Library Journal December 15, 1980
El Shazly was chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces during the war, but his book is far more than a military memoir. It is a primary source for the evaluation of civilian-military relations in Egypt as well as for comparison to other nations' experiences. The author comes across candidly, as he relates some startling facts and figures: Planning for the 1973 conflict began in 1968; beginning in 1970 Soviet soldiers made up close to a third of the Egyptian air force. The major contribution of the book, however, is the keen insight into the Egyptian political decision-making process as it related to important military matters. El Shazly blames the politicians for Egyptian military setbacks. The book is best appreciated when placed next to the work of the author's colleagues, General Hassan el Badri et al. The Ramadan War, 1973 (Hippocrene, 1978) and the official proceedings, International Symposium on the 1973 October War (Cairo, 1976) and compared with Adan's appraisal. Most highly recommended. - Sanford R. Silverburg, Political Science Dept., Catawba Coli.. Salisbury, N.C.
The Economist January 17, 1981
Two passes too far
THE CROSSING OF SUEZ
By Saad el-Shazly.
It was a victory, the most outstanding feat of Arab arms in modern times and the most audacious stroke by any army since the American invasion of Inchon in 1950. On October 6, 1972, the Egyptian army boiled across the Suez Canal, took the Israelis by surprise, broke through the seemingly impregnable earthworks on the far bank, overvwhelmed their defenders and marched into Sinai, Bristling with anti-tank weapons and under a protective cover of anti-aircraft missiles, the Egyptian divisions pushed ahead on a broad front, virtually the entire length of the canal, dug in and waited. As expected the Israelis threw their tanks and aircraft into battle and broke them on the Arabs' ring of steel.
The story of how all this was planned, prepared and carried out is only part of the story General Shazly has to tell. As chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces during the rebuilding phase after the shattering defeat in 1967 and through the attack itself, he was caught, as many chiefs of staff eventually are, between the demands of his political masters and the needs of his subordinates. Drawing on documents still in his possession which he claims can prove everything he says, General Shazly blasts away at President Sadat.
He details the president's errors of judgment in convincing detail: throwing the Russians out in 1972, refusing to confide in them even when some of them came back to help in 1973 and, most controversial of all, insisting that the Egyptian army advance on the Giddi and Mitla passes without the protection of the anti-aircraft Sams. In ordering this advance, according to General Shazly, President Sadat countermanded the plan for a limited advance and diluted the reserve that had been hoarded on the west bank to smash the Israeli counter-attack that everyone expected. The Israelis, generously supplied with equipment and provided with vital intelligence by the United States - this is the first account that pinpoints the date that the first high-flying American SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft flew down the canal and explains the importance of its photographs - then broke through at Deversoir, mopped up the Sams and won the war.
Clearly there is plenty of self-justification in this book. It is in no sense a complete history of the war, but no history will be complete without it.
The Jewish Post, Thursday, February 25, 1982 - 5
By Arnold Ages
The Crossing of the Suez by Lt. General Saad El Shazly, American Mideast Research, 233 pages, $16.95.
Shazly's Book Blames Sadat for Loss of War
It's almost ten years since the Egyptian army successfully stormed the Israeli defenses on the Bar Lev line and set in motion the political turbulence which is still with us today.
The post mortems on the October War are still coming in as well, this time in the form of a lengthy memoir by Lt. General Saad El Shazly, commander of the Egyptian forces during the war.
Shazly decided to compose his account, he informs the reader, because of mendacious versions of the war which have emanated primarly from Cairo. The author, who wrote his treatise before the death of Sadat, places most of the blame for the doctored versions on the late president.
The book, despite its inelegancies in English style and occasional lapses into non-grammatical English (there is a real syntactic monster on page 261) reveals much about the psychology and planning that went into the Egyptian assault on October 6, 1973.
BOOK RECALLS MILITARY DISCUSSIONS
Perhaps the most interesting sections of the Shazly treatise lie in the recapitulations of the military discussion which occurred in the Egyptian high command. The menace of Israeli air power was a frequent topic; Shazly makes himself out to be the man who engineered Egyptian military doctrine to neutralize Israeli air strength.
This was to be done by capitalizing on Israel's over-reliance on air power and exploiting the myth of Israeli superiority to Egypt's own ends. Shazly's strategy was aided by the availability of Russian Sager missiles and sophisticated surface-to-air projectiles which could provide a protective screen around the advancing Egyptian troops.
Thus far everything in Shazly's account is pretty much the conventional reportage found in two dozen books written on the same subject. Where the author makes a significant contribution is the section on the Israeli drive across the Suez Canal at Deversoir.
Shazly claims that he was aware from the outset of the danger represented by Sharon's incursion onto the west bank of the canal. In accordance with his perceptions of the menace, he proposed on several occasions that tank battalions from the west bank of the canal be redeployed across the bridges to meet Sharon's forces.
The Egyptian military and political leadership which included Ismail, Sadek and Sadat himself were adamantly opposed to the Shazly proposal. Although the general does not explain the reasons for Sadat's reluctance to withdraw units from the Sinai it is obvious, in retrospect, what moved him in his rejection of the Shazly idea.
Sadat had done what no Egyptian leader had done before - confronted the Israelis successfully on the battlefield. To have removed tank units that had been transferred across the canal would have been tantamount to conceding defeat.
FULL OF SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS
Shazly, who left Egypt to take up residence in Libya after a short spell as ambassador to England, is a man who is full of self-righteousness, copious amounts of which creep into his narrative.
Thus he whines about Israel's removal of stores and equipment from Suez City after the truce agreements. He also laments the treatment accorded the Egyptian Third Army by the surrounding Israeli army units.
Perhaps it is too much to expect from a general, but Shazly earns little respect from his readers when he disserts on the immorality of the Israelis. In October of 1973, Egypt, in violation of a crease-fire arrangement with Israel, attacked that nation on its holiest day in the religious calendar, killed almost three thousand of its finest sons and rumbled into Sinai on the way to Israel proper.
Shazly is upset that the Israelis had the temerity to respond.
Really, General Shazly?
The California Institute of International Studies publishes the quarterly
WORLD AFFAIRS REPORT
President and Editor of the World Affairs Report: Ronald Hilton
766 Santa Ynez, Stanford, CA 94305
WORLD AFFAIRS REPORT, Volume 16, Number 3.
Saad El Shazly. The Arab Military Option. San Francisco: American Mideast Research,1986. Pp. 329. $26.00.
The Arab point of view is seldom heard in the United States, so we are grateful to American Mideast Research of San Francisco for publishing two books by Egyptian General Saad El Shazly. The first, The Crossing of the Suez, describes the crossing of the Canal and the capture of the once impregnable Bar Lev Line, which made him a national hero. He is a soldier and a scholar, having studied in both the United States and the Soviet Union. He opposed the Camp David agreement, as do most Egyptians. He has a knowledge and vision of Mideast affairs unique in the Egyptian armed forces, of which he has been called the single most important figure. This volume is an excellent guide to the Israeli-Egyptian confrontation, with good maps and charts. He dedicates this book “To the Arab Youth,” suggesting that he views himself, as Nasser did, as an Arab, rather than just an Egyptian leader. Qaddafi, a scarcely literate wild man, has the same aspiration; he is conspicuously absent from the book, not being named even in the pages about the Arab world and Libya. Strange things happen. Possibly Mubarak will go, and the United States will find itself supporting Saad El Shazly against Qaddafi.
Middle East Perspective, August-September 1981
THE CROSSING OF THE SUEZ
Lt. General Saad el Shazly
San Francisco: American Mideast Research, 1980. 333 pages, maps, sketches, index, photographs. $14.00
To inspect the blackened hulls of seven tanks, destroyed on their rescue mission by the napalm and missiles of the powerful Israeli air force. “I was very proud - and very sick of the weakness and vanity and lying which had brought such a sacrifice.”
Shazly had always perceived that the Israeli air superiority meant that Egypt must set limited objectives and operate within this restraint, since enemy air power could not be overcome. He implies that Egypt could have been like Vietnam, fighting superior forces supplied by America, yet still succeeding with obsolete equipment. He had set himself such a soldierly task, which was frustrated by the theatrical policy of Anwar Sadat, by the boasts and the overweening pride which led him to ignore or reject sound military advice; such political and personal blunders nullified the military results. And so Shazly wrote his book to accuse Sadat: “I have written it with reluctance, with sorrow and with anger.”
The long “political diary” and the minutae of military organization are unlikely to excite the general reader, but they embody crucial information and serve as evidence in his case, which culminates in his condemnation of Sadat at the end of the compelling chapter on the crossing:
The President had thrown away the greatest army Egypt had ever assembled. He had thrown away the biggest airlift the Soviet Union had ever mounted. He had thrown away the greatest collaborative effort the Arabs had achieved in a generation. [And in the introduction he had already declared:] The main endeavor of those in Cairo now professing to tell inside stories about the war seemed to be to denigrate the role had played as Chief of Staff. For myself, I did not mind; I rest content upon the judgment of my peers. What dismayed and then angered me was that this personal campaign led inexorably to wholesale distortion of the achievements of the armed forces as a group… The painful preparation and devoted training for the canal crossing were passed over superficially. The heroic details of the crossing itself were ignored in a chorus of sycophancy proclaiming that all effort resulted from the leadership of one man. And when these informed accounts came to deal with the Israeli penetration on the Egyptian side of the canal, they sank to straightforward lies. No mention of how I clashed with the President on October 16 over the way to deal with it. No mention of how our plans were then vetoed day after day by the President or his Minister of War. Instead, to explain away this disaster, the President and his acolytes tried to heap all the blame on me - and, by swift extension, upon the gallant men whom I had the honor to lead. It was to rehabilitate them… that I decided to write this memoir.
Shazly was dismissed as Chief of Staff because the President needed to find scapegoats for his own willful incompetence, and the General went to London and then to Portugal as Egypt's ambassador. He wrote his book in 1977, and in 1978 he predicted the inevitable failure of the Camp David summit, for which he was dismissed from the diplomatic service. He finished his book in exile and now heads the Egyptian National Front - a political coalition opposed to Sadat which seeks to establish democratic government in Egypt.
His book adds considerably to information about inscrutable Egypt. It is a document of protest against all the ineffective leadership, sycophancy, and petty squabbling which characterise the Arabs as their own worst political enemies. Shazly's principles and his vision become apparent in this soul-searching. Of Sadat's convoluted and secret dealings with the Saudis and with Yemen, for instance, he declares, “All I saw was yet another example of how a significant portion of the Arabs' military strength is … actually wasted in conflict with other Arab forces.”
This is the work of a man who, having given himself to integrity and truth and is detached enough to see events in perspective. Such wisdom embraces more that Egypt or the Middle East.
DEFENSE & FOREIGN AFFAIRS May 1981
Edited by John S. Sanders
The Crossing of the Suez. By Lt. General Saad El Shazly. San Francisco: American Mideast Research, 1980, 333 pages. No price indicated.
Innumerable war memories of the October 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict have appeared in Egypt and Israel, and many are now finding their way into English. But Saad El Din El Shazly's work is a special case. Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces at the time of the war, Shazly is now the most prominent opponent in exile of President Anwar Sadat. Shazly's role in the war is controversial, since Sadat (and the most recent Egyptian war histories) claim he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown after the Israeli counter-crossing of the canal, and was relieved of his duties. Shazly denies this, and indeed it was not reported until some time after Shazly's political break with Sadat was becoming apparent.
Like any war memoir, The Crossing of the Suez is somewhat self-serving; the surprise is that, given Shazly's regular polemics against Sadat in the Arab press, the book is not a diatribe but a relatively measured account.
Though the Egyptian press has denounced this book (first published in Arabic in Paris) on the grounds that it reveals secret information which could harm Egypt's security, in fact there are few surprises as far as factual details are concerned. Reputations of individual commanders may suffer, however.
Shazly offers a long and detailed description of the planning of the war, including the problems faced in crossing the Suez Canal and seizing the Israeli Bar Lev line. He offers details of dealing with the USSR, and generally praises the performance of Soviet equipment in the war. His account of Sadat's dealings with Moscow differ considerably from the versions offered by Sadat in his memories and by Mohammed Heikal in The Sphinx and the Commissar.
The account of the fighting itself is detailed, and Shazly offers a defense of his differences with the rest of the high command. Future studies of the strategy and tactics of the October War will have to at least take Shazly's version into account.
The work is based on Shazly's diaries, and as such is more than a simple after-the-fact assessment; Shazly shows how he felt at the time as well. The book is written in a clear, readable, fast-paced style - as was the Arabic original (no translator is identified) - which makes it less arduous reading than most Arab memoirs in translation.
The reader need not share Shazly's present political beliefs to recognize that he has offered a careful, measured, and seemingly credible account of the October War and his role in it, an account to be balanced, perhaps, by the official versions.
ARMOR MAGAZINE January - February 1982
THE CROSSING OF THE SUEZ
By LTG Saad el Shazly
American Mideast Research. San Francisco, CA,1980. 333 pages, $14.00
The Crossing of the Suez is a rather unique book, not because of its literary style (the prose is, in fact, rather mundane), or its subject matter, but because it provides a critical insider's account of the planning and execution of the Egyptian Army's momentous crossing of the Suez Canal on October 6, 1973.
Of particular interest is Shazly's account of General Arik Sharon's keenly successful penetration of Egyptian lines. As the reader may recall, Sharon's armored penetration led to the isolation of the Egyptian Third Army and thus provided Israel with a strong bargaining card in the disengagement negotiations, held at Kilometer 101 following the war.
Reading Shazly's account, it is easy to infer that the national leadership was concerned lest the political significance of having Egyptian soldiers east of the Suez be lost. Thus, Sadat and others were extremely reluctant to redeploy any forces that had crossed the canal, even if this reluctance denied the ground commanders the wherewithal to counter Sharon.
The Crossing of the Suez should interest military readers, whether their interest is the 1973 war or the decisions that led to it. The text is nicely complemented by maps and figures, and the book is indexed.
AUGUSTUS R. NORTON
U.S. Military Observed Group (Lebanon)
JOURNAL OF PALESTINE STUDIES, Vol. XI, No. 4/Vol.XII, No. 1
EGYPT'S MILITARY BUREAUCRACY
Saad El-Shazly. The Crossing of the Suez. San Francisco: American Mideast Research, 1980.
Reviewed by Prod H. Lawson*
It would be patently unfair to give an extended critique of Saad El-Shazly's The Crossing of the Suez on conceptual or methodological grounds. As a personal narrative, it necessarily emphasizes the perceptions and motivations of Egypt's individual leaders in explaining the country's political affairs. El-Shazly's analysis thus shares the basic perspective of such standard conventional works on Egyptian foreign policy as Malcolm Kerr's The Arab Cold War and P.J. Vatikiotis' Nasser and His Generation. What distinguishes this book from earlier ones for theoretical purposes-is its attention to organizational rivalries within the Egyptian administration and their effects on that country's foreign policy-making.
El-Shazly gives the reader an unusually clear picture of the size and complexity of Egypt's military establishment. This is done explicitly at some points in the story, as when the author describes the "seven intermediate layers of command" that lay between his office, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, and the foot-soldiers in the ranks (pp. 41-42). But it is generally left implicit in the accounts of the planning and preparations for the October war that make up most of the text. Particularly illuminating in this regard is the rather detailed discussion of the military's procedures for mobilizing the army's reserve personnel (pp. 71-75). Students of Egyptian domestic political affairs should be able to make good use of this account by connecting the process of conscripting and calling up for active duty an army the size of Egypt's during the early 1970s to, for example, changes in land tenure in rural districts or trends in the pattern of internal migration from the countryside to the cities and towns. In these and other respects, El-Shazly's book is suggestive of ways to improve our knowledge of Egyptian political life despite its ostensibly polemical and technical orientation.
For those interested in bureaucratic politics and its influence on foreign policy-making, El-Shazly offers a useful insight into the operation of the Egyptian administration at the end of his account of the rebuilding of the country's military forces after he became Chief of Staff. He reports that "the Egyptian military budget is prepared according to function or specialization, and not according to total unit or department cost" (p. 88). If this is indeed the case, then bureaucratic politics in Egypt should not have worked in exactly the way that someone like Graham Allison would expect. Interagency bargaining and competition should not take place along strictly departmental lines. It should instead be structured along functional lines, with those nominally in charge of various agencies and commands competing with each other not to maintain their organizations' autonomy or budget-share relative to those of other organizations, but rather to maintain their prerogatives with regard to specific missions or tasks.
El-Shazly's claim certainly does appear to be borne out in the case of his attempt to construct a semi-permanent earthen bridge across the Suez Canal during the first days of the October war (pp. 310-312). It is less obvious in other parts of the book. At a meeting of the Armed Forces' Supreme Council on 2 January 1972, for instance, it appears that General Mahmud Fahmy of the Egyptian navy offered advice about how to prepare for any future conflict with Israel from the perspective of this branch of the armed forces, while General Ahmad Baghdady was primarily concerned with increasing the size and improving the equipment of the Egyptian air forces (pp. 128-129). Whether or not bureaucratic politics within the country's government does indeed differ significantly from what Allison might expect is therefore left a matter for further, and more systematic investigation.
Other more peripheral issues regarding the influence of inter-agency relations on policy-making in Egypt receive passing attention throughout the book. Problems arising from the lack of cooperation among the various ministries within the government and their effects on the war effort are apparent (the most memorable of these is to be found on pp. 213-214). It is also evident that the country's highest-ranking military commanders were constantly jockeying among themselves for control over as many of the operations associated with the war as possible. That El-Shazly's own activities in this regard all appear to have been. in the best interests of strategy and common sense is no doubt to be expected (pp. 242, 256, 283-284). Furthermore, on the basis of the accounts in the book, there seems to have been a tendency on the part of these commanders to settle their internal disputes with one another by forming committees to look into any disputed matters in closer detail (pp. 103, 139-140). This should remind us that there are shared features of decision-making in large, hierarchically-structured organizations that influence political outcomes across virtually all countries. American foreign policy-making is probably not extraordinarily prone to their effects, either positive or negative; Middle Eastern foreign policy-making is not entirely the creation of the most prominent leader(s) within the country concerned.
In the period just before and during the October 1973 war there does seem to be one aspect of foreign policy-making within Egypt that is seldom considered relevant to explanations of foreign policy programs in the more industrialized countries. El-Shazly shows that a number of significant and technically “military" decisions were made in the years after 1971 with an eye toward the internal security of the Sadat regime. He indicates that when a relatively large shipment of technologically advanced tanks were delivered to Egypt from the Soviet Union in the late winter of 1972, they were deployed in the front-line units of the Egyptian army along the canal rather than left concentrated in its tactical reserve because "the regime had doubts-no more, just doubts-about the loyalty of the brigadier commanding one of the armored divisions and judged that 100 T-62s in his hands would be a risk to internal security" (p. 141 ). Similarly, El-Shazly hints that his superiors had domestic political reasons for refusing to permit him to withdraw a large enough force from the east bank of the canal on 15 October to counter successfully Israel's crossing around Deversoir (pp. 252-253). Moreover, he claims that in a staff meeting on 24 October 1972 President Sadat told his generals that an attack into the Sinai must be carried out as soon as possible. If it were delayed much longer, Sadat is reported to have said, "the internal front will deteriorate. We must accept the calculated risk" (p. 179).
Whether or not a credible explanation for the October war can be made in terms of Sadat's domestic political difficulties at that time remains perhaps the most challenging and inadequately addressed of all the theoretical problems facing those concerned with Egyptian foreign relations in recent years. In the light of subsequent developments within the country, El-Shazly's account of an abortive attack on Cairo by a dissident and religiously-oriented junior officer in mid of October of 1972 takes on a measure of added significance (pp. 170-172).
What little El-Shazly's book offers in the way of background on the new president of Egypt, Husni Mubarak, is especially valuable in the wake of Anwar al-Sadat's assassination. Mubarak is shown to have participated in virtually all of the meetings of the "Inner circle of the Armed Forces Supreme Council" during the months just prior to the October war. He appears to have been in demand not only in those meetings that were called on the president's initiative, but also in the ones called by other high-ranking members of the general staff (pp. 115, 160, 266). He also appears to have played a direct, albeit minor, part in the bargaining that went on between President Sadat and King Faysal over just how much of what kinds of military equipment and other support the Saudi government would contribute to the war effort being planned in mid-1973 (p. 149). But Mubarak figures most prominently in The Crossing of the Suez as the intermediary between El-Shazly and Sadat in mid-December of 1973, when the author was eased out of his post as Chief of Staff and designated Egypt's ambassador to London. According to the text, President Sadat used Mubarak as his personal messenger only when it appeared that El-Shazly was not taking seriously enough the hints that his commanding officer had dropped urging him to resign. By sending Mubarak, Sadat intended to show that these recommendations were coming directly from the president himself. And when it became obvious that El-Shazly was refusing to cave in to anyone except Sadat personally, Mubarak is shown to have cautioned the president not to accede to any public meeting between him and his former Chief of Staff until the memory of El-Shazly's role in the October war had been given a few months to fade. The author claims that this was due to timidity on Mubarak's part (p. 300). It might also be interpreted as an astute bit of political advice to the president, whose personal preference for El-Shazly's superior, General Ahmad Ismail Ali, was clouding his common sense.
For those who are willing to tease such titbits out of El-Shazly's military memoir of the October war, The Crossing of the Suez can be delightful reading. It does not purport to be an unbiased account of the events it records, although it suggests that the author is at least unhindered by the kinds of "political considerations" that turned the war into such a bad show for his army militarily (pp. 140, 247, 306). But even if El-Shazly's own recollections do not seem significantly less "markedly self-serving" than Sadat's Search for Identity (p. 4), they can serve a heuristic function for even the most serious student of Egyptian foreign policy.
*Fred Lawson is Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at Smith College.
THE LINK - Published by Americans for Middle East Understanding-January - March 1981
The Crossing of the Suez
By Lt. General Saad El Shazly
American Mideast Research, San Francisco, 1980, 333 pp., $14.00
By Henry G. Fischer
It is only natural to feel some anticipatory misgivings about a book that tells what might have been, if the writer's views had only been heeded rather than ignored. Such misgivings are totally unjustified in the present case. General Shazly describes the genesis, progress and outcome of a highly complex military operation for which he had the ultimate responsibility and authority; when the success of that operation had been realized, brilliantly demonstrating his ability as commander-in-chief, the authority for its continuation was removed from him, and he was left with the responsibility of repairing, against hopeless odds, the foolhardy decisions of the politicians. The basic situation is a familiar one in bureaucratic societies: the withholding of a proportionate measure of authority from those given a certain responsibility-and, even worse, the arbitrary withdrawal of that authority when their judgment is most critically needed.
In time of war, however, this bureaucratic situation can, and did, have extraordinary consequences. And if the disaster was extraordinary, the initial success was no less so. Anyone who is familiar with the dismal decay of facilities in Cairo will be amazed that the Egyptians could bring off so elaborate and intricate a system of maneuvres.
The complexity of the Suez crossing is the most fascinating part of General Shazly's story, and he launches into it at once, so that one has a clear picture of all its aspects when, in the later chapters, the chronological sequence of events is followed, step by step, from the author's diary and other personal papers. The style is brisk and matter-of-fact, very much in the tradition of the British officers from whom Shazly undoubtedly received his training; he was 32 in 1952, the year of the revolution. Like so many Egyptians, Shazly is also blessed with a sense of humor, as in his account of sleepless musings during the eve of the crossing, when he debates whether he should have arranged to have a film crew record the coming events. And he can be extremely trenchant, as when he describes his government's -regime of autocratic privilege, which it upheld by lying to its citizens and then spying on them to see if they believed the lies." Above all, one is impressed with Shazly's realism and practicality. His book rings true, and the truth is, that
The President had thrown away the greatest army Egypt had ever assembled. He had thrown away the biggest airlift the Soviet Union had ever mounted. He had thrown away the greatest collaborative effort the Arabs had achieved in a generation. So many lies have been told about each of these aspects of the war that ... it is right that I set the record straight.
From the very beginning, when he assumed command of the Egyptian armed forces on May 16, 1971, Shazly realized that his air force was ten years behind Israel's in technical quality, to say nothing of Israel's numerical superiority. He therefore judged that, even if he exploited to the very maximum. the air defence that the Russians had provided during the previous year, it would at most be possible to cross the Suez Canal and take up positions about six to eight miles farther eastward. Such an action could not be expected to lead to the immediate recovery of the Sinai Peninsula, but it would force the Israelis to fight under much less favorable conditions and subject them to the intolerable strains of prolonged warfare. This remained Shazly's position from the first to last, despite constant pressure from Sadat to pursue a more ambitious and less realistic objective. When on October 11th the Egyptians should, in Shazly's view, have been entrenching themselves after their first week of successful combat, Sadat insisted on an advance toward the key Sinai passes 30 to 40 miles east of the Canal, an advance that was doomed to failure because the Egyptian armor was outnumbered and lacked protection from aerial attack. After the advance had failed, and the Israelis had made their counter-offensive at the very point that Shazly had predicted, he was repeatedly prevented from withdrawing men and equipment from the East Bank in order to meet this assault. He was not even permitted to withdraw units from the Third Army, at the southern end of the Canal and beyond immediate pressure; and so, instead of providing support, this segment of the Egyptian forces ultimately became entrapped and turned into a mass of starving hostages, whose suffering was then exploited by the enemy to exact a long series of humiliating demands. When the Israelis were finally compelled to make a limited withdrawal, they plundered and devastated everything they left behind them, just as they had done in 1957, to the point that Shazly wondered whether this highly organized and systematic destruction was meant to terrify: "Or did they, in some perverse way, like living in a climate of hatred?"
Considering the intolerable degree of frustration that Shazly endured, the spirit of his book is surprisingly positive. He finds much to praise in the valor and capability of his men and fellow officers; in the resourcefulness of the engineers who came up with practical solutions to the many problems of breaching the Bar-Lev Line (such as the scouring of passages through an immense sand barrier by hosing it with water); in the enormous amount of help supplied by the U.S.S.R. (somewhat eroded by the ineptness of the Russians in personal relations); and in additional help from the eight Arab countries that sent reinforcements. In many cases this help from the other Arabs was the direct result of Shazly's persuasion. It is obvious that they recognized his loyalty, and gave him their own.
It is also clear, from the excerpts taken from Shazly's personal diary, that he likewise enjoyed the respect of President Sadat. The problem was not, apparently, the result of any personal animosity, but rather Sadat's unwillingness to delegate authority, and his continual use of that most negative of all administrative procedures -divide and rule. Nor is this an isolated case. One thinks, for example, of the limitations Sadat imposed on the authority of his very gifted minister of finance and planning, Abd EI Moneim EI Kaissouny, who successfully disentangled the complex problem of Egypt's foreign debts, but was not allowed to deal with the even more critical problems of his country's internal economy.
Although Shazly occasionally wonders whether some unacknowledged policy lay behind Sadat's arbitrary decisions, he wisely refrains from pursuing this line of speculation, and he confines himself to the events in which he was directly involved. It does not, in fact, seem possible, in explaining the disastrous military reverses that Egypt suffered in the wake of the successful assault of 1973, to ascribe them to anything but blunders compounded by obstinacy. That is how Shazly characterizes them, and his indictment inescapably convincing.
The editing is, on the whole, very good, and the book is equipped not only with an index but a series of maps and diagrams that graphically illustrate various plans and details of the offensive and counter-offensive. It may be useful to point out, however, that the designation "Bren," which occurs on several maps, is not to be found in index, since it refers to General Bren Adan. More importantly, troublesome contradiction between pages 95 and 99 is evidently to be resolved by revising the last lines of page 99 to read as follows:
Was I chosen for my support of the Union of Arab Republics? If that were so, surely the other members of the Armed Forces Supreme Council would have been dismissed, or at least transferred, to less sensitive posts.
Dr. Henry Fischer is Curator in Egyptology at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City, a member of A.M.E. U.'s Board of Directors.
IMPACT INTERNATIONAL 13-26 FEBRUARY 1981
The crossing of Suez
by General Saad El-Shazly Third World Centre for Research and Publishing, London 231 pages, Price £9.90
In his memoirs, the former Israeli chief of staff, General David Elazar, records that during a discussion in the Israeli high command of the possibility of Egyptians attempting to cross the Suez Canal, General Moshe Dayan, then Israeli defence minister, said: ‘To cross the canal the Egyptians would need the support of both the American and the Soviet engineering corps'.
The Israelis had indeed built such formidable defences on their side of the canal that the successful Egyptian crossing in the 1973 Ramadan War took the whole world by surprise. The crossing - the biggest in military history - was no doubt an outstanding military achievement. It put across the canal, in just 18 hours, not only 90,000 Egyptian troops, 850 tanks and 11,000 vehicles but also virtually annihilated the three Israeli armoured and one infantry brigade manning the Bar-Lev Line defences, considered impregnable by the military experts both of Israel and her allies.
How did the Egyptian armed forces, severely battered and demoralised in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, manage to perform the brilliant feat - a feat which not only restored their honour and prestige but exploded also the myth of Israeli military genius and invincibility? And how did the politicians, mainly President Sadat and his minister of war, Ahmad Ismail Ali, mess up the war, leading to the encirclement of Egypt's Third Army, and bringing to naught the impressive initial Egyptian gains? The story is told by General Saad El-Shazly, former chief of staff of Egyptian defence forces and the architect of the crossing operation, code named Operation Badr, in his book: The crossing of Suez.
The author, who superceded 30 generals to become chief of staff of Egyptian defence forces in1971, maintains that there has been a deliberate campaign to hide what really happened in the1973 Ramadan War. According to him Sadat and his stooges not only suppressed facts but deliberately set out to spread lies to mislead the Egyptian people. In his own words: 'Lies from our enemies I had expected. But lies from our own leadership'? His justification for adding yet another book to the many already published to give a true account of the conflict. He claims that he has in his possession documents to prove the truth of every word of his story.
The book begins by describing the elaborate Israeli defence system, the planning that went into Operation Badr, its limited objectives, and how secrecy, surprise, concealment, deception, innovation, improvisation, faith and effective communication etc. were used with outstanding success in the planning and execution of the crossing operation. Some examples:
- Not to alert the Israelis about mobilisation for the operation, General Shazly ordered frequent mobilisation exercises in the preceding year. The Israelis became so used to those exercises that when the real mobilisation came they thought it was yet another routine exercise and took no notice of it.
- Aware of the magical effect of the battle cry of Allahu Akbar (Allah is Great) on the courage and morale of Muslim soldiers, General Shazly ordered transistorised loudspeakers installed along the entire front. As soon as the crossing operation was launched, the loudspeakers started broadcasting Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar. The cries were immediately taken up by the liberating armies and the entire battlefield began to reverberate with the cries of Allahu Akbar.
- One of the formidable obstacles erected by the Israelis along the eastern bank of the canal was a continuous 60 feet high sand barrier, equally thick at the base. To go across the barrier required 70 passages wide enough for the Egyptian tanks and vehicles to pass through. Studies revealed that none of the conventional methods, such as the use of explosives and bulldozers etc. would do the job. A simple but brilliant method was suggested by a young Egyptian engineer, ie cut open the passages by water jets produced by ordinary water pumps. The method worked beautifully and in less than four hours all the 70 passages were opened.
- To foil any attempt at crossing, the Israelis had set up an elaborate system to pump and set on fire huge quantities of oil over the water in the Canal. This dreadful weapon of the Israelis, 'the floating fire', was easily rendered ineffective by the Egyptians who went across in rubber dinghies to the Israeli side of the canal and plugged the oil outlets of the system.
- The Israelis had equipped their tanks and vehicles with very high intensity xenon floodlights and had used them effectively to dazzle and immobilise Egyptian Commandos in the War of Attrition. The weapon was neutralised simply by the issue of ordinary Welder''s goggles to the Egyptian soldiers.
In the Political Diary of the three-year period preceding the war, which incidently is the longest chapter in the book (72 pages), the author gives a rare insight into the tensions, infights and intrigues of Egyptian politics, the autocratic rule of Sadat, relationships with other Arab states, and the role of Soviet Union in building the Egyptian war machine. He asserts that the Soviet Union was and is the best available ally for an Egypt bent upon liberating its lost territory. He goes on to say that despite the fact that it was Egypt and not the Soviet Union which proved to be the bad ally, the Soviet Union mounted the biggest airlift in her history to help Egypt during the war. Although not planned in advance - the Russians were kept completely in the dark about Operation Badr - they began their airlift only three days after the outbreak of hostilities and by its end had airlifted15,000 tons of war equipment to Egypt and Syria, involving more than 900 round trips by their AN-12 and AN-22 transport aircraft. About the Russian character: 'The Russians have many qualities, but concern for human feelings is not among them. They are brusque, harsh, frequently arrogant and usually unwilling to believe anyone has anything to teach them. They were, I think, the losers as a result'.
Why did Sadat decide suddenly in July, 1972 to expel the Russians from Egypt? Was it an impulsive response to some new Soviet statement of position? Or had Sadat taken the decision in principle long before and was merely waiting for an opportune moment to effect it? In his memoirs, Sadat presents the decision as a swift response to a Soviet rebuff. The author does not agree with Sadat's explanation. According to him. 'In the light of all that has happened in the intervening seven years, I am morally certain that the decision was in fact a calculated one, prearranged with others whose role Sadat is still anxious to conceal'. He does not, however, spell out who were the 'others' at whose behest Sadat took the decision.
The author found Sadat arrogant, suspicious and intolerant. He was highly sceptical of his (author's) efforts to secure the participation of other Arab states in the war. That Sadat was wrong in his scepticism was later proved by the fact that several nonfrontline Arab states did participate in the war. King Faisal decided to give Sadat a helicopter as a present. It was an Augusta Bell H-13 with d single motor and a landing skid. Sadat considered it too modest for him to accept. Following disagreements during a meeting in October,1972 of the armed forces supreme council, Sadat sacked General Sadek, minister of war, General Fahmy, commander of the navy, and Generals Hassan, Abdul Kadir and Abdul Muneirn Wasel. The last was saved from dismissal by the author's intervention. The author sums up conditions under Sadat's rule in these words: 'The minister of war, by and large, does what the president wants. And what the president wants is rivalry. The reports of each service go to the president. If two report a rumour, while the third does not, it is at once suspected that there is a conspiracy in the third to suppress it. That is Egypt - a land where the leadership does not trust the people'.
The author is bitterly critical of Sadat's role in the conduct of the war, accusing him of repeatedly vetoing professional advice, protests, and pleadings, and imposing decision which generals knew to be suicidal. Orders to attack the Sinai passes on 14 October was one such decision. The attack was a total failure and Egypt lost in a single day 250 tanks - more than she had lost in the entire war till then - and had to beat a hasty retreat. Sadat's obstinacy not to allow any armour and anti-tank units to be withdrawn from the Sinai to deal with Israeli penetration on the West Bank was another. This decision allowed the Israeli penetration to develop day by day and led eventually to the encirclement of the Third Army by the Israelis. To add insult to injury, Sadat put the blame on the author and sacked him. The author, however, puts the blame on Sadat. According to him: 'Sadat had thrown away the greatest army Egypt had ever assembled. He had thrown away the biggest airlift the Soviet Union had ever mounted. He had thrown away the greatest collaborative effort the Arabs had achieved in a generation'.
The book is extremely well- written and is highly readable. It is crammed with facts and figures and gives a blow by blow account of the war and the preparation which led to it. The value of the text is greatly enhanced by a number of tables, maps and diagrams. It would undoubtedly be welcomed both by the military expert and the general reader.