The legacy of the 1973 October war in Egypt and Israel

10 - Oct - 2013

The Israelis felt defeated by the Egyptian victory of Oct. 6, 1973. It wasn’t just a defeat in battle but defeat in the face of the biggest threat to its existence in its 25 years of being. During that time, Israel feared for the fate of its people and its own existence as a state.

This Israeli assessment of the repercussions of the war was published a few months after the end of the October war, but it is worth revisiting the Israeli stance after the cooling down period; things have become clearer and more realistic.

In fact the famous social psychologist Richard Lazarus addressed the international association of psychologists at its yearly convention in Tel Aviv in 1975, speaking about the psychology of stressful situations and the way to face them, with particular emphasis on the situation Israel was in.

As a middle-aged American Jew, Lazarus expressed his support of Israel but noted that the Israelis were living in a continuous state of trauma, expecting to be killed or lose their loved ones in war or terror attacks anytime and feeling lonely in a world that hated them. This dislike of Israel increased after the October war, when the western countries supported the oil producing Arabs and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was well received at the U.N. while Israel was asked to leave UNESCO as a direct result of the growing role of third world countries.

He enumerated the changes that occurred to the Israeli assessments, especially since this war was against the Israeli perception of Arabs, who united and fought bravely and surprised the Israeli intelligence community.

Lazarus quoted one of the Israeli newspapers’ headlines one year after the October war as saying: “something was broken at the Yum Kippur war last year. The state was saved but our faith is lost, our confidence is broken and our hearts are torn as we almost lost a full generation.”

He said that this was the first war that didn’t strengthen Israel as it was a psychological disaster in so much that it destroyed the legend of the invincible army. The biggest danger, he said, was replacing this idea by the fear of being under threat at all times.

Lazarus concluded by advising the new generation to connect with their ancestors and benefit from the experience of the diaspora, when Jews felt neglected and unable to rely on anyone but themselves.

He called for an informed assessment of the situation and for preparing Israel for a long conflict with the Arabs. He called for Israel to deal with the fact as an ongoing threat. It seems that he succeeded in nurturing Israeli aggression and their Zionist tendancies as well.

A different view:

During that same period, Victor Sanouh, an American Jewish psychologist, with clear Zionist and anti-Arabs views, published a study about “the psychological effects of Yom Kippur war” in a specialized journal.

Sanouh said that 5 to 10% of Israelis were traumatized after the October war, which is a high percentage compared to minimal numbers in previous wars. He noted that this might be the result of the surprise war launched by the Arabs during the holiest of the Jewish holidays.

Sanouh noted that after the war, Israeli society witnessed a new trend of recoursing to the services of psychic intermediates to connect with lost or killed soldiers. This trend even reached the cultivated youth, he said.

That was the overall Israeli reaction to the October war. They all agreed that it was a defeat although they disagree over the reason, the consequences and the ways of facing it.

How did we look at the victory? A personal testimonial

As an Egyptian and an Arab psychologist, I felt ashamed for not feeling concerned about the Israeli threat before our defeat in 1967, and my shame doubled because of my excess of optimism in the first days of that war.

I kept a close eye on all the developments since then, until the victory of October 1973 and beyond, until the late president Anwar Sadat announced that he intended to visit Jerusalem and specified a date for that visit.

At the time, I was an adviser to UNICEF in Bahrain but wanted to move, so I accepted an invitation to work in the planning center of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Beirut. I was to discuss the possibilities of the Anwar Sadat’s visit and its repercussions. I arrived in Beirut on Nov. 19, 1977, on the same day of Sadat’s visit to Israel. We followed the commentators on TV describing the “angry” and “roaring” demonstrations against his visit.

I was confused, as was my pro-Palestinian revolution friend Raouf Nazmi who was known by his nickname “Mahjoub Omar,” as we couldn’t describe these demonstrations. We noticed that the Arab public was on the sidewalks and not participating in those street demonstrations, unlike the real demonstrations in Egypt at the funerals of the late Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser.

As a psychologist, I kept on monitoring the public reaction to the political developments, especially when the Camp David peace agreement was signed on March 26, 1979. I exchanged my views through a series of letters with friends until October 1982, months after the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. I described that period as a “peaceful attack,” or another chapter of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
I stressed on the fact that it’s up to the Arab public to decide on the next steps, and I remembered this principle, as well as the paradox of victory and defeat, when I read an article in al-Masry al-Yawm newspaper on Oct. 2, 2004. It described how one of the October war heroes, Captain Yosri Amara, described Oct. 8, 1973 as the greatest day of his life. It was the day when he captured the commander of the armored battalion 101, Col. Assaf Yajouri. He refused to meet him 25 years later as he could not forget the bloodshed and the Israeli crimes committed during the 1967 war. He refused to meet him as a sign of protest over normalization efforts.

It is normal that the winner and the loser hate each other and remain cautious of eachother, but this doesn’t change the fact of winning and losing. In spite of this, our Egyptian hero refused to meet his former prisoner maybe because he is not sure of our collective triumph and wasn’t confident that we overcame the culture of defeat.

The Israelis learned from their shortcomings while we, the winners of October war, remained in a state of defeat.

Clash of civilizations

This paradox started after the end of the war and the start of the negotiations. The triumph faded with the normalization of ties with Israel and the culture of defeat became so pervasive that even when the Israeli officer Peru said that he buried the captured Egyptian soldiers alive during the war of 1967, we failed to use this statement to condemn Israel internationally. Even when we meet the personalities of the Arab Israelis we feel ashamed of the fact that they hold Israeli passports and that we signed the Camp David agreement which recognizes Israel.

As an Egyptian and an Arab psychologist, I felt ashamed for not feeling concerned about the Israeli threat before our defeat in 1967

The clash of civilizations with Israel will remain for a long time and it will not remain non-violent forever.

The clear military triumph suggests that the defeated doesn’t interfere in the surrender terms; this is what happened with Japan and Nazi Germany, but the peaceful resolution takes a longer time. For instance it took us 16 years to raise the Egyptian flag in Sinai after the victory of the October war because we chose a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The peaceful resolution usually means that there is a mutual interest for both parties, who look for the common denominator and the minimal terms of agreement.

Although Egypt gained back all of its territories and had the right to develop Sinai projects and the Egyptians started enjoying Sinai resorts, we live an identity struggle that tarnishes our peaceful victory, as we are lost between our Arab identity which expects us to remain united with the Arabs, and our Islamic identity which considers the Israeli conflict as a struggle of existence. We also struggle with our Egyptian identity which should prioritize regaining our sovereignty.

In all cases, while the Egypto-Arab interpretation of what happened remains unchanged, the Israeli’s view changed forty years after Yom Kippur.

The Israeli view of the October war

Exactly 40 years after the October war, the Israelis are still questioning their defeat, in spite of their nuclear weapons and advanced intelligence and alliance with the strongest country on earth. They are still worried about being taken by surprise.

To date, some Israeli analysts cannot admit the defeat and the military supremacy of Egypt, and that’s why we see three different scenarios:

The illusion of Egyptian triumph

The Israeli Canadian Yesrael Harel, founder of the Gush Emunim movement, claimed in Haaretz newspaper on Oct. 11, 2012 that the Egyptians live the illusion of winning the October war. While they are celebrating the triumph, the Israeli media are still mourning the defeat.

In the same context, Zvi Bar’el wrote recently in Haaretz, on Sept. 13, 2013 that the word “October” has become a synonym of Egyptian pride, while that war wasn’t commemorated in any street in Israel. The October war is still mentioned nowadays, used to compare ousting Mubarak, and to describe the military campaign against the terrorists in Sinai, and was even referred to by the military commentator Mokhtar Kandil who reacted to the U.S. decision to cancel the military maneuvers with the Egyptian army since we won the October war without these maneuvers.

He concluded that General Abdel Fateh al-Sissi should know that the conflicts between the Egyptian generals stopped them from achieving the victory they claim.

Dayan Brizensky conspiracy

In another scenario, Barry Chamish accused Henry Kissinger and Moshe Dayan of managing the conspiracy of that war and “[letting] the Arabs win it in order to bring them to the peace negotiation table,” and he even published a report on his blog on April 12, 2012 commenting on a documentary produced by Yoram Irbamatz explaining how Kissinger and Dayan “cooked the war.”

That documentary said that Israel was ready to sacrifice 100 or 200 soldiers in order to negotiate with the Arabs, but it was forced to pay a very expensive price, losing 2000 soldiers in the first two days. This resulted in giving back every inch of Sinai to Egypt, which became a safe haven for Hamas.

The strategic military bluff

The colonel Shimon Mendes, who served in the military intelligence unit during the October war, said that Anwar Sadat and his generals succeeded in creating a third type of strategic military bluff, called it sedation, which is more dangerous than the traditional misleading or confusion strategies.

He revealed that the war started in 1969, when Dr. Ashraf Marwan succeeded in entering the Israeli embassy in London , offering his services and gaining the trust of the Israelis during the October war and after it.

He noted that misleading information reached the Israeli intelligence about the start date of the Egyptian attack. That information, he said, was not taken seriously; this brought temporary failure to Sadat’s plans.

But, if this is how the Israelis assess the October war 40 years after it ended, when shall we perform our assessment?

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