THE SOVIET MILITARY ROLE IN THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT:
RESEARCH UPDATE I -- THE FULL STORY
By Isabella Ginor & Gideon Remez
Since the emergence of new evidence from the former Soviet Union occurs for the most part randomly and haphazardly, we have had to research several periods of the USSR's Middle Eastern involvement in parallel. The period that follows in chronological order after the Six-Day War -- the War of Attrition, which saw the largest deployment of integral Soviet military formations outside the Warsaw Pact until Afghanistan -- was already the subject of a study that we published in Cold War History in 2002.
Both the 30-year rule, where it applies, and the approaching 35th anniversary of the Soviet intervention's ostensible end in July, 1972, brought about the exposure of new material about President Anwar al-Sadat's supposed "expulsion of Soviet advisers" from Egypt. We presented a paper challenging this hitherto conventional concept at a conference held by the London School of Economics' Cold War Studies Centre in May, 2006 .
Our research established that this was not a unilateral Egyptian move, but rather a withdrawal coordinated in lengthy negotiations among Cairo, Moscow and Washington, and that the Soviet servicemen who left Egypt were not advisers. They were mainly the personnel of the integral Soviet military formations, some 20,000 strong, that had been stationed in Egypt since the War of Attrition in 1969-1970. The genuine Soviet advisers – officers attached individually to Egyptian units -- mostly remained, and continued to prepare the offensive across the Suez Canal that Sadat launched in October 1973.
The conference proceedings are now forthcoming in book form, and the presentation of our paper, Origins of a Misnomer, is accessible online on the Historians' News Network (HNN).
British document exposes the late Ashraf Marwan's role as an Egyptian disinformation agent in the "expulsion" affair.
One of the British documents that we located in London's Public Records Office, after it was declassified in 2002, took on particular topical significance on June 27, 2007, when the Egyptian businessman Ashraf Marwan mysteriously fell to his death off a balcony in London. This rekindled the debate whether Marwan had acted, on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, as a genuine Israeli spy within the Egyptian regime, or as an Egyptian double agent deployed to mislead the Israelis.
This British document strongly supports the hypothesis whereby Marwan was assigned by the Egyptian authorities to spread disinformation among Egypt's adversaries. Rather than a double agent, he might be better described as a triple agent or more, as, more than a year before the 1973 war, he was "clandestinely" disinforming the British, as well as the Israelis.
The document is a secret "flash" cable from a British military attache in Cairo, Alan Urwick, dated July 22, 1972 -- that is, four days after Sadat announced what became fixated in Western and Israeli perceptions as "the expulsion of Soviet advisers." Urwick quoted Marwan – while requesting that the source "should be fully protected" -- as asserting "in strict personal confidence" that "all the Soviet advisers had left Egypt" by the time of their conversation.
Marwan's message was evidently ascribed high credibility, due to his position as "the Secretary for Information Affairs to President Sadat. " It thus formed a very effective part of a concerted Egyptian and Soviet effort to create the false impression that the advisers, rather than the Soviet units, were being expelled because of Moscow's refusal to support Sadat's war aims. This, in turn, cemented the "concept" in the Israeli military leadership that Egypt was incapable of going to war, which had such disastrous results for Israel on Yom Kippur in 1973.
It would appear then, regardless of Marwan's services or disservices for the Mossad on the very eve of the 1973 offensive, that, even earlier, he earned his posthumous glorification in Cairo as an Egyptian hero. See the aforementioned presentation of Origins of a Misnomer and our letter to the New York Times, July 20, 2007.
Since Foxbats over Dimona went to press, and even more after its publication, important new evidence has emerged that bears out our book's thesis about the USSR's instigation of, and plan to intervene in, the Six-Day War. The most dramatic instance was what amounts to official confirmation of the book's Exhibit A and the source of its title -- our exposure that it was Soviet pilots in the yet-experimental and top secret aircraft later known as the MiG-25 "Foxbat" who flew the highly provocative sorties over Israel's nuclear facility in May, 1967.
This appears in an article by the chief spokesman of the Russian Air Force, Colonel Aleksandr V. Drobyshevsky , posted on the official website of the Russian Defense Ministry. As in several cases that we cite in the book, this extraordinary disclosure of a hitherto secret operation apparently was included inadvertently in a statement that was published in a completely different context -- the anniverary of the test pilots' school from which the pilot graduated.
It states (in translation): "In 1967, the military valor and high combat training of Colonel Bezhevets, A.S. (now a Hero of the Soviet Union, an honorary test pilot of the USSR, [and] retired Air Force major general), were demonstrated while carrying out [a] combat operation in Egypt, [and] enabled [him] to perform unique reconnaissance flights over the territory of Israel in a MiG-25RB aircraft." (This designation of the plane is of course retrospective, as the prototypes then used were still known by various other code names.)
Drobyshevsky's statement officially corroborates the personal testimony of Bezhevets's senior colleague, Lt. Gen. Aleksandr I. Vybornov, who told of such missions on several occasions quoted in our book, including one in the United States (at the "Gathering of Eagles ," Maxwell Air Force Base, 1999.)
Publication of Foxbats Over Dimona spurs more accounts by Soviet veterans about preparations for intervention against Israel in 1967.
The first, pre-publication report about Foxbats in The Jerusalem Post was widely reproduced, in frequently inaccurate translations, throughout the Russian media and Internet, arousing intensive discussion. Several respected news organizations, notably Komsomolskaya Pravda, contacted some of the veterans who were among the main sources for the book, and they reiterated their accounts. These included General Vasily Reshetnikov, the commander of the strategic bombers that were assigned targets in Israel, particularly "those protected by Hawk missiles" -- that is (as we know), the Dimona nuclear complex -- and Captain Nikolai Khripunkov, the naval officer who was tasked to lead a landing force in Haifa Port.
Bezhevets, on the other hand, denied his Foxbat flights -- which indicates that Drobyshevsky's statement relied not on the pilot's testimony, but rather on the Air Force's own documentation. Likewise, a retired admiral denied the presence of nuclear submarines in the Mediterranean Sea in 1967 -- which has, however, been been asserted in an official Russian military history, as well as in the memoirs of several submarine captains and crewmen.
The Komsomolskaya Pravda writer, Colonel Viktor Baranets, a noted military correspondent and former General Staff officer, concluded (in part):
Debate develops over archival evidence vs. other sources.
In the first Jerusalem Post report about Foxbats, Michael Oren (author of Six Days of War) was quoted as disparaging our thesis on the grounds that "he had not found 'any documentary evidence to support' the book's central claims," while admitting "that he had visited the Soviet archives and that 'not a lot has been declassified.' " In a generally positive review in The New Republic, Benny Morris commended Foxbats for "proximity to the truth," but characterized our evidence as "flimsy." He agreed that the most pertinent Soviet archives are still closed, and suggested that the historical record could be definitively corrected only at "the moment the Russian archives open the relevant files."
Coming after an essay in The New York Times on the status of Russian archives, we consider this to be the welcome start of an important debate on the character of evidence for historical research. In a letter to The New Republic, we pointed to Drobyshevsky's aforementioned statement as "about as close to an official document as one can hope for under the prevailing circumstances." The statement "illustrates the point we emphasized, that full and direct documentation of the Soviet plan in 1967 is still being suppressed, to the extent that it ever existed and was not destroyed."
"Criticism of our findings merely on the grounds that no basis for them has yet been exposed in Soviet archives is, therefore, not merely fallacious. It is also disturbingly dangerous, because it implicitly admits the Orwellian nightmare whereby the absence, prostitution, or suppression of archival evidence can and should be allowed to excise entire chapters from history. The alternative, to which we have tried to contribute, is to cross-check and piece together, cautiously and painstakingly, the myriad and often random references now available from other sources, in order to assemble a picture that evolves gradually toward the actual facts as they occurred. Our approach is discussed at greater length in the first chapter of Foxbats."
Foreign Affairs acclaims Foxbats.
The authoritative journal, Foreign Affairs, has named Foxbats Over Dimona as one of five "outstanding new books." In the journal's issue for September-October, 2007, Professor Sir Lawrence D. Freedman of King's College, London, summed up his review: "Using every snippet of relevant information from an extraordinary range of sources, ... Ginor and Remez have succeeded to the point where the onus is now on others to show why they are wrong." The full review follows.
Israel & the Arabs -- The Israeli-Arab Conflict
Middle East -- Arabs, Arab States,
& Their Middle Eastern Neighbors
American Foreign Policy -- The Middle East
Islamism & Jihadism -- Radical Islam & Islamic Terrorism
Page Three Page Two Page One
International Politics & World Disorder:
War & Peace in the Real World
Page Two Page One
Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization
Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies
U.S. National Security Strategy
A Ukrainian-born Israeli, Isabella Ginor is a Fellow at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute at the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem, where she has founded a research project on U.S.S.R. military involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Gideon
Remez has received numerous awards for journalism and was a leading newscaster for Kol Israel radio for 36 years.
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