Israel’s Lessons From Two Historical Events

This month marks the 45th Anniversary of the Yom Kippur War and the 25th Anniversary of the Oslo Accords signing.

This month (September, according to the Hebrew calendar) marks the anniversary of two major historical events in the Middle East.  Both of these events have had major repercussions on the region and in Israeli-Palestinian relations.  Forty-five years ago, on October 6, 1973, the armies of Egypt and Syria launched an attack on Israel during the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur.  Israeli military intelligence cautioned against a rush to war.  Major-General Zaira, Israel’s Chief of Intelligence, with an over-confident attitude, dismissed reports of Egyptian forces concentrating along the Suez Canal front as the same old Egyptian maneuvers.  Prime Minister Golda Meir, conscious of what might be the western reaction to Israeli military mobilization, and in particular, wary of a negative U.S. reaction, declined to order full mobilization, even when the Mossad Chief Zvi Zamir brought her a tip from an Egyptian double-agent (President Sadat’s son-in-law) that the Egyptians would attack on Yom Kippur.  As a consequence of the delay in Israel’s mobilization, and Egypt’s surprise attack, the Israeli fortification along the Suez Canal fell, albeit after a heroic fight by the defenders.  The lack of preparedness on the part of Israel as a result of over-confidence stemming from the Six-Day War, cost the lives of almost 3,000 Israeli soldiers.  Ultimately, Israel triumphed in spite of the early setbacks.

Twenty five years ago, on September 13, 1993, the Oslo Accords were formally signed on the White House lawn, with a grinning President Bill Clinton overseeing the historical handshake between Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman.  The signing of the Oslo Accords launched what we now know as the “peace process.” 

This reporter (along with Gary Ratner) met and interviewed PM Rabin at his Defense Ministry office in Tel Aviv, prior to the Oslo Process.  Responding to a question about meeting and negotiating with Yasser Arafat, Rabin emphatically rejected the idea, saying that under no circumstances would he negotiate with the murderous Arafat and his PLO terrorists.  Rabin’s sentiments toward Arafat were in evidence during the signing ceremony on September 13, 1993, at the White House.  Rabin was desperately trying to avoid talking to Arafat, or shaking his hand.  Even after being prodded by President Clinton to shake hands with Arafat following the signing of the Accord, everyone could easily detect the discomfort on Rabin’s face.  One can only imagine the pressure put on Rabin to go through with the Oslo deal.  According to historian Efraim Karsh, “So deep was his (Rabin’s) loathing of Arafat, that he planned to shun the Washington ceremony altogether.”  It took U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher to cajole Rabin into coming. Rabin had to take an “anti-nausea pill.”

It is clear now that Rabin’s skepticism about Arafat was warranted. Unfortunately Rabin decided to carry on with what he knew in his heart was a charade.  Rabin believed that peace had to commence at some point, but chose a time when Arafat’s fortunes and that of the PLO were at their lowest point.  Arafat sided with Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi brutal conquest of Kuwait, and the Arab Gulf states set out to punish the Palestinians.  Kuwait expelled most of its Palestinian population, and the rest of the Gulf Arab’s shunned the Palestinians.  Rabin said to us that, “you make peace with your enemies, and especially bitter enemies.”  When I asked Rabin what would happen if the Palestinians reneged on the Accords and resumed their terrorist attacks, Rabin replied that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was strong enough to handle the Palestinians under such circumstances.

As it happened, Arafat’s pledge “to renounce terrorism, and other acts of violence” was a sham. Interviewed in Arabic by Jordanian TV on the same day the White House ceremony took place, Arafat made it clear to his Palestinian viewing audience that the Oslo Accords did not end the conflict.  He argued that the Accords gave his Palestinians (PLO) a territorial foothold from which the war to liberate all of Palestine (meaning Israel) would ensue. 

Arafat had often invoked the Treaty of Hudaybiyah when addressing Palestinian audiences.  It was the treaty the Prophet Mohammad made between his followers in Medina and his enemies from his own tribe of the Quraysh of Mecca, who inconclusively besieged his Medina followers in 628 CE.  The treaty establish a 10-year truce between the Muslims in Medina and the Quraysh of Mecca.  Two-years later, now with increased power and feeling strong enough, he broke the truce with the Meccan and attacked them.  In 630 CE, he conquered Mecca.  Arafat alluded to the Oslo Accords as his Treaty of Hudaybiyah, implying that he intended to break the Accords with Israel at the moment he felt it right, much like the Prophet did in 630 CE.  Indeed, in September, 2000, judging that the Israeli public morale was low, perceiving Israel as weakened by the suicide bombing campaign he coordinated with Hamas, he launched the Second intifada, this time a bloody and violent one.

Earlier in July, 2000, President Bill Clinton summoned Arafat along with Israeli PM Ehud Barak to Camp David for a peace summit. Arafat was given unprecedented concessions. The U.S. plan offered by President Bill Clinton and endorsed by PM Ehud Barak would have given the Palestinians 97% of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and full control of the Gaza Strip, with a land-link between them.  In exchange for the 3% annexation of Judea and Samaria, Israel would increase the size of Gaza by a third from Israeli territory.  Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem would become the capital of the new state.  Palestinian refugees would have the right to return to the Palestinian state, and receive reparations from a $30 billion international fund to compensate them.  The Palestinians would maintain control over their holy places, and would be given desalinization plants to provide them with adequate water.

The Oslo process was one of the worst self-inflicted wounds in Israel’s history, along with the failure of Israeli military intelligence in the Yom Kippur war.  Palestinian terrorism didn’t end, it spiked.  More Israelis were killed in bombing and suicide attacks than in any previous two-year period in Israel’s history.  The failure of the Oslo process diplomacy has reinforced Benjamin Netanyahu’s conviction that Israel must wait for a Palestinian leader that is fully committed to peace and prosperity for his own people.  It also exposed the folly of the land-for-peace formula.

In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, the Agranat Commission laid blame on Israel’s military leadership for its “obdurate adherence to what was known as the ‘conception,’ according to which Egypt would not launch war against Israel before she had first ensured sufficient air power to attack Israel. Syria would only launch an all-out attack on Israel simultaneously with Egypt. 

The West Point Modern War Institute summarized the lessons learned from the Yom Kippur war. “Linking military action to political goals, guarding against cognitive biases, and when appropriate, recognizing opportunities to improve one’s own lot by acknowledging the interests of an adversary.”  These, according to its author David Wallsh, “are fundamental to the successful conduct of war in any time and place.”  For Egypt however, the “October War” served to convince Anwar Sadat that Israel couldn’t be eliminated by war and he ultimately chose to make peace.




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