THE LESSON OF A COLLAPSE
From Sadat to Arafat
by Dr. Uri Milstein
This book describes the collapse of the Israeli defense doctrine in the first days of the October 6 1973 (Yom Kippur War) and especially on the third day of the war, the 8th of October. Israeli leaders and senior military commanders did not understand fully the meaning of that collapse and never learned their lesson from it. The result: the security system of Israel continued to decline and failed in the Lebanon war of 1982, in the Intifada rebellion which started 1987 and in fighting the Hisballah in South Lebanon. These continuing failures over the last 20 years changed totally the way many Israelis felt about the West bank territories of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza strip and the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state there. Thus conditions became ripe for the meetings between Rabin and Arafat in Washington and Cairo in Sept. and Oct. of 1993 and the beginning of the process of establishing a Palestinian state. Such a policy represents a radical departure from Zionist ideology as created by the founding father, D. Ben–Gurion after the 1936–1939 Arab rebellion: there shall be no Palestinian state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river.
In his book Dr. Milstein analyzes thoroughly the random manner in which those military leaders adopted IDF strategy six years before without fully comprehending its implications. In the 6–Day War of June 6 1967 Israel was able to defeat, incidentally, the armies of four Arab states (Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq) which threatened her from the south, the north and the east. She attacked first in order to break the impending attack and remove the danger from her borders. Israel did not prepare then its army for a total battlefield defeat of the enemy forces and a complete overturn of the strategic balance in the region. That tremendous result, achieved paradoxically despite the poor functioning of the top command which did not control the situation, surprised Israel's leaders no less than the rest of the world.
Perhaps due to that, after the war Israel's leaders and top military command did not analyze seriously how the total military victory occurred nor did they learn the necessary lessons from the accompanying malfunctions. Blinded by its result, they believed that the war proved unequivocally Israel's absolute superiority over the combined forces of the Arab states and that this situation will prevail for the foreseeable future. This naive (and sometimes not so naive) belief was translated by the ideological arm of the IDF and the ruling establishement into myths about the superiority of Israeli fighters and the superior wisdom of the leadership. The national brainwashing with these myths became a distorted part of the military and civilian culture in Israel and influenced public opinion abroad too. It seems lsrael's biggest successs since its establishment was the phony propaganda about the events of the 6–Day War in June of 1967 but this was also its undoing since the certain consequence of phony propaganda is that its originators begin to believe in it too! But on the battlefield falsehoods and misrepresentations, lies and prevarications, phony statements and unfounded assumptions have only a negative value...
The result was the assumption of Israeli leaders that the Arab leaders were awed by the IDF and that no military initiative would be forthcoming from them until the mid eighties at least. But if they attack anyway, IDF was prepared with plans and equipment to cross the Suez canal immediately and defeat Egypt?s army (biggest and strongest) on its own soil. Apparently Israel's leaders held the belief that the IDF could occupy, or at least menace, Cairo and thus impose a peace treaty on the Arab states on her terms and hold all the areas seized in the 6–Day War.
Dr. Milstein dedicates a full chapter in his book on the development by Israel of water crossing equipment and the tactics to go with crossing under fire. He analyzes the shortcomings in the process of this development that resulted ultimately in the total initial failure of Israeli tactics in the October 1973 war.
Another chapter is dedicated to the theory and history of quick overcoming of watery obstacles by armies in war, from the crossing of the Red Sea by the tribes of Israel led by Moses through battle crossings by Alexander the Great, Moslem fighters, Japanese samurai, Napoleon, American colonists against the British and ending with WW–2 crossings of the Meuse and Visla rivers by the Germans and the Channel by the Allied forces on June 6 1944. The author?s thesis is that man, being a land animal, is always surprised anew by hostile crossings of watery obstacles and the defence collapses then and there. He contends that the true revelation of God to the Hebrews occurred not on Mt. Sinai but at the crossing of the Red Sea and that the Polish military disaster in September 1939 and the French one in May 1940 were due to an unfounded reliance on the Visla and Meuse rivers as impassable obstacles to stop the German armor. In his opinion Hitler would not have attacked France if his army did not manage the Visla crossing and certainly WW–2 would have assumed different proportions if the Anglo–French forces managed to stem on the Meuse the German advance.
On Oct. 6 1973 the Egyptian and Syrian armies managed to surprise Israel and opened the Yom Kippur War by storm–crossing the Suez canal successfully and establishing a 10 km wide strip on the Israeli held east bank. Dr. Milstein contends that the very crossing of the canal represented a strategic victory for Egypt and Sadat was able to close a 3,000 year old account between the Jewish and Egyptian Deities with the latter triumphant. This irrational aspect, residing in the subconscious of both people, seems to have had a decisive effect on the morale of both armies and the subsequent conduct of the war. The success of the Egyptian crossing so shocked Israel's leaders and its top military command that they simply did not function properly thereafter. It turned out that most fighting units of the IDF did not function as they did in the 6–Day War or even during training.
But, somehow, at the end of the second day Oct. 7, Israel?s leaders began to believe that the IDF recovered and overcame the results of the intelligence failure (timely call–up of reserves) and other logistical mishaps and was ready to defeat the enemy. The author describes in detail the faulty decision making process and the planning of the operation designed to subdue Egypt and shows how the personal clashes between the top commanders led them to choose the worst alternative whose chances for success were nil. He proceeds to describe the operation itself where the front commander gen. Gonen did not control fully his divisions, the division commander did not control fully his brigades and the brigade commander did not control fully his regiments.
From gen. Adan?s division, only two armored regiments went into battle and that with a four hour separation. The first regiment under Adini almost succeeded in its mission but both regiments received neither artillery nor aerial support, nor were they reinforced by the other troops scheduled to attack so that the Egyptians managed to contain the attack and finally defeat it completely. This incompetent failure only caused an additional shock to the top command whose officers did not know battlefield details and did not fully understand its progress. Without a deep analysis, they concluded that the IDF is a poor army, abandoned the military decision option and embraced anew the traditional security policy of the old Zionist movement: passive defense and reliance on external protection. Thus they gave up on the very real possibility of defeating decisively the Egyptians and Syrians in Oct. 1973.
The author analyzes the philosophical, historical, political and military implications of the military option abandonment. He describes three decisive events in the Land of Israel history: The chase by Abraham, the Biblical patriarch, of the northern kings; the chase by Joshua Ben–Nun, the Biblical warrior, of the Amori kings; the battle at Amaus between Judas Maccabeus and the Saluki warrior Gorgias during the Hashmonaim rebellion in the middle of the second century BC. In his opinion, human civilization would have turned out quite different if those three Jewish leaders did not pursue the military decision option.
It is the abandonment of this option on Oct. 8 which explains Israel?s return of the entire Sinai peninsula, arbitrarily assigned by the British empire to Egypt only in 1904, for a peace treaty in a complete reversal of its previously declared policy; which explains the domestic opposition to the 1982 Lebanon War where prime minister Begin and defence minister Sharon sought to defeat the terrorist arm of the PLO and Repose a new peace arrangement with Syria; which explains holding back the IDF from crushing the civilian disturbances (intifada) at their inception in 1987. The latter is odd since prime minister Shamir was supposed to be more hawkish than Golda Meir who, in May 1970, did not hesitate to order the successful crushing of the first intifada in Gaza.
For a peace treaty, prime minister Rabin's government is prepared to return the strategically critical Golan heights to Syria and establish a Palestinian state in Israel despite the fact that a national consensus for Golan annexation and against a Palestinian state prevailed in Israel for many years. This recent book by Dr. Milstein is based on new theory and methodology developed by him for research on armies and wars and it is described in his other book ?The General Theory of Security ? The Survival Principle? published also in English.
In the current book Dr. Milstein develops his main thesis that since for the last 10,000 years humanity has lived in a military civilization, it is male–oriented, political and mythological, and no intellectual energy has been expended to analyze and comprehend its basic phenomena of armies and wars. That is why armies have remained, irrespective of their technological advancements, rather primitive human systems, functioning at maximum inefficiency and in effect endangering the survival of their own states that they were created to protect. Thus at times they fail to achieve what they were intended to do i.e. be the strong arm of the political system to ensure its protection and survival. In this book, as well as in his other ones, Dr. Milstein contends that such a dialectical development has caused the demise of countries in the past, endagers the survivability of the State of Israel and others in the present and may even lead to an end of civilized life as we know it. Only the intervention of human intelligence will slow down or arrest this development.
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