Forty years ago, four Arab states launched the last conventional conflict against Israel. Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq joined forces to lead their ultimate attempt to destroy the Jewish State. Four decades later, the Yom Kippur war is remembered in very different fashions by Arabs and Israelis. The aggressors still consider it as the best shot the Arab nations had in defeating Israel; Egyptians view it as a glorious victory while societies throughout the region consider it an essential feat of arms that almost brought Israel to its knees. In Israel, questions remain over the intelligence failures and the risk of complacency generated by protracted military successes. Out of the four main belligerents who led the attack, Egypt and Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel while Syria and Iraq’s governments are currently unable and potentially unwilling to wage a conventional war against the Jewish State. If the reasons and the lessons of the 1973 Yom Kippur war may still be debated, this conflict provides an exceptional insight into the Arab geopolitical and social psychology in regard to the State of Israel.
The spirit of 1973 pushed Arab leaders to embark on a military campaign with a more than uncertain outcome, and it still present in the minds of non-state and non-Arab actors representing the core adversaries to Israel’s right to exist in the region. Modern warfare may no longer be waged against the Jewish State with the intent of defeating it in the field of battle. However, Hezbollah, Hamas and, in the near future, Syrian and Sinai-based radical Islamist terrorist groups along with Iranian operatives maintain a strategic posture that regards war against Israel as an intrinsic part of their raison d’être. The need to throw Jews in the sea has been a structuring element for Arab nationalist government up until the defeat of Saddam Hussein in 1991. These military dictatorships focused their martial efforts in the direction of Israel to subdue their domestic issues and create a much idolized Arab nation. Terrorist groups and out-of-region spoilers keep on viewing violence, rhetoric and physical, against Israel as a political and strategic necessity.
The spirit of 1973 may be best understood by analyzing the Arab societies’ inability to fully grasp the strategic reality they face in regard to the Jewish State. Since 1948, none of the elements who tried to destroy Israel or harm its citizens have been able to achieve even a partial success. In 1967, it took six days for the Israeli Defense Forces to effectively destroy its enemies. In 1973, even through the worst hours of Israel, Arab armies have not been able to defeat the country’s military. Ever since, terrorist groups and foreign-backed militant organizations have repeatedly tried to kill Israelis and undermine the nation’s economic and social fabric. However, they never rationally succeeded in doing so. While their protracted inability to win is a clear fact, it is also certain that as Egyptians consider 1973 a victory, Arabs still consider themselves part of a belligerent rhetoric deeply embedded in their national and social ethos, which leads them to seek war and confrontation against the Jewish State.
The spirit of 1973 is devastating as it goes beyond the will of national government. Arab generations raised in a mentality of “us against them” cannot perceive peace and cooperation with Israel for what it really is. They fail to see it as a way to enhance the economic growth and social stability in the region. From children chanting anti-Semitic songs in UNRWA sponsored summer camps to Syrian and Libyan militias calling for the destruction of Israel and the periodic shows on Arab broadcasting channels denigrating the Jewish nation, peace with Israel is not an element that can be rationally conceived by Arab societies. As long as societies and politicians keep on referring to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a valid argument against the Israel, as long as strategic defeats keep on being celebrated as victories and as long as religious figures keep on using verses from the Quran to vilify the Jews, real peace between Arab societies and the Israeli one will remain unattainable.
The spirit of 1973 is linked to a pathological sense of frustration and jealousy stemming from 1967. While the six-day war is a quasi-taboo in Arab societies, the limited success of Egyptian and Syrian armies in 1973 is remembered in disproportionate terms. The same can be verified in the 2006 war against Hezbollah or any action against Hamas. Militarily, Israel has always been able to impose its will on its enemies and to wage successful operations against them. However, blinded by a veil of irrationality, the Jewish State’s adversaries are unable and unwilling to properly understand their martial inferiority and keep on building their aggressive rhetoric on a widespread inability to perceive peace with Israel as an attainable and beneficial arrangement.