Newly declassified documents have reignited the debate over whether a chance to avoid the 1973 Yom Kippur War was squandered.
Declassified Israeli government protocols released in June reveal that Egypt rejected then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s proposal for secret peace negotiations in July 1973, three months before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War. Israel’s State Archives and Israeli-born German historian Professor Michael Wolffsohn jointly released the protocols in commemoration of the upcoming 40th anniversary of the visit to Israel by then-West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, through whom Meir sent her proposal for peace negotiations to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
The Yom Kippur War was fought against Israel by a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria from Oct. 6-25, 1973. The Arab coalition launched a surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
Ehud Yaari, the Lafer International Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of Toward Israeli-Palestinian Disengagement and Peace by Piece: a Decade of Egyptian Policy, said the newly released Israeli State Archives documents “prove, in my opinion, that the Israeli leadership at the time, primarily Moshe Dayan and then Golda Meir, failed to understand the sea change in Sadat’s thinking.”
“I doubt that Sadat could move to peace with Israel without some fighting taking place, but the 1973 war could have been averted had Israel moved toward negotiations with Sadat through [then-U.S. national security adviser] Kissinger,” Yaari told JNS.org. “Kissinger’s own private documents, which will be published in a few years, will certainly support this view.”
Yaari said he was always convinced Dayan thought that it was better to absorb and repel an Egyptian attack than to negotiate with Egypt.
“He was wrong. Now we have the evidence,” Yaari said.
But Elan Journo, fellow and director of policy research at the Irvine, Calif.-based Ayn Rand Institute and the author of the book Winning the Unwinnable War: America’s Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism, offered a different take on the build-up to the war. He said the newly declassified documents “seem to provide added evidence that for his own political goals, Sadat was bent on armed conflict, whereas the Israelis sought to avoid it – a recurring pattern in Israel’s history.”
“Blame Sadat for choosing militancy,” said Journo.
Michael Herzog, the Milton Fine International Fellow at the Washington Institute and a retired brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces, called the Yom Kippur War “one of the most documented and well-researched wars in modern history.” But Herzog told JNS that one important aspect of the war that has not been sufficiently covered “relates to the diplomatic efforts in the year preceding the war and whether these efforts could have prevented the war.”
Herzog said that while interpretations of the events leading up to the Yom Kippur War differ, what is clear is that when Meir sent her proposal for negotiations to Sadat through Brandt in July 1973, it was too late, and Sadat was already bent on going to war.