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Book Reviews - General (6)

Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, The Soviet-Israeli War, 1967-1973: The USSR's Military Intervention in the Egyptian-Israeli Conflict

London: Hurst & Company, 2017, 400 pages
Uri Bar-Noi
Bibliographical reference

Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, The Soviet-Israeli War, 1967-1973: The USSR's Military Intervention in the Egyptian-Israeli Conflict, London: Hurst & Company, 2017, 400 pages

Index terms

Keywords :

Soviet Israeli-War

Countries :

USSR, Israel, Egypt

Research Fields :

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1Based upon meticulous research using primary and secondary sources, as well as the reminiscences of veterans of the Soviet armed forces who served in Egypt, this voluminous study sheds light on the extent of the USSR's involvement in the Egyptian-Israeli armed conflict from 1967 to 1973. Together with the authors' previous award winning book: Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviet Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), it attempts to revise the history of Soviet intervention in the Middle East during this period. Unconfined by the prevalent interpretation among Western scholars that the outbreak of the June 1967 War was miscalculated by the Soviets, and that during the next six years they exercised some restraining influence upon the Egyptians as part of their dual policy of "No War, No Peace", preventing them as much as possible from launching an offensive against the State of Israel which might have escalated to a superpower showdown in the Middle East, they demonstrate that the USSR's involvement in this region was characterized by a higher degree of boldness, belligerence, willingness to take risks and determination to reverse the 1967 debacle by the use of force. However, Soviet decision-makers never contemplated the total annihilation of Israel. Their perception was that any military offensive undertaken to retake the Arab territories occupied in June 1967 was fully justified. Excluding the possibility of either a dualistic approach or even split among Soviet decision-makers, the authors claim that there was full consensus with regard to intervention in the Egyptian-Israeli conflict from 1967-1973. This unity of thought was accomplished by Leonid Brezhnev, the Communist Party's chief and Soviet head of state, who exercised complete control over the politico-military decision-making process.

2Methodologically, this intriguing study is primarily based upon the recollections of Soviet veterans, crosschecked against official evidence from US and Israeli records, or other sources. The authors claim this methodology serves as a viable alternative to the accustomed practice which clearly favors the use of biased statements by the different actors involved in the Middle Eastern conflict, as well as inaccurate media reports, or even the authoritative memoirs of Mohamed Hassanein Heikal and Henry Kissinger, to offer a misleading picture of key events. Moreover, veterans’ accounts significantly supplement the limited perspectives available from US, Russian and even Israeli government archives whose contents are only partly declassified. They stress that the Russian government’s recent tightening of archival policy and legislation against the falsification of history, have made the historian's task very tricky, since military veterans avoid further publication of their personal accounts, and many official records are at present not available for public scrutiny.

3This study's main contribution to the historiography of the Middle Eastern Cold War is its revised interpretation of Soviet involvement in the succeeding wars between Egypt and Israel during the period under consideration. Soviet humiliation following the Arab defeat in the Six-Day War, coupled with concerns for both the USSR's prestige and the security of its Southern approaches, led Moscow to pursue a bolder policy course, which was neither dual nor prudent, as erroneously suggested by early studies. Soviet troops were already deployed in Egypt immediately following the June 1967 war, but not later on or in response to Israeli bombing of the Egyptian hinterland beginning in January 1970. The American tendency to downplay the magnitude of the USSR's involvement in the Egyptian-Israeli conflict made the Soviets feel that they had the upper hand over the USA. The massive presence of their troops in Egypt was central to the conduct of the War of Attrition, during which unsustainable human and material losses were caused to the Israeli side, unable to successfully match the superiority of Soviet arms. This outcome offered a moral boost to the Egyptians whose war preparations were closely supervised by Soviet advisers who remained in Egypt, despite the decision to expel the majority of them, which was in fact a joint act of deception, designed to conceal the forthcoming attack on Israel.

4Unfortunately, this study tends to focus mainly on the memoirs of Soviet veterans, avoiding systematic research of all accessible archival sources either in Russia or even in other Eastern European countries and former member states of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. Research in Russia's political and military archives, which are at present fairly opened to researchers, could possibly show that the Soviet decision-making process was far from monolithic, as previously demonstrated by other scholarly studies, reporting the existence of tensions between the defense establishment and civilian decision makers, or even between Brezhnev himself and his Minister for Foreign Affairs, Andrei Gromyko who preached greater prudence and the avoidance of bellicosity as part of the USSR's Middle Eastern policy. Furthermore, such broad research could reveal that divergences existed between the USSR and other Eastern European countries regarding the Middle East. Available published documents demonstrate that shortly after the end of the Six-Day War, Eastern European countries feared that another round of regional hostilities was likely to draw them too into the conflict, if the Americans were to retaliate against their military and material support for Egypt. Finally, research combining official records and veterans’ recollections could possibly offer proof that there was a dissonance between the attitude of top civilian or military decision-makers in Moscow and Soviet servicemen who suffered from harsh living conditions or even risked their lives in Egypt.

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Electronic reference

Uri Bar-Noi, « Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, The Soviet-Israeli War, 1967-1973: The USSR's Military Intervention in the Egyptian-Israeli Conflict », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 19 | 2018, Online since 15 November 2018, connection on 24 January 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Uri Bar-Noi

Bar-Ilan University

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