According to the dominant historical narrative, the Soviet Union opposed the Egyptian-Syrian offensive that sparked the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
The US and the USSR were cooling tensions through détente, and the last thing the Kremlin wanted was a conflict between its Arab proxies and the US-backed Jewish state. But a new theory is challenging this widely held notion.
In their recently published volume, The Soviet-Israeli War 1967- 1973, Dr. Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, associate fellows of the Truman Institute at Hebrew University, suggest that the Soviet Union not only knew about the impending war, but helped to plan it.
“The Egyptian-Syrian offensive was backed by and coordinated with Moscow,” Remez said at an event promoting the book at the Jerusalem Press Club. “Soviet forces, as well as advisers, even took direct part.”
Remez and Ginor’s findings come from the memoirs and testimonies of Soviet veterans that they translated from Russian and introduced to the Western scholarly discourse.
“Eyewitness testimonies helped to set the record straight,” said Ginor.
“To use an un-academic but fashionable term, fake news had evolved over decades into fake history.”
Their research undermines the long-held belief that Cairo expelled the Soviet military advisers who had been stationed in Egypt since before the Six Day War. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat made international headlines on July 18, 1972, when he announced that he was expelling the 15,000 to 20,000 Soviet advisers from the country. This was seen as distancing Egypt from the USSR and closer to the US. According to Ginor and Remez, it was all a great deception.
The Soviet advisers never left, they say.
Ginor and Remez’s research has been met with skepticism. According to Uri Bar-Joseph, a professor of international relations at the University of Haifa, evidence shows that the Kremlin was surprised by the breakout of the Yom Kippur War.
Several scholars cast doubt on Ginor and Remez’s findings.
The book also details heavy Russian involvement in the War of Attrition, Israel’s bloody conflict with Egypt (as well as with Jordan, the PLO and their allies) from 1967 to 1970. Many historians know of the Soviets’ involvement in the conflict, but Ginor and Remez claim they had a greater role than most assume.
According their research, Egypt took credit for many attacks that were actually engineered by the Soviets.
One was the October 1967 sinking off Port Said of the INS Eilat, which at the time was Israel’s only functioning destroyer.
“The Soviets did all but press the button,” one of Ginor and Remez’s interviewees recounted.
Remez compared the actions of the Soviets during the War of Attrition to those of Russia in Syria today.
In 1967, Egyptian harbors and air force bases became Soviet “in all but name,” similar to the way Russia currently occupies Syrian ports and air fields, he said.
Remez, the former head of the foreign news department at the Voice of Israel, and Ginor, a Soviet affairs specialist for Haaretz, previously authored Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviets’ Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War, in which they claim that the USSR engineered the 1967 war to curtail the emerging Israeli nuclear program. This theory was also novel to historians and met with skepticism.