Abdel Halim Khaddam: The Contemporary Arab System. The end of the October War and its questions 4

publisher: سورس

Publishing date: 2003-01-19


Today, “Hayat” concludes the publication of four episodes of a forthcoming book by Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, titled “The Contemporary Arab System: Reading Reality and Examining the Future.” The book explores Arab national awareness during its early stages and subsequent developments, discussing the appreciation of nationalists for the situation of minorities and the position of the Islamic religion in Arabism. It also delves into the current Arab system, embodied by the League of Arab States, tracing its inception and subsequent stalled progress, as well as examining the status of the Arab system during the Cold War phase and the prospects of the Arab national project in the present day.

Regarding the conflict with Israel, Abdel Halim Khaddam offers an explanation of the Zionist project and the Arab stance towards it, providing further insights into the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In today’s fourth episode, the discussion continues by examining the policies of the October 1973 war, highlighting the positive impact of the liberation of southern Lebanon and the Palestinian Intifada.

During the war, on October 16, 1973, Alexei Kosygin visited Egypt and remained there until the 19th of the same month, engaging in talks with President Sadat.

After waiting for two days without receiving any information from Egypt about these talks, I contacted the Soviet ambassador in Damascus, requesting updates on Alexei Kosygin’s discussions in Cairo. He assured me that he would inform Moscow, but unfortunately, no information was received from the Soviet Union.

Additionally, Kissinger also visited Moscow, and despite our request for details about Kissinger’s talks with Soviet leaders, we did not receive any relevant information.

What caught our attention following the war was the broadcasted information regarding our request to Moscow to work on a ceasefire after the commencement of combat operations. This information was relayed to President Sadat, who promptly sent a telegram to President Hafez al-Assad on the evening of October 6. President Hafez al-Assad responded negatively to the request. Furthermore, we were informed by Iraqis and Algerians that the Soviet Union had informed them of Syria’s plea to work towards ending the fighting.

We have yet to reach a conclusive understanding of the underlying motives behind the Soviet Union’s position. However, I speculate that when the Soviet ambassador in Damascus was summoned by President Hafez al-Assad to be informed of our military decision, he might have asked for two things: firstly, for the Soviet Union to supply our weapons and equipment needs, and secondly, for them to call for a Security Council meeting after achieving a certain objective, namely the liberation of the Golan and Egypt’s arrival in the straits. The aim of such a meeting would be to enforce a decision compelling Israel to withdraw from all the Arab territories occupied since June 5, 1967.

It is possible that Moscow was contacted late, or that the Soviet ambassador inaccurately reported the details of the meeting. Alternatively, the Soviet leaders, having made significant progress in the Golan Heights since the first day, may have been concerned about the potential loss of this gain if the fighting continued. Consequently, they might have taken the initiative to adopt their stated position.

It could prove beneficial to reference the contacts established between Moscow and Washington during the war, as well as the messages exchanged between the two parties.

On October 6, 1973, the Soviet leadership transmitted a letter to President Nixon and his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Kissinger, through Ambassador Dobrynin, the Soviet Union’s Ambassador in Washington. The State Department received this letter at 2:10 on October 6, conveying the following message: “Soviet leaders have received information regarding the initiation of combat operations in the Middle East around the same time as the United States became aware of it. We are taking all necessary measures to ascertain the reality of the situation in the region due to conflicting information we have received.

We share your interest in the ongoing war in the Middle East and are examining the current situation while considering potential courses of action.

We will contact you soon to coordinate our respective positions.”

Immediately following the outbreak of the war, President Nixon wrote a letter to Brezhnev, inquiring about the events unfolding in the region and expressing the United States of America’s keen interest in the ongoing conflict. The letter also mentioned that America was deliberating on potential measures to halt the fighting. Furthermore, it urged the Soviet Union to exert pressure on Egypt and Syria to cease hostilities.

On October 8, 1973, Nixon personally phoned Brezhnev to inquire about the Soviet Union’s efforts to bring an end to the fighting. During this time, America held concerns about Israel due to repeated reports of the advancement of Syrian and Egyptian forces and the subsequent retreat of Israeli forces.

On that day, Brezhnev, the Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party, responded with an oral message, which was conveyed by Dobrynin as well. In his message, Brezhnev stated, “We have reached out to Arab leaders regarding the ceasefire and anticipate receiving a response shortly. We believe in working together with you. Our guiding principle is the mutual interest in maintaining peace and fostering Soviet-American relations. We hope that President Nixon will act in the same manner.”

On October 10, Nixon dispatched a third letter to Brezhnev. The military situation in Israel was dire, and there was internal disagreement between Dayan, the Minister of Defense, who advocated for the withdrawal of Israeli forces to the borders of June 4, 1967, and Golda Meir, who opposed such a move. Nixon’s letter urged Brezhnev to intensify pressure in order to halt the fighting. In response, Brezhnev sent a letter via Dobrynin at 11:15 am on October 10, stating the following: “In line with the understanding reached during our previous discussions in recent days, we have established contacts with the leaders of Egypt and Syria regarding a ceasefire. Frankly speaking, our conversations with the Arabs were lengthy and challenging. Nonetheless, we can inform President Nixon that the Soviets are prepared not to oppose the proposed draft ceasefire resolution. The President understands that while the Soviet Union will not support the draft ceasefire resolution, it will refrain from vetoing it. Reaching this decision was not an easy task for us, but our guiding principle is the public interest in maintaining peace. At this moment, we cannot engage in discussions on other political matters. We hope that Soviet-American coordination and efforts will contribute to achieving a ceasefire. We will resume our endeavors for political measures that are based on the complete liberation of all occupied Arab territories from Israel. We believe that this represents a significant step towards improving the international situation.”

In his third letter to Brezhnev, Nixon also made reference to potential Soviet-American efforts that could be explored for reaching a political solution.

On October 19, 1973, Brezhnev dispatched a fourth message to President Nixon, which was delivered on the morning of that day. The message acknowledged that Israeli forces had successfully crossed the West Bank of the Suez Canal on October 15. Kosygin was in Egypt, engaged in discussions with President Sadat.

It appeared that President Sadat, alarmed by the rapid developments on multiple fronts – a breach in the Syrian front, a breach in the Egyptian front, and substantial American assistance – following his decision to pursue a ceasefire, communicated this concern to President Hafez al-Assad in two telegrams on October 18. He specifically requested Kosygin to exert efforts through the Soviet Union to bring an end to the fighting, as mentioned in the aforementioned telegrams. As a result, Brezhnev took the initiative to send this fourth message.

The message emphasizes that the situation in the Middle East has become increasingly perilous. It stresses the need for both parties, the Soviet Union and the United States, to exert maximum efforts to curb the dangerous developments in the region. It cautions that if the peril expands, it will not only endanger the relations between the Soviets and America but also expresses the belief that neither side desires such a development. The message expresses confidence that the two countries can work together to facilitate decision-making. Furthermore, it suggests that Minister Kissinger visit Moscow as a personal representative, proposing a meeting on October 20 to hold discussions with him.

It is evident that at the outset of the conflict, when the Soviets initially requested a cessation of hostilities, the opposing side expressed apologies for their inability to comply. Although in the third letter they agreed not to oppose the American proposal to halt the fighting, they did not commit to actively working towards that objective.

As the Arabs experienced setbacks due to violations and escalated military operations, the Soviets urged the Americans to take joint measures to cease the fighting. They also requested Kissinger’s visit to the Soviet Union. In response, Kissinger informed them of Syria’s preparations for a new attack on October 23. The Soviets replied, asserting that they had taken appropriate measures to prevent this attack and believed that, following the recent decision to halt hostilities, no further attack was being planned in Syria.

If we examine the events after October 18, many things become clearer. The planned counterattack was indeed postponed at the request and urgency of the Iraqis. It is unknown whether the Soviets were involved in influencing this Iraqi stance. On one hand, the Egyptians, Soviets, and Americans were advocating for a ceasefire without our knowledge. If the Soviets had involved us in these discussions, we could have capitalized on the element of time and carried out a counterattack utilizing our capabilities, which could have yielded significant results on the ground.

However, since we continued to engage in combat under the assumption that fighting persisted, the military leadership decided to accept the Iraqi and Jordanian request to delay the planned counterattack for a few days. The Soviets did not involve us in these talks, nor did the Egyptians, while the United States maintained constant contact and coordination with Israel. The United States informed Israel of the American-Soviet-Egyptian agreement regarding a ceasefire on October 19, 1973, and the proposed date of October 22. This explains the considerable military pressure exerted by the Israelis to achieve significant gains on the ground.

On October 21, the Security Council made a decision regarding a ceasefire. Egypt promptly accepted the resolution, while Syria delayed its response as it preferred not to be the only party to accept without consulting its fellow Arab nations. President Hafez Al-Assad reached out to all the heads of Arab states, seeking their opinions and refraining from providing an immediate response. With the exception of Iraq, all of them were in favor of the ceasefire. The rationale behind this consensus was that the war’s basis had shifted with Egypt’s withdrawal, making it unreasonable for Syria to bear the burden of continued fighting alone.

The United States successfully achieved its objectives, and it received assistance in doing so from Egypt’s political leadership, which transitioned from preparing for and initiating the war to acknowledging its inability to pursue further solutions and recognizing the role of the United States in the process.

The October 1973 war stands as the most significant transformation experienced by the Arab nation in the twentieth century for two key reasons. First, it showcased Arab solidarity, with all Arabs directly and indirectly contributing and demonstrating their ability to transition from a defensive stance, enduring strikes from Israel and others, to taking military initiatives. It marked the first instance of Arabs launching a war against external aggression since the end of the Crusades.

This consensus and solidarity could have laid the foundation for building a new Arab system and propelling the Arab nations from one stage to another. It was particularly notable because the participating nations made significant decisions, entrusting themselves with tasks such as deploying troops or halting oil supplies, which they had never done before.

Secondly, the consequences of isolating a single ruler in making decisions that impact the entire nation have had severe repercussions for all Arabs, particularly the Palestinian people, neighboring countries, and supportive nations. This isolation has hindered progress and solidarity and has contributed to the strengthening of Israel’s power and position.

It is only natural to assert that the United States of America and Israel have drawn lessons from this war and have actively worked towards undermining the Arab situation. They have sown divisions among Arabs and weakened them to the extent that they are rendered helpless, incapable of even contemplating rebellion against the United States or waging war against Israel.

An objective examination of the events following the ceasefire reveals a series of significant developments: the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the outbreak of the civil war in Lebanon, the escalation of Syrian-Egyptian and then Arab-Egyptian disputes, strained relations between Syria and Iraq, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1978 and 1982, the expansion of Israeli military capabilities, the acceleration of settlement construction, and the annexation of the Golan Heights and Jerusalem by Israel. Moreover, Egypt’s withdrawal from armed conflict with Israel and the deteriorating political and economic conditions in the Arab world all confirm that these are consequences of isolating a decision that undermines the unity of the nation. It is important to note that Qatar’s sovereignty is not the issue at hand, as its sovereignty was already limited by the Joint Arab Defense Treaty, Arab Summit resolutions endorsed by Egypt, the agreement between Syria and Egypt to wage war, and the Joint Defense Treaty between the two countries.

On October 6, there was a celebration among the Arabs, but it quickly turned into a state of fear and frustration. Optimism transformed into concern over the actual defeat, which was not due to military losses but rather the breakdown of relations between Egypt and Syria. This breakdown provided security and stability to Israel, enabling it to escalate its aggression against different parts of the Arab nation, including Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon.

The decision to go to war was undoubtedly correct, but the measures taken to safeguard this decision were limited, particularly due to certain policies pursued by the Egyptian leadership, as I previously mentioned.

Syria was undoubtedly in a difficult and complex situation. If it had acted according to its doubts and failed to reach an agreement with Egypt, there was a high likelihood that the Egyptian president would have waged the war and held Syria historically accountable for its consequences. However, the significant damage incurred during and after the war had profound implications for the entire nation, regardless of any decision Syria could have made.

Amidst the shifting positions of the Egyptian leadership during the war, we recall the question posed by Brezhnev, Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party, regarding the stance of the Egyptian leadership and the level of reassurance it provided.

The initial ambition was for the Arabs to regain their land and rights in the October war. However, this ambition transformed into anxiety, fear, and loss. Nothing is worse than fear and loss, especially when it leads to divisions among Arabs regarding their approach to the Zionist project, the state of Israel, and its ongoing aggression. When Arabs are divided in such a manner, it signifies that times have become bitter and harsh. The nation faces an even tougher challenge when it confronts one another over an enemy that targets both the team that initiated the conflict and the team that continued its hostility.

At this stage, when Israeli aggressive policies against them and the Palestinian people have escalated, Arabs strongly believe in their right and duty to support the struggle of the Palestinian people in all its forms. They recognize that allowing a final defeat for this people would represent a tremendous setback for the entire nation.

Just as any people have the right to resist occupation, the Palestinian people, who have been divided by the Zionist project, with some living as refugees in the most difficult psychological and living conditions away from their homeland, also have the right to resist. The other part of this people, who are under occupation and subjected to various forms of pressure, oppression, injustice, and racism, also have the right to resist aggression using the means, determination, and courage available to them.

However, the incorrect understanding of the objectives of resistance organizations has led them to be in a state of tension with the environment in which they originated. They have focused their main efforts on this environment at the expense of their primary goal, as seen in Jordan, where conflicts between armed Palestinian factions and the Jordanian state authorities resulted in the dissolution of these factions, the weakening of their organizations, and the creation of tensions that did not and will not serve the main cause. Similar conflicts arose in Lebanon, first with tensions with the Lebanese state and later with certain Lebanese parties. These conflicts became intertwined with internal issues in Lebanon, and these factions became involved as participants in the civil war.

In addition to these challenges, there has been a rapid abandonment of principles by the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), further increasing internal conflicts between factions and weakening the Arab dimension in the Palestinian cause. Despite these drawbacks, the PLO has successfully brought an international dimension to the Palestinian cause, with some of its factions contributing to this effort.

The significant development in the Palestinian struggle is the uprising known as the “intifada of stones” that took place in the autumn of 1987. This uprising revealed the profound and powerful desire of the Palestinian people to liberate and reclaim their rights. The intifada marked the beginning of Israel’s defeat in the international community and raised global awareness of Israel’s aggressive policies. However, despite its impact, the intifada did not fully achieve its goals due to the secret negotiations conducted by the PLO leadership with Israel, culminating in the signing of the Oslo Agreement on September 13, 1993. This agreement was seen as a closure of the Palestinian Popular Movement.

Despite the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and the formation of the Palestinian Autonomous Administration in Gaza and some cities in the West Bank following the Oslo agreement, the Palestinian people continued to resist the occupation and remained concerned about the policies of the Palestinian Authority. Therefore, whenever Israel carried out an incident, the Palestinian street would mobilize. One of the most notable instances was during the opening of a tunnel in East Jerusalem by the Israeli government.

On September 28, a popular uprising erupted in the West Bank and Gaza following Ariel Sharon’s visit to the courtyard of Al-Aqsa Mosque. The uprising quickly transformed into armed resistance against the occupation. The Israelis responded with various violent means, including planes, tanks, artillery, and rockets. They caused thousands of casualties, tens of thousands of injuries, and widespread destruction of houses, facilities, and government centers. However, they failed to establish security or impose surrender on the Palestinian people.

In discussing armed resistance, it is essential to acknowledge the Lebanese resistance, which has taken significant steps in resisting occupation and has successfully achieved its goals.

During and after Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon in 1978, the primary effort in the region was led by the Palestinians, with the participation of Lebanese national forces. Following Israel’s second invasion in early June 1982, the Lebanese effort became the foundation for resisting the occupation.

The Lebanese resistance initially began during the occupation of Beirut by Israeli forces and gradually expanded. As it grew, various Lebanese factions competed to carry out operations against the Israeli forces, resulting in the sacrifice of numerous martyrs who shed their blood on Lebanese soil, nurturing the tree of liberation.

In the subsequent phase, the main resistance effort was undertaken by Hezbollah and the Amal movement, with Hezbollah having the broadest area of action.

The resistance in Lebanon possesses several distinctive characteristics:

  1. It enjoyed the support and unity of Lebanese society, particularly when the south, Beirut, and the Bekaa Valley were subjected to aggressive Israeli military actions, notably during the July 1993 and April 1996 aggressions. The unwavering support of the Lebanese people, encompassing all forces, political groups, and social segments, played a pivotal role in achieving victory, defeating the Israeli forces, and securing their unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon.
  2. It benefited from Syria’s support, which provided political cover for the resistance, particularly in the Arab and Lebanese arenas.
  3. It demonstrated exceptional organizational precision, preparation, management, mobilization, goal selection, ideological strength, and unwavering determination.

There is no doubt that the determination of the resistance in Lebanon, the steadfastness of the Lebanese people, and the support of Syria have played a significant role in bringing about a fundamental change in the conflict equation. This has created a new balance of power that the Israelis had never witnessed before, despite their utilization of all available types of power. This imbalance ultimately led to Israel’s unconditional withdrawal from the majority of Lebanese territory, including the areas it occupied in 1978 and 1982, despite the pressure exerted on Lebanon to engage in bilateral negotiations and sign a peace agreement. These pressures failed, and the Syrian and Lebanese tracks remained interconnected, revealing the remarkable achievements that Arabs can attain through coordinated positions and joint struggle for the liberation of their land and restoration of their rights.

It is not an exaggeration to state that the countdown to Israel’s collapse began in southern Lebanon. This countdown has been reinforced by the tremendous sacrifices and unwavering resilience of the Palestinian people. Nonetheless, Israel’s strength continues to hinge on the current disintegrated state of the Arab situation, which represents a significant vulnerability in the Arab position.

Undeniably, Israel holds a prominent position in the region today, boasting military, scientific, and economic might due to its assets and the support it receives from the United States of America across all spheres of power. However, this strength serves as a facade that conceals Israel’s underlying weakness and fragmentation, which, in turn, will be the primary factor leading to its eventual collapse.

The balance between Israel’s strategic power and its internal structure is inherently imbalanced. This was clearly demonstrated in southern Lebanon when the withdrawal from Lebanese territory became one of the most prominent campaign slogans during Israeli elections. This imbalance is also highlighted by the sense of fear and anxiety prevailing in Palestine, where the Israeli military force stands against the Palestinian people with all its capabilities, while the Palestinians face the occupation with unwavering confidence, faith, and readiness to sacrifice in their pursuit of freedom and the restoration of their full rights.

Just as weakness often leads to defeat against external enemies, blind power itself can result in failure and defeat. History provides numerous examples, most notably the defeat of the German power of Nazism and the Fascist Italian regime.

The imbalance between power and reason, coupled with a sense of vanity in wielding that power, inevitably leads to defeat.

Throughout the Arab-Israeli wars, the Arabs relied on traditional means of warfare. However, they struggled to keep up with Israel due to its diverse and superior arsenal of power. This resulted in setbacks for the Arabs in those conflicts.

Nevertheless, the resistance fighters changed the strategic approach in their conflict with Israel by employing weapons that the Israelis lacked: the weapons of sacrifice, readiness for martyrdom, and direct confrontation. Despite the overwhelming military power of Israel, these resistance fighters achieved significant victories.

The realities of the past, present, and future illustrate that every action produces its opposite. Power can lead to weakness if misused. No nation possessing the means of power can avoid the consequences of its misuse without succumbing to weakness. The Arab nation stands as a clear example.

The current state of Arab weakness will eventually give rise to strength among Arabs. Oppression, injustice, abuse, and foreign domination serve as catalysts for transforming the nation’s reality and reclaiming the elements of progress, liberation, and advancement.