Fifty years on: The realities of the October War

Khaled Okasha
Tuesday 12 Sep 2023

As the 50th anniversary of the October 1973 War approaches, how can we make sure that it is properly remembered


Half a century separates us from the victorious October War, an event that revealed the brilliance of the Egyptian genius when it stood at the threshold of a pivotal moment in history, as it did in October 1973. 

Those days in October 1973 still carry the memories of this precious period in Egypt’s modern history and are part of a purely Egyptian national achievement that deserves pride of place in the way we think about our country today. 

However, this was not their only achievement, as in the October 1973 War Egyptian soldiers unleashed a set of values that are relevant to every era. The Egyptian people realised that the path to success is paved with sweat and blood and a great deal of intellectual ammunition.

As part of the commitment to underline the value of proper knowledge on the 50th anniversary of the October War, I would like to recommend two important works of history that shed light on the crucial events of the war. These works can also help us to confront the “documentary war” that Israel has been preparing for years and plans to unveil on the 50th anniversary of the October War.

The first work, published by Egypt’s National Translation Centre in 2014, is called “The October Victory in Israeli Documents: Documents of the Political Leadership.” This important research work, split into two parts, was written by Ibrahim Al-Bahrawi, an expert in modern Israeli studies, and edited by a research team of ten scholars. 

The book poses two questions in its introduction. Why have the Israeli authorities withheld critical documents about the war for the last 40 years? And why have they deliberately deleted certain words, lines, and paragraphs from them, as is evident in the translations given in Al-Bahrawi’s book? 

The work presents us with valuable material that is worthy of an in-depth examination by our intellectuals and political and military researchers. It unveils the dimensions of the Egyptian triumph in the October War and the depths of the Israeli defeat.

The second work is an Israeli book published in 1974 under the title of “The Shortfall” (Al-Muhaddal) and translated into Arabic by the Institute of Palestinian Studies in the same year.

In the introduction, it is explained that the institute chose this book from among several works in Hebrew on what in Israel is called the Yom Kippur War because it highlights some essential facts. The most important is the competence of the Egyptian military in the war and its ability to fight skillfully and successfully, giving the lie to the tarnished image that surrounded the Arab armies after the June 1967 defeat. 

The book gives the Israeli view of such facts, and this is delivered candidly by its authors who describe their experiences shortly after the war. In the introduction, the translators emphasise that the authors are not anti-Zionist outsiders and that their book is authentically Israeli. On every page, it presents criticisms of both the military and the political leadership in Israel at the time of the October War. 

Such criticisms are aligned with the findings of the Agranat Commission set up in Israel to investigate Israeli shortcomings in the war. This was released 40 years afterwards, and it is covered in detail in the first of the two books mentioned here. Ibrahim Al-Bahrawi and his team of researchers selected testimonies from prominent Israeli political and military leaders, including Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Yisrael Lior, Abba Eban, Yisrael Galili, Haim Tzadok, and Moshe Kol, among others, for translation into Arabic, as these were some of the key figures on the Israeli side in the October War.

At the beginning of “The Shortfall,” the authors write that “we witnessed the war. We saw it approaching, but many of us did not believe it would happen. We watched it unfold, and we wished for the moment it would end. We saw the battles, the battlefields, the operations rooms, and the people on the home front. We saw it all, and yet our eyes couldn’t believe what we were seeing.”

“We returned from the war and met seven journalists from three different newspapers, among them Sakhr and Hama’im, as well as individuals with contrasting political views and varying social perspectives. We returned to our homes and our daily lives, feeling bewildered before those who wanted to move on as if nothing had happened and as if the war had never occurred. We stood in amazement at the attempts to conceal, distort, and cover up the deficiencies that had led to the war and made it happen as it did.”

“What unites us is the shared recognition that it is impossible to overlook what happened and that it is impossible to hide the plain truth. We are not an investigative committee. We do not claim to pass judgement. We have contributed to this book, which is neither a commemoration of the Yom Kippur War nor a historical study. It is a journalistic work produced under time constraints and in the shadow of the publication policies of the state. We have attempted to present different perspectives on the war and to delve into its roots to the extent that we can. We have spared no effort in seeking to reveal the truth despite all the limitations.”

 These two books, through their exploration of the facts, champion the importance of proper knowledge. The second book contains Israeli testimonies, some presented before the official judicial committee investigating the events and responsibilities of the war and some as vivid and extensive accounts written in the immediate aftermath.

* The writer is director of the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies (ECSS).

* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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