Was the Yom Kippur War Preventable?

Lt.-Col. Shimon Mendes, The IDF (Ret.) 11.05.2013 11:52
President Anwar Sadat

President Anwar Sadat

The late Mrs. Meir, who had done her utmost to prevent the war * As it becomes clear that saw further, her eagerness to prevent the war had helped Mr. Anwar Sadat enormously to surprise Israel in 1973

Lately it was published that the Yom Kippur War (YKW) was preventable, and there are some people claim that the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, could have avoided the war but she had failed. All what she had to do is to listen a little to the Egyptian president, or to concede to his demands. Those who claim that, they do an injustice  to the late Mrs. Meir, who  had done her utmost to prevent the war. As it becomes clear that saw further, her eagerness to prevent the war had helped Sadat enormously to surprise Israel in 1973.
Mrs. Meir's biographer, Prof. Meron Medzini, indicates in her biography that when Mr. Anwar Sadat assumed the presidency, PM Meir sent him a message through a European country – but he did not respond. And she assumed that he had to strengthen his presidency first. Mr. Mordecai Gazit, Director General of the Prime Minister's office, testifies that Golda Meir had initiated at least seven clandestine approaches to both Nasser and Sadat – to no avail. The first time she approached Nasser in July 1969; and in April 1970, Golda asked President Nicolae Ceausescu of Rumania to arbitrate between her and Nasser; on January 13, 1971, Israel sent a peace suggestion to Egypt through Ambassador Jarring, the Egyptian Ambassador to the UN refused to accept the document, saying that Egypt had no intention whatsoever to maintain any negotiations with Israel – only through Ambassador Jarring. In May 1971, Mrs. Meir asked Secretary of  State William Rogers, while visiting Israel, to arrange a meeting for her with Sadat. In May 1972, President Ceausescu informed the Israeli government that Sadat is willing to meet with an Israeli leader. Golda Meir immediately travelled to Bucharest, and gave the Rumanian President a positive answer. But Sadat changed his mind.

In a new research concerning the YKW that will be published in the autumn of this year, we find an ascending opposite conclusion, that the YKW was not preventable, since Sadat needed it desperately, in order to strengthen his presidential position through the recovery of Egypt's lost pride. In his speech in the Egyptian Parliament on Tuesday, October 16, 1973, President Sadat said, inter alia: "As far as I'm concerned, I've tried to follow God's guidance, and I had pledged myself to you three years ago exactly from today.  I have made a vow to God and I have pledged myself to you, that we will prove to the world at large, that the 1967 defeat was an exception in our history and not a regular norm".
From the first instance that Sadat came to power, he had repeated Nasser's commitment slightly different: "what was taken by force will not be returned by any other way". Sadat's suggestion and/or initiations were dictations based on the "Three Nos of  Khartum"; and Sadat knew that Israel will deny them. The eminent example happened in February 1973, when Sadat's security adviser, Hafez Isma'il, handed Henry Kissinger a new "peace" initiative. Within a short glance Kissinger reacted: I suggest that President Sadat should be realistic. We are living in a world of facts and not fantasies, and since Egypt was defeated in war, it cannot ask for the spoils of the Winner. President Sadat was aware of that.
Sadat's biographer, journalist and author, Musa Sabri wrote of this aspect, that Sadat had deceived them all, and played on the nerves of the world at large. Even Kissinger, who was not familiar with this kind of Sadat's shrewdness, was trapped by him. On Friday, October 5th, 1973, Kissinger had a conversation with the Egyptian foreign minister, Mahmud Riad, on that matter, and they had concluded the conversation that the political contacts for the settlement with Israel will be resumed in January 1974, after the Israeli Elections. And the next day Sadat had started the war.

Ever since he became president Sadat was active on two levels militarily and politically. On the one hand he had polished his swords for war, and on the other hand he kept contact with influential leaders around the globe and declared publically his "peace" initiations – in order to prove that he had tried the political means before he was "forced" to the means of hostilities. 

At a farewell party in Cairo, to honor PM Kamal Hassan Ali for ending his public service, the Israeli Ambassador to Egypt, Moshe Sasson, asked few retired army Generals: how President Sadat would have reacted, had Golda Meir accepted his offer in his speech of February 1971? The Generals answered "without crossing the canal, even if Sadat wanted to negotiate a separate peace treaty with Israel, he could not have done it". The question of the Israeli Ambassador was answered clearly by Sadat's biographer: "Sadat had considered the YKW as the watershed in the wars between Israel and Egypt. He was determined to break the chain of the Israeli triumphant military victories" (1948; 1956; 1967).

The journalist and author, Abraham Rabinovitch, made a research about the YKW. In his book he asks "whether patient diplomacy could have won a peace agreement must remain a matter of conjecture, although the possibility seems in retrospect unlikely". The Arabs generally and Egypt particularly, had refused to accept the 1967 defeat. Sadat's wife, Jihan, told an Israeli journalist in 1987' that "Sadat needed one more war in order to win and enter negotiations from a position of equality".
The irony is that in her eagerness to prevent the war, PM Golda Meir had agreed to Kissinger's brokering and she had joined his efforts on that matter. That is why she had not authorize the mobilization of the reserve units, and she didn't authorize a preventive strike on Yom Kippur. More than that, she had sent a letter of commitment to the Secretary of  State, in which she pledged herself not to start any hostilities with Israel's neighbors.

Until the YKW, Sadat never meant really to recognize Israel or reach an agreement with it. "Peace" was a word inserted into Egyptian policy as a balance the "war".  To his great sorrow, the war results that he had initiated were not sufficient enough to reach his desired goal. In order to regain the Sinai back, he had to take one step further: to conclude a peace agreement with Israel.

The historical irony is that this was also the goal of Prime Minister Golda Meir right from the beginning. The historian Barbara  W. Tuchman, she would have probably ended her book, The March of Folly with the Yom Kippur War in it.

Lt.-Col. Mendes' paper on the Yom Kippur War's stategic Egyptian deception is about to be published.

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