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Behind the Headlines Russia Appears to Be the Big Winner in the Fourth Arab-israel War

October 26, 1973
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Who won the fourth Arab-Israeli war? Russia appears to be the big winner and China the little winner. But those roles might ultimately be reversed. Everybody else involved lost, including Western Europe. This is the tentative analysis of some diplomatic and political observers here of the results of the Egyptian-Syrian attacks on Israel on Oct. 6. By supplying equipment, advisors and technicians to Egypt, Syria and Iraq and diplomatic support at appropriate moments, Moscow firmly reestablished itself with most Arabs in those three countries as their champion. Propagandistically, the Soviets also pleased their Arab clients by rhetorically whipping and threatening the Israelis at the Security Council and their media apparatus. All this augurs well for the Soviet future in the Middle East. However, without any expenditures and only by propaganda and diplomatic tactics, particularly at the United Nations in New York, China seems to have improved its position with Arab elements like the Palestine guerrillas and anti-governmental forces in Arab countries by arguing that the Soviets did not commit enough resources to the Arabs and that is why the Arabs again failed to overwhelm Israel. Although this line is plainly untenable it may work in the long run for China.

Egypt and Syria were the big losers. Their armor was smashed and their armies at the point of destruction when the cease-fires were called. Additionally, Israeli forces for the first time stood west of the Suez and took over more territory from Egypt than the Egyptians, even by surprise attack, could hold in the Sinai. Syria was routed everywhere. Besides these military and territorial disasters, Egypt and Syria are more indebted than ever to the Kremlin politically. Israel too is a heavy loser. The manpower that bled and died on two fronts can never be replaced. Funds essential to absorb emigrants and improve the country’s general economy again had to be diverted to the wastes of war.

In addition, Israel too has become more tightly embraced by Washington economically, militarily and politically. But who else will help Israel? Western Europe should be interested in standing by Israel as a cultural and strategic ally if not on moral grounds which are ample enough. But most Europeans only pin-pricked Israel and lost prestige by doing practically nothing to lead the way towards ending the crisis.

Israel, however, did not lose in the military sense. Brig. Gen. (Ret.) S.L.A. Marshall, military affairs analyst for the Los Angeles Times, noted that when the third Saturday arrived after Oct. 6 “the Arab armies were at the brink of another total disaster, partly due to a collapse of morale following heavy losses, but owing still more to miserably bad generalship. Their air arm was already defeated,” Israel’s-superb military gains were all the more impressive, even more so than in the Six-Day War, because as Maj. Gen. Uzi Narkiss noted, in 1967 the Israelis were not caught by surprise, whereas this time the Arabs began the offensive in a surprise and sneak attack, but Israel was able to take the counter-offensive and hold all positions.

The United States lost too. As never before the Arab world is bitter against it as indicated by the Arab oil boycotts and the fulminations by Saudi Arabia, the Soviet Union, the Arabs and the unaligned bloc in the Security Council. Now there is loud talk in the United States and Europe for a joint American-Soviet force to keep the Middle East peace which means that for the first time Russians may be in the Levant at the crossroads of the world. (Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger affirmed today that the U.S. would not send any troops to the Middle East and did not approve sending a joint U.S.-USSR force to that area. See P. 1 for complete story.) But observers suspect that Washington also suffered a tremendous psychological defeat in this crisis. The Kremlin, not the White House, called the plays. The Soviets placed the equipment, trained the attackers, laid out the plans and then only hours before the attacks were launched, allowed some of their people to leave ostensibly to indicate they had nothing to do with the attacks. But the U.S. apparently never was informed by their Soviet diplomatic friends of this grim breach of the principles of the Moscow summit conference.

While the U.S. sought to stop the fighting with appeals for restraint in the first days, even while the Israelis were under severe strain, the Soviets stood aloof and only continued testing their new sophisticated weapons on the Middle East ranges. But when Americans began emphasizing that detente was being shattered and more importantly to the Russians when Egyptians and Syrians were reeling backwards, the Kremlin suddenly told the White House it wanted to talk and the White House complied.

The results again were in the Soviet’s favor. All that apparently came out of the high level talks was a cease-fire agreement that saved the Egyptian and Syrian armies. There is no sign of a peace settlement with justice for Israel as well as for the Arabs. Now it begins to appear the Russians may be even gaining in their argument that a settlement must be “imposed” on Israel, meaning that Israel must return to the old lines of pre-June 1967 when Nasser thought he would make mincemeat of the Israelis.

Washington is still insisting that Israel and the Arabs negotiate a peace themselves but words that emerge about the diplomatic discussions taking place behind the scenes indicate Washington may decide to accept at least part of the Russian view to impose a settlement on Israel in a diplomatic action that will restore some standing for Washington with the Arabs and save detente at Israel’s expense.

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