the city of Suez. However, they failed to make any strategic gains, whether by occupying Ismailia or Suez, destroying the Third Army, or attempting to push the Egyptian forces back. The Deversoir issue is a thorny subject.

The Zionists saw this as a victory, while Sadat saw it as a TV propaganda opportunity and nothing more. Many books and analyses have looked at this matter. Some saw it as costing Israel a lot financially and putting its army in a dangerous military situation with nothing gained except propaganda to raise morale. Others saw it as a major blow to the Egyptian army, cancelling out the impressive victories it achieved at the beginning of the war.

Amid all of this ambiguity, knowledge is lost, and the truth is hidden. Nevertheless, the established fact remains that the 6 October War was the first military victory for the Arabs over the Zionist enemy. More will be explained in my next article.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.