Gedalyah Reback

The Simchat Torah War: Egyptians Celebrate 1973 Loss to Israel

Hubris is a challenge for all of us.  Arrogance can really distract us; it can make us careless, overlook details and get caught up in our fantasies.  It’s a distraction and robs of us of our focus.  Had it not been for Israelis’ remarkable tenacity, they would not have pulled off the best combat comeback since World War II.

Within four days, Israel stopped the Egyptian-Syrian advance cold and took to the offensive. Israel either destroyed or isolated the invaders; launched counter-offensives that could have (and maybe should have) leveled Damascus and Cairo; Israeli armor defeated Syria and Iraq in the biggest tank battle since the Second World War.  For such a recovery that deserves praise, the reasons the country had to recover were rightfully vilified.

Egypt’s advance

It was Israeli arrogance that had let the country’s guard down.  After the Six Day War, the country was justifiably elated.  Like being on death row, being released and then winning the lottery, Israel annihilated the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian armies after weeks of threats and trash talk.  Six years of euphoria followed.  It was also six years of relief; six years of relaxing and six years of lackadaisical military planning.  Right up to the last minute before the simultaneously Egyptian-Syrian attack on Yom Kippur, some doubted a war would happen.  But Egyptian tanks had been clogging roads heading toward the Sinai Peninsula for days; Syrian tank maneuvers were clearly not intended for military exercises.  It was staring the Jewish people in the face walking into the holiest day of the year.  Egypt and Syria tapped into Israel’s greatest weakness: hubris.

Since then Israel’s war record has been sterling.  Israel destroyed the PLO in 1982 – it was the misguided policies of occupying Lebanon that are seen as a travesty.    The Second Intifada was crushed.  In 2008-09, it’s indisputable who won Operation Cast Lead.  Even in 2006, Hezbollah was decimated – the movement has been blocked from starting a war by a reinforced UN peacekeeping force and wasted its fleeting public popularity to be seen for what it is – a warmongering, militaristic political party looking for any excuse to seize power by the force of arms.

But Israel hasn’t let itself think it has won any of those wars, especially the Second Lebanon War.  Israelis think more about what went wrong than what went right.  Hezbollah should have been defeated more decisively.  A different strategy should have been employed to take and hold Hezbollah positions.  The IDF should have had better intelligence on Hezbollah’s weapons capabilities. And now, even though Hezbollah may have quadrupled its rocket arsenal, Israel is seen as more prepared than ever for a third Lebanon War if it were to ever occur.

Just today, Israel shot down an unmanned Hezbollah drone possibly trying to spy on the nuclear reactor in Dimona.  No one in the country is playing this down.  They’re talking openly about the new challenge this presents for the country.  Even if it is a mild step forward, it still shows Hezbollah might have other surprises the Jewish State has yet to anticipate.  The country is ready to expect more.

But Egypt isn’t ready.  Syria isn’t ready.  Why?  Because they live in delusion.  They like to kid themselves.  They literally take satisfaction in winning a battle but losing a war.  Indeed they caught Israel sleeping.  But then Egypt was nearly destroyed.  For all the volunteer soldiers from the Arab World and even North Korea, Israel could have obliterated the two capitals.  It was only the Soviet Union’s threat to enter the war that saved them.  Egypt and Syria were crushed.  Syria never launched a war again.  Egypt sued for peace.

And yet, here we are.  To quote President Muhammad Morsi:

 “…today is a day of victory. This has been a happy day for the past 39 years. The commanders and soldiers crossed the Suez Canal, demolished the Bar-Lev line and entered Sinai. It was a decisive campaign, and thanks to Allah Egypt retrieved not only its land, but also its dignity and pride.” – Muhammad Morsi

Decisive, my ass.  This lip service is the sort of backwardness people mean when referring to the Arab World.  Egypt has even dared name a city after this war.  The entire effort to keep this lie alive is to cover up for Egypt’s failures:

Egypt’s past and present seem still to hinge on this one victory.  October 6 has come to occupy a crucial space in the collective memory of the Egyptian people, who consider this day to have redeemed the country after its shameful defeat by Israeli forces in 1967.  So powerful is the government propaganda surrounding it, that most Egyptians incorrectly presume their country actually won the 1973 War and, for nearly 40 years, have contented themselves with this single victory to sustain national pride and loyalty. – Nancy Elshami

In less than two weeks, the IDF completely reversed the fortunes of the war.  On October 18th, the morning of Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, Israel launched a full-scale invasion over the Suez Canal, into mainland Egypt after days of trickling in.  Even as Israel began sending tanks across the water, Anwar Sadat refused to believe it.  He threatened his generals with court martial for suggesting pulling back Egypt’s troops to act in defense instead of offense.

And so it was, two countries who dared to invade Israel’s territory saw a brutal defeat.  Israel lost 2,800 soldiers.  Egypt and Syria lost 18,000.  300 Israelis were captured, but so were 8,000 of the enemy.  Like Ezekiel describes the armies of Gog and Magog, their corpses were strewn defeated on the ground.  Within six years, Egypt’s president came to Jerusalem, as if Zechariah’s words about Israel’s enemies coming to celebrate Sukkot were, at least symbolically, coming true.

Israel Crosses the Suez

It’s not lost on me I’m drawing an epic metaphor.  It is arrogant if we read it the wrong way.  In this I draw a parallel with Sukkot and re-envision how we traditionally look at the Yom Kippur War.  Sure the Egyptian invasion occurred on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar and was a disaster for the country.  But by the end of Sukkot, on Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, Israel was treading on Egypt’s land.  The fight was brought to them.  The War of Simchat Torah is a better description.

Israel didn’t just win that war in 1973.  Israel won a series of wars.  Israel essentially won the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Governments have not dared wage war with Israel since then.  Today’s conflicts with the Palestinians, Hezbollah and Iran are separate occurrences.  Perhaps they’re related, but they aren’t the same.

Israel’s Turning of the Tide

Egypt and Syria could be problems for the future, but Israel’s ready.  The IDF is realigning its forces and changing its strategy along both borders again.  It’s a preparedness born out of experience and the lessons learned from letting a nation’s guard down once before.  It’s a lesson taken from hubris.  Israelis take an objective look at their country’s history.  Egyptians still live in a pitiful fantasy world where they’ve lost the battle and won the war.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.