[News] What Really Happened in the “Yom Kippur” War?

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Wed Feb 22 12:14:09 EST 2012


February 22, 2012
http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/02/22/what-really-happened-in-the-yom-kippur-war/
A CounterPunch Exclusive: Collusion and Betrayal on the Suez Canal


What Really Happened in the “Yom Kippur” War?

by ISRAEL SHAMIR

Moscow

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 
Sharon’s 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 Sadat’s 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 Israel’s 
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  Sadat’s 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 Nasser’s funeral 
and remained there as the Ambassador. He recorded 
the creeping coup of Sadat,  least bright of 
Nasser’s men, who became Egypt’s president by 
chance, as he was the vice-president at Nasser’s 
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 Nasser’s 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 we’d expect. 
Two pages are added to the file in May 1975; they 
describe Vinogradov’s 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 Sharon’s 
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 can’t 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.

Sadat’s Plans

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 
Nasser’s 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 Egypt’s 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 Israel’s 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.

Israel

Israel’s 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 Moscow’s Expert.

Sadat’s 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 Ambassador’s 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 Sadat’s 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 Sadat’s 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 Vinogradov’s 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 Sadat’s 
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 Sadat’s 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 Sharon’s 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 Sadat’s 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 Vinogradov’s 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.

Bottom line

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 
Heikal’s 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 can’t or won’t 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, Sadat’s positions improved 
drastically. He was hailed as hero, Egypt took a 
place of honor among the Arab states. But in a 
year, Sadat’s reputation was in tatters again, 
and that of Egypt went to an all time low, Vinogradov writes.

The Syrians understood Sadat’s 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. Vinogradov’s 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. Sadat’s 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.




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