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The 1973 Yom Kippur War, a study in Soviet Era Politics

In July 1972, the Egyptian President announced that he had asked the Soviet government to withdraw its "advisers" (said to number more than thirty thousand) from Egypt. The reason, he said, was that the Soviets had refused his requests for more sophisticated weapons with which to attack Israel. The Soviet government consequently recalled most of its military personnel from Egypt.

The expulsion was followed by a lengthy period of mutual recrimination. The breach in relations between Egypt and the Soviet Union was warmly welcomed in the West. The euphoria was all the deeper for the fact that the expulsion had followed closely on the heels of an impressive agreement to regulate the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. One paragraph in this agreement (signed in Moscow on May 29, 1972, by President Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev, Secretary General of the Communist Party of the USSR) laid down that the two governments had a "special responsibility to do everything in their power that conflicts or situations will not arise which can serve to increase international tensions."

To the framers of Middle East policy in Washington, it thus seemed clear in mid-1972 that, partly through the action of Sadat and partly through the Soviet leaders' readiness for self-restraint, a considerable relaxation of tension was in the offing.

In fact, the expulsion of the Soviet advisers from Egypt, and the noisy cooling of relations between the two countries, was a cleverly conceived, well-coordinated, impeccably executed hoax; and the Soviet government undertaking to honour the relevant clause in the agreement for détente was a calculated deception. Both, as it transpired, served as preliminary moves toward the orchestrated, many-pronged Arab aggression against Israel in October 1973.

The motives and ramifications of the Egyptian plan, and the complex tactics of its execution, were subsequently described by Abd al-Satar al-Tawila, then the military correspondent of the Egyptian weekly Rose-al- Yusuf, in a book entitled The Six-Hour War According to a Military Correspondent's Diary. There he described Sadat's actions as a "brilliant plan of political camouflage" carried out in a "spectacular manner to mislead the enemy."

He describes how:

The various government agencies spread rumours and stories that were exaggerated, to say the least, about deficiencies, both quantitative and qualitative, regarding the weapons required to begin the battle against Israel, at the very time that the two parties-Egypt and the USSR-had reached agreement concerning the supply of quantities of arms during the second half of 1973-weapons which, in fact, were beginning to arrive. And there came a time when we saw how the majority of habitués of Egyptian and Arab coffee houses, particularly in Beirut, turned into arms experts and babbled about shortages in this or that type of hardware. And speaking in the jargon of the scientist and the expert, they would say that the Soviets were refusing to supply Egypt with missiles of a certain type and were even cutting off the supply of spare parts in such a manner that our planes, for example, had turned into useless scrap and were unable to fly, not to speak of combating the Phantom and the Mirage. These self-styled arms experts went deeply into the question of offensive and defensive weapons, inventing arbitrary differences between them while--as we shall see in the chapters dealing with the battle-defensive anti-aircraft missiles actually played an offensive role during the War of October 6. Moreover, the Egyptian press frequently gave prominence to an inclination [in Cairo] to seek arms in the West. And while it is correct that it is possible to buy some categories of hardware in the West, to equip a whole army with weapons from the West would mean, simply, that the date of the expected battle remains far off, i.e., until such time as the Egyptian army could be trained in the use of such new hardware. . . . All this talk about armaments and their shortage was intended to create the impression in the ranks of the enemy that one of the reasons why Egypt was incapable of starting war was the absence of high-quality weapons-- And the whole world was taken by surprise when zero hour arrived. A Pentagon spokesman expressed this surprise when he said: They -- i.e., the Israelis -- did not suspect the presence of such quantities and such categories of Soviet weapons in Egyptian and Syrian hands, in view of the incessantly repeated Arab complaint that the Soviets were refusing to supply these two countries with advanced offensive weapons in sufficient quantities.

The Egyptian camouflage to deceive the enemy was expanded to include Egyptian-Soviet relations. This was done to such an extent that many among the Arabs themselves cast doubt upon Egyptian-Soviet friendship and its sincerity and allegations were spread concerning Soviet non-support for the Arabs in their struggle. The episode of July 1972, when Egypt decided to make do without Soviet experts, was exploited and many intentionally or unintentionally failed to hear the words of President Sadat and his repeated emphasis that this episode was no more than 'an interlude with our friend,' as always happens among friends. Now we already know that one of the reasons for the willingness to make do without the Soviet experts was so that preparations could be made for the beginning of a battle that would bear the character of a 100% Egyptian decision, using 100% Egyptian forces. However, these experts had fulfilled an important task in connection with the network of missiles and other delicate weapons. The Egyptian deception campaign, moreover, was able to reap considerable benefit from this episode--the willingness to make do without the Soviet experts-because it raised questions about the genuineness of the regime's threats to resort to war; since, after all, how would the Egyptian army be able to fight without the presence of thousands of Russian experts, distributed among all the most important weapons sectors of the army so as to train [the army] in their use and-even to operate some of this hardware themselves? in addition , the [deception] campaign benefited also from the allegations and suspicions that were spread in the Arab world, as if this [willingness to do without Soviet experts] had been the result of a secret agreement with the U.S. and its friends in the region, whereby a peace arrangement would be prepared in return for the removal of the Soviet military presence. If that was the case, why, then, no war was to be expected, nor anything like a war-yet all the time- preparations were continuing feverishly to open the battle; and when the war started in fact, there was the additional surprise that unlimited Soviet support was extended both in the international arena and in the area of military equipment. The same Pentagon spokesman, on the morrow of the battle, expressed his opinion about this surprise: "We never imagined that the Soviet Union would do what it has done, after the tough verbal campaigns waged against it in the Arab world, and after the cooling of relations with Cairo following the exodus of the Soviets." During a visit to the battlefront on the 7th of October, I heard an ordinary Egyptian soldier give expression to Arab-Soviet friendship in the following simple words: "Some of you may have believed all this talk-yet our friendship is flourishing-after all, I was being trained to use Soviet-produced anti-tank R.P.G."

Excerpts from Al-Tawila's book were published on the first anniversary of the Yom Kippur War in Rose-al-Yusuf -- the official organ of the only political party allowed to exist in Egypt. The journal (of which Al-Tawila was later appointed editor) thus authoritatively told its readers that Al-Tawila had been encouraged in his work by President Sadat. In fact, Sadat had personally helped him revise the text of the book. Al-Tawila had, moreover, been given access to secret documents. [Rose-al-Yusuf, October 7, 1974]

A year later, President Sadat himself, in an interview on Cairo Radio (October 24, 1975), confirmed Al-Tawila's version, describing his expulsion of the Soviet advisers as "a strategic cover-- a splendid strategic distraction for our going to war"1

The year following July 1972 was employed by the Egyptians in preparing for the surprise attack across the Suez Canal and for its co-ordination with the parallel attack, by the Syrian forces, on the Golan Heights. The Syrians, incidentally, became direct beneficiaries of the Egyptian-Soviet manoeuvre: The experts expelled from Egypt were transferred to Syria. Moscow did not do this without the ready consent of the Egyptian government, for Cairo held that "the national interest required the continued presence of Soviet experts in the region."2

In that same period, the Arab states planned the grand strategy-which they had often threatened without being taken seriously-of using their vast oil resources as a political weapon.

Previously, no doubt, it had been difficult to achieve united action even among the oil-producing states, and certainly not with the non-Arab oil producers.3 In 1970, however, the oil-producing states, having united in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), had already begun a process, albeit comparatively moderate, of raising prices. Now, at some point in 1973, they had come to a radical decision to execute a sudden and steep increase. The Organisation of Arab Oil Producers (OAPEC) decided at the same time to proclaim an embargo, to coincide with the war they were preparing against Israel. This embargo would deny off to the whole of the Western world in order to extort from them support in bringing Israel to her knees. Overnight the countries of Europe and Japan, heavily dependent on Middle East off, would be reduced to the status of suppliants.

The timing of the OPEC announcement-on October 16, 1973, the eleventh day of the Yom Kippur War-of a drastic rise in oil prices to coincide with the imposition of the embargo was for the Arabs a happy means of making it appear, even if briefly, that Israel was at the root of the difficulties of the West. The next day, the Arab oil exporters published their threat "to reduce oil production by not less than 5 percent of the September level of output in each Arab oil exporting country, with a similar reduction to be applied each successive month until such time as total evacuation of Israeli forces from all Arab territory occupied during the June 1967 war is completed and the legal rights of the Palestinian people are restored." This remained an unfulfilled threat. The embargo was lifted in March 1974, and indeed its precise scope, while it lasted, as remained a matter of controversy. The atmosphere of emergency and indeed near-panic it induced was exaggerated, as were the intensely gloomy prophecies about its effect on the Western economies. Its impact on the Arab-Israeli war itself also was minor, but it could have been serious because of the supine accommodation of most of the governments of Europe to the threats of the Arabs.

The war could have been over in a few days. A relaxation of alertness throughout the Israeli Army, lowered standards of discipline and arms maintenance compounded by political misjudgement of Arab and Soviet intentions, found Israel at the opening of the war in position of tactical inferiority, unable to prevent or even effectively counter the successful exploitation by Egyptians and Syrians of the element of surprise. Caught off balance, some of the Israeli commanders in The field blundered in the early stages. The result was a substantial number of Israeli casualties and spectacular Arab successes. The Egyptians captured a strip of territory on the East Bank of the Suez Canal and the Syrians a generous portion of the Golan Heights. Only a display of outstanding bravery in the Israeli ranks on both fronts prevented a military disaster.

Yet the Israeli Army not only succeeded in extricating itself from the critical situation thus created, but turned the tables completely. By the tenth day of the war all of the Golan Heights had been regained, and Israeli forces had in addition occupied a substantial area in Syria, where they posed a direct threat to Damascus. In the south, although the Egyptian forces -- Second and Third Armies -- held their positions east of the Canal, a brilliant break through their centre and across the Canal had been followed by the occupation of a much larger salient inside Egypt proper. There, indeed, the road to Cairo was open. The Third Army trapped and encircled west of the Canal, was doomed. It was precisely at this point that political pressure from the Nixon administration, which the Israeli government found irresistible, forced them to agree to a cease-fire.

As the war progressed, the moral weakness of Western Europe was pitiably exposed. One reason for the precarious state in which the Israeli forces found themselves after the initial Arab onslaught was the decision of the Israeli government, even when they had realised belatedly that the attack was imminent, not to deprive the Arabs of any of the benefits of surprise. They had refrained purposely from taking pre-emptive action. Moreover, they purposely delayed even the full call-up of the Reserves-the main body of the Israeli Army.

The purpose of this restraint was to prevent any misconception, or pretended misconception, about the identity of the aggressors. The Israeli government wished to prevent a repetition of the ludicrous charges of aggression laid at Israel's door in 1967, when she took pre-emptive action in the face of the belligerent closing of the Straits of Tiran and the massing of the Egyptian and Syrian forces for the declared purpose of Israel's annihilation. Now, the governmentís restraint turned out to be irrelevant, ineffective, and costly beyond measure or repair. They did not reckon with the realities of international motivations. When the United States government applied to the governments of Europe to allow her planes, bringing supplies to the battered victim of aggression, to land on their airfields for refuelling, they refused for fear of offending the Arabs. Fortunately, the United. States had rights, secured by treaty, to land her planes in the Portuguese colony in the Azores. The Portuguese agreed to respect these rights, and the desired weight and speed of supply to Israel in the latter phase of the war were thus ensured. The stark realities of European moral flabbiness were compounded by the applied power of Arab oil. The embargo reduced presumably proud governments in Europe to whimpering impotence. "Nous pesons peu" (we count for little), cried Michel Jobert, the French Foreign Minister, in the National Assembly4; and the West German Foreign Minister subsequently explained that his government was "aware of the limits of her influence."5

The central effect of the oil boycott, as gradually transpired after the event, was psychological. It diverted the attention of frightened populations away from the concomitant steep rise in price (fourfold in less than three months).6 Its long-range effect was as threat, a demonstration of the seemingly irresistible power that resides potentially in the hands of the Arab oil states. With the passage of time, however, the organisation of oil reserves, the provisions made for mutual aid and co-operation among the consumer states, the discovery of new oil sources, and the development alternative fuels, suggest that a future embargo will be far more difficult to apply effectively.

The real change-palpable, swift, and far-reaching in the very fabric of international relations-that developed after mid-October 1973 derives from the rise the price of oil. Its implications and consequences transformed the potential of the Arab states into unprecedented economic power. They have transmuted this power into political terms and have applied it in every possible direction with a ruthlessness sometimes sophisticated, sometimes openly brutal. Its weight has been directed to the consummation of the central short-term purposes of the Arabs: the annihilation of Israel. But in counterpoint to that purpose, there wells up, unmistakably, the theme of Arabdom as a world power, avenging itself, moreover, on the hitherto supercilious and allegedly exploitative West. Not only fabulous wealth, but the idea of the peoples of the Christian West-Britons, Frenchmen, Germans, and even Americans-hungry for oil and deals and dollars, abasing themselves before Moslem overlords, has fired Arab imagination with the vision of a new golden age domination in the world.

By a combination of circumstances, the Arabs have derived considerable aid and comfort from the sorrows of the United States-the trauma of Vietnam and the agony of Watergate-as well as from the policy of Washington toward the Soviet Union.

Early in 1976, with the debacle for the West following the successful intervention in the Angolan Civil War by Cuban troops sponsored and armed by the Soviet Union, it was very widely agreed in the United States that the declared policy of détente, pursued for several years, had been a grotesque failure derived, as its critics had long maintained, from a disregard of, or an inability to understand the purpose of, the priorities, the thought process, and the mode of operation the Soviet leaders. Far from weaning them away from dreams of world domination and deepening their interest in non-competitive ideological coexistence, the policy of détente had proved to be a powerful vehicle for furthering their plans for expansion and their dream of Communist predominance throughout the world.

The failure was measurable, for détente was not a vague generalisation. It was codified in the formal Nixon-Brezhnev agreement in Moscow in May 1971 In addition to the undertaking

To do everything in their power so that conflicts or situations would not rise which would serve to increase international tensions they also promised-among the twelve principles agreed upon- To prevent the development of situations capable of causing a dangerous exacerbation of their relations; and

To do their utmost to avoid military confrontations.7

This agreement, as far as it affected the conflict between Israel and the Arabs, effectively helped to Jerusalem (and Washington) into a false sense of security. The Soviet government refrained from carrying out those of its provisions which might conceivably have prevented war. The secret delivery, behind the heavy smoke screen of "a quarrel" with Egypt, of large quantities of arms into Egypt as well as Syria was not precisely a means of preventing "conflicts or situations-- which would serve to increase international tensions." Nor did they warn the United States, as they were pledged to do, when they knew the Arab offensive was imminent. They did indeed send planes to evacuate Soviet families from both Egypt and Syria two days before the war broke out, but American Intelligence believed this was part of the "quarrel." Having extended the aid designed to give both countries the maximum advantage in opening the war, the Soviets executed throughout its progress what they themselves described as an "uninterrupted flow by sea and air of arms and ammunition to Egypt and Syria."8 They went further: They called on the other Arab States to join in the war. In a message to President Boumedienne of Algeria on October 9, and to the heads of other states the next day, Brezhnev wrote: Today more than ever Arab brotherly solidarity must play its decisive role. Syria and Egypt must not remain alone in their fight against a perfidious enemy. Sponsoring aggression in the Middle East was only one facet of the dynamic policy of the Soviet leaders. The USSR continued to build up her military power in every field with single-minded intensity and with a high efficiency detectable in no other sphere of her economic endeavour. Her military manpower grew (by 1975) to 4.4 million, more than twice the size of the United States establishment. In every category of military production except helicopters, she drew ahead of the United States. In ground-forces equipment, the ratio rose to about six to one. In the air, still qualitatively inferior, her production rates in fighter aircraft in 1975 exceeded those of the United States Air Force by a factor of four.

Nor did the détente agreement inhibit or slow down the uninterrupted expansion of the Soviet Navy-the most significant and the most spectacular phenomenon in the changing balance of international relationships. The progress was summed up succinctly by James R. Schlesinger, former United States Secretary of Defense: "It has become a formidable blue-water navy challenging that of the United States."9

Moreover, taking advantage of some clauses in the first Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement (SALT I) of 1972, and by ignoring other clauses, the Soviet Union attained superiority in the field of nuclear missiles. Not least significant, in contravention of that agreement, she built up an anti-nuclear civil defense system, thus creating for herself the essential prerequisite of a nuclear war-winning capability-which the agreement was specifically designed to deny to both sides.10

All the while, the United States was not only decreasing her military expenditures (by about 3 percent per annum), but, by means of huge supplies of wheat and consumer commodities, helping the Soviet Union to overcome her continuing food shortage without having to reduce her military build-up, and, together with other Western nations, especially France and Germany, helping her develop an otherwise unattainable technological capacity.

What is no less important, the chief architect of American foreign policy, Dr. Henry Kissinger, consistently brushed aside all criticism of this policy as well as the pertinent questions and doubts and fears aroused by Soviet behaviour under détente. He rushed to the defense of the Soviet Union even on its behaviour the Yom Kippur War. He announced at its height that the Russians were "less provocative, less incendiary and less geared to military threats, than they were in the Six Day War in 1967." Soviet behaviour so far could not, he said, be judged irresponsible."11

But the breakthrough with the most far-reaching immediate impact achieved by the Soviet Union was in the reopening of the Suez Canal.12 In prospect of that reopening, and parallel to the growth of her navy, the Soviet Union expanded its network of bases and base facilities in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf Zone. By the time the Canal was reopened-in June 1975-Russia had established no fewer than four bases covering its immediate approaches. In addition to the three in the People's Republic of South Yemen, she had built the largest of her bases outside the Soviet Union itself, at Berbera in Somalia.

The reopening of the Canal released the coiled spring Soviet power. Moscow was now not only physically equipped, but was freed from her logistic shackles for the pursuit of a policy of intervention and expansion. She was now complete mistress of her own strength, free to deploy her resources as she wished. The Canal, hitherto an obstacle, was now transformed into an instrument of Soviet strategy. The Soviet leaders quickly sensed the overwhelming central phenomenon in the process by which the reopening of the Canal had been achieved: the strange complaisance of the United States. For whether through extreme political myopia, On a deep fatalism, or a failure of will, or all of these, the fact remained that the great prize-the opening of the door to supremacy in the Indian Ocean, in the Persian Gulf, thus to the oil sources of the Middle East and into the African continent; the renewal of full exploitation both of the Soviet Union's naval strength and of her geographical proximity to the area of prospective intervention; the ending of the frustrations of bottled-up Soviet power and repressed Soviet ambitions-this great, many-coloured prize had been presented to her by her main geopolitical and ideological rival. The reopening of the Canal was achieved by the energetic initiative and effort of the American Secretary of State. Still more incredibly, it was presented to the Soviet Union incidentally, as though absentmindedly, in an apparently unrelated context, and thus did not require any payment, or concession, or undertaking, or even vote of thanks. Moreover, it was displayed to the world, and accepted in the West, as part of a diplomatic victory for America.

How had this situation, yet another compound of Kafka and Orwell, come about?

Immediately after his assumption of office as Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger called in the ambassadors to the UN of thirteen Arab states and told them that he understood the Arab states could not resign themselves to a perpetuation of the status quo in the Middle East. He promised them that the United States would work for a solution to the problem.13

Eleven days later, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Not all the resources of United States and Israeli Intelligence had been adequate to foresee the attack. When the Israeli Army, after its initial severe and nearly fatal setback, began turning the tables, and while the Soviet Union was operating its new, massive supply-train, airborne and seaborne, of supplies to Egypt and Syria, the losses the Israeli Army had suffered threatened a shortage of essential materiel. There occurred then a never officially explained delay, lasting eight days, in the shipping to Israel of promised supplies by the United States. In reply to the daily agitated appeals by the Israeli Ambassador, the American Secretary of State claimed that it was the Defense Department that was holding up the supplies. In fact, the Defense Department was acting according to the directions of the State Department.14 What the Secretary of State omitted to explain to the Israeli Ambassador was that (as he had explained to his colleague, the Chief of U.S. Naval Operations, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr.) it was his intention to see Israel "bleed just enough to soften it up for the post-war diplomacy he was planning."15

After two weeks of war Israel, according to all responsible military analysts, could without difficulty have broken Egypt's power of aggression and inflicted a no less crushing defeat on the Syrians, thus ensuring for herself a long period of peace and for the Western nations a freezing of Soviet advances and ambition: south and east of Suez. At precisely this point, the American Secretary of State, having reached agreement with the Soviet government, conveyed to the Israeli government from Moscow the pre-emptory "advice" that they accept an immediate cease-fire.

The hopes the Israeli government had had of exploiting the overwhelming military advantage it had gained at terrible cost crumpled under the pressure and threats of the Secretary of State. Yet the Egyptian Third Army, about one half the force that had crossed Canal, was still encircled and its supplies completely cut off. Israel had only to maintain the standstill in order to ensure its surrender and the return of her own army to the southern stretch of the East Bank of the Suez Canal. The Americans now cajoled the Israeli government into lifting the siege.

In two other decisive stages, the Secretary of State dictated the conversion of Israeli victory into defeat. These were the so-called "disengagement agreements." In an entangled situation, with elements of each side behind the enemy lines, the obvious and logical way to effect disengagement was, of course, to disengage: The Israeli forces would withdraw eastward across the Canal from the deep salient they had occupied in Egypt proper, while the Egyptian forces would withdraw westward across the Canal from the strip they had occupied on the Sinai bank of the Canal, and the Canal would be the separating line. This was in fact proposed by the Israeli Prime Minister, but it did not accord with the vision of the American Secretary of State. Under his intense pressure, only the Israelis withdrew. By the first disengagement agreement (January 1974), the new Israeli line was established on the Milta and Gidi Passes, some fifteen kilometres into the Sinai Desert.

In the second disengagement agreement (September 1975), the Israeli government surrendered these strategically important passes as well as her hold on the Red Sea coast and the Abu-Rodeis complex of oil-fields her only independent source of oil, providing her with some 60 percent of her total requirements.

Egypt's overall substantive contribution to the agreements was to accept the gifts, to promise not to attack Israel for a period of three years, and to reopen the Canal. The reopening was solemnly paraded (though not by the Egyptians) as "a step towards peace" (a great boon confirmed on the countries of Europe could, after all, also use the Canal), and as a concession to Israel.16

The fanfare accompanying Dr. Kissinger's diplomacy drowned the many voices in Israel and elsewhere that cried out against handing over to the Arabs an to the Soviets (hovering, modest and relaxed, in the background ground) such massive strategic advantages, to the peril both of Israel and of the West.

A parallel if less spectacular development was brought about by American pressure on the Syrian front. There a disengagement agreement provided for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal not only from the deep salient threatening Damascus in Syria proper, but also from a strip of the Golan Heights captured in the Six Day War. Syria gave the same quid pro quo as Egypt. She accepted the gifts. She also agreed to accept a loan from the United States.

The actions of the American Secretary of State made a sharp, clear pattern. The withholding of arms from Israel during the war, the imposition of the cease-fire - saving both Egypt and Syria from crushing defeat - and then the step-by-step transformation of Israeli victory into defeat, were naked demonstrations of the fulfilment of his promise to the Arab ambassadors on the eve of the war. Nor in fact did he conceal his purpose. Immediately after the war, he hastened to condone Arab aggression. "The conditions that produced this war," he said, "were clearly intolerable to the Arab nations."17 Two weeks later, during a visit to Pekin he made the ominous forecast that if what he described as the forthcoming "peace" negotiations were successful, Israel would face grave problems. She would have to withdraw from territories and would then need "guarantees' -- American or international for her security.18 The boundaries he had in mind for obviously would be inadequate for that security, from his point of view. Subsequent declarations in the same vein left no doubt that he intended to bring about an Israeli surrender of approximately all the territory she had gained in repelling the Arab aggression 1967: that is, the first stage of the Arab goal.

These declarations were underlined by President Sadatís repeated assurances, from February 1974 onward that he recognised a "significant change" in American policy, and of his personal trust in the man he called his "brother Henry," and by his relaxed assertions both to his people and to foreign interlocutors, of confidence that the Arab purpose would be achieved. This confidence was echoed by leaders in other Arab countries.19

It was evident, however, that the Secretary of State had imposed a condition of his own: that the Arab leaders must reconcile themselves to the fact that total Israeli withdrawal could not be achieved all at once. It would be essential to apply a "salami" policy-to be graced however, by the more elegant nomenclature of "step-by-step diplomacy towards peace."

American State Department proclaimed the disengagement agreements as great diplomatic victories. Egypt gave no substantive quid pro quo to Israel, but the United States itself was to derive benefit of the utmost importance: Soviet influence in Egypt was to be replaced by American influence. Again there developed a campaign of criticism and recrimination by Egypt against the Soviet Union. The grounds were, again, the non-supply, or the inadequate supply, of sophisticated weapons. The similarity of this campaign to that which preceded the Yom Kippur War strongly suggests a repetition of the hoax of 1972-73.

It would be a very rational hoax. The reopening of Suez Canal greatly diminished the importance of Egypt in the Soviet Union's further penetration of Africa, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, and Red Sea zones. As for the naval facilities located on Egyptís Mediterranean coast, these are feasibly replaceable- certainly by Syria at Latakia, perhaps also by Libya. If Soviet imperial expansion can be pursued behind a waterfall of American self-congratulation on having "driven" the Russians out of Egypt, and if Washington can thereby flourish a story of success to brighten an otherwise gloomy record in foreign policy, thus bolstering up the détente policy that has brought such tremendous benefits to the Soviet Union, then another publicised quarrel with Egypt is a low price to pay. In fact, the noisier and more realistic, the better. During such a quarrel, Egypt should indeed not have to suffer a shortage of the proper types of arms, which the United States might not be able to supply. This remained a Soviet interest-a hedge against a possible future return of Israeli forces to the Canal. The problem of clandestine supply had, however, been solved once before and could be solved again.

Accommodation in the West to the desires of the oil-rich and population-rich Arab states was strongly in evidence before the Yom Kippur War. In the war's aftermath, it became a dominant feature of policy in nearly all the Western nations. Perhaps they had re covered from the trauma of the oil embargo, but they were now enmeshed in the revolutionary, even cataclysmic, consequences of the four-fold, and later five- fold, rise in oil prices. The unprecedented drain on their financial resources threatened, in one degree or another, to disrupt their economies. Indeed, present chaos, or near-chaos, and a lurid apocalyptic vision of the future, dominated the thinking of a generally nerve-wracked and bewildered leadership in the Western nations.

The precise impact of the transfer of gigantic financial resources from the West into the grasp of a handful of off-producing states will not soon be measured. At first, fear predominated that the oil states, especially the Arabs with their political motivations, and because their small populations and large surpluses unproductive in their own countries-such as Saudi Arabia, Libya, Kuwait-would buy up large segments of the economy of the West and thereby exert an unwelcome influence on public affairs. In the United States, in Western Europe, in Japan, there was in fact a considerable buying up of real estate and "buying into" banking, industrial, and commercial concerns, including American oil companies. The cultural field was not neglected: Publishing firms were bought into, and Arab and Islamic-oriented faculties were established at American universities.

Whether justifiably or not, the fears were soon submerged in a flood of Western initiative. Large doses of antidote were available, calculated to bring back at least some of the dollars that had flowed out. Thus, while potential buyers and investors from the Arab oil countries were to be seen in large numbers in the cities of the West, equally ubiquitous have become the salesmen of Western commerce and industry, real estate, and banking, looking for business in the, capitals of the Arab states. "Recycling the petrodollars" has become a national sport in the Western nations. Whatever the ultimate size and weight of the financial and sociological implications and consequences of the two-way process its immediate political impact on the conflict over Palestine has been very great indeed.

Needless to say, the Arabs have exploited the West's pursuit of petrodollars in the immediate sphere of finance and business. They have intensified and extended the "secondary" boycott against Israel: the blacklisting of non-Israeli firms doing business with her. More spectacularly, they have become more openly insistent in trying to compel Western firms to collaborate in the boycott of Jews by cutting out Jewish suppliers, Jewish associates, and Jewish employers in any transaction with an Arab country. Much of this pressure is not publicised. From time to time, however, an especially prickly case comes to public notice. Considerable publicity thus attended the pressure to exclude two famous Jewish-owned banks in Britain- N. M. Rothschild & Sons and S. G. Warburg-from an international loan issue launched by a London bank for a Japanese company. There was a public outcry, but it did not affect the outcome. The two banks remained excluded.

Many firms refused to become parties to such Nazi type racism,20 but many others succumbed. A survey carried out in the United States by the New York Anti-Defamation League led to the conclusion that there was in fact a "widespread willingness" on the part of American businessmen and institutions to conform to the boycott.

It is the political attitudes of most Western governments to the conflict over Palestine that have been most influenced by the changed international economic relationships. The possession of oil and of great purchasing power has now become the prime if not the only operative criterion of right and justice-certainly the criterion for legitimacy. Thus, with one notable exception, there has hardly been an anti-Israel resolution among the mass of such resolutions sponsored by the Arabs at the United Nations, however outrageous morally, however baseless factually, however infantile intellectually, that has been opposed outright by civilised Western states. On the whole they abstain. They do not allow what they know of the facts of the dispute to cloud their judgement. They pretend to unaware of the Arabs' imperialist appetite; of their annihilative purpose toward Israel; of the historic, political, and moral relationship to the land which over many centuries their whole culture has known as the land of Israel. It has thus, broadly speaking, become the comfortable common cause among these civilised Western states that Israel should surrender territory -- down to the old Armistice lines of 1949-from which the Arabs prepared in 1967 to launch the "final attack" on her.

1. These quotations are taken from the comprehensive, highly documented analysis of this phase of Soviet-Egyptian relations (as of the similar development after the Yom Kippur War) presented to the United States Senate Subcommittee on Foreign Assistance of the Committee on Foreign Relations on March 31, 1976, by Uri Raanan, Professor of International Politics and Chairman of the International Security Studies Committee at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. See also Prof. Raanan's article "The Soviet- Egyptian Rift" in Commentary, June 1976.

2. Al-Ahram, October 31, 1975.

3. The Arab members of OPEC are: Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates. They constitute OAPEC. The non-Arab members are: Ecuador, Gabon (observer), Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela.

4. Le Monde, October 19, 1973, p. 10.

5. The New York Times, March 29,1974, p. 3.

6. On October 15, 1973, the price of $3.01 a barrel was raised $5.11, and 78 days later, on January 1, 1974, was more than double. to $11.65.

7. The full text of the Basic Principles in Department of State Bulletin, Washington, June 26, 1972, pp. 898-899.

8. Pravda, October 25, 1975, quoted by U. Raanan, The Soviet Union and the Middle East, p. 32.

9. "Testing Time for America," Fortune, March 1976, from which I also quoted the relevant statistical information.

10. Paul H. Nitze, "Assuring Strategic Stability in an Era Détente," Foreign Affairs, January 1976. This essay by the former Secretary of the Navy and member of the SALT I negotiating team contains a detailed survey of the comparative nuclear capacities a attitudes of the two powers.

11. The New York Times, October 13, 1973-a statement that earned the acid comment of the distinguished American scholar Theodore Draper: "-- as if he (Kissinger) were waiting for the Russians themselves to attack Israel before entertaining the thought that they may have gone too far." "From 1967 to 1973," Commentary, December 1973.

12. See above p. 206, Bandun edition.

13. Haaretz, Tel Aviv, September 26, 1973.

14. The events and responsibilities of the eight days were analysed and classified by Professors Edward N. Luttwak and Walter Laqueur in "Kissinger and the Yom Kippur War," Commentary, September, 1974.

15. The New York Times, March 17,1976.

16. Israelís right, under the Constantinople Convention of 1888 above p. 4, Bantam edition), to send her ships through the Canal was not restored. The concession made to her was that she would be allowed to send and receive goods carried through the Canal on non-Israeli vessels.

17. "The New York Times, October 26, 1973.

18 The New York Times, November 13, 1973.

19. Among them Sheikh Al Yamani the Saudi Oil Minister, quoted New York Times, March 17, 1974.

20. The Arabs do not deny that they see a precedent in the methods of the Nazis when the latter extended their boycott of Jews beyond the borders of Germany.
 

This page was produced by Joseph E. Katz
Middle Eastern Political and Religious History Analyst 
Brooklyn, New York 
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Source: "Battleground: Fact & Fantasy in Palestine" by Samuel Katz, 
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Copyright © 1973, 1977, 1978, 1985 by Samuel Katz.
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Portions Copyright © 2001 Joseph Katz