The 'victory' that changed the Middle East

The psychological impact of the early losses in the Yom Kippur War remain in the Israeli psyche until this day.

The Dome of the Rock is seen in the background as a man waves a Palestinian flag upon entering the Temple Mount, after Israel removed all security measures it had installed at the compound, in Jerusalem's Old City July 27, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)
The Dome of the Rock is seen in the background as a man waves a Palestinian flag upon entering the Temple Mount, after Israel removed all security measures it had installed at the compound, in Jerusalem's Old City July 27, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the Middle East, perception is everything, even if it stands against facts and reality.
The Yom Kippur War of 1973 certainly changed many perceptions in the Middle East. Up until that war, Israel had emerged clearly victorious on a number of occasions, repeatedly beating back its far more numerous enemies, almost within spitting distance of their capital cities, and expanded its control over vast swaths of territory.
However, even though Israel’s deterrence remained largely intact at the end of the Yom Kippur War, the psychological impact of the early losses remain in the Israeli psyche until this day.
In fact, it could be argued that since that war, few Israeli military leaders have fought wars, or even a lower-level conflict, to the point of victory, and they have generally undertaken military operations in order to contain or return to a previous status quo.
The lack of clarity and obfuscation before, during and after the war has meant that victory could not be claimed by Israel alone.
In Egypt, every October 6 is a national holiday where celebrations are held on what is considered to be the Egyptian Army’s victory over Israel in what is referred to as the “Ramadan War.”
While it was clear that none of Israel’s adversaries made any military headway, and they were begging for a cease-fire and disengagement by the end of the war, Arab nationalists and subsequently Islamists continue to mimic the propaganda of a 1973 victory and have now applied the same mantra to the Israeli “retreat” from Lebanon in 2000 and what Hezbollah calls the “Divine Defeat” of Israel in 2006.
Thus, Israelis see a complicated war shattering many long-standing perceptions, Arab nationalists and Islamists see a victory in shattering the myth that Israel was invincible and point to the fact that the Sinai Peninsula was returned in full only a few years later, even if the cost was making peace with the enemy.
The tough, invulnerable Jewish state was now a nation that actively sought compromise, relinquishing territory in exchange for a cold peace and low level diplomatic relations. Meaning Israel could be beaten if a tactical approach was undertaken that included military, but also diplomatic and political, attacks.
A year later, the PLO introduced what became known as “The Phased Plan.” The plan, while retaining the obligation to continue the “armed struggle,” would also seek to create an “independent combatant national authority” over any territory that is “liberated” from Israeli rule.
In other words, while the goal remained the same, the tactics had changed in light of the 1973 war.
While Israelis concentrated on combating its enemies militarily, the Palestinians adhered to their plan.
From the very outset of the Oslo process, Arafat and other senior Palestinian leaders viewed the agreements as an implementation of this strategy, not as its abandonment.
Arafat said just that as early as September 13, 1993, when he addressed the Palestinians in a pre-recorded Arabic-language message broadcast by Jordanian television, even as he shook Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn. He informed the Palestinians that the Oslo Accords was merely the implementation of the PLO’s “phased plan.”
“Do not forget that our Palestine National Council accepted the decision in 1974,” Arafat said. “It called for the establishment of a national authority on any part of Palestinian land that is liberated or from which the Israelis withdrew.
This is the fruit of your struggle, your sacrifices, and your jihad.”
While the Israelis celebrated a long-hoped-for peace, many among the Palestinian leadership understood that the path that they chartered almost 20 years previously was coming to fruition.
Plenty of Palestinian leaders, including current President Mahmoud Abbas, have stated that any peace accord or agreement can only become a stepping zone, another phase to Israel’s ultimate defeat.
This is why Abbas could walk away from Ehud Olmert’s overly generous offer in 2008 when he ostensibly gave the Palestinians everything that they publicly demanded.
Abbas could not and would not sign the requisite end of claims and end of conflict clauses that were demanded by Israel and the international community.
By constantly offering more and more concessions to the Palestinians upfront, without their acknowledging the end of their maximalist and rejectionist ambitions, and recognizing Israel’s legitimacy as the national homeland of the Jewish people, and agreeing to a conclusion of claims and conflict, Israeli leaders have allowed Palestinian hopes to remain.
For the conflict to finally end, only one side can claim victory. An Israeli victory means the abandonment of the Palestinian dream of destroying or dismantling the Jewish state. It must be unequivocal, clear and decisive. That is the lesson of the Yom Kippur War.
The writer is a member of Knesset for Yisrael Beytenu and chairman of the Knesset Israel Victory Caucus.