Thirty years on from the Yom Kippur war

This month marked the 30th anniversary of the 1973 Middle East war. Thirty years after that war ended some of the Agranat Committee's findings have been published in Israel that shed a new light on those events. They reveal the behind-the-scenes manoeuvres between the Soviet Union and the USA and also how the then government of Israel hid many important facts from its own people about what was really going on.

"The Egyptians crossed the canal and hit hard our forces in Sinai. The Syrians pushed deep into the Golan Heights. We incurred grave losses on both fronts. The agonizing question at that time was should we or should we not inform the nation of the truth about the bad situation?!” (Reporting Golda Meir, Israeli Prime Minister . Press Conference, October 9, 1973)

This month marked the 30th anniversary of the 1973 Middle East war between Israel and Syria and Egypt. Thirty years after that war ended, the Israeli security forces still have confidence in Israel's powerful military and its ability to carry out any aggression and defend itself from any war. Thus the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, one of Israel's most prestigious institutions in the field of defence, announced recently that Israel is stronger than ever and no threat is foreseen to the state's future.

But as we will see the Israeli working class has no reason to trust that the rulers of the Israeli state will defend them. For the rulers of Israel the workers are mere cannon fodder like any working class in the world. The only way of achieving a genuinely secure life is through the revolutionary struggle of all the workers for a socialist future.

Agranat Committee

On November 18,1973, the Israeli Government issued a decree establishing the Agranat Committee, a legal investigation committee, (set up under the 1968 law on investigation committees), chaired by the Head of Supreme Court, Dr. Shimon Agranat. The committee was created as a result of tremendous shock that hit Israel following the October 1973 war.

On November 25, 1975, the committee started its investigations in Jerusalem under the veil of total secrecy. It released its final report on January 30,1975. The committee held the head and assistant head of Military Intelligence Service (A MAN) liable for the gross miscalculation of the situation on the eve of the 1973 war and the first day of war operations. According to this report both commanders failed to give adequate warning to the Israeli army, leading to tremendous confusion in the preparedness of the troops along the fronts and their deployment over the Suez Canal front. The then Premier of Israel, Golda Meir, resigned after the release of the partial, interim report of the committee in April 1974.

Parts of the report, however, remained unpublished due to the information they contained. Once these are published they are likely to show a different story, one in which the government of Israel knew of the coming war and decided not to do anything about it. The publication of the details was withheld for thirty years, i.e. up to 2005.

The question that many Israelis are already starting to ask is why the Government did not act even though it knew of the coming war. 1973 in many aspects was a turning point in history. It was the year of the so-called “oil crisis” and the beginning of the first serious, simultaneous world recession since the end of the Second World War. A new balance of forces was emerging worldwide. The US were losing their grip on Vietnam. There was a general movement to the left internationally. The two main super powers, the USA and the USSR were jostling for control over their respective “spheres of influence”.

In the Middle East the balance of forces was also shifting. The US gained more control over the Middle East at the expenses of the Soviet Union and at the expense of its imperialist competitors. This was clearly the case with the shifts taking place in Egypt. The architects of this US “victory” was Henry Kissinger whose hands were dripping with blood. That didn’t stop him from winning the 1973 Nobel Prize for... peace.

The Economic turning point

In the period from 1948 to 1975, world capitalism had temporarily succeeded in overcoming its central contradictions through the development of world trade and, to some extent, through the application of Keynesian policies. By 1973 however, it was already clear that the boom of the post-war “Golden Age” was coming to an end. By the end of 1973 productivity in the West was advancing at around 2.2% a year. This was still very high by the standards of our days, but it was slowing down, and already capitalism on a world level was unable to restore the full employment of the years after World War II. By way of comparison productivity went up by 2.6% annually between 1950 and 1972, then stagnated to an average 1.1% increase from 1972 to 1995.

The first generalized crisis of the system took place in 1973-74. This was not an “oil crisis”, as it was labeled by the media. This was a way of hiding the fact that the system as a whole was at an impasse. Every time there is a recession they always find an excuse for it, rather than accept that it is in the nature of the system to enter such crises The sharp rise in the price of oil over just a few days prior to the October 1973 war was an important element of it, that merely precipitated an already critical situation.

In the same period the economy of the USSR was also in decline. Capitalism recovered form the biggest crisis it had ever experienced (that of the 1930s) in the period following the Second World War. It managed to achieve annual growth rates of 5 to 6% in the USA and Western Europe, and even more in Japan. But in that period the Soviet economy managed to achieve even higher rates of 10 or 11%, without recessions, unemployment or inflation. This was thanks to the nationalized planned economy of the Soviet Union. However, the economy in the Soviet Union was not run by the workers. It was in the hands of a privileged bureaucratic elite and the system of a bureaucratically controlled planned economy had reached its limits by the mid 1960s and the rates of growth in the USSR declined continually throughout the 1970s.

Trotsky always showed the dialectical relationship between the rise of Stalinism in Russia and the development of world capitalism. He explained that the Thermidorian reaction in Russia would have led to the restoration of capitalism, if capitalism had not shown itself to be exhausted on a world scale. In 1973 the historical clock was ticking. One of the two systems had to give in. As we know it was the Soviet Union that was to collapse first. The policies of the Soviet “misleaders” in the Middle East contributed further to the crisis of the Soviet Union and to its collapse, and the collapse of the Soviet Union was to give capitalism a further lease of life, albeit a temporary one.

Before going on it is worth remembering what was happening around the world. This, in order to put the Middle East events into their correct context.

The 1973 events in Chile

“I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.” (Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under Richard Nixon, about Chile prior to the CIA overthrow of the democratically elected government of socialist President Salvador Allende in 1973)

It is not a coincident that the 30th anniversary of the October war in the Middle East falls approximately at the same time as the 30th anniversary of the coup staged by Pinochet against the elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende. It is common knowledge that the US government and the CIA directly financed and supported the coup organisers. What is less understood is that the imperialists were able to be successful in carrying out that coup only as result of the terrible mistakes of the leadership of the reformist parties, who formed the Unidad Popular government in alliance with a section of the Chilean capitalists between 1970-73.

The truth of the matter was not that Allende went too far. The real problem was that he stopped halfway in carrying out a socialist programme. He nationalised the key copper industry and other sectors, but he left a large part of the economy in private hands. The nationalised industries were left to be run according to the needs of capitalism and were not envisaged as a step towards a nationalised planned economy under workers’ control. Thus the capitalist relations and mode of production still ruled Chile. Above all this government spread the illusion that the state (the army) was neutral between the capitalist and the working class.

All this was happening when the working class was clearly moving beyond the reformist limitations of the Allende government. Embryos of soviets were being formed, the Cordones. A genuine socialist revolution could have taken place but a revolutionary Leninist party dud not exist and the class collaboration policy of the reformists led to the defeat. (For more on this see Lessons of Chile 1973 and Chile: The Threatening Catastrophe 1971 )

Vietnam

The same class collaboration in other parts of the world led to the containment of the world socialist revolution following on the defeat of US imperialism in Vietnam. By 1973 at the time of Paris "peace conference", it was clear that the relationship of forces worldwide had turned against imperialism, not only in the bloody battle fields of Vietnam but most importantly among the American working people.

More than two and a half million Americans were sent to fight in Vietnam. Most of them working class youth. Upon returning the soldier's experiences made their way into many American households and the soldiers in turn were influenced by the anti-war movement. If in 1963 more than 80% of Americans questioned in a poll expressed confidence in him, by 1967 the support for President Johnson already had sunk to 40%. After the Tet offensive only 30% supported him and a mere 26% approved of his way of handling the war. The same trend continued and by 1973 this had crippled the US army.

Killing the officers in charge was called “fragging” by the GIs. Between 1969 and 1973, there was an increase of incidences of fragging. The historian Terry Anderson from Texas A&M University, wrote the following: " The U.S. Army does not have any exact statistics on how many officers were killed in this manner. But they do know of at least 600 cases of confirmed fragging and another 1400 where officers died under suspicious circumstances. As a result of this, the U.S. Army was not at war with the enemy in the beginning of 1970. They were at war with themselves."

The largest demonstrations were held on April 24, 1971. In San Francisco about 300,000 people gathered, in Washington between 500,000 and 750,000. These were probably the biggest political demonstrations in the history of the United States until the recent war on Iraq

Some union locals started positioning themselves as anti-war as early as 1965. The UAW (autoworkers union) left the AFL-CIO and in June 1969 they started the Alliance for Labor Action together with the Teamsters (transport workers' union). The Alliance supported the demand for an immediate termination of the war.

More and more unions were adopting an anti-war stance. Individual unions started to show open support for anti-war demonstrations and their members started to flock to them. In 1972 unions organizing four out of 21 million American workers were officially against the war. In the 1972 elections half of all union households voted for the democratic candidate George McGovern, who demanded an immediate retreat from Vietnam. Meanwhile an increasing number of strikes were breaking out, including wildcat strikes.

The American working class possessed enough strength to bring the troops home, at least once it had decided that it didn't want to see its sons die for a cause they didn't believe in, a cause that they had to pay for but only favoured the establishment.

In 1975 the Vietnamese people gained a historic victory, driving out the US armed forces and liberating the south. After 28 years of war - costing two million Vietnamese lives, 50,000 American lives, the defoliation of 10% of the total land area, and the destruction of much of industry and transport - the country was reunited and capitalism and landlordism abolished throughout. The enthusiasm among the working class around the world was tremendous. This victory could have had an incredible revolutionary impact. This however did not happen.

The victory of the Vietnamese due to the heroic sacrifices of the Vietnamese workers and peasants could have been achieved at a much lower cost. The terrible death and destruction, and the prolonged war, was the price the Vietnamese people had to pay for the defeat of the revolution of 1945, when they had power within their grasp, power that was stolen from them by the Stalinist leadership and was given back to the imperialists as a result of the Yalta and Potsdam conferences in 1945, where Stalin had reached agreement with Roosevelt and Churchill on the post-war division of the world into "spheres of influence". Something similar happened in 1975 when the Stalinist leadership in the Soviet Union , China and Vietnam worked very hard to prevent the spread of the revolution to other parts of the world. This was the origin of the policy known as the détente. In 1973 this policy led to the Paris "peace" conference and accord aiming at this result. (See also How US imperialism was defeated in Vietnam and Vietnam 1945 - The derailed revolution )

Détente and Oil in the Middle East

It is common knowledge that controlling oil resources and access to them in the Middle East is a key question for the stability of American imperialism. The US is committed to controlling oil in the Gulf, although only about 10% of oil used in the US is actually imported from the region. US strategy has been primarily aimed at ensuring that Middle East oil does not fall into the hands of its competitors, neither European nor Japanese imperialism, nor the former USSR. Middle East oil was and remains important because of its impact on the global economy. The US’s competitors in Europe and Japan depend much more on this oil than the US. In fact 30% of European oil imports and nearly 80% of Japan’s come from this region. The US exerts significant influence on its competitors countries through its control of Middle East oil.

The Gulf Cooperation Council states (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain), together with Iran, and Iraq jointly possess 64% of the world’s proven oil reserves. The most important among the Gulf states is Saudi Arabia, which alone controls 27% of the world’s oil supplies. Saudi Arabia’s light crude is particularly sought after in the market by U.S. industries for sophisticated uses such as production of airplane fuels.

Following the 1973 OPEC embargo, the ruling class of the US became further convinced of the need for their companies to have direct control of the oil of the region . If In 1972, the per-barrel price of Saudi light crude was $2.41, with the oil embargo it quickly rose to $10.73. As a result Washington has focused on military-strategic efforts to ensure dominance in the oil region ever since.

The lesson the US rulers also learned from their debacle in Vietnam was to rely on local policeman rather than to send their own army. For years they feared the consequences any further major wars would have on the American people. This lesson, however had been forgotten by 1991. It was also a case of key strategic resources which were more important than any worries about the effects of a war at home. However, back in 1973 the consequences of the war in Vietnam were very much present in the thinking of the US imperialists.

The real meaning of détente

The emergence of strategic nuclear parity between the US and the USSR in the late 1960s led to the policy of so-called détente. The US and the Soviet Union signed the first strategic arms limitation agreement (SALT I) in Moscow in May 1972, and in late June 1973 they reached an agreement on a "code of conduct" that stipulated that the two powers should coordinate their actions in the event of contingencies that threatened the stability of world order. The agreement on the prevention of war signed in June 1973 stated that the two powers "agree that they will act in such a manner as to prevent the development of situations capable of causing a dangerous exacerbation of their relations, as to avoid military confrontations, and as to exclude between countries not parties to this agreement [that] appear to involve the risk of nuclear war." It also stated that "if relations between countries not parties to this agreement appear to involve the risk of nuclear war…(the two Powers) shall immediately enter into urgent consultations with each other and make every effort to avert this risk." (Garthoff, L. Raymond. Détente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan. Washington D.C: The Brookings Institution, 1994.p.435).

There were many illusions in détente at the time. Some believed it was a genuine step towards lasting world peace and end to the threat of nuclear war. The problem with it was that it went far beyond this. Behind it lay a policy of class collaboration. The Soviet Union was consciously holding back the revolutionary movements. This led to the defeat of the struggles of the working class and the poor masses. It was a policy that in the end was to contribute to the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.

The US imperialist however were prepared to accept the more or less equal relations of power between themselves and the USSR. The American Administration developed a new perspective to defeat the USSR and the struggle of the masses, especially in the former colonial countries, and this was based on the more advanced productive forces at their disposal and the higher levels of productivity of the working class in the imperialist countries. It was a policy aimed at the destruction of the USSR but by different means. The American strategists knew that the Soviet economic system was suffering from enormous deficiencies.

According to these experts, the Soviet economy suffered from "erratic growth rate, chronic shortages in agricultural and consumer goods." It had "little or no chance to compete with the West in the much-advertised scientific-technological revolution". (Gati, Charles & Gati T. Trister. The Debate over Détente. New York: Foreign Policy Association. Headline Series, No. 234, February 1977 p.9)

They decided to capitalize on the Soviets’ economic growth problems to gain a political advantage. In their own words: "to translate the power asymmetries which it enjoyed vis-à-vis the Soviet Union into political advantage - that is, a favorable balance of power as opposed to mere equilibrium". (Litwak, S Robert, ed., Détente and the Nixon Doctrine: American Foreign Policy and the Pursuit of Stability, 1969-1976. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984 at p.90).

Kissinger acknowledged that détente was aimed at not inhibiting his country’s pursuit of leverage in particular strategic places such as the Middle East. In his memoirs Kissinger remarked that "détente was not a favor we did the Soviets. It was partly necessity; partly a tranquilizer for Moscow as we sought to draw the Middle East into closer relations with us at the Soviets’ expense; partly the moral imperative of the nuclear age." US policy to contain Soviet influence in the Middle East was "in fact making progress under the cover of the détente," he says. The same objectives can be applied to Soviet policy. The Soviet bureaucracy wanted to expand their influence in the Middle East region under the disguise of détente. They aspired to an equal status with their rival in dealing with the problems of the region. They sought joint collaboration with the US to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict. Such a role would bolster their position in the region and would certainly elevate them in the eyes of their client states.

The US, however, wanted to thwart any Soviet attempt to fortify its position in the region. Any deal struck under the auspices of the two powers would have raised the status of the Soviet bureaucracy in the Middle East, and this was unacceptable to the US. "Coexistence to us," Kissinger warned Moscow in the midst of the 1973 war in the Middle East, "continues to have a very precise meaning: we will oppose the attempt of any one country to achieve a position of predominance either globally or regionally" (Serfaty, Simon. American Foreign Policy in a Hostile World Dangerous Years. New York: Praeger, 1984 at p.245)

Leonid I. Brezhnev said that "the struggle to assert the principles of the lives of peaceful coexistence, for lasting peace and détente and, in the long term, to prevent the risk of a new world war has been and still is the main element in our relations with capitalist states." (Gromyko, Andrei. Address to the Twenty-Eighth Session of the U.N. General Assembly. Pravda, 26 September 1976 at p.16)

Brezhnev may well have believed in his statement. In any case he acted upon it. In the June 1973 summit meeting between the leaders of the two superpower, Brezhnev warned of the gravity of the Middle-Eastern problem and called for a joint American-Soviet coordinated action to find a peaceful settlement to the problem. Kissinger and Nixon avoided any discussion of the issue. They did not want to negotiate the matter with the Soviets. Kissinger wrote , "We were not willing to pay for détente in the coin of our geopolitical position." (Kissinger, Henry. Years of Upheaval. Boston: Little, Brown, c1982 at 299 at 885). The Soviets nevertheless continued to call for urgent intervention of the two powers to subdue the tensions in the region right up until the war erupted. In his address to the UN General Assembly on September 25, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko warned, "that the fires of war could break out at any time and who would tell what consequences would ensue." (Gromyko, Andrei. Address to the Twenty-Eighth Session of the U.N. General Assembly. Pravda, 26 September 1976 at 366 ). There is, furthermore, evidence that the bureaucrats in the USSR did use their influence in the Middle East to restrain Syria from defeating Israel during the war. The same could not be said for the US. The US had used the war to gain more and more leverage, to get more control over the bloody treasure of the region – the oil reserves. As is candidly stated by Kissinger in his memoirs, the US manipulated the war in such a way as to prevent the Arabs from scoring any gains on the battlefield, "while trying to win Arab confidence so we could both emerge as mediator and demonstrate that the road to peace led through Washington."

This could only be achieved by a war that would "restore self-respect on the Arab (i.e. Egypt) side and a new Israeli recognition of the need for diplomacy." The US goal was designed to start the Pax Americana process, "with the Arabs on the proposition that we had stopped the Israeli advance and with the Israelis on the basis that we had been steadfastly at their side in the crisis" (Kissinger, Henry. Years of Upheaval. Boston: Little, Brown, c1982 at pp 468,470,471,476,487.)

The pursuit of the policy of "co-existence" made the Arabs furious with the Soviets’ role in the crisis. Anwar al-Sadat became convinced that he could not rely on Soviet military, economic and political backing to help Egypt recover its territories occupied by Israel since 1967. The Soviet presence in Egypt, as William Quandt stated, "prevented Sadat from dealing with the United States, it worried the conservative Saudis, and it exposed Sadat to severe domestic criticism, especially from within the army." (Quandt, William B. Soviet Policy in the October 1973 War. Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand Corporation, 1976 at pp 5-6). The Egyptian’s despair at Soviet policy reached its peak in July 1972 when Anwar al-Sadat decided to expel Soviet military advisors and technicians from Egypt. The Soviets were seen as incapable of solving Egypt’s grievances. Anwar al-Sadat came to the conclusion that only the US held the keys to a solution to the Egyptian-Israeli conflict. The US did indeed welcome his move. Kissinger was elated by Sadat’s act for it served, and seemed to confirm, his objectives of making the US the key to the situation in the Middle East. "Time was working in our favor; nothing could happen without our cooperation; those who relied on Soviet support were bound to become progressively disillusioned. The way to an increased and more balanced American role was beginning to open." (Kissinger, Henry. Years of Upheaval. Boston: Little, Brown, c1982 at 205 ). However before the US could pressure Israel, the people of Israel had to be terrorized and scared to death and be convinced that without the US and its diplomacy they were doomed.

Immediately after his assumption of office as Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger called in the ambassadors to the UN of thirteen Arab states and told them that he understood the Arab states could not resign themselves to a perpetuation of the status quo in the Middle East. He promised them that the United States would work for a solution to the problem. (Haaretz, Tel-Aviv, September 26, 1973). 11 days later the war began.

The Yom Kippur War, 1973

The war began on October 6, 1973, which was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. Egypt’s forces swiftly crossed the Suez Canal and overran the Bar-Lev line. Syria moved into the Golan Heights and nearly reached the 1967 border with Israel (overlooking the Hula Basin). Israel was outnumbered in the Golan nearly 12 to 1 (there were 1400 Syrian tanks against 157 Israeli tanks). Therefore, the first few days of the war saw Israeli counterattacks fail as Israel suffered hundreds of casualties and lost nearly 150 planes.

The Syrians could have inflicted major blows against Israel but they stopped their advance rather than take the Golan Heights and move on to Galilee. This allowed Israel to regroup its forces and begin a counter-attack. Since the Syrians had Soviet advisers it is most likely that they halted their advance due to the policy of détente. Defeat for Israel would not have been acceptable to the US!

The tide of the war began to turn on October 10. The Syrians were pushed back and Israel advanced into Syria proper. In light of the possibility that Israel would occupy Damascus, the government of the Soviet Union responded by sending airlifts to Damascus and Cairo. Israel’s requests for airlifts from the US were not answered before October 12 and 13, after which massive US airlifts to Israel started arriving. The US official line was that it was impossible to send arms and ammunition to Israel prior to October 12. However, it was Kissinger who explained that he wanted Israel to be softened up.

Israeli forces crossed the Suez Canal and surrounded the Egyptian Third Army on October 21. To prevent unwanted results, the Soviet Union responded to a plea from Egypt to save its Third Army by threatening to send troops to assist Egypt. Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State, on his part went to Moscow to negotiate a cease-fire. The result was UN Resolution 338, an immediate cease-fire that reinstated Resolution 242, which "aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East". This cease-fire was broken and again the Soviets threatened to intervene. However, the US pressured Israel into accepting a second cease-fire on October 25, 1973. The war was over, and both Israel and Egypt claimed victory.

The process continued with the First Sinai Disengagement Agreement in January 1974. This called for Israel to withdraw its forces back across the Suez Canal and for the UN buffer zone to be restored. The Israeli-Syrian Disengagement Agreement in June 1974 caused Israel to withdraw to the 1967 cease-fire line on the Golan Heights. A UN Disengagement Observer Force occupied a buffer zone between Israeli and Syrian forces. The Second Disengagement Agreement between Israel and Egypt was signed in September 1975. It widened the buffer zone and ensured a further Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai passes.

The war’s repercussions were far-reaching. An estimated 15,000 Arab soldiers were killed, and economic losses equalled one year’s GNP. Approximately 6,000 Israeli soldiers were killed or wounded in 18 days, and Israel’s losses were equivalent to their annual GNP. The myth of an invincible Israeli army was destroyed by the 1967 war.

The lie

The government of Israel knew about the coming attack and yet did nothing to prevent it. Recently the daily Yediot Haranot has come out with many stories and interviews with reserve Generals. On September 19 (2003) it published an interview P.M Sharon gave to a local magazine "Alohem", where he stated that, based on aerial map provided by the military intelligence, he already knew that the war was going to begin on the Friday morning , a day and a half before it actually began. Not only this, but no other than Ze'ev Schief, the most important military correspondent in Israel, wrote an article that contradicts Mordechai Gazit, the adviser to Prime Minister Golda Meir, who claimed that she did had not received any information regarding the coming war from King Hussein of Jordan shortly before the war.

Hussein, according to certain reports, wrote Schiff, "met with Meir on September 25, 1973. Gazit repeatedly claims (including in a recent article in Ha'aretz) that no such warning was conveyed. This time, however, he phrases it differently: ‘No warning of a coordinated joint Egyptian-Syrian attack was conveyed to Golda’."

This kind of warning is a luxury rarely found in intelligence work. Hussein's warning, incidentally, was accompanied by advice: only a political move could prevent the war that Syria and Egypt were planning.

The more important response in this context was that of an intelligence officer who had been party to the situation as early as the night of Golda's meeting with Hussein. The officer had heard the same words as Mordechai Gazit, but reached a different conclusion. The message, he believed, was an unequivocal warning that war was imminent. The man was Lt. Col. Zusia Kniazer, head of the Jordanian desk at Military Intelligence. Kniazer, a veteran intelligence expert, took an unusual step .. one which, in fact, constituted a breach of orders, since he had been instructed to treat the meeting with Hussein and its contents as highly classified material. Late at night, he called the head of the Syrian section, Lt. Col. Avi Ya'ari, and advised him to put the Northern Command on alert. Ya'ari indeed called the head of intelligence at the Northern Command, who alerted Northern Command Head Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Hofi. When news of this reached Brig. Gen. Aryeh Shalev, head of research at the Intelligence Branch, he summoned Kniazer and Ya'ari and reprimanded them, the former for disobeying orders and divulging information about Hussein's meeting with Golda, the latter for alerting the Northern Command without consulting with his supervisors. (Was There a Warning? By Ze'ev Schiff Friday, June 12, 1998 ).

We should keep in mind what Kissinger explained to his colleague, the chief of U.S Naval Operations, Admiral Elmo R. Rumwalt. Jr. that it was his intention to see Israel “bleed just enough to soften it up for the post-war diplomacy he was planning.” (The New York Times, March 17, 1976 ).

Why is it then that the Israeli government was ready to allow a partial defeat? By 1973 the government was not in a position to return the lands it had occupied in 1967 without a major political crisis. Since 1968 the Labor government had been using the occupied lands to establish Jewish settlements. The only way that they could convince the Israeli population of the need to return the Sinai for “peace” with Egypt was through a partial defeat. This indeed led to the “peace” agreement with Egypt but it would not save the Labour party from political defeat. In 1977 the Likud was to come to power.

The Marxist Position

While Syria and Egypt were allies the two states were different not only in their class nature but in their war aims. Egypt was an underdeveloped capitalist country fighting to regain the land it had lost to Israel in 1967, and therefore Marxists could consider defending Egypt against Israel’s imperialist aspirations. Although we should remember that some of the lands Egypt lost in 1967 were occupied territories and belonged in reality to the Palestinians and not to Egypt.

But we have to look beyond this immediate, and seemingly simple, question. Egypt’s real aim in the war, was not the recovery of some tracts of territory. Its main aim was to establish itself as a local policeman for the US. They were shifting away from their links with the Soviet Union and were moving towards reliance on US imperialism. They wanted to show the US that they could be trusted. For this reason Marxists could not defend the war aims of either Israel or Egypt, who were both serving the interests of imperialism.

However, the position of Syria was another question. Syria was not a capitalist state but more like Cuba, a deformed workers state or, as we call it a proletarian Bonapartist regime. In Vietnam, Laos, Kampuchea, Burma, Syria, Angola, Mozambique, Aden, Benin, Ethiopia , Cuba and China (which had modelled themselves on the former Soviet Union and the regimes of Eastern Europe) there had been a transformation of social relations. Capitalism had been abolished and in its place a nationalized planned economy had been set up. Of course, they were monstrously deformed regimes, where a bureaucracy had control over the state and the economy, but nonetheless they were an immense step forward for the workers and poor in general, in terms of general living conditions and such things as healthcare, education etc. (See also Israel - Sharon's warmongering against Syria for more details on this).

In Syria, like in Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, Ethiopia - the overthrow of the colonial rule took place with the support of the workers and peasants, but the working class was not the conscious leadership of the movement – it played either a passive role or a secondary role. The petit-bourgeois intellectuals, army officers, or leaders of guerrilla bands, used the workers and peasants as cannon fodder, merely as points of support, as a gun rest, so to speak. These countries were no longer capitalist, but in order to move to genuine socialism a political revolution was necessary, whereby the working class would remove the bureaucracies and install real workers’ democracy.

Not for nothing did Trotsky explain to the American Trotskyists in the 1930s that if we were to remove state ownership of industry and the land, the political regime in Russia would have been very similar to a fascist one! The methods and the state apparatus were very similar. There was nothing to distinguish the political regime of Stalin from that of Hitler except for the one decisive fact: that one defended and had its privileges based on state ownership, while the other had its privileges, power, income and prestige based on the defense of private property. That was however a fundamental and decisive difference! And it determined the position of the Marxists towards the regime of Stalin. We defend the nationalized planned economy, but we do not support the Stalinist state apparatus that had usurped political power.

Some have tried to maintain that regimes such as those in Syria, Burma, Ethiopia could not be compared to the Soviet Union. But they ignore that there was no difference in the fundamentals of economic and political structure of these regimes. They were all based on a nationalised planned economy and the laws that govern capitalism were not at play. They were deformed workers' states.

Since Syria was - and still remains to a degree, although the process is now in transition - a proletarian Bonapartist regime, Marxists were duty bound to defend the nationalized property relations. Syria was fighting to regain control over the Syrian hills known as the Golan Heights that had been occupied in 1967. We should note that the only people that Israel did not expel from the Golan Heights after 1967, were the Druses. In the 1980s they were offered Israeli citizenship but they refused this and stated clearly that they wanted to return to Syria. This show their attitude to the Syrian regime which had offered serious material advantages thanks to the social transformation that had taken place there.

For all these reasons Marxists had to defend Syria in that war. A defeat for the rulers of Israel in the war against Syria would have opened up a very different situation in the world in favor of the working class and the peasants, and it would also have strengthened the Soviet Union in spite of the stupidity of its ruling bureaucrats. But that was the last thing the bureaucrats would have wanted. A strengthening of the position of the Soviet Union would also have facilitated a movement of the Russian workers against the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy had long ago become a counter-revolutionary force, both inside the Soviet Union and outside. History has shown that they preferred a collapse of the nationalized planned economy and a return to capitalism rather than seeing power fall into the hands of the workers.

Jerusalem, October 2003.

Appendix 

Last update on the findings on the 1973 events - September 30, 2003

(from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz)

Ya'alon: Full Yom Kippur War report only in 20 years

By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

Most of the Israel Defense Forces' official study of the Yom Kippur War will be published only in another 20 years, IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon has decided.

In August, Ya'alon ordered the IDF's history department to expand and update the study with a view to publishing most of it in the near future. However, he has now decided that the report's conclusions should not yet be publicized in full.

Ya'alon told Haaretz that the report contained "many criticisms, some of which were found to be correct. Now a new study is being carried out, in a very thorough manner, and we must allow it to proceed. The matters that are important to us, as an army, have already been studied. But for the sake of history, several chapters should be fleshed out - and that is what is being done now."

In the meantime, he said, the IDF will consider publishing only selected sections of the research. "The rule is to publish only after 50 years. What's the hurry? I assume that most [of the study] will be published only after 50 years. We will decide as needed," he said.

The decision to update the research stemmed from a public debate over the war that was sparked by three media reports last month: Yedioth Ahronoth and Ma'ariv published transcripts of tapes made by the liaison officers of Major General Shmuel ("Gorodish") Gonen, who commanded the southern front during the war, while Haaretz published the main findings of the IDF history department's classified study. That study has never even been distributed within the IDF, much less made available to the public, and the three media reports resulted in several requests that the IDF finally publish the study in full.

Though the IDF has refused to publish the study, it has held several professional conferences recently on the lessons to be learned from the war. The most important of these, held last week, dealt with the intelligence failures that resulted in the army's failure to predict and prepare for the war.