CounterPunch Exclusive: Collusion and Betrayal on the
What Really Happened in the “Yom Kippur”
by ISRAEL SHAMIR
in Moscow I recently received a dark-blue folder dated
1975. It contains one of the most well-buried secrets of
Middle Eastern and of US diplomacy. The secret file,
written by the Soviet Ambassador in Cairo, Vladimir M.
Vinogradov, apparently a draft for a memorandum
addressed to the Soviet politbureau, describes the 1973
October War as a collusive enterprise between US,
Egyptian and Israeli leaders, orchestrated by Henry
Kissinger. If you are an Egyptian reader this revelation
is likely to upset you. I, an Israeli who fought the
Egyptians in the 1973 war, was equally upset and
distressed, – yet still excited by the discovery. For an
American it is likely to come as a shock.
According to the Vinogradov memo (to be published by us
in full in the Russian weekly Expert next
Monday), Anwar al-Sadat, holder of the titles of
President, Prime Minister, ASU Chairman, Chief
Commander, Supreme Military Ruler, entered into
conspiracy with the Israelis, betrayed his ally Syria,
condemned the Syrian army to destruction and Damascus to
bombardment, allowed General Sharon’s tanks to cross
without hindrance to the western bank of the Suez Canal,
and actually planned a defeat of the Egyptian troops in
the October War. Egyptian soldiers and officers bravely
and successfully fought the Israeli enemy – too
successfully for Sadat’s liking as he began the war in
order to allow for the US comeback to the Middle East.
was not the only conspirator: according to Vinogradov,
the grandmotherly Golda Meir knowingly sacrificed two
thousand of Israel’s best fighters – she possibly
thought fewer would be killed — in order to give Sadat
his moment of glory and to let the US secure its
positions in the Middle East. The memo allows for a
completely new interpretation of the Camp David Treaty,
as one achieved by deceit and treachery.
Vladimir Vinogradov was a prominent and brilliant Soviet
diplomat; he served as ambassador to Tokyo in the
1960s, to Cairo from 1970 to 1974, co-chairman of the
Geneva Peace Conference, ambassador to Teheran during
the Islamic revolution, the USSR Deputy Minister of
Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of
the Russian Federation. He was a gifted painter and a
prolific writer; his archive has hundreds of pages of
unique observations and notes covering international
affairs, but the place of honor goes to his Cairo
diaries, and among others, descriptions of his hundreds
of meetings with Sadat and the full sequence of the war
as he observed it unfold at Sadat’s hq as the big
decisions were made. When published, these notes will
allow to re-evaluate the post-Nasser period of Egyptian
Vinogradov arrived to Cairo for Nasser’s funeral and
remained there as the Ambassador. He recorded the
creeping coup of Sadat, least bright of Nasser’s men,
who became Egypt’s president by chance, as he was the
vice-president at Nasser’s death. Soon he dismissed,
purged and imprisoned practically all important Egyptian
politicians, the comrades-in-arms of Gamal Abd el
Nasser, and dismantled the edifice of Nasser’s
socialism. Vinogradov was an astute observer; not a
conspiracy cuckoo. Far from being headstrong and
doctrinaire, he was a friend of Arabs and a consistent
supporter and promoter of a lasting and just peace
between the Arabs and Israel, a peace that would meet
Palestinian needs and ensure Jewish prosperity.
pearl of his archive is the file called The Middle
Eastern Games. It contains some 20 typewritten pages
edited by hand in blue ink, apparently a draft for a
memo to the Politburo and to the government, dated
January 1975, soon after his return from Cairo. The file
contains the deadly secret of the collusion he observed.
It is written in lively and highly readable Russian, not
in the bureaucratese we’d expect. Two pages are added to
the file in May 1975; they describe Vinogradov’s visit
to Amman and his informal talks with Abu Zeid Rifai, the
Prime Minister, and his exchange of views with the
Soviet Ambassador in Damascus. Vinogradov did not voice
his opinions until 1998, and even then he did not speak
as openly as in this draft. Actually, when the
suggestion of collusion was presented to him by the
Jordanian prime minister, being a prudent diplomat, he
refused to discuss it.
official version of the October war holds that on
October 6, 1973, in conjunction with Hafez al-Assad of
Syria, Anwar as-Sadat launched a surprise attack against
Israeli forces. They crossed the Canal and advanced a
few miles into the occupied Sinai. As the war
progressed, tanks of General Ariel Sharon crossed the
Suez Canal and encircled the Egyptian Third Army. The
ceasefire negotiations eventually led to the handshake
at the White House.
me, the Yom Kippur War (as we called it) was an
important part of my autobiography. A young paratrooper,
I fought that war, crossed the canal, seized Gabal Ataka
heights, survived shelling and face-to-face battles,
buried my buddies, shot the man-eating red dogs of the
desert and the enemy tanks. My unit was ferried by
helicopters into the desert where we severed the main
communication line between the Egyptian armies and its
home base, the Suez-Cairo highway. Our location at 101
km to Cairo was used for the first cease fire talks; so
I know that war not by word of mouth, and it hurts to
learn that I and my comrades-at-arms were just
disposable tokens in the ruthless game we – ordinary
people – lost. Obviously I did not know it then, for me
the war was a surprise, but then, I was not a general.
Vinogradov dispels the idea of surprise: in his view,
both the canal crossing by the Egyptians and the inroads
by Sharon were planned and agreed upon in advance by
Kissinger, Sadat and Meir. The plan included the
destruction of the Syrian army as well.
first, he asks some questions: how the crossing could be
a surprise if the Russians evacuated their families a
few days before the war? The concentration of the forces
was observable and could not escape Israeli attention.
Why did the Egyptian forces not proceed after the
crossing but stood still? Why did they have no plans for
advancing? Why there was a forty km-wide unguarded gap
between the 2d and the 3d armies, the gap that invited
Sharon’s raid? How could Israeli tanks sneak to the
western bank of the Canal? Why did Sadat refuse to stop
them? Why were there no reserve forces on the western
bank of the Canal?
Vinogradov takes a leaf from Sherlock Holmes who said:
when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever
remains, however improbable, must be the truth. He
writes: These questions can’t be answered if Sadat is to
be considered a true patriot of Egypt. But they can be
answered in full, if we consider a possibility of
collusion between Sadat, the US and Israeli leadership –
a conspiracy in which each participant pursued his own
goals. A conspiracy in which each participant did not
know the full details of other participants’ game. A
conspiracy in which each participant tried to gain more
ground despite the overall agreement between them.
Before the war Sadat was at the nadir of his power: in
Egypt and abroad he had lost prestige. The least
educated and least charismatic of Nasser’s followers,
Sadat was isolated. He needed a war, a limited war with
Israel that would not end with defeat. Such a war would
release the pressure in the army and he would regain his
authority. The US agreed to give him a green light for
the war, something the Russians never did. The Russians
protected Egypt’s skies, but they were against wars. For
that, Sadat had to rely upon the US and part with the
USSR. He was ready to do so as he loathed socialism. He
did not need victory, just no defeat; he wanted to
explain his failure to win by deficient Soviet
equipment. That is why the army was given the minimal
task: crossing the Canal and hold the bridgehead until
the Americans entered the game.
Plans of the US
During decolonisation the US lost strategic ground in
the Middle East with its oil, its Suez Canal, its vast
population. Its ally Israel had to be supported, but the
Arabs were growing stronger all the time. Israel had to
be made more flexible, for its brutal policies
interfered with the US plans. So the US had to keep
Israel as its ally but at the same time Israel’s
arrogance had to be broken. The US needed a chance to
“save” Israel after allowing the Arabs to beat the
Israelis for a while. So the US allowed Sadat to begin a
Israel’s leaders had to help the US, its main provider
and supporter. The US needed to improve its positions in
the Middle East, as in 1973 they had only one friend
and ally, King Feisal. (Kissinger told Vinogradov that
Feisal tried to educate him about the evilness of Jews
and Communists.) If and when the US was to recover its
position in the Middle East, the Israeli position would
improve drastically. Egypt was a weak link, as Sadat
disliked the USSR and the progressive forces in the
country, so it could be turned. Syria could be dealt
with militarily, and broken.
Israelis and Americans decided to let Sadat take the
Canal while holding the mountain passes of Mittla and
Giddi, a better defensive line anyway. This was actually
Rogers’ plan of 1971, acceptable to Israel. But this
should be done in fighting, not given up for free.
for Syria, it was to be militarily defeated, thoroughly.
That is why the Israeli Staff did sent all its available
troops to the Syrian border, while denuding the Canal
though the Egyptian army was much bigger than the Syrian
one. Israeli troops at the Canal were to be sacrificed
in this game; they were to die in order to bring the US
back into the Middle East.
However, the plans of the three partners were somewhat
derailed by the factors on the ground: it is the usual
problem with conspiracies; nothing works as it should,
Vinogradov writes in his memo to be published in full
next week in Moscow’s Expert.
Sadat’s crooked game was spoiled to start with. His
presumptions did not work out. Contrary to his
expectations, the USSR supported the Arab side and began
a massive airlift of its most modern military equipment
right away. The USSR took the risk of confrontation with
the US; Sadat had not believed they would because the
Soviets were adamant against the war, before it started.
His second problem, according to Vinogradov, was the
superior quality of Russian weapons in the hands of
Egyptian soldiers — better than the western weapons in
the Israelis’ hands.
an Israeli soldier of the time I must confirm the
Ambassador’s words. The Egyptians had the legendary
Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, the best gun in the
world, while we had FN battle rifles that hated sand and
water. We dropped our FNs and picked up their AKs at the
first opportunity. They used anti-tank Sagger missiles,
light, portable, precise, carried by one soldier.
Saggers killed between 800 and 1200 Israeli tanks. We
had old 105 mm recoilless jeep-mounted rifles, four men
at a rifle (actually, a small cannon) to fight tanks.
Only new American weapons redressed the imbalance.
Sadat did not expect the Egyptian troops taught by the
Soviet specialists to better their Israeli enemy – but
they did. They crossed the Canal much faster than
planned and with much smaller losses. Arabs beating the
Israelis – it was bad news for Sadat. He overplayed his
hand. That is why the Egyptian troops stood still, like
the sun upon Gibeon, and did not move. They waited for
the Israelis, but at that time the Israeli army was
fighting the Syrians. The Israelis felt somewhat safe
from Sadat’s side and they sent all their army north.
The Syrian army took the entire punch of Israeli forces
and began its retreat. They asked Sadat to move forward,
to take some of the heat off them, but Sadat refused.
His army stood and did not move, though there were no
Israelis between the Canal and the mountain passes.
Syrian leader al Assad was convinced at that time that
Sadat betrayed him, and he said so frankly to the Soviet
ambassador in Damascus, Mr Muhitdinov, who passed this
to Vinogradov. Vinogradov saw Sadat daily and asked him
in real time why he was not advancing. He received no
reasonable answer: Sadat muttered that he does not want
to run all over Sinai looking for Israelis, that sooner
or later they would come to him.
Israeli leadership was worried: the war was not going as
expected. There were big losses on the Syrian front, the
Syrians retreated but each yard was hard fought; only
Sadat’s passivity saved the Israelis from a reverse. The
plan for total Syrian defeat failed, but the Syrians
could not effectively counterattack.
was the time to punish Sadat: his army was too
efficient, his advance too fast, and worse, his reliance
upon the Soviets only grew due to the air bridge. The
Israelis arrested their advance on Damascus and turned
their troops southwards to Sinai. The Jordanians could
at this time have cut off the North-to-South route and
king Hussein proposed this to Sadat and Assad. Assad
agreed immediately, but Sadat refused to accept the
offer. He explained it to Vinogradov that he did not
believe in the fighting abilities of the Jordanians. If
they entered the war, Egypt would have to save them. At
other times he said that it is better to lose the whole
of Sinai than to lose a square yard on the Jordan: an
insincere and foolish remark, in Vinogradov’s view. So
the Israeli troops rolled southwards without hindrance.
During the war, we (the Israelis) also knew that if
Sadat advanced, he would gain the whole of Sinai in no
time; we entertained many hypotheses why he was standing
still, none satisfactory. Vinogradov explains it well:
Sadat ran off his script and was waited for US
involvement. What he got was the deep raid of Sharon.
breakthrough of the Israeli troops to the western bank
of the Canal was the murkiest part of the war,
Vinogradov writes. He asked Sadat’s military commanders
at the beginning of the war why there is the forty km
wide gap between the Second and the Third armies and was
told that this was Sadat’s directive. The gap was not
even guarded; it was left wide open like a Trojan
backdoor in a computer program.
Sadat paid no attention to Sharon’s raid; he was
indifferent to this dramatic development. Vinogradov
asked him to deal with it when only the first five
Israeli tanks crossed the Canal westwards; Sadat
refused, saying it was of no military importance, just a
“political move”, whatever that meant. He repeated this
to Vinogradov later, when the Israeli foothold on the
Western bank of became a sizeable bridgehead. Sadat did
not listen to advice from Moscow, he opened the door for
the Israelis into Africa.
allows for two explanations, says Vinogradov: an
impossible one, of the Egyptians’ total military
ignorance and an improbable one, of Sadat’s intentions.
The improbable wins, as Sherlock Holmes observed.
Americans did not stop the Israeli advance right away,
says Vinogradov, for they wanted to have a lever to push
Sadat so he would not change his mind about the whole
setup. Apparently the gap was build into the deployments
for this purpose. So Vinogradov’s idea of “conspiracy”
is that of dynamic collusion, similar to the collusion
on Jordan between the Jewish Yishuv and Transjordan as
described by Avi Shlaim: there were some guidelines and
agreements, but they were liable to change, depending on
the strength of the sides.
US “saved” Egypt by stopping the advancing Israeli
troops. With the passive support of Sadat, the US
allowed Israel to hit Syria really hard.
US-negotiated disengagement agreements with the UN
troops in-between made Israel safe for years to come.
a different and important document, “Notes on Heikal’s
book Road to Ramadan”, Vinogradov rejects the
thesis of the unavoidability of Israeli-Arab wars: he
says that as long as Egypt remains in the US thrall,
such a war is unlikely. Indeed there have been no big
wars since 1974, unless one counts Israeli “operations”
in Lebanon and Gaza.)
US “saved” Israel with military supplies.
Thanks to Sadat, the US came back to the Middle East and
positioned itself as the only mediator and “honest
broker” in the area.
Sadat began a violent anti-Soviet and antisocialist
campaign, Vinogradov writes, trying to discredit the
USSR. In the Notes, Vinogradov charges that Sadat spread
many lies and disinformation to discredit the USSR in
the Arab eyes. His main line was: the USSR could not and
would not liberate Arab soil while the US could, would
and did. Vinogradov explained elsewhere that the Soviet
Union was and is against offensive wars, among other
reasons because their end is never certain. However, the
USSR was ready to go a long way to defend Arab states.
As for liberation, the years since 1973 have proved that
the US can’t or won’t deliver that, either – while the
return of Sinai to Egypt in exchange for separate peace
was always possible, without a war as well.
After the war, Sadat’s positions improved drastically.
He was hailed as hero, Egypt took a place of honor among
the Arab states. But in a year, Sadat’s reputation was
in tatters again, and that of Egypt went to an all time
low, Vinogradov writes.
Syrians understood Sadat’s game very early: on October
12, 1973 when the Egyptian troops stood still and ceased
fighting, President Hafez el Assad said to the Soviet
ambassador that he is certain Sadat was intentionally
betraying Syria. Sadat deliberately allowed the Israeli
breakthrough to the Western bank of Suez, in order to
give Kissinger a chance to intervene and realise his
disengagement plan, said Assad to Jordanian Prime
Minister Abu Zeid Rifai who told it to Vinogradov during
a private breakfast they had in his house in Amman. The
Jordanians also suspect Sadat played a crooked game,
Vinogradov writes. However, the prudent Vinogradov
refused to be drawn into this discussion though he felt
that the Jordanians “read his thoughts.”
Vinogradov was appointed co-chairman of the Geneva
Peace Conference, he encountered a united
Egyptian-American position aiming to disrupt the
conference, while Assad refused even to take part in it.
Vinogradov delivered him a position paper for the
conference and asked whether it is acceptable for Syria.
Assad replied: yes but for one line. Which one line,
asked a hopeful Vinogradov, and Assad retorted: the
line saying “Syria agrees to participate in the
conference.” Indeed the conference came to nought, as
did all other conferences and arrangements.
Though the suspicions voiced by Vinogradov in his secret
document have been made by various military experts and
historians, never until now they were made by a
participant in the events, a person of such exalted
position, knowledge, presence at key moments.
Vinogradov’s notes allow us to decipher and trace the
history of Egypt with its de-industrialisation, poverty,
internal conflicts, military rule tightly connected with
the phony war of 1973.
few years after the war, Sadat was assassinated, and his
hand-picked follower Hosni Mubarak began his long rule,
followed by another participant of the October War, Gen
Tantawi. Achieved by lies and treason, the Camp David
Peace treaty still guards Israeli and American
interests. Only now, as the post-Camp David regime in
Egypt is on the verge of collapse, one may hope for
change. Sadat’s name in the pantheon of Egyptian heroes
was safe until now. In the end, all that is hidden will
be made transparent.
Postscript. In 1975, Vinogradov could not predict that
the 1973 war and subsequent treaties would change the
world. They sealed the fate of the Soviet presence and
eminence in the Arab world, though the last vestiges
were destroyed by American might much later: in Iraq in
2003 and in Syria they are being undermined now. They
undermined the cause of socialism in the world, which
began its long fall. The USSR, the most successful state
of 1972, an almost-winner of the Cold war, eventually
lost it. Thanks to the American takeover of Egypt,
petrodollar schemes were formed, and the dollar that
began its decline in 1971 by losing its gold standard –
recovered and became again a full-fledged world reserve
currency. The oil of the Saudis and of sheikdoms being
sold for dollars became the new lifeline for the
American empire. Looking back, armed now with the
Vinogradov Papers, we can confidently mark 1973-74 as a
decisive turning point in our history.