Sunday, October 7, 2012

Less Than One Hour Away From Cairo and Monty Python's Black Knight (+Video)

07 October '12..

Sometimes you just scratch your head and wonder, other times ... even that will not adequately convey one's amazement. This excerpt from the Egypt Independent yesterday certainly meets the criteria:

“...We had a lot of superiority factors at the beginning. We succeeded in implementing the elements of surprise and initiative –– it was military planning at its highest levels,” recalls Bilal Barakat, a retired general who headed an artillery unit during the war. “After six years of intense and realistic training, the troops were able to perform the crossing almost on auto mode.”

Starting on 13 October, however, Barakat says the situation was reversed.

Beyond the canal crossing

What happened after that can’t be found in most records of the war in Egypt, whether in school curriculums, media or political speeches.

Historian Assem al-Dessouky argues that Sadat wanted to convince the Egyptian people that the war ended with the crossing of the canal to cover up his strategic mistakes later in the war.

With Sadat hailed as the mastermind of the October victory and toppled President Hosni Mubarak celebrated as the leader of the initial airstrike, both presidents had vested interests in propagating the war as an unquestionable victory, and prohibiting any questioning of the events during their rule.

Saad Eddin al-Shazly, military chief of staff at the time of the war, was dismissed in December 1973 after clashing with Sadat and Defense Minister Ahmed Ismail over several strategic decisions during the course of the war. He was marginalized by the regime.

Only after Mubarak’s ouster in 2011 were Shazly’s memoirs, “October War,” published in Egypt –– revealing a very different view.

“History will attest that ... Egyptian officers and soldiers have all exerted their best effort and had the greatest performance, but that Egypt’s ruler at the time, hungry for power and for the spotlight, has aborted their victory,” Shazly writes.

Following Egypt’s initial success, Shazly recounts that Sadat and Ismail insisted against field commanders’ advice on expanding the attack further into Sinai. Following the failure of the attack, Sadat committed what Shazly calls his second strategic mistake, bringing in reinforcements from reserve troops in the west, leaving the forces at the canal with little backup.

While Egyptian forces were suffering heavy losses in the east, Israeli troops were able to cross to the west of the canal through a gap between the Egyptian second and third armies.

Following the elation of the crossing, Barakat remembers the Israeli advancement into the west of the canal as “painful.”

As the roles were reversed and Egyptian losses started to exceed Israel’s, Sadat still refused to end his attempted attack on the east and return the reserves to the west to fend off the attacks, Shazly writes.

By the time a United Nations ceasefire was imposed, the Israeli forces had advanced 35 kilometers into the west of the canal, completely surrounding the third army and cutting it off from its leadership. In the absence of organized troops, an attempted attack on Suez city on 24 October was fended off mainly by civilian fighters.

“They were less than one hour away from Cairo,” says Barakat, adding that, based on the deteriorating state of the forces on the ground, accepting the ceasefire and resorting to a diplomatic resolution was inevitable.

Shazly says with the third army under siege and getting supplies only from Israelis, Egypt was forced to abide by Israel’s conditions in the ceasefire treaty.

Meanwhile, Egyptians celebrated the announced victory. “While these humiliating procedures were occurring on the political and the military levels, the Egyptian people were the last to know, like a deceived husband,” writes Shazly.

I consider it an incomplete victory. It would have had a true sweet taste if it weren't for the Israeli penetration, says Barakat. Lockman says that, hungry for a source of pride following the humiliating 1967 defeat, Egyptians were not too skeptical of the victory announcement. (Emphasis added. Y)


While many may not understand the reference, what came to mind was Monty Python's famous Black Knight, filmed in 1975 and perhaps reflecting such a world view although better left to comedy.

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