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Forty Years Later: Soviet/Arab Secrets of Yom Kippur War Revealed

Egypt and the USSR pretended to be having a row while covertly preparing to crush Israel.

by
Spyridon Mitsotakis

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October 6, 2013 - 12:00 am
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Forty years ago today, a Egyptian/Syrian invasion surprised and almost destroyed Israel. The attack was the culmination of a complex Soviet/Arab disinformation plot and secret military build-up. We know this because of Russian dissident-historian Pavel Stroilov, and from professional Arabists who over the years have paid attention to the Arab press and the antics of Middle Eastern regimes.

In the Russian archives, Stroilov uncovered the secret diaries of Anatoly Chernyaev, deputy chief of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union International Department (a successor to the Comintern). On July 15, 1972, Chernyaev’s diary reports:

Last Sunday, Anwar Sadat publicly demanded an immediate withdrawal of all Soviet specialists and all Soviet militaries from Egypt, in protest, because he did not receive what Brezhnev promised to him at the latest negotiations in Moscow, namely the offensive weapons: SU-17 fighter bombers. This began a turmoil. Egypt’s Premier Sidki was persuaded to come to Moscow, and, I think, they have settled it. I mean, they must have given much to him, if not all he wanted.

President of Syria Assad, too, was here a week ago. Although he is a moderate, he has forced us to practically approve the “military solution”, and received a lot from us.

The rest of the world was not aware that Egypt and the Soviet Union had settled their differences, and thus the two countries used this to their advantage. Using disinformation and influence agents like Victor Louis and Armand Hammer, the Soviets were able to dupe Israel and its allies into believing that Israel was in no danger. Meanwhile, they were preparing for the “military solution” that Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad had pushed for.

On the first anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, Rose-al-Yusuf — the official organ of the only political party then allowed to exist in Egypt — published excerpts from a book by the magazine’s military correspondent, Abd al-Satar al-Tawila. This was prepared on behalf of and revised by Anwar Sadat himself, and with access to secret documentation:

The various government agencies spread rumours and stories that were exaggerated, to say the least, about deficiencies, both quantitative and qualitative, regarding the weapons required to begin the battle against Israel, at the very time that the two parties — Egypt and the USSR — had reached agreement concerning the supply of quantities of arms during the second half of 1973 — weapons which, in fact, were beginning to arrive.

And there came a time when we saw how the majority of habitués of Egyptian and Arab coffee houses, particularly in Beirut, turned into arms experts and babbled about shortages in this or that type of hardware. And speaking in the jargon of the scientist and the expert, they would say that the Soviets were refusing to supply Egypt with missiles of a certain type and were even cutting off the supply of spare parts in such a manner that our planes, for example, had turned into useless scrap and were unable to fly, not to speak of combating the Phantom and the Mirage. These self-styled arms experts went deeply into the question of offensive and defensive weapons, inventing arbitrary differences between them while — as we shall see in the chapters dealing with the battle — defensive anti-aircraft missiles actually played an offensive role during the War of October 6.

Moreover, the Egyptian press frequently gave prominence to an inclination [in Cairo] to seek arms in the West. And while it is correct that it is possible to buy some categories of hardware in the West, to equip a whole army with weapons from the West would mean, simply, that the date of the expected battle remains far off, i.e., until such time as the Egyptian army could be trained in the use of such new hardware. … All this talk about armaments and their shortage was intended to create the impression in the ranks of the enemy that one of the reasons why Egypt was incapable of starting war was the absence of high-quality weapons — and the whole world was taken by surprise when zero hour arrived.

A Pentagon spokesman expressed this surprise when he said: They — i.e., the Israelis — did not suspect the presence of such quantities and such categories of Soviet weapons in Egyptian and Syrian hands, in view of the incessantly repeated Arab complaint that the Soviets were refusing to supply these two countries with advanced offensive weapons in sufficient quantities.

The Egyptian camouflage to deceive the enemy was expanded to include Egyptian-Soviet relations. This was done to such an extent that many among the Arabs themselves cast doubt upon Egyptian-Soviet friendship and its sincerity and allegations were spread concerning Soviet non-support for the Arabs in their struggle. The episode of July 1972, when Egypt decided to make do without Soviet experts, was exploited and many intentionally or unintentionally failed to hear the words of President Sadat and his repeated emphasis that this episode was no more than “an interlude with our friend,” as always happens among friends.

Now we already know that one of the reasons for the willingness to make do without the Soviet experts was so that preparations could be made for the beginning of a battle that would bear the character of a 100% Egyptian decision, using 100% Egyptian forces. However, these experts had fulfilled an important task in connection with the network of missiles and other delicate weapons. The Egyptian deception campaign, moreover, was able to reap considerable benefit from this episode — the willingness to make do without the Soviet experts — because it raised questions about the genuineness of the regime’s threats to resort to war; since, after all, how would the Egyptian army be able to fight without the presence of thousands of Russian experts, distributed among all the most important weapons sectors of the army so as to train [the army] in their use and-even to operate some of this hardware themselves?

In addition, the [deception] campaign benefited also from the allegations and suspicions that were spread in the Arab world, as if this [willingness to do without Soviet experts] had been the result of a secret agreement with the U.S. and its friends in the region, whereby a peace arrangement would be prepared in return for the removal of the Soviet military presence. If that was the case, why, then, no war was to be expected, nor anything like a war — yet all the time preparations were continuing feverishly to open the battle; and when the war started in fact, there was the additional surprise that unlimited Soviet support was extended both in the international arena and in the area of military equipment.

The same Pentagon spokesman, on the morrow of the battle, expressed his opinion about this surprise: “We never imagined that the Soviet Union would do what it has done, after the tough verbal campaigns waged against it in the Arab world, and after the cooling of relations with Cairo following the exodus of the Soviets.” During a visit to the battlefront on the 7th of October, I heard an ordinary Egyptian soldier give expression to Arab-Soviet friendship in the following simple words: “Some of you may have believed all this talk — yet our friendship is flourishing — after all, I was being trained to use Soviet-produced anti-tank R.P.G.”

Sadat himself confirmed this, telling Radio Cairo (October 24, 1975) that his 1972-1973 row with the Soviets was “a strategic cover — a splendid strategic distraction for our going to war.”

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Top Rated Comments   
According to something I read in a USAF Professional Military Education book, after the Yom Kipper War, when asked what were his problems with the Soviets, was it their equipment, their technicians, or the training they provided, Sadat replied:

“No, the equipment was fine, the technicians capable, and the training acceptable. The problem was their advisors.

“Everything went well at first, the new missiles working well, our forces penetrated deeply behind the Israeli lines. Then the Israelis made it across the canal, cut off our forces in the Sinai and threatened to roll right into Cairo. We asked the Soviets what to do next.”

“The Soviets conferred among themselves and then came back and said, “Do what we do. Pull back as far as you can and wait for winter.’”

That sounds improbable – but based on this article I can well imagine an exasperated Brezhnev telling that to Sadat at Oh Dark Thirty one October morning in 1973.

The losses in that war were enormous by modern standards. A postwar evaluation concluded that just the Arabs lost upwards of 600 jets.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I sincerely hope the lesson was learned - do not put yourselves in the position of having to rely on fickle U.S. Presidents!

Especially not the current one!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What we also know was that Nixon/Kissinger intentionally restrained Israel, "to teach them a lesson". They thought Israel's military superiority was so great that they wanted to put us down a notch.

In truth, Israel lost a tremendous amount of blood and the Syrians were almost in Tiberias. In one place thy were stopped by bunch of Yeshiva students (co-operative Yeshiva-Army program, great fighters) in a few tanks with basically no shells. Even then, Nixon almost didn't resupply Israel.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (11)
All Comments   (11)
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Arabs are historically not good at organizing things. The hierarchical structure, or super-hierarchical structure, strangles the possibility of individual initiative, as for example that which might be taken by a soldier during war. Their specialty is slaughtering civilians on the wrong side.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"defensive anti-aircraft missiles actually played an offensive role during the War of October 6."

Th Egyptian SAM system indeed proved very significant in the first part of the war, largely negating Israeli air superiority. Which leads to the question: why were the Israelis stupid enough to allow the Egyptians to set it up? Answer: Israel did at first prevent the establishment of this system, during its War of Attrition with Egypt. The US then strong-armed Israel into signing a cease-fire agreement.


August 7, 1970: A cease-fire agreement is reached, forbidding either side from changing "the military status quo within zones extending 50 kilometers to the east and west of the cease-fire line." Minutes after the cease-fire, Egypt begins moving SAM batteries into the zone even though the agreement explicitly forbids new military installations. By October there are approximately one-hundred SAM sites in the zone.


Israel obviously approached the US immediately, but the US vetoed any Israeli action. The Soviet-backed Egyptians were treating the agreement as a joke, but Israel had to maintain appearances for Washington's sake. It can be argued that this decision alone caused a majority of Israel's casualties in the Yom Kippur War.

I wonder if this little anecdote can somehow be tied in to Israel's situation vis-a-vis Iran...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There is a story that when Ariel Sharon crossed over the Suez into Egypt, an Egyptian farmer was brought before him. He asked the farmer about his livelihood. The farmer said that he grew peanuts. Sharon asked him about his crop yield and the farmer told him how much. "Heh" said Sharon "my father grew peanuts and we get three times yield per dunam".

Such is the fate of Egypt today. Sad to see it. I do not fear Egypt as a proud Israel supporting American Jew. Just watching those enemies, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, ... Lebanon wallow in their self inflicted misery. It is hard to watch.

Today somebody in Iraq blew themselves and dozens of kindergarten children up on purpose. I cannot imagine what evil that is.

Peanuts are good food.



1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"disinformation and influence agents like Victor Louis"

Victor Louis worked for Daniel Schorr at CBS. Daniel is an old far Leftist, probably a communist. He's a regular on NPR. Hardly a coincidence.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Obama and Putin pretended to be having a row while covertly planning to... .
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I like the tale of the cafes full of arms experts in Beirut. It isn't clear if they were plants or spontaneous, but I recognize the phenomena of a bunch of intellectuals getting off on a tangent that nowhere intersects reality. Great bit of history, thanks.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
According to something I read in a USAF Professional Military Education book, after the Yom Kipper War, when asked what were his problems with the Soviets, was it their equipment, their technicians, or the training they provided, Sadat replied:

“No, the equipment was fine, the technicians capable, and the training acceptable. The problem was their advisors.

“Everything went well at first, the new missiles working well, our forces penetrated deeply behind the Israeli lines. Then the Israelis made it across the canal, cut off our forces in the Sinai and threatened to roll right into Cairo. We asked the Soviets what to do next.”

“The Soviets conferred among themselves and then came back and said, “Do what we do. Pull back as far as you can and wait for winter.’”

That sounds improbable – but based on this article I can well imagine an exasperated Brezhnev telling that to Sadat at Oh Dark Thirty one October morning in 1973.

The losses in that war were enormous by modern standards. A postwar evaluation concluded that just the Arabs lost upwards of 600 jets.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Good thing the Egyptians did not have American advisors.
Americans would have told Sadat "FIDO!" ("Eff It - Drive On!"), and the Egyptian would have won...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What we also know was that Nixon/Kissinger intentionally restrained Israel, "to teach them a lesson". They thought Israel's military superiority was so great that they wanted to put us down a notch.

In truth, Israel lost a tremendous amount of blood and the Syrians were almost in Tiberias. In one place thy were stopped by bunch of Yeshiva students (co-operative Yeshiva-Army program, great fighters) in a few tanks with basically no shells. Even then, Nixon almost didn't resupply Israel.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I sincerely hope the lesson was learned - do not put yourselves in the position of having to rely on fickle U.S. Presidents!

Especially not the current one!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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