The Soviet-Israeli War 1967-1973: The USSR’s Military Intervention in the Egyptian-Israeli Conflict  

The Soviet-Israeli War 1967-1973: The USSR’s Military Intervention in the Egyptian-Israeli Conflict  
By Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez  
(Oxford University Press, 2017.)  506 pp.   

Reviewed by Prof. David A. Meier,  Dickinson State University

Ginor and Remez drew positive acclaim for their book Foxbats Over Dimona (Yale 2007). A decade later the same authors extended their argument further with The Soviet-Israeli War 1967-1973.  As much a product of investigative journalism as classic historical inquiry, readers confront a vast array of perspectives drawn from veterans’ groups and their memoirs, major-players’ memoirs, official releases of diplomatic correspondence, personal interviews, autobiographical elements, pseudo-fictional accounts by active participants, and declassified documents from various countries, including the United States and Israel. Readers wanting a complete list of sources used in The Soviet-Israeli War (2017) will need to consult Foxbats (2007).

Embedded within a largely chronological account, Ginor and Remez scrutinized the events as told in the memoirs of Henry Kissinger and Mohammad Hassanein Heikel, the Egyptian propagandist. While neither narrative held consistently to subsequently released materials, which could be expected, Ginor and Remez vacillate between leaning on these interpretations as the unique voices of insiders while at other times categorically rejecting them as reliable sources. (xxiii, 174, 263 and 307) Similar strengths and weaknesses occur as the authors lean on personal interviews, public speeches, and various commemoration ceremonies in the late 1990s. Given an inclination to insert every conceivable hint or clue discovered, Ginor and Remez left it to future scholars to assess the quality of these sources.  

A notable sub-theme within this text, the authors benefited from numerous memoirs released in the Yeltsin era which grew from the soil of disgruntled military veterans whose service in the Middle East had been officially denied. Additionally, Soviet military personnel transferred to the Middle East originated in various units spread throughout the country. As a consequence, older secrecy oaths were not binding on those beyond the reach of the new Russian state, which may explain the numerous Ukrainian veterans’ memoirs. 

Collectively, Ginor and Remez demonstrate the impasse reached by Soviet-policy Egypt and the Middle East. Whether for reasons of national pride, the spread of Marxism-Leninism, or some geopolitical advantage, Soviet leaders leaned more on military assistance than economic assistance, e.g., the Aswan Dam project, in furthering relations with the Islamic world. Consistent with policies dating back to Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet policy and accompanying aid packages reached quite specific targets, e.g., Vietnam, Cuba, and Egypt. However, Ginor and Remez sprinkled their text with reminders of a larger Egyptian agenda. Beyond the exhausting rhetoric of recovering the Sinai from Israel, Egyptian leaders sought closer ties with Syria, especially, but also with Morocco, Libya, Algeria, and Iraq.

As in this work’s title, Ginor and Remez stress the largely ignored centrality of the Soviet Union’s role in perpetuating the conflict between Israel and Egypt after the Six-Day War. Clearly, Soviet weapons, training, advisors, and even active military units in Egypt made an Egyptian offensive against Israel possible and even plausible. Soviet policy vacillated between denying any military presence in Egypt to flaunting the dress uniforms in the streets of Cairo and Port Said. However confusing Soviet policy towards the Middle East appeared, Brezhnev favored sustaining the détente with Nixon.  

As the pieces fall together in 1972, Egypt’s new leader since September 1970, Anwar Sadat, apparently anticipated the shift in Soviet policy, where military aid would never include sufficient modern weaponry, e.g., MiG-25s, to sufficiently off-set Israeli military capabilities. Consequently, Sadat faced a limited window during which Soviet military shipments would allow a military campaign of roughly thirty days against a post-Soviet era of more stringent controls and limited support. On the other hand, Ginor and Remez documented the movement of Warsaw Pact equipment to Egypt, massive buildup of Soviet hardware on Egyptian soil, including medium range bombers, MiGs, SAMs as well as the transfer of former Soviet equipment to Egyptian authorities during Sadat’s so-called “expulsion” of the Soviet Union. 

Conventional weaponry aside, Ginor and Remez offer ominous evidence of the possibility of Soviet nuclear weapons, namely, Soviet nuclear submarines, as a deterrent against any Israeli first strike potential. Even so, Ginor and Remez overstate their case of potential Soviet attacks on Dimona or a nuclear exchange. Tracing lines of influence and/or disinformation in the 1967-1973 era may suggest more dust and haze than clear vision. Yet as Ginor and Remez repeatedly demonstrated, Soviet foreign policy relied on a sustained fear of war that they appeared reluctant to support.

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