The October War Veteran Farouk Alameddine says that war was one of the cherished memories of his life. He described it as an act of “great bravery that has promised the love of the country and nothing else.”
He explains, however, that he fears that its legacy could slip away down the road because its thorough story has never been given the due attention.
He says that October 1973 was a moment of glory that should never be allowed to turn into just a few lines in a history book or a mere honourary recollection.
“The October War was not just about three weeks of [Egyptian] troops in combat at the front; the October War is a story that started the day following the 1967 War and that continued one way or the other until the full liberation of all Egyptian territories that were occupied in 1967; this is what the October War is really about,” said Farouk Alameddine.
In his early 30s, Alameddine took part in the war as part of the Third Army, and today, in his late 80s, he gives lectures about this war to students of a range of military academies.
These lectures, Alameddine said, were designed by the army general command. The objective behind the lectures, he added, is not simply symbolic: “they are certainly designed to pass on the experience of those who took part in this war to younger generations who have not even lived the years of the war.”
“When we do this, we do it because we are convinced as military people that the very act of a combat back then and the way this combat was prepared, launched and managed is truly an example in harnessing what some would have thought of as limited military capacity to allow for a considerable military achievement,” Alameddine stated.
“Think about it today. In 1967. the armed forces of Egypt were not just in terrible morale but were also in a state of shock over the huge destruction their military capacities have sustained due to the Israeli aggression of June 1967 and the previous participation in the Yemen War."
"Six years later and without having a strict military ally, like the US was to Israel, these very armed forces, who had no great financial capacity, managed to reverse almost fully the outcome of 1967; is this not a very significant military act?"
"Today, 45 years on, I am more convinced than ever before that it was a very significant military act – not just on the count of bravery and glory but certainly from the point of view of military management, administration, planning and execution,” he argued.
In 1967, Egypt had lost almost all of Sinai to the Israeli aggression. In the very early hours of 5 June it had almost lost all of its air force capacities.
Alameddine said that the Six-Day War, which had also brought about the full Israeli occupation of all of Palestine and of Syrian and Jordanian territories, "started when close to two thirds of the Egyptian army was in Yemen and the military command in Egypt had to recall untrained reserves to fill in for the big shortage prior to summoning soldiers who had been in the Yemen combat, and this was obviously a very harsh challenge for the armed forces of Egypt; the result was a huge shock that was as devastating as an earthquake.”
When Egypt finally had to acknowledge defeat in the second week of June 1967, Alameddine was still in Moscow, where he had moved in 1965 for an advanced military graduate degree.
Like everybody else, Alameddine recalled, he wished to rush back to Egypt and join in the re-launch of the Egyptian army.
“We felt stranded; we felt we were away when our country was coming under a shocking defeat; we felt we needed to be back; but the then minister of defence Mohamed Fawzy decided that we had to stay to finish our studies; he said we needed the well-educated and well trained to win the next war; and I guess this was one of the founding ideas for the October War: the end of platitudes and beginning of well thought-through moves,” he said.
Alameddine was eventually back in Cairo in 1968.
“I took part in the War of Attrition, which really put in place a strong base for the October War. It was during this war that the soldiers started to get proper training and where the command of the army managed to uplift the devastated morale of the troops through limited successful operations."
"I guess it is safe to say that by the end of 1969 or maybe by mid-1970 the troops were regaining self-confidence and when Gamal Abdel-Nasser died in [the autumn of] 1970, the morale was not defused – to the contrary, the urge to regain the lost territories was really high among the troops.”
This said, Alameddine recalled, “Egypt was again rebuilding its armed forces at the time of a very challenging economic situation combined by confused local politics upon the transition of power from Gamal Abdel-Nasser to Anwar Sadat, and against the backdrop of an inopportune moment of foreign relations. None of us really thought that we were only three years from the victory.”
Alameddine is angered at any question of whether October was really a victory, or only a successful crossing, followed by a humiliating military breach that brought the Israeli army to the west side of the Suez Canal in the second week of the war?
“A victory – in no uncertain terms. It was a victory by all military accounts. The crossing was the beginning of the victory and the breach was not as consequential as some might think out of ignorance,” he stresses.
“The fact that the tanks that executed the breach were cut off from the Israeli army simply means that they would have eventually been rendered ineffective.”
“The Israeli army crossed the canal from the east side to the west side, it is true; and it is also true that there was then a big moment of concern among the public; but it is equally true that the Israeli army failed to occupy Sinai and that the people of Suez showed a remarkable bravery through the popular resistance. The second week saw great bravery from the army and the people side by side,” said the veteran.
“If Israel was winning and if the military breach had reversed the victory into another defeat as some would like to argue, Israel would have not agreed to a ceasefire or to the subsequent political negotiations.”
Like other military veterans who took part in the October War, Alameddine is convinced that the crossing of the troops, the destruction of the Bar Lev Line and the “huge casualties sustained by the Israeli army,” forced the Israeli politicians to “negotiate a peaceful return of all Egyptian territories.”
“Think about it; when the 1967 War ended and Israel occupied the east side of the Suez Canal, we hardly had any military defence presence on the west side of the Canal; then, in less than three years we had managed a war of attrition and rebuilt our military capacity in the face of all political and economic challenges; then, in another three years we went through the war with military capacities that would not even amount to half of what the Israelis had; then a week down the road from the beginning of the war the US was openly offering Israel a strong military and intelligence hand but we stood still."
"And today, 45 years later, I promise you I don’t know how we managed to do any of this – any of it; then if this does not qualify for a victory, I don’t know what would be a victory,” Alameddine exclaimed.
Throughout his long military career, which started with his graduation from the military academy in the 1950s and ended with his retirement in the 1980s, Alameddine had been awarded many honours, and his participation in the 1973 war was acknowledged and rewarded.
However, as he sat in the living room watching TV, before giving the interview to Ahram Online, Alameddine said that the greatest honour he thinks of is when he watches the celebration of the 45th anniversary, that he “was there when it happened, willing to die for a victory.”
However, for this war veteran, it is very saddening to see how little the younger generation learn about the war in the history curricula, and “how very little has really been told about the hardship that this country had to go through for six consecutive years to make this war happen, and how very few of the great heroic stories of this war have been told to those who were born after the land was all restored”.
“Much more should be said about the October War,” he stressed.