[News] What Really Happened in the Yom Kippur War?
news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Feb 22 12:14:09 EST 2012
February 22, 2012
A CounterPunch Exclusive: Collusion and Betrayal on the Suez Canal
What Really Happened in the Yom Kippur War?
by ISRAEL SHAMIR
Here in Moscow I recently received a dark-blue
folder dated 1975. It contains one of the most
well-buried secrets of Middle Eastern and of US
diplomacy. The secret file, written by the Soviet
Ambassador in Cairo, Vladimir M. Vinogradov,
apparently a draft for a memorandum addressed to
the Soviet politbureau, describes the 1973
October War as a collusive enterprise between US,
Egyptian and Israeli leaders, orchestrated by
Henry Kissinger. If you are an Egyptian reader
this revelation is likely to upset you. I, an
Israeli who fought the Egyptians in the 1973 war,
was equally upset and distressed, yet still
excited by the discovery. For an American it is likely to come as a shock.
According to the Vinogradov memo (to be published
by us in full in the Russian weekly Expert next
Monday), Anwar al-Sadat, holder of the titles of
President, Prime Minister, ASU Chairman, Chief
Commander, Supreme Military Ruler, entered into
conspiracy with the Israelis, betrayed his ally
Syria, condemned the Syrian army to destruction
and Damascus to bombardment, allowed General
Sharons tanks to cross without hindrance to the
western bank of the Suez Canal, and actually
planned a defeat of the Egyptian troops in the
October War. Egyptian soldiers and officers
bravely and successfully fought the Israeli enemy
too successfully for Sadats liking as he began
the war in order to allow for the US comeback to the Middle East.
He was not the only conspirator: according to
Vinogradov, the grandmotherly Golda Meir
knowingly sacrificed two thousand of Israels
best fighters she possibly thought fewer would
be killed in order to give Sadat his moment of
glory and to let the US secure its positions in
the Middle East. The memo allows for a completely
new interpretation of the Camp David Treaty, as
one achieved by deceit and treachery.
Vladimir Vinogradov was a prominent and brilliant
Soviet diplomat; he served as ambassador to
Tokyo in the 1960s, to Cairo from 1970 to 1974,
co-chairman of the Geneva Peace
Conference, ambassador to Teheran during the
Islamic revolution, the USSR Deputy Minister of
Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Foreign
Affairs of the Russian Federation. He was a
gifted painter and a prolific writer; his archive
has hundreds of pages of unique observations and
notes covering international affairs, but the
place of honor goes to his Cairo diaries, and
among others, descriptions of his hundreds of
meetings with Sadat and the full sequence of the
war as he observed it unfold at Sadats hq as
the big decisions were made. When published,
these notes will allow to re-evaluate the
post-Nasser period of Egyptian history.
Vinogradov arrived to Cairo for Nassers funeral
and remained there as the Ambassador. He recorded
the creeping coup of Sadat, least bright of
Nassers men, who became Egypts president by
chance, as he was the vice-president at Nassers
death. Soon he dismissed, purged and imprisoned
practically all important Egyptian politicians,
the comrades-in-arms of Gamal Abd el Nasser, and
dismantled the edifice of Nassers socialism.
Vinogradov was an astute observer; not a
conspiracy cuckoo. Far from being headstrong
and doctrinaire, he was a friend of Arabs and a
consistent supporter and promoter of a lasting
and just peace between the Arabs and Israel, a
peace that would meet Palestinian needs and ensure Jewish prosperity.
The pearl of his archive is the file called The
Middle Eastern Games. It contains some 20
typewritten pages edited by hand in blue ink,
apparently a draft for a memo to the Politburo
and to the government, dated January 1975, soon
after his return from Cairo. The file contains
the deadly secret of the collusion he observed.
It is written in lively and highly readable
Russian, not in the bureaucratese wed expect.
Two pages are added to the file in May 1975; they
describe Vinogradovs visit to Amman and his
informal talks with Abu Zeid Rifai, the Prime
Minister, and his exchange of views with the
Soviet Ambassador in Damascus. Vinogradov did not
voice his opinions until 1998, and even then he
did not speak as openly as in this draft.
Actually, when the suggestion of collusion was
presented to him by the Jordanian prime minister,
being a prudent diplomat, he refused to discuss it.
The official version of the October war holds
that on October 6, 1973, in conjunction with
Hafez al-Assad of Syria, Anwar as-Sadat launched
a surprise attack against Israeli forces. They
crossed the Canal and advanced a few miles into
the occupied Sinai. As the war progressed, tanks
of General Ariel Sharon crossed the Suez Canal
and encircled the Egyptian Third Army. The
ceasefire negotiations eventually led to the handshake at the White House.
For me, the Yom Kippur War (as we called it) was
an important part of my autobiography. A young
paratrooper, I fought that war, crossed the
canal, seized Gabal Ataka heights, survived
shelling and face-to-face battles, buried my
buddies, shot the man-eating red dogs of the
desert and the enemy tanks. My unit was ferried
by helicopters into the desert where we severed
the main communication line between the Egyptian
armies and its home base, the Suez-Cairo highway.
Our location at 101 km to Cairo was used for the
first cease fire talks; so I know that war not
by word of mouth, and it hurts to learn that I
and my comrades-at-arms were just disposable
tokens in the ruthless game we ordinary people
lost. Obviously I did not know it then, for me
the war was a surprise, but then, I was not a general.
Vinogradov dispels the idea of surprise: in his
view, both the canal crossing by the Egyptians
and the inroads by Sharon were planned and agreed
upon in advance by Kissinger, Sadat and Meir. The
plan included the destruction of the Syrian army as well.
At first, he asks some questions: how the
crossing could be a surprise if the Russians
evacuated their families a few days before the
war? The concentration of the forces was
observable and could not escape Israeli
attention. Why did the Egyptian forces not
proceed after the crossing but stood still? Why
did they have no plans for advancing? Why there
was a forty km-wide unguarded gap between the 2d
and the 3d armies, the gap that invited Sharons
raid? How could Israeli tanks sneak to the
western bank of the Canal? Why did Sadat refuse
to stop them? Why were there no reserve forces
on the western bank of the Canal?
Vinogradov takes a leaf from Sherlock Holmes who
said: when you have eliminated the impossible,
whatever remains, however improbable, must be the
truth. He writes: These questions cant be
answered if Sadat is to be considered a true
patriot of Egypt. But they can be answered in
full, if we consider a possibility of collusion
between Sadat, the US and Israeli leadership a
conspiracy in which each participant pursued his
own goals. A conspiracy in which each participant
did not know the full details of other
participants game. A conspiracy in which each
participant tried to gain more ground despite the
overall agreement between them.
Before the war Sadat was at the nadir of his
power: in Egypt and abroad he had lost prestige.
The least educated and least charismatic of
Nassers followers, Sadat was isolated. He needed
a war, a limited war with Israel that would not
end with defeat. Such a war would release the
pressure in the army and he would regain his
authority. The US agreed to give him a green
light for the war, something the Russians never
did. The Russians protected Egypts skies, but
they were against wars. For that, Sadat had to
rely upon the US and part with the USSR. He was
ready to do so as he loathed socialism. He did
not need victory, just no defeat; he wanted to
explain his failure to win by deficient Soviet
equipment. That is why the army was given the
minimal task: crossing the Canal and hold the
bridgehead until the Americans entered the game.
Plans of the US
During decolonisation the US lost strategic
ground in the Middle East with its oil, its Suez
Canal, its vast population. Its ally Israel had
to be supported, but the Arabs were growing
stronger all the time. Israel had to be made more
flexible, for its brutal policies interfered with
the US plans. So the US had to keep Israel as its
ally but at the same time Israels arrogance had
to be broken. The US needed a chance to save
Israel after allowing the Arabs to beat the
Israelis for a while. So the US allowed Sadat to begin a limited war.
Israels leaders had to help the US, its main
provider and supporter. The US needed to improve
its positions in the Middle East, as in 1973
they had only one friend and ally, King Feisal.
(Kissinger told Vinogradov that Feisal tried to
educate him about the evilness of Jews and
Communists.) If and when the US was to recover
its position in the Middle East, the Israeli
position would improve drastically. Egypt was a
weak link, as Sadat disliked the USSR and the
progressive forces in the country, so it could be
turned. Syria could be dealt with militarily, and broken.
The Israelis and Americans decided to let Sadat
take the Canal while holding the mountain passes
of Mittla and Giddi, a better defensive line
anyway. This was actually Rogers plan of 1971,
acceptable to Israel. But this should be done in
fighting, not given up for free.
As for Syria, it was to be militarily defeated,
thoroughly. That is why the Israeli Staff did
sent all its available troops to the Syrian
border, while denuding the Canal though the
Egyptian army was much bigger than the Syrian
one. Israeli troops at the Canal were to be
sacrificed in this game; they were to die in
order to bring the US back into the Middle East.
However, the plans of the three partners were
somewhat derailed by the factors on the ground:
it is the usual problem with conspiracies;
nothing works as it should, Vinogradov writes in
his memo to be published in full next week in Moscows Expert.
Sadats crooked game was spoiled to start with.
His presumptions did not work out. Contrary to
his expectations, the USSR supported the Arab
side and began a massive airlift of its most
modern military equipment right away. The USSR
took the risk of confrontation with the US; Sadat
had not believed they would because the Soviets
were adamant against the war, before it started.
His second problem, according to Vinogradov, was
the superior quality of Russian weapons in the
hands of Egyptian soldiers better than the
western weapons in the Israelis hands.
As an Israeli soldier of the time I must confirm
the Ambassadors words. The Egyptians had the
legendary Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, the
best gun in the world, while we had FN battle
rifles that hated sand and water. We dropped our
FNs and picked up their AKs at the first
opportunity. They used anti-tank Sagger missiles,
light, portable, precise, carried by one soldier.
Saggers killed between 800 and 1200 Israeli
tanks. We had old 105 mm recoilless jeep-mounted
rifles, four men at a rifle (actually, a small
cannon) to fight tanks. Only new American weapons redressed the imbalance.
Sadat did not expect the Egyptian troops taught
by the Soviet specialists to better their Israeli
enemy but they did. They crossed the Canal much
faster than planned and with much smaller losses.
Arabs beating the Israelis it was bad news for
Sadat. He overplayed his hand. That is why the
Egyptian troops stood still, like the sun upon
Gibeon, and did not move. They waited for the
Israelis, but at that time the Israeli army was
fighting the Syrians. The Israelis felt somewhat
safe from Sadats side and they sent all their
army north. The Syrian army took the entire punch
of Israeli forces and began its retreat. They
asked Sadat to move forward, to take some of the
heat off them, but Sadat refused. His army stood
and did not move, though there were no Israelis
between the Canal and the mountain passes. Syrian
leader al Assad was convinced at that time that
Sadat betrayed him, and he said so frankly to the
Soviet ambassador in Damascus, Mr Muhitdinov, who
passed this to Vinogradov. Vinogradov saw Sadat
daily and asked him in real time why he was not
advancing. He received no reasonable answer:
Sadat muttered that he does not want to run all
over Sinai looking for Israelis, that sooner or later they would come to him.
The Israeli leadership was worried: the war was
not going as expected. There were big losses on
the Syrian front, the Syrians retreated but each
yard was hard fought; only Sadats passivity
saved the Israelis from a reverse. The plan to
for total Syrian defeat failed, but the Syrians
could not effectively counterattack.
This was the time to punish Sadat: his army was
too efficient, his advance too fast, and worse,
his reliance upon the Soviets only grew due to
the air bridge. The Israelis arrested their
advance on Damascus and turned their troops
southwards to Sinai. The Jordanians could at this
time have cut off the North-to-South route and
king Hussein proposed this to Sadat and Assad.
Assad agreed immediately, but Sadat refused to
accept the offer. He explained it to Vinogradov
that he did not believe in the fighting abilities
of the Jordanians. If they entered the war, Egypt
would have to save them. At other times he said
that it is better to lose the whole of Sinai than
to lose a square yard on the Jordan: an insincere
and foolish remark, in Vinogradovs view. So the
Israeli troops rolled southwards without hindrance.
During the war, we (the Israelis) also knew that
if Sadat advanced, he would gain the whole of
Sinai in no time; we entertained many hypotheses
why he was standing still, none satisfactory.
Vinogradov explains it well: Sadat ran off his
script and was waited for US involvement. What
he got was the deep raid of Sharon.
This breakthrough of the Israeli troops to the
western bank of the Canal was the murkiest part
of the war, Vinogradov writes. He asked Sadats
military commanders at the beginning of the war
why there is the forty km wide gap between the
Second and the Third armies and was told that
this was Sadats directive. The gap was not even
guarded; it was left wide open like a Trojan backdoor in a computer program.
Sadat paid no attention to Sharons raid; he was
indifferent to this dramatic development.
Vinogradov asked him to deal with it when only
the first five Israeli tanks crossed the Canal
westwards; Sadat refused, saying it was of no
military importance, just a political move,
whatever that meant. He repeated this to
Vinogradov later, when the Israeli foothold on
the Western bank of became a sizeable bridgehead.
Sadat did not listen to advice from Moscow, he
opened the door for the Israelis into Africa.
This allows for two explanations, says
Vinogradov: an impossible one, of the Egyptians
total military ignorance and an improbable one,
of Sadats intentions. The improbable wins, as Sherlock Holmes observed.
The Americans did not stop the Israeli advance
right away, says Vinogradov, for they wanted to
have a lever to push Sadat so he would not change
his mind about the whole setup. Apparently the
gap was build into the deployments for this
purpose. So Vinogradovs idea of conspiracy is
that of dynamic collusion, similar to the
collusion on Jordan between the Jewish Yishuv and
Transjordan as described by Avi Shlaim: there
were some guidelines and agreements, but they
were liable to change, depending on the strength of the sides.
The US saved Egypt by stopping the advancing
Israeli troops. With the passive support of
Sadat, the US allowed Israel to hit Syria really hard.
The US-negotiated disengagement agreements with
the UN troops in-between made Israel safe for years to come.
(In a different and important document, Notes on
Heikals book Road to Ramadan, Vinogradov
rejects the thesis of the unavoidability of
Israeli-Arab wars: he says that as long as Egypt
remains in the US thrall, such a war is unlikely.
Indeed there have been no big wars since 1974,
unless one counts Israeli operations in Lebanon and Gaza.)
The US saved Israel with military supplies.
Thanks to Sadat, the US came back to the Middle
East and positioned itself as the only mediator
and honest broker in the area.
Sadat began a violent anti-Soviet and
antisocialist campaign, Vinogradov writes, trying
to discredit the USSR. In the Notes, Vinogradov
charges that Sadat spread many lies and
disinformation to discredit the USSR in the Arab
eyes. His main line was: the USSR could not and
would not liberate Arab soil while the US
could, would and did. Vinogradov explained
elsewhere that the Soviet Union was and is
against offensive wars, among other reasons
because their end is never certain. However, the
USSR was ready to go a long way to defend Arab
states. As for liberation, the years since 1973
have proved that the US cant or wont deliver
that, either while the return of Sinai to Egypt
in exchange for separate peace was always possible, without a war as well.
After the war, Sadats positions improved
drastically. He was hailed as hero, Egypt took a
place of honor among the Arab states. But in a
year, Sadats reputation was in tatters again,
and that of Egypt went to an all time low, Vinogradov writes.
The Syrians understood Sadats game very early:
on October 12, 1973 when the Egyptian troops
stood still and ceased fighting, President Hafez
el Assad said to the Soviet ambassador that he is
certain Sadat was intentionally betraying Syria.
Sadat deliberately allowed the Israeli
breakthrough to the Western bank of Suez, in
order to give Kissinger a chance to intervene and
realise his disengagement plan, said Assad to
Jordanian Prime Minister Abu Zeid Rifai who told
it to Vinogradov during a private breakfast they
had in his house in Amman. The Jordanians also
suspect Sadat played a crooked game, Vinogradov
writes. However, the prudent Vinogradov refused
to be drawn into this discussion though he felt
that the Jordanians read his thoughts.
When Vinogradov was appointed co-chairman of the
Geneva Peace Conference, he encountered a united
Egyptian-American position aiming to disrupt the
conference, while Assad refused even to take part
in it. Vinogradov delivered him a position paper
for the conference and asked whether it is
acceptable for Syria. Assad replied: yes but for
one line. Which one line, asked a hopeful
Vinogradov, and Assad retorted: the line saying
Syria agrees to participate in the conference.
Indeed the conference came to nought, as did all
other conferences and arrangements.
Though the suspicions voiced by Vinogradov in his
secret document have been made by various
military experts and historians, never until now
they were made by a participant in the events, a
person of such exalted position, knowledge,
presence at key moments. Vinogradovs notes allow
us to decipher and trace the history of Egypt
with its de-industrialisation, poverty, internal
conflicts, military rule tightly connected with the phony war of 1973.
A few years after the war, Sadat was
assassinated, and his hand-picked follower Hosni
Mubarak began his long rule, followed by another
participant of the October War, Gen Tantawi.
Achieved by lies and treason, the Camp David
Peace treaty still guards Israeli and American
interests. Only now, as the post-Camp David
regime in Egypt is on the verge of collapse, one
may hope for change. Sadats name in the pantheon
of Egyptian heroes was safe until now. In the
end, all that is hidden will be made transparent.
Postscript. In 1975, Vinogradov could not predict
that the 1973 war and subsequent treaties would
change the world. They sealed the fate of the
Soviet presence and eminence in the Arab world,
though the last vestiges were destroyed
by American might much later: in Iraq in 2003
and in Syria they are being undermined now. They
undermined the cause of socialism in the
world, which began its long fall. The USSR, the
most successful state of 1972, an almost-winner
of the Cold war, eventually lost it. Thanks to
the American takeover of Egypt, petrodollar
schemes were formed, and the dollar that began
its decline in 1971 by losing its gold standard
recovered and became again a full-fledged world
reserve currency. The oil of the Saudis and of
sheikdoms being sold for dollars became the new
lifeline for the American empire. Looking back,
armed now with the Vinogradov Papers, we can
confidently mark 1973-74 as a decisive turning point in our history.
ISRAEL SHAMIR has been sending dispatches to CounterPunch from Moscow.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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