The 1973 War has had an enormous impact on all the complex of factors that enter into the Arab-Israeli conflict. The study of these changes will take many years and many hands. In this article, an attempt is made to examine that impact in several areas that seem to have a particular bearing on the immediate future.

The war has brought into full view what some specialists had long been pointing out: that the Arab-Israeli conflict is actually a complex network of which Arab-Israeli relations (so far, alas, mainly military) have only been one segment. Feeding into this network, in addition, have been the changing pattern of antagonism and association that makes up inter-Arab relations, the fluctuating rivalries among the big powers with interests in the area, and many features of the internal life of the antagonistic countries. This essay will touch upon each of the preceding dimensions of the conflict.


The military dimension of the 1973 War provides ample material for study and reflection at all levels-from tactics to strategy and from grand strategy all the way to the level where war merges into policy. Among the lessons, the following seem to stand out:

First, the Arabs were able to achieve virtually complete surprise for their initial thrust, and this in turn had crucial consequences. It gave them the initiative for a while, dictated to the Israelis the kind of war to be fought at least at several stages, caused the war to be costly and prolonged, made outside intervention necessary and possible, and in all these ways and others determined the general outcome of the war. It has already been pointed out that the failure of Israeli and American intelligence was due not to any dearth of information about the Arabs' war preparations, but to an incorrect evaluation of that information. Israeli analysts started from the premise that Sadat was convinced that Israel enjoyed a great margin of military superiority over any military coalition he could form; consequently, they could only view the vast ostensible war preparations as an attempt to bluff Israel and the United States, and/or to force Israel into going through the psychological strain, trouble and cost of mobilization as a means of pressure on it. Such a conclusion appeared all the more plausible since Egypt and Syria had gone through similar military motions several times in the past. However, had the analysts started from a different-a political-premise, they might well have reached different conclusions. They might then have seen that, given the predicament in which Sadat found himself, any war short of one that was certain to end in quick and total disaster would be preferable to staying still. This observation may sound like wisdom after the fact, but at least one observer proceeding in the latter way had publicly anticipated the probability of war. At any rate, the point of the observation is that the faulty evaluation may well have had a structural rather than an accidental basis-the absence of appropriate or sufficient representation of political analysts in the intelligence-evaluation apparatus concerned.

Next to the general surprise at the fact that the Arabs chose to go to war when they did, people profess to be most surprised by the quality of the Arabs' performance. Conclusions have been drawn to the effect that, in the brief lapse of time since 1967, the Arabs have greatly narrowed the "technology gap" and the "quality gap" between them and Israel and have learned to fight well in a modern war.

This observer has no doubt that the Arabs did indeed fight much better in 1973 than in 1967, but he is inclined to attribute the difference to other reasons. The Arabs were no worse soldiers in 1967 than in 1973, but they fought better in the latter war because they did so under better strategic conditions. Granted that they did learn a few things from the 1967 experience, the most important by far was the necessity for them to preempt the initiative and to dictate to the enemy conditions for the battle that were most favorable to themselves. More specifically, they forced the enemy to fight a set battle, where the undoubted courage of their own fighting men and their numerical superiority in manpower and equipment could be used to best effect; and they denied him, at least for a crucial period, the option of fighting the kind of war he favored, and at which he was best, namely a war of rapid movement and envelopment.

Liddell Hart, the outstanding modern student of strategy, spent a lifetime propounding the thesis that creating the right strategic conditions is a much more critical consideration than the quality of the fighters. This was brilliantly confirmed in the record of the fighting in the Western Desert in World War II, where basically the same kind of forces on either side, as far as quality is concerned, experienced dramatic and repeated fluctuations of fortune, depending mainly on the conditions of fighting that their commanders succeeded or failed to create for them. In the end the point was demonstrated on both sides in the 1973 War, for the tide seems to have decisively turned once the Israeli breakthrough to the west bank of the Canal created conditions for a war of maneuver that threatened to pull down the entire Egyptian front.

Thirdly, because the Arabs were able to dictate a slugging type of war, this turned out to be extremely costly in men and especially in equipment to both sides. Indeed, in terms of continuity of action and ratio of forces to battle space, the 1973 War was one of the most intensely fought contests in history.

The intensity of the war, with the resultant rapid running down of stocks of hardware, was one of the main reasons why first one superpower and then the other intervened in the war as equipment supplier. At the same time, the rapid depletion of equipment is certain to impel the parties, if the conflict is not resolved, to seek to provide against such an occurrence in the future by accumulating equipment in much larger quantities than in the past. This means that the arms race could accelerate even more than in the past, with all sorts of deleterious consequences. One is that future wars might be even more destructive. Another is that, as one party or the other fails to keep up with the arms race (which in the key countries has already passed the ruinous levels of 20-25 percent of GNP in cost), it might be tempted to launch a preëmptive war before the odds turn further against it.

Still another possible consequence is that the number of parties involved in the conflict and the degree of their involvement are apt to increase, as the present belligerents are forced to seek more assistance from outside sources. The acceleration of the arms race is apt to involve the superpowers in the conflict even more deeply than they have been in the past. If this should give them a greater measure of control over their respective clients, the latter's independence will have been impaired. If it should not, then the chances of the superpowers becoming directly involved in a future explosion will have greatly increased.

Finally, the war did not involve much transfer of territory, nor did it change fundamentally the relative strategic posture of the parties. But it did make a political stalemate much more difficult to sustain militarily. In the north, the Israelis have improved their prewar positions somewhat, by gaining territorial depth and deploying themselves closer to Damascus and the crucial junction of the borders between Syria, Jordan and Iraq. In the south, however, although the ceasefire left forward Israeli forces in a much more threatening position than forward Egyptian forces in the short term, the underlying positions are less favorable to Israel over any sustained period than the prewar situation.

The explanation for this paradox lies in the vast difference between the normal readiness state of the two armies. The ceasefire left each side with a substantial bridgehead across the Canal and into territory formerly held by the other. The Israeli bridgehead on the west bank is more substantial, deeper and closer to vital enemy targets than the Egyptian bridgehead on the east bank. On the other hand, Israel's capacity to hold the present lines is much more limited than Egypt's. The lines are long and vulnerable for both sides, with each sitting at the other's flank and able to threaten its rear. However, Egypt can use its predominantly standing army to buttress its lines, whereas if Israel wants to do the same on its side, it will have to maintain a high level of mobilization which would get ever more ruinous with time. Gone is the neat Suez Canal line which (barring a repetition of total surprise) could be maintained by small forces in an only slightly strengthened version of the Bar-Lev line.

It follows that unless the present lines are made more "rational" by mutual agreement, they will most probably have to be changed by either war or peace before long. And as of late November the chances of their being made more "rational" by any early agreement are not too good. Israel has, of course, offered to "straighten" them out by proposing a return to the prewar Canal line. However, although this proposal would relieve the beleaguered III Corps, Egypt is not likely to accept it. Not only would it nullify the bridgehead that Egypt gained at such great cost; not only would it make the war appear to have been in vain by restoring exactly the prewar lines; but also, by so doing, it would facilitate the restoration of the political stalemate Egypt had gone to war to break, and broke.


One of the most important features of the 1973 War has been the new pattern of Arab solidarity that manifested itself. A superficial look may take that solidarity to be no different from that manifested in the 1967 War. A more careful examination would quickly show some basic differences, which have very far-reaching implications for the future.

One of the differences between 1973 and 1967 is that whereas one "first-circle" Arab country-Jordan-participated only nominally this time, countries in the "second circle" around Israel played a much more meaningful role. Iraq sent very substantial forces to the front, as it did in 1967, only this time they took an active part in the fighting. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia contributed vast amounts to the war chest, while Libya contributed money as well as Mirages acquired from France. In addition, the three Maghreb countries contributed small contingents, Morocco's being the most substantial.

A second and much more important difference is that Saudi Arabia took the lead in putting the Arab "oil weapon" into play. Of course, in 1967, it and other oil-rich countries did the same, and even seemingly went farther by placing a total embargo on oil shipments to the United States and Britain. However, we know that in 1967 Saudi Arabia cut the flow of oil involuntarily, under pressure by Nasser, and therefore did not enforce the measure strictly and cancelled it as soon as possible. In 1973, on the other hand, it introduced the weapon of its own accord, in advance of the war, and has now set up a staff and adopted a systematic, subtle, long-term strategy in order to maximize its effect in direct and indirect ways.

What accounts for these two phenomena? And what are their principal implications for the future of the Arab-Israeli conflict?

The first phenomenon-the more active role assumed by countries of the "second circle" around Israel-is probably the consequence of the vast growth of Israeli power in the years since 1967. As the military capabilities of Israel multiplied in these years, the "radiation" of that power began to be felt directly by these countries for the first time. As long as Israel had been hemmed in within the pre-1967 boundaries, surrounded by a ring of Arab states that contained it and threatened to roll it back, countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq could feel completely safe from any Israeli threat. Whatever contribution they made to the Arab cause against Israel was made purely on the grounds of pan-Arab considerations. But as Israel overwhelmingly defeated the countries of the "first circle" in 1967 and effectively neutralized them since, it demonstrated a previously unsuspected capacity to hurt them in a significant way. From that moment, their concern with Israel began to rest no longer solely on pan-Arab considerations, but also on considerations of precaution; and their support for countries of the "first circle" became an investment in their own security.

Attentive students of the Arab-Israeli conflict will have noticed that what has just been described is merely a continuation of a process that goes back to the very beginning of the Zionist endeavor in Palestine. The Zionist movement and then Israel have had to cope with an ever-expanding combination of Arab forces opposing them and trying to push them back. Each time they defeated one combination, the power they mustered appeared menacing to Arab forces that had previously been on the periphery and impelled them to join the defeated forces in a new combination, and so on. Thus the overcoming of sporadic Palestinian Arab outbursts by the Jewish settlers helped bring about the great Arab revolt of 1936-39. The insufficiency of this revolt brought the general resistance supported by Arab League volunteers and funds in 1947-48. The collapse of that brought the intervention of the surrounding Arab states in 1948. The defeat of that combination in 1967 has brought, in 1973, the coalition of "first-circle" countries backed by countries of the "second circle."

The second phenomenon-Saudi Arabia's use of the "oil weapon"-is explicable in part by its enhanced concern about Israel. But to understand why the expression of that concern was not confined, for example, to helping Sadat finance the war requires further explanation. Indeed, throughout the years since 1967, and even before, Saudi Arabia had staunchly turned down repeated pleas by Nasser and Arab radicals to use oil as an instrument in the service of the Arab cause. King Faisal, in particular, had flatly ruled that "oil and politics should not be mixed." Why then has he changed his policy now?

The answer is that the reasons that had restrained King Faisal in the past have been removed in recent years, while the factors in favor of using oil as a weapon have been enhanced. Previously, Faisal feared that once he had sprung the "oil weapon," others, particularly Nasser, might be able to arrogate to themselves the right to decide when and how it was to be used. Moreover, since Saudi Arabia itself depended on all the revenues it was getting at the time for its own needs, the "oil weapon" was only of very limited use and could indeed be turned around by others to hurt the Saudi regime itself. In recent years, the enormous increase in oil revenues, far beyond current needs, gave the Saudi ruler much more leeway in handling the oil weapon, while the disappearance of Nasser and the failure of a comparable personality to emerge in the Arab world has meant that King Faisal could be sure to retain control of the weapon himself. The one possible exception has been Colonel Qaddafi of Libya, who considers himself to be Nasser's heir and the custodian of Arab nationalism and the pan-Arab cause; but Qaddafi would become a real threat only if he could succeed in his endeavor to extend his base so as to include Egypt. By using the "oil weapon" now and supporting Egypt financially on a large scale, Faisal hopes to minimize the principal appeal that Qaddafi and the prospect of union with Libya have had for Sadat and many Egyptians.

Two crucial implications flow from these developments in the inter-Arab arena. The first is that the greater involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict of countries that had previously been only marginally concerned with it will make it much more difficult, if not impossible, in the future for the United States to try to contain the Arab-Israeli conflict, if it is not resolved, by means of a "balance of force" between the parties.

Until the war, the United States had viewed the Middle East in terms of two distinct constellations having only limited effect on one another-one centered on the Persian Gulf and one centered on the Arab-Israeli area. Now that concept of balance will have to be drastically revised. The Arab side in the Arab-Israeli equation will need to be expanded so as to include Arab countries of the "second circle," and even of the Maghreb-perhaps not by adding up all their military capabilities but by counting different proportions of various elements of their forces. In the area of air power, for example, where the capacity of even the remotest Arab country can be relevant to the Arab-Israeli situation, any attempt to achieve a balance-given the aroused desire of the Arab countries to acquire substantial air forces and the availability of means and suppliers-would require bringing the Israeli air force before too long close to American and Soviet levels, at least with respect to some weapon systems! Such a trend might encourage the development of a false or exaggerated sense of power on the part of Israel and tempt it to adopt rigid positions or engage in hasty action in local disputes. And if the whole balance collapses once more, as it already did twice-in 1967 and 1973-then the ensuing war would be so destructive, and its ramifications would reach so far, that the chances of the superpowers staying out of it would be practically nil.

However, the greater involvement of previously marginally concerned Arab countries, while it has certainly added to the complexity of the conflict, need not make it less susceptible to settlement, and may indeed make it more so. Countries like Iraq and Libya may exert pressure in the direction of extremism; but this pressure is apt to be more than offset by pressure toward resolving the conflict on the part of countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. For if the conflict is not resolved now, these countries may find themselves in the position of having to finance much of the ongoing confrontation on the Arab side amidst a rapidly accelerating arms race with Israel-while at the same time holding back oil production, thus forfeiting revenue, in connection with the effort to influence the United States and Europe. Five or ten years from now, these countries may have enough reserves to do both and also meet their own needs. Right now, their resources would be severely taxed before long by such a double effort. Hence, as they look at the prospects facing them, they are likely to apply their weight in the direction of a reasonable and prompt settlement.


Secretary of State Kissinger said that one of the principal lessons of the 1973 War was that the superpowers could not keep out of a violent explosion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. For Western Europe as a whole-one does not know about Eastern Europe-the war showed that they too could not remain unaffected in very crucial ways. The consequences in both instances are of momentous significance.

Implicit in the statement of the Secretary of State was an admission of the failure of previously held contrary expectations. These expectations had been based, among other things, on vows that the superpowers had made to each other at the highest levels in Moscow and Washington to avoid any involvement in the Middle East that would endanger their détente; and on the fact that in the interim between the 1972 and 1973 summits the Soviet military presence in Egypt had been all but eliminated.

The expectations of the Europeans, on the other hand, had been based on a sense that they had actually worked out a modus vivendi with respect to the conflict that was apt to shield them from any serious repercussions in case it exploded. That modus vivendi consisted of their deliberately abstracting themselves from any significant practical role in the conflict (leaving matters mainly to the superpowers), and then granting to the Arab side all the political and symbolic support it asked for. In this way the Europeans thought they would protect their interest in Arab oil without hurting Israel too much.

The course of events after the outbreak of the 1973 War did at first appear to conform to the previous expectations of the superpowers and Europeans. Indeed, it seemed for a while that the most important characteristic of the war, apart from the surprise of its advent and the initial course of the military operations, was going to be precisely the fact that the outside world did not seem to care much about it. In contrast to the 1967 crisis, for example, nobody issued, at first, any momentous declarations, violent condemnations, or solemn warnings; nobody alerted or moved forces for a while; and nobody even submitted a ceasefire resolution of any sort to the Security Council for two full weeks after the start of hostilities. It looked as if superpower and West European endeavors to "quarantine" the conflict and insulate themselves from its dangers were working out.

But the European expectation had rested implicitly on one unrecognized assumption, that (as the United States itself expected) the superpowers would stay out. The assumption proved wrong when the United States felt compelled to resupply Israel with arms on a massive scale, and sought to use stocks it kept in Europe and some NATO facilities for this purpose. The Europeans suddenly found themselves confronting a very painful choice they had not anticipated: whether to permit the United States to do so and thus become its accomplices and risk Arab oil sanctions, or to oppose it and put an immense added strain on already difficult NATO relationships. In varying degrees and at a different pace, they all chose the latter. As if that were not enough cause for strain, the United States then proceeded first to "settle" the war with the Soviet Union, and next to engage with it in a confrontation on a global scale, without consulting its allies.

It thus became suddenly apparent to Europe that the Middle East conflict could not be "managed" by evasive tactics and policies, and that unless it was resolved it was bound to place before the European nations truly fateful dilemmas involving, on the one hand, the very foundations of their security since World War II, and, on the other hand, the stuff of their economic existence.

As far as the superpowers were concerned, their involvement in the conflict, contrary to their anticipation, was the result of an effort on the part of the Soviets to take advantage of an unsuspected opportunity, followed by an American effort to ward off the consequences. The process began with the Soviet Union's resupplying the belligerent Arab states with arms and ammunition on a large scale and urging non-belligerent Arab states to join in the war. Why the Soviet Union chose to do so is not quite clear as yet, but a plausible explanation has to do with fluctuating coalitions in Soviet ruling councils. With respect to the Middle East, it seems that these councils had been more or less evenly divided for quite some time between those who urged support for the Arabs' war plans and those who deemed that course too dangerous for superpower relations, and futile because of the demonstrated ineffectiveness of the Arabs in war. The latter view, it seems, had the upper hand at a crucial moment in the late spring of 1972, which led the Egyptians to react by terminating the Soviet military presence in their country in July of that year. Now, as the war broke out and the Arabs, contrary to the "soft-liners'" thesis, appeared to be doing quite well, and as it appeared that the extent of possible Soviet involvement could remain under control of the Soviets themselves rather than the Egyptians, the "hard-liners" were able to win the day with a decision to help the Arabs in various ways, thereby trying to regain the position previously lost through excessive pessimism and caution.

Whether this view of the process by which the Soviets became involved is true or not, the United States sought, at first, to stop the Soviets by means of diplomatic representations, arguments about the future of détente, and perhaps promises to work together on a Middle East settlement. However, in the face of Soviet reticence, and since the intense, slugging character of the fighting meant that the overall outcome of the war could well depend on the quantities of equipment and ammunition available to the belligerents, the United States felt compelled to launch its own massive emergency resupply operation to Israel.

As the fighting ground on indecisively and as the superpowers kept feeding the contending war machines, there emerged for a moment the horrifying prospect of a prolonged war sustained by the superpowers-becoming ever more violent, sucking in ever more belligerents, extending to ever wider areas, and involving ever more destructive weapons. Since Israel, because of its relative size, could withstand this process much less than its opponents, there also loomed the possibility that it might, in a moment of despair, spring the nuclear "last resort" weapon it is supposed to possess.

Fortunately that moment did not last long, because the war suddenly changed character as a result of Israeli initiatives. The success of Israeli forces in breaking through the Egyptian lines to the west bank of the Suez Canal and then launching a wide enveloping operation against vast Egyptian forces gave the war a new, mobile character much favored by the Israelis and opened up at least a substantial probability of a rapid, 1967-type consummation. This was enough to break the deadlock between the superpowers and to lead them to agree urgently on a project for a Security Council resolution enjoining a ceasefire in place and immediate negotiations between the parties on the basis of Resolution 242 of November 1967. Thus, after starting as bystanders and proceeding to become "partners" to the opposing sides, the superpowers went on to become for a time joint arbiters, deciding on the moment and the conditions for the termination of hostilities.

The next step in the superpowers' involvement was as dramatic and grave as it was inconsistent with the one that preceded it. The form it took is well known: a worldwide alert of American forces in the face of alleged preparations made by the Soviet Union for an immediate massive military intervention in the Middle East. The exact chain of events that brought this about is not known at the time of writing, but circumstantial evidence suggests that the following elements may not be too far wrong:

(1) Somewhere along the line, in the course of the consultations between the superpowers that went on throughout the war, the United States assured the Soviets that it did not seek a total victory for Israel and wished to avoid humiliation for the Arabs in order to maximize the chances of a peace agreement, which was the principal objective it had set for itself.

(2) As the tide of the war turned and the Israeli operations on the west bank of the Canal appeared to the Soviets to threaten total disaster for the Egyptians, the Soviets urgently invited Secretary of State Kissinger to Moscow, where General Secretary Brezhnev personally called on him to act in accordance with the assurances given. Kissinger agreed to have the fighting stop before the Israelis utterly defeated the Egyptians, but he insisted upon, and obtained in exchange, Soviet, and ostensibly Arab, agreement to the negotiation clause.

(3) As Kissinger left for home by way of Tel Aviv, the Soviets learned that fighting was continuing beyond the ceasefire deadline and that the Israelis had completed the encirclement of the Egyptian III Corps. Not only was that corps now in danger of imminent destruction, but its collapse could bring down the entire Egyptian front.

(4) The Soviets suspected at this point either that Kissinger had deceived them, or that the United States was unable to control Israel. The fact that the United States agreed to a second ceasefire resolution that enjoined a return to the first ceasefire lines suggested that the latter was probably the case. But this made it all the more necessary, and all the more seemingly safe, for the Soviets to react strongly.

(5) Just then President Sadat, worried about the fate of his entire army, issued a call to the United States as well as the Soviet Union to send in troops to enforce the ceasefire. The Soviets took advantage of the occasion and, apparently, notified the United States in a belligerently worded note that they were about to send troops to respond to the Egyptians' call.

(6) It was now Washington's turn to suspect that the Soviets had deceived it and had engineered Sadat's invitation as well as other conditions to justify the introduction of large Soviet forces into the area. Even if these forces were not to intervene in the fighting, it was thought that their presence would create an entirely new situation in the area, one which, among other things, was not conducive to peace. Since the Soviets notified the United States prior to taking action, it was thought that they were probing for its probable reaction, and the decision was therefore made to respond in the manner most likely to discourage them.

(7) The crisis was over when the Soviets agreed in the Security Council that a newly formed U.N. peace force should not include troops from the "big five." A decision authorizing the Soviet Union and the United States to send in a small number of unarmed "observers" helped salvage Soviet prestige; at the same time a superfluous threat to have the Soviet air force supply the beleaguered III Corps if the Israelis refused to let supplies reach it by land helped preserve the image of determined defenders of Arab interests which the Soviets tried to project.

The involvement of the superpowers in the war and the forms it took showed that détente had not denoted as much of a change in superpower relations as its advocates had led everyone to believe. Even Secretary of State Kissinger, the architect of détente on the American side, admitted, as we have seen, that his expectations had been disappointed by the turn that events took. The fact that the two giants were drawn into the role of feeders of the opposed war machines could perhaps be offset by the fact that they eventually agreed on ceasefire terms that broke new ground for the prospects of peace in the area. But the confrontation at daggers drawn that followed shortly thereafter has no parallel in the history of the superpowers' involvement in the Middle East, even at the height of the cold war. Possibly that experience will prove to have been a necessary prelude to a real joint effort to bring the Arab-Israeli conflict under control, just as the 1962 Cuba missile crisis turned out to be such a prelude for several other crucial issues in the relations between the superpowers. Whether or not this will prove to be the case will, at any rate, become quite clear before very long because of the other feature of big power relations revealed by the war.

The war, we have seen, demonstrated the existence of a critical triangle between the superpowers, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Europe. This triangle seemingly gives the Soviets an undreamt- of opportunity to score enormous gains at the expense of the United States. By encouraging Arab intransigence and doing what they can to perpetuate the Arab-Israeli conflict, they could hope to force the United States to reassociate itself fully with Israel; force Europe, worried about its very livelihood, to dissociate itself definitely from the United States; and establish for themselves a position from which they would have remote and indirect control over the flow of oil and could use that control to "Finlandize" Europe and keep it so.

Adopting such a course, however, would entail enormous costs. It would definitely mean the end of détente and everything it portended for the Soviet Union-American trade, technological assistance, investments, arms reduction and so on. It would entail the revival of the cold war in a more virulent form than ever, with all its attendant dangers. It is very likely, judging by some statements made by President Nixon, that the sharpness of the American reaction to the prospect of the Soviets' sending troops to the Middle East was prompted in substantial measure, at least, by fears and suspicions that the Soviets might have been working for that kind of consummation. But whether that is true or not, it is certain that the Soviets' embarking on the kind of course outlined would at one and the same time give many occasions for superpower confrontation and immensely enhance the chances that these would actually take place. Finally, the United States would almost certainly seek to restore the balance on the Eurasian landmass by moving much more closely to China and, together with her, trying to tilt the situation at the other end of the landmass. These are the most important implications of the alternative courses that have been revealed by the 1973 War. Which one the Soviets will choose and which way the world might be heading should become apparent before long from Soviet actions.


In no other domain is the war apt to have a more extensive effect than in that of the internal life of the belligerent countries. Yet, for our present purpose, we shall only look at a few aspects of the internal front and will confine ourselves to the key countries. How has the war affected the balance of considerations and forces inside Israel and Egypt, in favor of peace, war or stalemate?

The impact of the war on Israel may be understood in terms of a contest between two currents that have not only divided different groups but also made for strongly ambivalent leanings within individual Israelis.

The first current has tended to draw lessons from events as they actually happened, in order to break previous rigidities and look to new approaches that give compromise and peace a much better chance. The second has tended to dwell on preconceived notions as to how events should have and might have unfolded, and to wish to redo realities in order to bring them into conformity with these preconceptions.

Immediately after the war, the latter current, militant and belligerent, appeared to prevail; but as time went on, the former, more moderate and accommodating, appeared to be gaining ground. As of the time of writing, this trend was increasingly asserting itself. However, it was clear that the process could be interrupted and perhaps even reversed because of a breakdown of the ceasefire. The same could ensue if the pivotal Labor Party were to break up just before the forthcoming national elections, as a result of the post-mortem discussions that were beginning to take place, or because of ill-timed external pressures.

The primary source of the militant current lay in the prewar expectations universally entertained by Israelis that a war on the scale of the one that happened was just "impossible," in view of the overwhelming military superiority of Israel, repeatedly acknowledged by the Arabs themselves. War having nonetheless broken out, presumably because of some irrational, "suicidal," urge of the Arabs, all Israelis were certain of a total, fast, and cheap victory. In reality, of course, the Israelis had to fight extremely hard for 16 days and suffer, for them, enormous losses in order to score a partial victory. But all Israelis felt that this course of events was unwarranted and "unfair." It began with a series of mistakes on the Israeli side; then, when these were finally corrected and Israel was on the verge of achieving complete victory, outside powers intervened. Moreover, these outside powers contrived, after the fighting ceased, to reduce the scope of even the limited victory that Israel achieved, by pressuring it to allow supplies to go to the encircled Egyptian III Corps and trying to force Israeli forces to withdraw to a more confined perimeter.

The result of all this was an attitude that nurtured hopes for a breakdown of the ceasefire and looked for excuses to break it in order to complete the job of winning that was left undone. More important, the result was a mental disposition that resisted any idea or suggestion that did not conform with preconceived notions.

This attitude began to break down enough to give a chance for a countervailing current to start, when it became apparent that Israel was not nearly as free to act as most Israelis supposed. One of the crucial agents of the change was none other than Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, a reputedly tough man who still enjoys immense authority despite some recent setbacks. In his typical no-nonsense way, Dayan answered the leader of the opposition in the Knesset, who had said that the soldiers were very unhappy that Israel was yielding to American pressure to allow supplies to III Corps, by saying that the soldiers did not know that the shells they disposed of today were not there two weeks before, and wouldn't have been there but for the goodwill of the United States.

Once the hope of radically changing the existing state of things began to recede, reality and its lessons began to sink in. A crucial factor was the one major positive feature in the situation-the commitment assumed by the Arab side as well as the Soviet Union to enter immediately into peace negotiations.

One important lesson the Israelis began to learn is that even a militarily inferior opponent might find it advantageous to go to war if he is left with no better options. Israelis had deemed war "impossible" because they thought Sadat could not possibly hope to win. They did not realize that it might pay him to go to war if he had reasonable chances of not suffering a crushing defeat very quickly. Another lesson the Israelis began to learn-one that eminent students of war never tire of preaching-is that war is par excellence the domain of fortuna, a notion that had been utterly alien to Israelis, accustomed to think that their brilliant past victories had been the inevitable outcome of "scientific" preparation.

The significance of these lessons may be better appreciated if we recall that Israelis had been strongly divided before the war in their views as to what the minimal aims of their country should be in connection with the post-1967 situation. Among the considerations determining the various positions, the Arab capacity to wage war and inflict damage on Israel was initially an important factor. Evaluations of that capacity on the part of the different groups fluctuated in the course of the fighting that followed the 1967 war; but by 1970-71, when a ceasefire became firmly established, a consensus about the "impossibility" of war and about Israel's chances if it nonetheless happened had begun to prevail. Henceforth, the arguments between the upholders of different positions centered on weighing the costs and benefits of the various courses, without the prospect of war and its possible costs entering into the picture at all. Naturally, this tended to push the entire spectrum of positions in a more demanding, "hawkish" direction. Now that war-costly, cruel, and susceptible of complications-injected itself into the picture, the whole spectrum of positions could not but move, in time, in an opposite, more accommodating, direction.

Another lesson, implicit in what has just been said but worthy of specification because of its importance, consisted of the exploding of the position of those who wanted, and thought it possible, to prolong indefinitely the stalemate that came to prevail after 1970, either in order to avoid having to make choices that could precipitate undesired political splits or in the hope that time would give some kind of legitimacy to Israel's retention of the conquered territories. The war and the events accompanying it showed that the Arab-Israeli conflict had just become too complex-involving too many interests and having too many ramifications-to be susceptible of being kept indefinitely in stalemate.

But probably the most specific, important, and hopeful lesson of the war has been that centering on the relationship between territory and security-the rock on which past efforts at peace have foundered. Immediately after the war, at the height of what we called the "militant" current, Israelis argued that the war demonstrated how vital the territorial factor was and how right Israel has been in insisting on very substantial modifications of the 1967 territorial setup. Where, it was asked, would Israel be today if it did not have the buffer of the Golan and Sinai-if, for example, the enemy had been able to score an initial advance of 15 kilometers not at Khushniyya in the Golan but toward Natanya at the "waist" of pre-1967 Israel?

Since then, Israelis have continued to hold on to this argument, but have simultaneously begun to confront the inescapable paradox that in 1967 their country did infinitely better with its "insecure" boundaries than in 1973 with its "ideal" boundaries. It can, of course, be argued-and it is-that in 1973 Israel had fallen victim to a "Maginot-line mentality," that there had been an unwarranted failure of intelligence, that the Soviets had given the Arabs weapons that allowed them to achieve several tactical surprises, that they went on to replenish their arsenal as fast as Israel destroyed it, and that in the final account Israel would have still won a decisive victory but for the intervention of the United States and the Soviet Union. However, each additional explanation or excuse could only point out more and more factors relevant to security, and thus drive an additional nail in the coffin of the previous Israeli attitude that had made a fetish out of territory. The sum total of the explanations could only underscore the truth that security is a product of a multitude of factors of which geography is one, but which also comprises technology, friendships and alliances, relative size of forces and so on-including alertness and aspects of the opponent's state of mind that can be reached. The explanations would also reveal that there is a measure of interchangeability between these factors, so that one could have less of one and more of another and end up being no worse off than before, if not better.

There are signs that this kind of lesson is being learned in Israel along with others we mentioned, all of which make for the erosion of rigidities that have stood in the way of peace in the past. Given a chance, this sober, moderate current is most likely to prevail, if not throughout Israel, then at least among the majority of the ruling coalition. But there is a danger that this chance may be denied to it by one of two developments: (1) a breakdown of the ceasefire; or (2) a breakup of the Labor Party's own coalition of "hawks," "moderates" and "doves." The former development could result from some breakdown in the fragile agreements that have been reached concerning exchange of prisoners, supply to III Corps, definition of ceasefire lines, blockade of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, and so on. The latter development might come about as a result of an internal explosion, triggered by mutual recriminations among the various segments of the party over the management of the crisis; or it could be precipitated from the outside, by prematurely putting before the party the necessity to make choices about critical issues.

The impact of the war on Egypt, too, may be viewed in terms of two competing currents, moderate and militant, opposing different segments of the power elite and feeding ambivalent inclinations in individual members of it. In contrast to Israel, both currents in Egypt, while being rooted in the prewar situation, have been shaped mainly by the course of the war and associated events. One current tends to view the outcome of the war as placing Egypt in the best bargaining position it could hope to achieve, and is therefore eager to capitalize on it in order to try to reach a settlement now. The other current believes that the war has shown that Egyptians themselves had underestimated their military capabilities and the outside support they could command, and is therefore inclined to be more reticent and insist on more demanding terms. Both currents are, to be sure, already committed to entering peace negotiations with Israel without insisting on prior Israeli withdrawal. However, the former is likely to be accommodating in order not to forfeit the present opportunity, while the latter is likely to seek a much harder bargain, even at the risk of a breakdown of the peace talks.

At the root of the more conciliatory tendency is the bitter memory of the post-1967 era. After years of struggle to eliminate the consequences of defeat, which saw Egypt's options evaporate or end in frustration one after the other, a stalemate set in that was even more oppressive than the repeated failures. For Egyptian society resembles nothing more than a vast bureaucratic enterprise, which depends entirely on impulses imparted to it from the top to operate with any degree of efficiency. Such impulses had not been forthcoming because the top leadership had been completely preoccupied with the Israeli question. President Nasser might have, had he so chosen, ignored that question for some time, but Sadat did not even have that choice; lacking any previous credit, his tenure of the presidency depended for its legitimation in a very large measure on his being able to resolve that problem. The result of all this was that by 1973 Egypt's economy had been stagnant for many years, Egypt's society was completely demoralized, its polity was a seething cauldron, the credibility of the government had sunk to zero, and Sadat and his entourage had their hands full just trying to survive from month to month.

It was in this context that Sadat was finally persuaded by the military chiefs to go to war. The aim he had set for Egypt was not total victory, which he realized was unattainable. At the very most he hoped to seize a strip along the east bank of the canal reaching out to the passes, which would represent the beginning of the process of liberating the occupied territories, put Egypt in a position to press for the evacuation of the rest, and permit the reopening of the Suez Canal and the resettling of the desolate cities of the west bank. The minimal objective, which made the whole enterprise justifiable, was to stave off total defeat long enough to provoke great-power intervention and international initiatives that would break the stalemate.

When the war ended, Egypt, to the surprise of vast segments of the power elite, had achieved considerably more than its minimal objective, though much less than its maximal objective. The fact that utter defeat in the last days of the war was averted only by a hair's breadth did not detract from the accomplishment. However, it made the moderates feel that Egypt had attained the best possible position from which to bargain for ending the stalemate on reasonable terms.

As for the militants, they had shared with everyone else the frustrations of stalemate, only they had tired first of the diplomatic efforts to break it and had urged military action sooner. In the end it was they who prevailed upon Sadat to go to war, by laying out before him the specter of greater trouble, especially the breakdown of military discipline, if he did not. The course of the war-the ease with which the Egyptian forces overran the Bar-Lev line and established a bridgehead, the very heavy casualties they inflicted upon Israel and especially their success in denying supremacy to the Israeli air force over the battle zone-appeared to the militants to vindicate their erstwhile claims, and to give Egypt some highly credible military options. On that basis, as well as on the basis of the recommitment of the Soviet Union to the Arab cause, the seemingly miraculous effectiveness of the "oil weapon" in neutralizing Europe and setting it at odds with the United States, and the evident eagerness of the United States to seek points of contact with the Arabs, they have argued that Egypt now has ample room for maneuver and substantial prospects of further enhancing it. Therefore, they conclude that Egypt need not settle for anything less than total Israeli withdrawal from all Arab territories and "justice for the Palestinians."

It seems evident from the fact that Egypt agreed to the negotiation clause of the ceasefire resolution, and made no serious attempts to break the encirclement of the III Corps by force, that so far it has been the moderate current that has prevailed. However, it is equally evident that the other, more militant current cannot be ignored and could come to prevail should there be a breakdown of the ceasefire or should the anticipated negotiations tarry too long in coming or give signs of inconclusiveness.


Our panoramic survey of the impact and lessons of the 1973 War shows that a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict has at last become a real possibility for the parties directly concerned, and an imperative necessity for all the outsiders that have been involved in it. It is completely understandable, therefore, that outsiders should try to exert all the influence and pressure they can in order to bring about a peace settlement; but these outsiders must beware of defeating their own purpose through misapplied zeal. There are forces on either side of the Arab-Israeli frontline, we have seen, that are inclined in directions favorable to peace-as there are forces that are swayed by considerations that would inhibit the give-and-take necessary for settlement. The involved outsiders should be wary of allowing the latter to prevail on either side of the fence, through their pressing on either party formulas that do violence to deeply felt and widely shared concerns, or even through pressing any formula too soon or too late.

Clearly, the most fundamental concern of Israel is ensuring its security; that of the Arabs, safeguarding their sovereignty. The two need not be as incompatible as they were felt to be before the war, if sufficient imagination is applied to the search for a solution and to the conception of the resources that might be used. This is not the place to suggest any specific plan that does so; but we might point out in a general way, and by way of illustrating rather than exhausting the possibilities, that the two concerns can be reconciled in one or more of the following ways:

(1) By bringing in an outside factor to enhance Israel's security enough to have it relax its demands for territorial modifications. One such factor might be a U.S.-Israel mutual defense pact. A few years ago, the author made a proposal to this effect which evoked some weighty objections on the part of Americans and elicited skeptical reactions from Israelis.1 Now that the United States has confirmed once more its abiding unwritten commitment to Israel's security, now that it has demonstrated its capacity to uphold that commitment in the most dramatic and effective way, and now that the Arabs have shown in many ways that they accept that commitment as legitimate, providing it does not extend to protecting Israel's conquests, most of the previously expressed concerns should cease to be relevant.

(2) By introducing a flexible time factor into an effort to reconcile the two. For example, starting from a formal recognition by Israel of Arab sovereignty, and Arab recognition of Israeli security concerns, a plan might be agreed upon whereby the actual return of the territories is accomplished in a gradual way. This would be conditioned by the establishment and consolidation of normal neighborly relations, which is deemed by the Israelis to be the best security.2

(3) By broadening the conception of boundaries to be settled. For example, in exchange for the Arabs' ceding sovereignty over part of their territories to meet Israeli security needs, Israel might relinquish sovereignty over some of its pre-1967 territory to meet such crucial Arab needs as the establishment of territorial contiguity between Egypt and the Fertile Crescent countries. Alternatively, a similar arrangement might be made that is based on the right of use, while sovereignty is retained intact.

Certainly many additional approaches can be developed. But even the best-worked-out plan can fail if it is not presented at the appropriate time. And right timing is not something that can be planned, but must depend on the intuition and experience of the statesmen.


2 For one model of such a plan, see Nadav Safran, "U.S. Policy, Israel's Security, and Middle East Peace," Hearings before the Subcommittee on the Near East of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 92nd Congress, 1st session, July-October 1971.

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