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Did Hezbollah Win?

In the immediate aftermath of the October War of 1973, the Arab world rejoiced because the myth of Israeli invincibility had been shattered by Egypt’s crossing of the Suez Canal and the Syrian offensive that swept across the Golan Heights. In Israel, there was harsh criticism of political and military chiefs alike, who were blamed for the loss of 3,000 soldiers in a war that ended without a clear victory. Prime Minister Golda Meir, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff David Elazar, and the chief of military intelligence were all discredited and soon replaced.

Only afterwards did a sense of proportion take hold, ironically by the Egyptian and Syrian leaders before anyone else. While commentators in Israel and around the world were still mourning or gloating over Israel’s lost military supremacy, both Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad soberly recognized that their countries had come closer to catastrophic defeat than in 1967, and that it was imperative to avoid another war. That lead to Sadat’s peace and Assad’s 1974 cease-fire on the Golan Heights, which has never been violated since.

It is easy to read the 1973 war only in retrospect. Israel had been caught by surprise, because good intelligence was misinterpreted in a climate of arrogant over-confidence. The frontal sectors, left almost unguarded, were largely overrun. The Egyptians had an excellent war plan and fought well, and Syrian tanks advanced boldly, attacking in wave after wave for three days and nights. Within 48 hours, Israel seemed on the verge of defeat on both fronts.

But as soon as the IDF was fully mobilized and the reservist brigades that make up nine-tenths of its strength were ready to deploy for battle, the Israelis stopped both the Egyptian and Syrian armies in their tracks and began their own advance almost immediately. The war ended with Israeli forces 70 miles from Cairo, and less than 20 miles from Damascus, their success obscured by the shock of the surprise attack, emotional over-reactions, and the difficulty of seeing clearly through the fog of war.