THE MIDEAST FORUM - Diplomacy, Politics, Culture, Intellectuals and Oppositions Groups in the Middle East
The Yom Kippur War - Historical Justice for Golda Meir
By Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Shimon Mendes
Again and again the late Mrs. Golda Meir, formerly Prime Minister of Israel, repeatedly attacked for her persistent stance not to comply with the fake dictates of peace, of the Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat. Many of us have the feeling that the Yom Kippur War was needless. In their view, "intelligent" behavior of Mrs. Golda Meir, i.e. total submission to Sadat's dictation, without any binding agreement, it was possible to avoid the war. Wrong. The Egyptian political diplomacy before the Yom Kippur War employed by Sadat, it was conducted under "Chamberlain's Umbrella" of "Three Nos" of the Khartoum Conference in 1967. In an interview to the New York Times, Sadat told James Reston: "Don't ask me to establish diplomatic relations with them (Israel); that will never happen".
It is essential to stress right at the beginning, that the Yom Kippur War in 1973 was inevitable. Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat was determined to wage that war. He could not, and therefore was not ready to abandon the thought of war, for two reasons. First, to erase the humiliation of the unhealed wound left on the Egyptian pride, resulted by the "Six Days War" defeat. Second, Sadat's personal status as a leader in Egypt. In a research book "Sadat's Jihad" recently published, I offer a wide array of motives and facts that the war was inevitable.
Professor Majid Khadduri, while discussing the role of leaders in Islamic society, says in his book "War and Peace in the Law of Islam", that "military force was regarded as a basic qualification for authority" (page 87). Muhammad Anwar el-Sadat succeeded by his close friend, Gamal Abdul Nasser, inherited a country with a defeated army, while his personal position in Egypt was a despised "yes man". It is important to note that Sadat himself helped to empower his personal nullity in the framework of his deception scheme that he had sold to Israel. To engage political negotiations with a defeated army plus weak leadership, is like starting a chess game without the pawns in front line, and without the Queen in its leadership position. Henry Kissinger illustrated this with Hafez Ismail. In a conversation that took place between the two in Washington on February 1973, Ismail raised before the Secretary of State preconditions of Sadat for negotiations with Israel. Kissinger replied roughly as follows: a defeated country cannot raise demands of a winner. Sadat was aware of this. Sadat was devoutly religious and imbued with the consciousness of historic mission, he needed a war to build his political leadership, which crushed during the Nasser's reign, and restore to Egypt its lost pride. He also had to build a strong army.
Moreover, the Israeli leadership, political and military, failed to grasp the impact of the humiliating defeat of Egypt in 1967. For its painful significance was the solemn commitment of "Three Nos" of the Khartoum Conference. Those who have forgotten, the beginning of the resolution states "no negotiations, no recognition and no peace," and at it ends with the binding sentence of "what was taken by force will be returned by force." Sadat in his first speech as president to the Egyptian Socialist Union said: "What was taken by force will not be returned in a different manner".
In August 1971 after Sadat exercised the "small revolution", in which he got rid of all his opponents and stabilized his reign, Sadat convened the General Staff of the Egyptian army, in the resort town of el-Kanater el-Khairiya. In this meeting, Sadat ordered his officers to prepare the army for war, in order to save their honor and dignity as army officers. On this occasion he also gave them a directive "I warn you against the use of the known method of routine thinking. We must surprise the enemy that awaits us to act as usual. This instruction was the best kept secret of the Egyptian army, that Israeli intelligence failed to locate.
Mrs. Jehan Sadat, the wife of the Egyptian president, said in an interview: Sadat needed a war to be able to negotiate as equal with equals. The conversation took place after the signing of the peace agreement, and quoted in English by Abraham Rabinovich in his book "The Yom Kippur War" (page 13). Therefore, the obvious conclusion is that the war was inevitable. The trouble is that the Israeli defense leadership did not take the Egyptian leadership seriously. On the other hand, it was possible to conduct the war differently, and reduce the number of martyrs and wounded, had the Israeli defense top echelon was less arrogant and more professional and alert.
On Independence Day in 1971, "IDF Radio" broadcast an interview with Prime Minister Mrs. Golda Meir. The interviewers were, Yitzhak Livni, Joseph Eshkol and Gideon Samet. With respect to Sadat's offers of "peace" prior to the War, she said: "we are not obliged to make concessions to our disadvantage that endangers us, when our situation is better now... the Nos of Khartoum do not bind me. Nothing binds me except that I should be ready at all times when the fire resumes, to answer well (the emphasis is mine - S.M.), at the same time to demand negotiations for peace. We want something very logical, very thorough, direct negotiations. They said no. Yet despite everything, we are ready to continue negotiating."
Mrs. Meir was sure that the best experienced war generals under her discipline, are closely monitoring the events, and they will do what is required to do - had the war started. After all, before the Yom Kippur War, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) generals headed by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had threatened the political and military leadership of Egypt: if Egypt would initiate a war, the Egyptian army will be consumed by fire, and the Sinai Peninsula will turn to be their cemetery. Yet on D-day She discovered that her superior military clique is made of scarecrows, that the "birds" (Bedouins) operated in Sinai by Egyptian Military Intelligence Chief, General Fuad Nassar, exposed their security nakedness.
Contrary to Golda Meir's position, her visionless Defense Minister Moshe Dayan sought interim solutions such as "Oslo agreement" to reassure the Egyptians - and forgot to administer the army. In the summer of 1973 Dayan announced that by the end of that year a war will break out, but did not bother to check the IDF's preparations and readiness. A Chief of staff who did not prepare the IDF for war, and hastened to get rid of experienced commanders, approved by the Defense Minister - before a war that he knew it would come; he did not commit the required exchange of officers in the Southern Command, after the war began. Worst of all, a chief of staff who did not know to wage war, and his predecessor Lt. Gen. Haim Bar-Lev appointed as his assistant, to take over. Those who do not remember, Bar-Lev and David Elazar were close friends, and Dado appointed Chief of Staff at the recommendation of the Bar-Lev. In this context, Lt. Col. Dr. Shimon Golan, who served as head of the Department of History of the field army, brings his amazing quote regarding the function of the Chief of Staff during the war. Lieutenant-General Haim Bar-Lev told the Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan: "As long as the situation was at its lowest, he [Dado] did not intervene in the management of the war in the south. Now that the situation improved, he is endlessly confusing the brain and interferes with work" ("Yom Kippur War" p. 1108).
In 1972, the President of Romania delivered to Mrs. Meir a message from the Egyptian president, that he was ready to meet her. Golda Meir immediately responded affirmatively. Unfortunately, Sadat changed his mind. The explanation described by Moussa Sabry, President Sadat biographer and friend, that Sadat fooled the world at large, to lay the groundwork for war (Sadat, Truth and Legend, p. 414). All of Sadat's peace proposals designed to fool the world, to justify the war he intended to launch. The fact is when Sadat found out that his plan to return of the Sinai by means of war had failed, he shifted the struggle to the political arena. He came to Jerusalem without any preconditions, as he did before. His appearance in the Knesset of Israel, Sadat surrendered to the triple demand of Golda Meir: Recognition, Direct negotiations and peace. All of which Sadat has already given right at the beginning of the peace process.
Prof. Hans Morgenthau, author of "Politics among Nations", which is used as a Statecraft Bible, says in his book "diplomacy that ends in war has failed in its primary objective: the promotion of national interest by peaceful means" (page 539). Ostensibly, the diplomacy that Sadat employed two years prior the war to restore the Sinai peninsula - has failed. Wrong. Sadat acted contrary to the diplomatic principle. He used "failed" diplomacy cunningly, to help him prepare his people and his army to achieve its National goals precisely by war. In order to raise the morale of the army, for two years until the war, Sadat spent intensive weekly visits to military units trained for it.
Even the proposed famous "peace" suggested by Sadat in February 1971 many Israelis think that it was over looked. Sadat suggested that a proposal that Israel withdraw five miles from the canal, to allow Egypt to open the Suez Canal. This proposal based on the concept of Moshe Dayan, published six months earlier. Sadat was astonished when Golda Meir replied that she was willing to negotiate the proposal. Egypt did not respond. Israel agreed to withdraw to the Strait of Mitla and Gidi passes. In order to compel Mrs. Meir answer negatively, Sadat raised the demand that Israel withdraw to the line of el-Arish Ras Mohammed. That Golda Meir had already refused.
Moreover, Golda Meir also initiated her own peace proposals. At the memorial site of Mrs. Meir, Mordechai Gazit, former chief executive of Mrs. Meir office, published seventeen proposals, in the form of verbal messages and proposals in writing. Sadat refused to comment on any of them. The problem is that Golda Meir's initiatives were real and clandestine. She believed that in order to achieve goals peacefully, quiet diplomacy is preferable. While Sadat's proposals have been made public as part of his diplomatic delusions around the world. They were merely propaganda to justify the war in due course of time. In fact, Sadat had acted in the same manner like Mrs. Meir about the real efficient peace process. The first time Sadat had refer to peace seriously, it was at the 101 km talks. At the end of the first day of the talks, General Gamasi asked General Aharon Yariv to have a secret Four Eyes chat. Then Gamasi said: President Sadat asked me to deliver a message personally to you, to ask you to convey it personally to Mrs. Meir, that this time his intentions for peace are serious.
I believe that President Muhammad Anwar el-Sadat greatly appreciated Prime Minister Golda Meir, because he could not subdue nor entrap her. She did not fall in his trap on October 5, on the eve of Yom Kippur: to surrender without a fight, or to initiate a preventive strike, while the Israeli military GHQ favored it. President Sadat Asked the head of the advance team, sent to Jerusalem before coming to address the Knesset, to organize a meeting with Mrs. Meir. Despite the fact that she had retired the political activity. The general opinion is that his request was motivated because they were both belong to the same league of leaders.
Golda Meir was a towering leader, her leadership was particularly evident during the war. While her defense minister and chief of staff were befuddled and lost, she was an unmovable rock in her conduct of the war; and that she stiffed the back of "bone-breakers" with their flamethrower in their mouth squirted barren horror. Leaders like Churchill cannot behave like Chamberlain. I remember as if it was yesterday. The next day, when Levi Eshkol died suddenly in February 1969, immediately yield the name of Golda Meir, succeeding the premiership. "Now it's Golda", echoed the call in the streets, and no one in the party leadership contest it. Including all challengers in her own party leaders, who were merely political grasshoppers next to her, and they are whipping her relentlessly ever since.
In retrospect, I think, Golda Meir is actually the real Protagonist of Peace agreement with Egypt. She was ready to give Sadat, before the war, what Begin gave him after the war - in exchange for what Sadat did not want to give her, but forced by Golda Meir to give it to Menachem Begin. Sadat was certain that his deception plan would bring Golda Meir on her knees. Yet her decisive stance as a Leader forced the Egyptian president to violate the "Three Nos" oath of Khartoum Conference. In fact, the real opponent of Sadat in the crisis of Sinai was Prime Minister Mrs. Golda Meir, and the peace signed by Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, reached on the principles Golda Meir demanded: direct negotiations, recognition of Israel and a peace treaty with it. Therefore, Golda Meir can claim The Allegory Plough of the Biblical Samson.
By Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Shimon Mendes.