The October 1973 War went down in history as the first Egyptian military victory over the Israeli entity. Its documented events were the product of an Egyptian military undertaking that enthralled the world.
The excellence of Egyptian commanders was evidenced at every phase, from preparation for the war to its unconventional and, indeed, unparallelled execution.
It is little wonder that it is studied in most international military academies, particularly in light of the element of surprise that caught the enemy off guard and stunned the governments that supported it at the time and continue to do so today.
In tandem with the phases that preceded the war, another fierce battle unfolded invisibly. Its instruments were the hostile intelligence agencies, most notably Mossad, which were trying to learn the true intentions of the Egyptian political leadership concerning a war to liberate Sinai.
History has also recorded the valiant saga of Egyptian General Intelligence which stood like an impenetrable wall between Mossad and its intelligence-gathering ends, to which testify the numbers of spies that fell into the grip of that agency during this period (among the most notorious cases were those of Heba Selim and Farouk Abdel-Hamid Al-Fiqi).
Egyptian political and military leaders were fully conscious of Israel’s qualitative and quantitative superiority in weapons and materiel and of the fact that Israel was supported by the strongest military and political power in the world at the time, the United States.
These leaders were, therefore, aware of the need to maintain the tightest secrecy as they planned and prepared for the war. It was clear to them, from the outset, that the element of surprise would be extremely critical to offsetting Israel’s military superiority.
So, in 1971, they set to work planning and executing a comprehensive system of strategic, tactical and mobilisational camouflage.
This camouflage system was carried out at all levels, starting with the president, in his capacity as supreme commander of the armed forces, and proceeding down through the ranks of commanders, officers and soldiers.
It also required exhaustive efforts on the part of Egyptian Intelligence to prevent, as much as possible, the Israeli enemy’s espionage apparatus from accessing information that might reveal how earnest the Egyptian leadership was in its declared intent to launch an immanent war against Israel.
Egypt’s faithful son, Ashaf Marawan, had a central role to play in the symphony of subterfuge that was masterfully conducted by president Anwar Al-Sadat.
The landmark achievements and repercussions of this war made it the greatest Egyptian military history since the Egyptian commander Ahmose routed and drove out the Hyksos.
The war had a staggering impact on Israel, politically, militarily and, indeed, psychologically. Widespread and intense debate, controversy and fault-finding erupted in Israeli society.
Senior political, military and intelligence figures accused one another of negligence, laxness, imprudence and poor judgement.
They had all fallen into the ingenious trap laid for them by the Egyptian political leadership which had orchestrated and carried out the diverse forms of strategic, mobilisational and tactical deception from the second half of 1971 to the end of the October War in 1973.
It was the element of surprise and initiative that made it possible for all Egyptian combat formations to cross over to the eastern bank of the Suez Canal in record time.
Against this backdrop, the recently released Israeli film The Angel was clearly an attempt to raise the morale of the Israeli people, especially the younger generations who had not experienced that period in history.
It was also a desperate attempt to undermine the Egyptian people’s faith in their armed and intelligence forces, and these forces’ ability to win the war.
The film tries to create the impression that Israeli political, military and intelligence leaders had not fallen into the trap of the grand ruse devised by Egyptian strategists and planners to enable the Egyptian army to take the Israeli armed forces by surprise.
But it is impossible to deny the Israeli military debacle that would, within a couple of months, set into motion the Agranat Commission and its inquiry into the failures of Israeli intelligence agencies such as Mossad and the Military Intelligence Directorate (Aman).
* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 October, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Remembering the October ruse