Yom Kippur war 40 years on, by Uri Avnery

October 6, 2013 at 8:34 pm (Egypt, history, israel, Middle East, posted by JD, Syria, war, zionism)

Exactly 40 years ago, the Syrian and Egyptian ruling classes launched the third Arab war against Israel (I include in that,  the 1967 defensive pre-emptive strike by Israel).  Initially, Egypt and Syria had some success, but, eventually, Israel with considerable US support, beat them back. There is no doubt that Syria and Egypt were the aggressors, but Uri Avnery (below) adds some background and context:

Above: Moshe Dayan with Golda Meir at the Front

The Israeli peace activist  (who sat in the Knesset from 1965–74 and 1979) Uri Avnery wrote this one year ago, for the (often dodgy) Veterans Today website:

I AM sitting here writing this article 39 years to the minute from that moment when the sirens started screaming, announcing the beginning of the war.

A minute before, total quiet reigned, as it does now. No traffic, no activity in the street, except a few children riding bicycles. Yom Kippur, the holiest day for Jews, reigned supreme. And then…

Inevitably, the memory starts to work.

THIS YEAR, many new documents were released for publication. Critical books and articles are abundant.

The universal culprits are Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan.

They have been blamed before, right from the day after the war, but only for superficial military offences, known as The Default. The default was failing to mobilize the reserves, and not moving the tanks to the front in time, in spite of the many signs that Egypt and Syria were about to attack.

Now, for the first time, the real Grand Default is being explored: the political background of the war. The findings have a direct bearing on what is happening now.

IT TRANSPIRES that in February 1973, eight months before the war, Anwar Sadat sent his trusted aide, Hafez Ismail, to the almighty US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.

Above: Uri (left) talks to Sadat

He offered the immediate start of peace negotiations with Israel. There was one condition and one date: all of Sinai, up to the international border, had to be returned to Egypt without any Israeli settlements, and the agreement had to be achieved by September, at the latest.

Kissinger liked the proposal and transmitted it at once to the Israeli ambassador, Yitzhak Rabin, who was just about to finish his term in office. Rabin, of course, immediately informed the Prime Minister, Golda Meir.

She rejected the offer out of hand. There ensued a heated conversation between the ambassador and the Prime Minister. Rabin, who was very close to Kissinger, was in favor of accepting the offer.

Golda treated the whole initiative as just another Arab trick to induce her to give up the Sinai Peninsula and remove the settlements built on Egyptian territory.

After all, the real purpose of these settlements – including the shining white new town, Yamit – was precisely to prevent the return of the entire peninsula to Egypt. Neither she nor Dayan dreamed of giving up Sinai. Dayan had already made the infamous statement that he preferred “Sharm al-Sheik without peace to peace without Sharm al-Sheik”.

Sharm al-Sheik, which had already been re-baptised with the Hebrew name Ophira, is located near the southern tip of the peninsula, not far from the oil wells, which Dayan was also loath to give up.

Even before the new disclosures, the fact that Sadat had made several peace overtures was no secret. Sadat had indicated his willingness to reach an agreement in his dealings with the UN mediator Dr. Gunnar Jarring, whose endeavors had already become a joke in Israel.

Before that, the previous Egyptian President, Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, had invited Nahum Goldman, the President of the World Jewish Congress (and for a time President of the World Zionist Organization) to meet him in Cairo.

Golda had prevented that meeting, and when the fact became known there was a storm of protest in Israel, including a famous letter from a group of 12th-graders saying that it would be hard for them to serve in the army.

All these Egyptian initiatives could be waved aside as political maneuvers. But an official message by Sadat to the Secretary of State could not. So, remembering the lesson of the Goldman incident, Golda decided to keep the whole thing secret.

THUS AN incredible situation was created. This fateful initiative, which could have effected an historic turning point, was brought to the knowledge of two people only: Moshe Dayan and Israel Galili.

The role of the latter needs explanation. Galili was the eminence grise of Golda, as well as of her predecessor, Levy Eshkol. I knew Galili quite well, and never understood where his renown as a brilliant strategist came from.

Already before the founding of the state, he was the leading light of the illegal Haganah military organization. As a member of a kibbutz, he was officially a socialist but in reality a hardline nationalist. It was he who had the brilliant idea of putting the settlements on Egyptian soil, in order to make the return of northern Sinai impossible.

So the Sadat initiative was known only to Golda, Dayan, Galili and Rabin and Rabin’s successor in Washington, Simcha Dinitz, a nobody who was Golda’s lackey.

Incredible as it may sound, the Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, Rabin’s direct boss, was not informed. Nor were all the other ministers, the Chief of Staff and the other leaders of the armed forces, including the Chiefs of Army Intelligence, as well as the chiefs of the Shin Bet and the Mossad. It was a state secret.

There was no debate about it – neither public nor secret. September came and passed, and on October 6th Sadat’s troops struck across the canal and achieved a world-shaking surprise success (as did the Syrians on the Golan Heights.)

As a direct result of Golda’s Grand Default 2693 Israeli soldiers died, 7251 were wounded and 314 were taken prisoner (along with the tens of thousands of Egyptian and Syrian casualties).


THIS WEEK, several Israeli commentators bemoaned the total silence of the media and the politicians at the time.

Well, not quite total. Several months before the war, in a speech in the Knesset, I warned Golda Meir that if the Sinai was not returned very soon, Sadat would start a war to break the impasse.

I knew what I was talking about. I had, of course, no idea about the Ismail mission, but in May 1973 I took part in a peace conference in Bologna. The Egyptian delegation was led by Khalid Muhyi al-Din, a member of the original group of Free Officers who made the 1952 revolution.

During the conference, he took me aside and told me in confidence that if the Sinai was not returned by September, Sadat would start a war. Sadat had no illusions of victory, he said, but hoped that a war would compel the US and Israel to start negotiations for the return of Sinai.

My warning was completely ignored by the media. They, like Golda, held the Egyptian army in abysmal contempt and considered Sadat a nincompoop. The idea that the Egyptians would dare to attack the invincible Israeli army seemed ridiculous.

The media adored Golda. So did the whole world, especially feminists. A famous poster showed her face with the inscription: “But can she type?” In reality, Golda was a very primitive person, ignorant and obstinate.

My magazine, Haolam Hazeh, attacked her practically every week, and so did I in the Knesset. She paid me the unique compliment of publicly declaring that she was ready to “mount the barricades” to get me out of the Knesset.

Ours was a voice crying in the wilderness, but at least we fulfilled one function: In her ‘March of Folly”, Barbara Tuchman stipulated that a policy could be branded as folly only if there had been at least one voice warning against it in real time.

Perhaps even Golda would have reconsidered if she had not been surrounded by journalists and politicians singing her praises, celebrating her wisdom and courage and applauding every one of her stupid pronouncements.

THE SAME type of people, even some of the very same people, are now doing the same with Binyamin Netanyahu.

Again, we are staring the same Grand Default in the face.

Again, a group of two or three are deciding the fate of the nation. Netanyahu and Ehud Barak alone make all the decisions, “keeping their cards close to their chest”.  Attack Iran or not? Politicians and generals are kept in the dark. Bibi and Ehud know best. No need for any other input.

But more revealing than the blood-curdling threats on Iran is the total silence about Palestine. Palestinian peace offers are ignored, as were those of Sadat in those days. The ten-year old Arab Peace Initiative, supported by all the Arab and all the Muslim states, does not exist.

Again, settlements are put up and expanded, in order to make the return of the occupied territories impossible. Let’s remember all those who claimed, in those days, that the occupation of Sinai was “irreversible”. Who would dare to remove Yamit?

Again, multitudes of flatterers, media stars and politicians compete with each other in adulation of “Bibi, King of Israel”. How smoothly he can talk in American English! How convincing his speeches in the UN and the US Senate!

Well, Golda, with her 200 words of bad Hebrew and primitive American, was much more convincing, and she enjoyed the adulation of the whole Western world.

And at least she had the sense not to challenge the incumbent American president (Richard Nixon) during an election campaign.

IN THOSE days, I called our government “the ship of fools”. Our current government is worse, much worse.

Golda and Dayan led us to disaster. After the war, their war, they were kicked out – not by elections, not by any committee of inquiry, but by the grassroots mass protests that racked the country.

Bibi and Ehud are leading us to another, far worse, disaster. Some day, they will be kicked out by the same people who adore them now – if they survive.


  1. Jim Denham said,

    I’ve accidentally deleted a comment from argamon01@gmail.com / http://mystical-politics.blogspot.co.uk/
    so I’m reproducing it here:

    This is the only sensible thing I’ve ever seen published at Veterans Today, which is usually just an antisemitic rag.

    • Jim Denham said,

      I agree: I don’t know why Avnery agrees to be published there. Still, this particular article is quite good, and worth republishing.

      • Ben said,

        Avnery is also published at the scurrilous and deranged Counterpunch website.

        Avnery exaggerates the “secrecy” of Sadat’s moves and of course his own personal role in “revealing” them. It was public knowledge and publicly discussed that Sadat had offered to reopen the Suez canal if Israel withdrew 30 miles to the East and allowed 700 Egyptian policemen into the Sinai. It was also known that Sadat, through intermediaries such as Arnaud de Bochgrave had passed more all-embracing offers to Israel and these offers had been made known to the Israeli public. Shimon Peres for one had urged that Sadat be engaged by Israel to see if a peace deal could be made.

        Golda did not believe that the Egyptians had a credible military option. She did not understand that though they could not defeat Israel, they could inflict enough damage on Israel to change the international political balance. She also did not understand that the Egyptians could leverage the element of surprise to amplify the effect of an attack, and did not realize how important it was not to be taken by surprise. Dayan should have understood these things, but he was not sufficiently disciplined and careful in doing his job and he let her and everybody else down.

        The analogy Avnery makes with Israel’s situation and leaders today is bizarre and incoherent. Avnery offers no analysis of the strategic challenges faced by the country, and just abuses and badmouths Bibi without offering reasoned justification for doing so.

      • Ben said,

  2. jimmy glesga said,

    What is important is Israel win the next battle against their Islamic agressors. Every commander makes a mistake but the final win is what is important.

  3. leepaintain@outlook.com said,

    stop im nont interested 

    Sent from Samsung tablet

  4. angrysoba said,

    “Uri Avnery wrote this one year ago, for the (often dodgy) Veterans Today website”.

    Often? It’s a completely insane conspiracy site. In fact, this sentence is the perfect cue to stop reading.

    • Rosie B said,

      Yeah – I thought Veterans Today specialised in false flag conspiracy theories. Any terrorist outrage – the Woolwich murder, Nairobi – is ascribed to Zionist forces in disguise..

  5. Jim Denham said,

    I absolutely agree with everything that’s been said here about ‘Veterans Today’ (and also ‘Counterpunch’) but I still think the article is useful and see no reason to disbelieve Uri’s account of events.

    Why such a well-respected figure (and eloquent advocate of Two States against ‘absolute’ anti-Zionism) as Uri writes for such a dodgy website, I cannot say.

    • jimmy glesga said,

      The article is maybe usefull to Uri and his agenda. But Israel did win that particular war and the Islamists are today killing each other. Israel should not concede an inch.

      • Riz said,

        Ultimately demographics will prevail. Avnery is right. Israel is being lead to disaster by Bibi and Co.

  6. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    Counterfactuals are pointless.

    Egypt clearly was probably going to have to negotiate with Israel – but a negotiation could only succeed if the balance of military forces was such that the potential costs to Israel of retaining Sinai outweighed the benefits.

    And that could only be demonstrated by a war in which it was shown that an Arab army even if it were ultimately defeated could kill not dozens or hundreds but thousands of Israelis.

    So if Israel was to ever leave Sinai and secure its most important border by a treaty with an Egypt which shifted firmly from a Soviet to a US satellite it had to first suffer a serious and bloody military setback.

    As for Egypt having been not just defeated but humiliatingly routed by Israel three times in a generation it could not plausibly negotiate without regaining military prestige first (and even after it had done so making peace with the Jews cost Sadat his life).

    Thus arguably Meir’s and Dayan’s intransigence and incompetence necessary preconditions for Sadat and Begin’s treaty and in the long run they may have saved many thousands of Arab and Israeli lives (there not having been a real Arab-Israeli war now for 40 years – while in the previous 25 years there had been four).

    • Babs said,

      Israel had a realistic chance of destroying Egypts military capability (at least the Third Army) during the 1973 war but the Soviets threatened to intervene to force a ceasefire and wanted the US to join them. The US were determined to keep the Soviet military out of the Middle East, so went to Defcon 3 which scared off the Soviets and then they forced Israel to a ceasefire. As you correctly point out Egypt fell under the US orbit soon afterwards and Israel recognized it needed to make some alternative strategic choices as it couldn’t guarantee it would always beat the Arab armies every single time. By making peace with Egypt and giving back the Sinai it could focus it’s forces towards the much weaker Jordan, Lebanon and it’s now most powerful adversary Syria. It’s unlikely Israel would’ve launched the 1982 Lebanon War (for the West Bank 😉 ) had it not a peace treaty with Egypt.

      • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

        I well remember the little plastic tanks being moved around the TV news sand tables and that at the ceasefire the israelis had mounted a brilliant counter-offensive which surrounded the Egyptians who’d crossed the canal.

        I’d disagree that if they’d finished off the Third Army (which with modern military logistic needs would only require the Israelis to hold the line for several more days until they ran out of food, water, petrol and munitions at which point they’d have had to surrender) this would have ‘destroyed Egypt’s military capability’.

        As the Israelis had lost hundreds of prisoners in the first attack the captured Egyptians would have all been quickly exchanged and the Russians would have happily re-armed them all again with newer and better weapons in a few months just as they had done in 1956 and 1967.

        But the point was that although Israel ‘won’ in 1973, in less than three weeks they lost 3,000 dead and thousands more maimed out of a population of only 3 million (many of whom were not even Jewish or otherwise not eligible for military service), saw whole military units decimated and for the first time in IDF history hundreds of prisoners taken.

        And the implication was that if they wanted to hold Sinai in perpetuity they could expect to suffer similar casualties again and again as well as having to accept a higher permanent level of mobilisation to ensure that next time the trenches were properly manned and effective reserves on hand to immediately respond to a surprise attack

        While for a dictatorship ruling over tens of millions of people a few thousand dead and cripples might well be an acceptable exchange, for a modern democracy with a very high level of participation in the military it simply wasn’t.

        And Syria has never represented a significant military threat to Israel – just compare the miserable performance of their army in 1973 with that of Egypt which had the same equipment and Soviet advisors.

        As for Lebanon while I see counterfactuals as largely pointless (other than as a geeky game) the Israeli intervention in 1982 was not a simple invasion but an attempt to shore up their Phalangist allies in the civil war while punishing the PLO for firing missiles across the border and I can’t see why having a potentially hostile Egypt would have prevented it altogether.

        At best they might have had to mobilise more fully and held back some more formations to defend Sinai – but fighting on multiple fronts is something the Israelis used to be very good at indeed.

        As for Jordan once the border moved to the easily defensible river in 1967 and King Hussein crushed Fatah it has posed no military threat at all.

        What is I do think somewhat ironic is that developments in satellite and signals intelligence technology would have in just a few years made the Israeli side of the Suez canal far more defensible (by making surprise attacks on any scale effectively impossible) if they had decided to hold onto and settle the whole peninsula…..

      • apache2 said,

        Imy professor was C L R james who knew Eric Williams (capitalism and Slavery) George Padmore ( founder of pan Africanism) wrote a play for paul Robeson ,knew friend of Kwame Nkrumah and the Vanessa Redgrave family and Professor James visited Trotsky in old Mexico and Trotsky knew Lenin who knew Marx Daughters! the Genuis of Mao Zedong is unlike Protesters throw ing rocks at Army mao told the Red Guards the Border regions and PLA is Off limits james L

  7. Babs said,


    “Exactly 40 years ago, the Syrian and Egyptian ruling classes launched the third Arab military attack aimed at destroying the state of Israel. Initially, they had some success, but, eventually, Israel with considerable US support, beat them back. There is no doubt that Syria and Egypt were the aggressors (as the Arab states always had been towards Israel), but Uri Avnery (below) adds some background and context:”

    Even after posting what you did do you still believe the Yom Kippur war was about destroying Israel rather than taking back land Israel conquered during the Six Day War? And do you think it’s only ever been Arab states that are the aggressors and never Israel? Never?

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Zionist lickspittle though I am I am afraid I have to agree.

      Israel was occupying what was incontrovertibly Egyptian and Syrian territory and I’ve never seen a shred of evidence that Arab war-aims went any further than regaining it.

      And practically there was simply no way the vastly superior Israeli military was going to be utterly defeated and let their people be exterminated again – the only time this was an even remotely possible outcome was 1948.

      Arab statesmen like Sadat and Assad were not fools and knew perfectly well that they could liquidate the zionist entity – so its pure rodomontade to talk as if they could.

      • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

        Could not liquidate the zionist entity……

      • Jim Denham said,

        On reflection, I would agree with both Roger and Babs on the issue of Egyptian and Syrian war aims which I accept were restricted to the recovery of territory lost in in 1967, rather than the destruction of Israel itself (which *was* the avowed and de facto aim in 1948 and 1967). I may well re-write the into to Avnery’s post to correct this error.

    • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      While I find it difficult to fault Israel for its pre-emptive strike in 1967, 1956 clearly was a pre-meditated war of aggression against Egypt launched in alliance with two imperialist powers that everyone on the British left (including the then still strongly zionist Bevanites as well as I am sure every Trotskyist faction inside and outside of the Labour Party) condemned as such.

      And what about the AWL’s guru Sean Matgamna’s attack on the 2006 Lebanese adventure?: http://www.workersliberty.org/node/6767 – does this not describe a war of aggression?

    • richardarmbach said,

      Does never include 1956 ?

  8. jimmy glesga said,

    Babs. Israel won the six day war and do not have to concede anything gained. That is what happens in history. Egypt and allies tried to destroy Israel and lost. Who would want to give territory back to religious nutters who are fighting each other all over the Middle East.

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