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Chuck Spinney

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A CounterPunch Exclusive: Collusion and Betrayal on the Suez Canal

What Really Happened in the “Yom Kippur” War?

by ISRAEL SHAMIR, Counterpunch, 22 February 2012

Moscow

Here in Moscow I recently received a dark-blue folder dated 1975. It contains one of the most well-buried secrets of Middle Eastern and of US diplomacy. The secret file, written by the Soviet Ambassador in Cairo, Vladimir M. Vinogradov, apparently a draft for a memorandum addressed to the Soviet politbureau, describes the 1973 October War as a collusive enterprise between US, Egyptian and Israeli leaders, orchestrated by Henry Kissinger. If you are an Egyptian reader this revelation is likely to upset you. I, an Israeli who fought the Egyptians in the 1973 war, was equally upset and distressed, – yet still excited by the discovery. For an American it is likely to come as a shock.

According to the Vinogradov memo (to be published by us in full in the Russian weekly Expert next Monday), Anwar al-Sadat, holder of the titles of President, Prime Minister, ASU Chairman, Chief Commander, Supreme Military Ruler, entered into conspiracy with the Israelis, betrayed his ally Syria, condemned the Syrian army to destruction and Damascus to bombardment, allowed General Sharon’s tanks to cross without hindrance to the western bank of the Suez Canal, and actually planned a defeat of the Egyptian troops in the October War. Egyptian soldiers and officers bravely and successfully fought the Israeli enemy – too successfully for Sadat’s liking as he began the war in order to allow for the US comeback to the Middle East.

He was not the only conspirator: according to Vinogradov, the grandmotherly Golda Meir knowingly sacrificed two thousand of Israel’s best fighters – she possibly thought fewer would be killed — in order to give Sadat his moment of glory and to let the US  secure its positions in the Middle East. The memo allows for a completely new interpretation of the Camp David Treaty, as one achieved by deceit and treachery.

Vladimir Vinogradov was a prominent and brilliant Soviet diplomat; he served as  ambassador to Tokyo in the 1960s, to Cairo from 1970 to 1974, co-chairman of the Geneva Peace Conference,  ambassador to Teheran during the Islamic revolution, the USSR Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. He was a gifted painter and a prolific writer; his archive has hundreds of pages of unique observations and notes covering international affairs, but the place of honor goes to his Cairo diaries, and among others, descriptions of his hundreds of meetings with Sadat and the full sequence of the war as he observed it unfold at  Sadat’s hq as the big decisions were made. When published, these notes will allow to re-evaluate the post-Nasser period of Egyptian history.

Vinogradov arrived to Cairo for Nasser’s funeral and remained there as the Ambassador. He recorded the creeping coup of Sadat,  least bright of Nasser’s men, who became Egypt’s president by chance, as he was the vice-president at Nasser’s death. Soon he dismissed, purged and imprisoned practically all important Egyptian politicians, the comrades-in-arms of Gamal Abd el Nasser, and dismantled the edifice of Nasser’s socialism. Vinogradov was an astute observer; not a conspiracy cuckoo. Far from being headstrong and  doctrinaire, he was a friend of Arabs and a consistent supporter and promoter of a lasting and just peace between the Arabs and Israel, a peace that would meet  Palestinian needs and ensure Jewish prosperity.

The pearl of his archive is the file called The Middle Eastern Games. It contains some 20 typewritten pages edited by hand in blue ink, apparently a draft for a memo to the Politburo and to the government, dated January 1975, soon after his return from Cairo. The file contains the deadly secret of the collusion he observed. It is written in lively and highly readable Russian, not in the bureaucratese we’d expect. Two pages are added to the file in May 1975; they describe Vinogradov’s visit to Amman and his informal talks with Abu Zeid Rifai, the Prime Minister, and his exchange of views with the Soviet Ambassador in Damascus. Vinogradov did not voice his opinions until 1998, and even then he did not speak as openly as in this draft. Actually, when the suggestion of collusion was presented to him by the Jordanian prime minister, being a prudent diplomat, he refused to discuss it.

The official version of the October war holds that on  October  6, 1973, in conjunction with Hafez al-Assad of Syria, Anwar as-Sadat launched a surprise attack against Israeli forces. They crossed the Canal and advanced a few miles into the occupied Sinai. As the war progressed, tanks of General Ariel Sharon  crossed the Suez Canal and encircled the Egyptian Third Army. The ceasefire negotiations eventually led to the handshake at the White House.

For me, the Yom Kippur War (as we called it) was an important part of my autobiography. A young paratrooper, I fought that war, crossed the canal, seized Gabal Ataka heights, survived shelling and face-to-face battles, buried my buddies, shot the man-eating red dogs of the desert and the enemy tanks. My unit was ferried by helicopters into the desert where we severed the main communication line between the Egyptian armies and its home base, the Suez-Cairo highway. Our location at 101 km to Cairo was used for the first cease fire talks; so I know that war not by  word of mouth, and it hurts to learn that I and my comrades-at-arms were just disposable tokens in the ruthless game we – ordinary people – lost. Obviously I did not know it then,  for me the war was a surprise, but then,  I was not a general.

Vinogradov dispels the idea of  surprise: in his view, both the canal crossing by the Egyptians and the inroads by Sharon were planned and agreed upon in advance by Kissinger, Sadat and Meir. The plan included the destruction of the Syrian army as well.

At first, he asks some questions: how the crossing could be a surprise if the Russians evacuated their families a few days before the war? The concentration of the forces was observable and could not escape Israeli attention. Why did the Egyptian forces  not proceed after the crossing but stood still? Why did they have no plans for advancing? Why there was a forty km-wide unguarded gap between the 2d and the 3d armies, the gap that invited Sharon’s raid? How could Israeli tanks sneak to the western bank of the Canal? Why did Sadat refuse to stop them? Why were  there no reserve forces on the western bank of the Canal?

Vinogradov takes a leaf from Sherlock Holmes who said: when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. He writes: These questions can’t be answered if Sadat is to be considered a true patriot of Egypt. But they can be answered in full, if we consider a possibility of collusion between Sadat, the US and Israeli leadership – a conspiracy in which each participant pursued his own goals. A conspiracy in which each participant did not know the full details of other participants’ game.  A conspiracy in which each participant tried to gain more ground despite the overall agreement between them.

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