Israel, a powerful and developed country with a dangerous military and expansionist project, was enjoying a feeling of superiority after winning the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. However, the October War reversed that, given the changes on both sides of the Suez Canal.
Ever since, Israel has aimed to protect what is left of its gains in the 1967 war. Israel learned the lesson, and so did Egypt. Yet some Arabs — like those you see in Qatar, Iran and the remnants of the regimes in Syria and Iraq — did not.
Israel’s appetite for expansionist adventures could not have been stopped without the setbacks of the October War, a milestone in the balance of power that pushed both sides to realize that there are no guaranteed victories. Many concepts that had been taken for granted in Israel crumbled. Yet the war failed to awaken some Arab regimes known for their hostility against Egypt, because they misunderstood the war and its results.
Anwar Sadat, Egypt’s president at the time, remains a great historical personality, politically and militarily, and this war is just one chapter in his legacy. Egypt entered the war under difficult political and military conditions, only six years after the defeat of June 1967, which destroyed most of Egypt’s arsenal and zeal.
Egypt prevailed over Israel in the 1973 conflict, but some Arabs continue to distort the history of the war and subsequent events in order to cover their failed political positions.
Sadat’s advisers must have tried to talk him out of a dangerous adventure against Israel, given the latter’s huge arsenal of advanced weaponry. It is wrong to compare the two countries in terms of their size and population, as many commentators usually do. Despite the fact that the population of Israel is less than the population of Cairo alone, the Israeli army is far larger. Most Israelis are trained as soldiers; including reserves, the Israeli army today has more 1.5 million soldiers. Nevertheless, Israel lost the October War, and for the first time the Israelis started to feel more humble, and to retreat from their desire for expansion.
Since the 1973 conflict, Israel has never fought an expansionist war. It was the end of the “Greater Israel” dream. All Israel’s wars since then have been defensive against the Palestine Liberation Organization, and then against the Iran-backed Hezbollah.
Egypt claimed victory against Israel in the October War, but Israel prevailed on the Syrian front, where it seized more land, which was later returned as a result of negotiations with the late Syrian President Hafez Assad. Many described the agreement between Syria and Israel as one involving a separation of forces and rearrangement of borders. It was rather an agreement to end the war between Damascus and Tel Aviv. And yet the Baathists launched a false propaganda war against Egypt, because Sadat signed the Camp David Accords.
Sadat was a realistic politician who managed to develop the war victory into something more significant. And had it not been for the threats made by the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafez Assad in Syria, the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would also have joined the Camp David negotiations. The October War would have yielded a lasting peace agreement had it not been for the conspiracies against Egypt launched by the regimes of Syria, Iraq and Libya, and the treachery of the fundamentalists who assassinated Sadat, the man who freed them from the prison that late President Gamal Abdel Nasser had put them in.
Egypt prevailed in the October War, but unfortunately the Arabs lost the chance to benefit from their triumph against Israel. Some of them continue their efforts, even today, to distort the history of the war and subsequent events in order to cover their defeats and failed political positions.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor in chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published.