In this book, Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez continue their investigation of Soviet mischief-making in the Arab – Israeli conflict begun in their last book, Foxbats Over Dimona.
In Foxbats Over Dimona, the authors posited that the Soviet Union did its best to instigate the Six-Day War — but was thwarted by the speed and scope of Israel’s lightning victory. The results of the Six-Day War proved to be a major embarrassment for the Soviet Union; Israel’s decisive victory was seen as a triumph of Western-supplied weaponry and tactics over Soviet ones. And even with strong Soviet support following the war, the Soviets were unable to dislodge Israel from any of the conquered territories.
The Soviet-Israeli War chronicles the enormous effort undertaken by the Soviet Union in the interwar years (1967 to 1973) to prevent a recurrence of a military debacle when the next Arab – Israeli war broke out. Given the continued tension between the Arab world and Israel, most observers expected the region to erupt in war at a future point. What was unknown (and unexpected) was that the next war would break out a mere six years after the rout of 1967.
The book focuses not only on the new weapon systems supplied to Egypt in the interwar years, but also on the fact that Soviet military personnel, so-called “advisors,” operated in tandem with Egyptian army units down to the lowest levels. In addition, the Soviet advisors were stationed along the entire length of the Egyptian side of the Suez Canal, which often became an active battle zone. Soviet pilots made reconnaissance missions over Israel, and air defense missions over Egypt’s interior.
At the time, the full extent of Soviet involvement was denied by the Soviet Union, and it was in the interests of the United States and Israel to downplay the matter. The United States was still bogged down in the Vietnam War, and President Johnson did not relish the prospect of having to confront the Soviet Union in yet another part of the world; Israel wanted to keep things quiet because raising the matter publicly might well have caused the Soviets to double-down on their deployment once the secret leaked. The Soviet-Israeli War relies in part on interviews and statements of former soldiers who were based in the Suez Canal area in the interwar years. Although every Soviet soldier assigned to Egypt during this period was forced to eschew any public admissions concerning activities in Egypt — or even the Soviet presence in Egypt — there was a short interval following the collapse of the Soviet Union in which former soldiers were willing to discuss their mission.
By focusing on the massive Soviet effort and willingness to provide its own manpower, the authors shed light on an often-overlooked aspect of the Cold War, and demonstrate to what lengths the Soviet Union would go to support its allies. In addition, modern Russia may have adopted the modus operandi of the Soviet Union during the interwar years as demonstrated by its recent “non-military” interventions in both Crimea and the Ukraine. The Soviet-Israeli War is worth reading in order to understand just how such interventions can be successful.