TANK reinforcements crossing to the bridgehead on the west bank of the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War, 1973. .
(photo credit: NATIONAL PHOTO COLLECTION)
It is the Yom Kippur War for Israelis. It is the October (Tishrin), Ramadan or Freedom War for the Egyptians. Fought 45 years ago, it retains an importance in both societies far beyond many other wars. In Israel, the 1973 War is a source of both contention and pride; in Egypt it is a source of pride, and even more importantly, a source of justification for Egypt’s decision to opt out of war-making against Israel ever since.
Nearly a half-century later, it is important to note how the war is remembered and understood by the chief protagonists. A comparison between the well-written and well-documented Wikipedia entries on the war, one in Hebrew and one in Arabic, is a good way to gauge the basic assessments of the war in Jewish and Arab societies.
The comparison is only valid if of course the two entries are not mere translations, which they clearly are not. This can be easily ascertained by the many sources they cite. The Hebrew entry cites works in Hebrew and English including sources such as the memoirs of Sa’ad al-Din Shazli, the Egyptian chief-of-staff, written in Arabic and subsequently translated into English. The entry in Arabic cites sources in English and Arabic including sources written in Hebrew and subsequently translated into English. The Arabic entry includes one source in Russian.
Both entries then suffer the same deficiency that they were written by experts who did not know the language of the protagonist, which is clearly characteristic of many of the scholarly works on the war and an obstacle to achieving objectivity.
That the entries were written by experts is beyond doubt: Both entries are well-written, organized into appropriate sub-sections, provide ample political background, analyze political differences between the political decision-making elite (the Arab, mostly on the Arab side; the Hebrew entry on the Israeli side), their effects on strategy and battle outcomes, and discuss judiciously the ramifications of the war on subsequent political outcomes. The entry in Arabic provides US army maps in English archived in the West Point military academy.
So academically impressive are the entries that were one to translate the Arabic entry into Hebrew for the first week of the war – borrowing the differing titles of the entries, the Yom Kippur War for the Hebrew entry, the October War for the Arabic entry – the average Israeli reader could hardly tell that the source was written in Arabic.
This is hardly the case from the end of the second week of the war entry on the Egyptian front, when the Egyptians begin facing setbacks. The claim that a United States Air Force R-71 spy plane flew over the entire Egyptian-Israeli front on August 13 and subsequently provided the information to the Israeli side in its preparation for its own counter-offensive, is not mentioned in the Hebrew entry.
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While the Hebrew entry amply documents both the massive Soviet airlift to its Egyptian and Syrian allies and the United States airlift that began on October 14, the Arabic entry devotes only one paragraph to the Soviet airlift compared to four times that on the American airlift to Israel. The aid from the United States is described “as the entry of the United States into the war with the newest weapons in saving Israel,” while the Soviets before the war made sure to provide its Arab allies with relatively old equipment. This sentence is completely detached from the otherwise objective description of events of the Israeli counter-attack that began on October 15 and ended in the crossing of Israeli forces into the western side of the Suez Canal and the encirclement of Egypt’s Third Army trapped on its east side.
The short lapse into political fiction by the author(s) of the Arabic entry can be adduced to political conformity to the basic official line that the setbacks were due to the intervention of the United States, not to the shortcomings of Egyptian strategy and performance, which the entry itself spells out in the debate between the Egyptian generals at the front (Shazli, the chief-of-staff, and the commanders of the Second and Third armies) and the minister of war, Ahmad Isma’il. Elsewhere, the entry states that Sadat wanted, for political reasons, an Egyptian presence on the eastern side of the Nile, even if this meant sacrificing the Third Army.
As for the ramifications of the war, according to the Arabic entry they extend all the way to the “freeing of Taba,” the small piece of territory south of Eilat Israel relinquished in 1989, the Oslo Accords and the Jordanian peace treaty. In the Hebrew entry, one of the major ramifications was internal; the pain of massive losses, the Agranat Commission and the 1977 Ma’hapach elections, in which for the first time in the history of the Jewish state, Mapai and its allies were replaced by a Likud government. Taba, the Oslo Accords, the Jordanian peace treaty are not mentioned in the Hebrew entry.
The entry in Arabic, written with an Egyptian bent, was obviously interested in pointing out that Egypt did not make peace with Israel alone and that the war facilitated peace making by other Arab actors. A brief section that identifies the Palestinian issue as the key issue, which has yet to be resolved, has no parallel in the Hebrew entry.
Both entries, interestingly, end with sections on the memorialization of the war, the Hebrew entry on Israeli and Egyptian culture, with the Arabic entry, in more amplified form, on Syrian culture as well.
Overall, a comparison of both entries demonstrates that judiciousness and reason on both sides prevail in understanding this important event and gives ground for hope that the (cold) peace between Israel and Egypt will prevail.
The writer is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a professor in Bar-Ilan University’s departments of Political Studies and Middle Eastern Studies.
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