Yom Kippur War
Yom Kippur War
The Yom Kippur War was a critical game changer in the Arab-Israeli conflict and the politics of the Middle East. Henry Kissinger famously explained the ‘intelligence failure’ of Yom Kippur thus: ‘Our definition of rationality did not take seriously the notion of starting an unwinnable war to restore self-respect.’ The most recently released material suggests that Kissinger’s explanation requires some revising. This chapter demonstrates that British and American analysts understood perfectly well Sadat’s intentions, specifically his desire for a limited military victory to gain ‘face’ at home and leverage abroad. Instead analytical weakness lay in assessments of Egypt’s military capability where there was a unanimous consensus of Egypt’s impotency. Ideas about Arab ‘culture’ seem to have played a key role in this underestimation: the notion of a fatalistic Islam for example, prevailed in numerous analyses. In a radical revision of the conventional wisdom about the strengths and weaknesses of Western intelligence agencies, the Yom Kippur war provides a revealing case study whereby the West excelled in understanding the ‘mystery’ or intentions leading to war, but simply did not believe that Egypt possessed the capability to act effectively, and so perilously dismissed the prospect of an Egyptian attack.
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