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The Big Lie, 34 Years Later

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    Not many countries celebrate defeat. Syria does.

Not many countries want to be reminded of grossly embarrassing encounters. Syria is celebrating Israel’s victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It’s a celebration with a twist. While the rest of the world records Israel’s October 1973 victory over Syria and Egypt, Syrian historians, Syria’s military and most importantly Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, tell another story. The Syrians have rewritten history. And in their version, Syria emerged victorious against Israel.

Delusional is the word that comes to mind. But for Syria, properly placed myths and choreographed delusions are often a very effective propaganda tool.

Israelis commemorated Yom Kippur in synagogues across the country. Two Saturdays ago, over the border in Damascus, Syrian crowds cheered and waved flags in parades sponsored by the government in celebration of their great victory against the Israelis in the Yom Kippur War.

(In Arabic the celebration is called Harb October or Harb Tishrin. Harb means battle, October is October and Tishrin is the name of the Arabic month during which the war was waged. Sometimes, it is simply called the ‘73 War.)

There is no historical doubt that Syria as a country and Assad as president are totally rewriting history. Yes, for the first few hours of the ‘73 War it appeared that Israel was caught with its fatigues down – but within 48 hours Israel had repelled both the Syrian and the Egyptian armies and Israeli soldiers were on their way to Cairo and Damascus.

By the time the armistice was signed at the end of October Israelis were only miles away from the Syrian and Egyptian capitals.

Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, was fond of saying that the big lie actually works. He believed that as a rule people are gullible; that if a lie is repeated often enough and with enough conviction – especially if it is voiced by those believed to have authority – the people will believe it. Syrian and Egyptian leaders are proof that Goebbels was not telling a lie. Both Syria and Egypt have actually erected monuments commemorating victory over Israel in October 1973.

Bashar Assad is not the inventor of the Big Lie of ‘73. His father was. As the situation began to change, as it became more obvious to Syria’s leaders that they were losing ground, Hafez Assad made the decision to prevent the Arab press from covering the war.

Arab reports of the war from day one and day two were accurate – the Arabs were winning. But Arab reports beginning on day three of the war were pure fiction. There was no mention of the fact that the Israelis had taken the advantage, no mention that by the conclusion of the war Israel had defeated the Arab armies of Syria, Egypt and Iraq.

There was no mention because the media were given no access – they were fed information and the information they were fed was false.

Syrian and Egyptian leaders had to lie. Their lives and kingdoms are built not on reality but on Arab pride. If the people knew their armies lost a war to Israel, they would have been shamed. Blame would have fallen on the shoulders of their leaders. Control would have been lost. Countries would have been destabilized. And heads, quite literally, would have rolled.

Time marches on, but Syrian politics remain unchanged. Here we are, 34 years later, and Bashar Assad is still pumping up the Syrians. He is saying that we did it in ‘73 and we can do it in ‘07. He is saying that we, the Syrians, can still defeat Israel. As proof, he is using another piece of altered history, citing the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006. He is recalling the message that rang clear throughout the Muslim world that Israel can be hurt badly, that Israel can be defeated.

Assad knows the truth about the Yom Kippur War of ‘73. He understands the realities of today. He is conveying a warped reality to his people for a purpose. He is laying the groundwork for a Syrian offensive against Israel.

The Saturday, Oct. 6 editorial in Al Tishrin, a Syrian government-sponsored daily named after the Syrian “victory” in the October War, reads: “There will be no real resurrection for the Arabs unless they recapture the glorious spirit of October, which demonstrated our people’s courage and willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice. Our brave leaders went on to secure the Arab victory and on the 34th anniversary of this glorious Arab war we must pay homage to our deceased leader Hafez al-Assad … what the Arabs need now is not to pine for October’s war but to regain its political, military and financial principles.”

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