September 12, 2013
The 1973 Exchange, Part 2: The New Evidence Must Change Our Perception of the War
Dr. Yigal Kipnis is an Israeli historian and since 1978 he has been a farmer and a resident of the Golan Heights. Kipnis teaches at the University of Haifa and researches the settlement geography and political history of Israel. Kipnis also served as a pilot in the Israeli Air Force for 31 years (26 of them in the IAF reserves).
The following exchange will focus on his book '1973: The Road to War', which came out in Hebrew in late 2012. The book, which has received fantastic reviews in the Israeli press by various acclaimed critics (such as Dan Margalit, Ofer Shelah, Ronen Bergman, and Yossi Sarid) is scheduled to come out in English later this year.
(Part 1 of the exchange can be found right here)
Since the readers are now surely suspicious about this exchange - Can the editor question the author? Can I ask you the real questions? - I have to be tougher with my second question (and yes, I might annoy you just a bit because of this).
You mentioned the great reviews we got for your book, and I can testify that it was indeed well received and has ignited a lot of discussion. But there were also some more critical responses. And maybe I should rely on them in order to make sure that our readers get the full picture and the answers for the most difficult questions.
The most critical responses basically say this: You discovered some important new details but your interpretation goes well beyond what these details reveal. Here's one such review, by our mutual friend Uri Bar Yosef:
I'll ask three questions:
1. Why is the "diplomacy" thesis more well-founded than the common explanation?
2. If the evidence is so convincing, why are we still having a debate?
3. What other evidence do we still need to get a clearer picture of the road to war - what else would you like to see before you are fully convinced that such debates are no longer needed?
The book 1973- The Road to War does not deal with theses but is rather a comprehensive examination of the totality of events, necessitated by the large amount of new information which has recently been revealed. This is valid even if there are some who ignore the information. What you define as the "common explanation" belongs to those who still believe, at least with regard to 1973, that the world is still flat.
Regarding Dayan's attitude: His assessment of the probability of war was inter alia anchored in his reaction to a situation report he received on the deployment of Egyptian and Syrian forces: "The Arabs talk and talk, but they don't fire much…On the way to peace, or at least on the way to non-renewal of war, I expect that there will be some kind of ebbing of hostility or at least not an active fanning of the flames." And:"There is reason to think that the Arab states will now prefer a political round rather than a military one." It appears that there is no need for interpretation of these quotes which, of course, receive support from additional documentation in the book. It is unfair of you to embarrass a person who presents criticism which is disconnected from the facts and who has difficulty accepting them.
Regarding Ashraf Marwan: During 1973, Sadat's advisor and confidant transmitted- on a number of occasions- warnings which said, 'a few weeks in advance', that war would break out on various dates. This contributed to the prime minister's and the defense minister's illusions that there was basis to the army's assumption that it would be warned 48 hours in advance of war. Here too we should rely on the facts: In the days before the war the most updated information from Marwan said that Sadat will not go to war in 1973. Three days before the war, as Israel was pondering the meaning of Egyptian and Syrian force deployment, Marwan still had not given any warning signal. Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, at a consultation attended by very few participants, heard the chief of staff determine: "What we knew about previous dates was more realistic than what we know today." Even a day before the war, when it was reported that Zamir had left for London to meet Marwan, the prime minister and the defense minister heard the chief of staff declare: "We will wait for additional signs."
Shakhar, the editor of the Hebrew edition of 1973- The Road to War used to tell me that the facts illuminated in the book are strong and well based enough, and that there was no need for explanation. The readers will understand their significance on their own. In reference to the book, you advised me of this as well, Shmuel. Let us leave it to the readers of the English edition to judge the facts for themselves. I assume that English readers will agree with Bill Quandt, who edited the English edition and wrote the following in his Introduction:
Bill Quandt was not only an important actor in the events of 1973, but is also one of the most senior and important political scientists who later investigated and wrote about these events. It appears that his words are a fitting response to your second question. There will always be a gap between memory, which is constructed on the basis of early writings, and the historical account which is revealed based on information which was not previously available to researchers and writers. This is a well known phenomenon, and as a historian, I am not at all surprised by the existence of such a gap.
In reference to your third question, it should be separated into two dimensions. The first concerns the recognition of how historical research develops and the second is the psychological level.
On the historical research level: The turning point which takes place in historical research has already occurred with regard to 1973, along with the accompanying change in the understanding of events. In the military realm, in the last two years, a number of books discussing the events of the war in an in-depth, well based and unbiased way have been published. The apologetic writings have disappeared and, with them, so have the disagreements about the facts. The main conclusion in the current literature is that the military distress experienced by Israel at the beginning of the war was not the result of the lack of proper warning or of a failure to assess the probability of war correctly. Books like these will continue to appear.
As a characteristic of the transition to well based historical writing, I assume that we will still see some more books of the historiographical "desert generation." But these will gradually disappear and they will not leave their mark on the understanding of events. At most, they will serve as material for students' seminar papers comparing preliminary writings to later historical composition. I myself wrote such a paper about the events of 1956 and the Sinai Campaign. It is striking to see how the turning point in the understanding of the events occurred in 1995, about 40 years after that war, when the political aspects were revealed, including the early coordination between Britain and France and Israel. Those who are interested in the Sinai Campaign no longer bother to read the literature which was written before that turning point.
On the political level: I am happy that I was lucky enough to research these events at the right time in order to present the real story of the road to war. Regarding political conduct during the war itself and the following agreements- the separation of forces agreement between Israel and Egypt in January 1974 and between Israel and Syria in May 1974- we may still expect surprises.
On the psychological level: Psychology is not the realm of my expertise, but as a human being, I know that updating one's memory is not easy. It is even more difficult when relating to dramatic and traumatic events like those of 1973. Each person's openness to accept the information provided by new research will determine his/her ability to see the full picture. Those who stubbornly stick to their past writings present an obstacle to this openness. Insistence on placing the intelligence at the center of events is an example of this.