Continuing the work that they began in their Foxbats over Dimona (2007) on Soviet actions prior to and during the 1967 war, veteran Israeli journalists Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez in this new book provide a fuller account of Soviet involvement in the tense period between the end of the 1967 and through the 1973 Arab-Israeli wars. They argue that the Soviet Union played a much more active role than has previously been acknowledged in the Egyptian-Israeli "War of Attrition" as well as the planning and preparation for the October 1973 Egyptian attack on Israeli-held positions east of the Suez Canal on the Sinai Peninsula (which Israel had captured from Egypt in the 1967 war).
The authors base their revised history of these events on numerous sources, including memoirs and other accounts by Soviet veterans (especially Russian-Arabic translators) who participated in them. Ginor and Remez compare these narratives to Western, Soviet, Egyptian and Israeli press accounts of the events as they took place; what they refer to as "vested-interest sources" (the accounts of high-level Soviets, Henry Kissinger, and Nasser's spokesman, Mohamed Heikal); and academic studies based on them. What they found is that numerous Soviet narratives differ dramatically from these other sources about the events in question.
Several instances could be cited, but the most important was the much-publicized drawdown of Soviet advisers in Egypt in the summer of 1972. At the time, it was believed that this was occurring as a result of a breakdown in relations between Moscow and the new Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat. The Soviet-veteran literature, though, makes clear that many of the advisers did not leave Egypt at all, while many of those who did were immediately replaced. In reality, there was no material change in Soviet support for Egypt at this time. The supposed Soviet withdrawal in 1972, then, was actually part of a (largely successful) Soviet-Egyptian effort to convince the United States, Israel and others that an Egyptian attack was unlikely or would be ineffective because Moscow and Cairo were not working well together.
Regarding this, however, there is one point on which I disagree with Ginor and Remez. According to them, "another benefit of the ‘expulsion' was to convince the fiercely anti-Soviet Arab oil states, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, that they could safely underwrite the cash payments now demanded [by Cairo] for Soviet arms" (p. 266). While the Saudi government was indeed "fiercely anti-Soviet" back then, the Kuwaiti one was not. In contrast to the rest of the Arab Gulf states, Kuwait had warm, cooperative relations with the Soviet Union at this time.
Ginor and Remez also discuss Soviet efforts just before and during the 1973 war to project the image that Moscow was attempting to restrain the Egyptians, but was unsuccessful. The Soviet-veteran literature, though, makes clear that Moscow was supporting, not restraining, Sadat's war effort. It is well known that Moscow withdrew some Soviet personnel and family members stationed in Egypt just prior to the 1973 war, thus furthering the image that Moscow was trying to distance itself from the impending conflict. The Soviet-veteran literature, though, makes clear that the planes and ships that took them out of Egypt were also bringing Soviet men and matériel into Egypt.
In my view, Ginor and Remez provide compelling evidence that the Soviet Union played a far more active role in preparing for the 1973 Arab-Israeli war than either Moscow or Cairo wanted to acknowledge at the time. And although they do not discuss it, Ginor and Remez's portrayal is consistent with Moscow's behavior not just during the Soviet period, but more recently. In addition to the false withdrawal from Egypt in 1972 that they describe, there was also a false Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in the 1980s. In addition, Putin has announced two Russian withdrawals from Syria that also proved to be false.
What Ginor and Remez have shown is that studying the Soviet-veteran literature can shed important light on our understanding of Moscow's foreign and military policy. While the Soviet-veteran literature about the 1980s conflict in Afghanistan, where Moscow openly intervened, is well known, their work on the less well known Soviet-veteran literature on the unacknowledged Soviet military role in Egypt between 1967 and 1973 raises questions. Does a similar Soviet or post-Soviet-veteran literature exist regarding Moscow's role in other conflicts that it did (or does) not want to acknowledge?
As with their previous book, there are many who will disagree with the revised understanding of Soviet actions that Ginor and Remez provide here. But because their research is so thorough and meticulous, their critics will not find it easy to persuasively counter the Ginor and Remez argument that Moscow played an active role in preparing Egypt for the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.