Barcelona (Special to Informed Comment) – Review of Amnon Kapeliouk, Not by Omission: The Case of the 1973 Arab–Israeli War (London: Verso, 2022).
The 1973 Arab-Israeli War is a war with many names. Also known as the Yom Kippur War, the October War, the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, or the Ramadan War, it pitted Israel against a coalition of Arab countries led by Egypt and Syria. The military dimensions of the conflict have by now been extensively examined in several works. What Amnon Kapeliouk sought to do with his book Not by Omission: The Case of the 1973 Arab–Israeli War — originally published in Hebrew in 1975 and now translated to English for the first time — was to offer a different perspective of the conflict, one “political in nature” in the author’s own words. Kapeliouk, who passed away in 2009, was a principled Israeli-French journalist with ample experience. He covered the Lebanon War and worked as a foreign correspondent in the USSR in the late 1980s. He was also one of the founders of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem in 1989.
According to Kapeliouk, the 1973 War had the quality of a self-fulfilling prophecy. After the Arab defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War, which led to Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights, the West Bank — including East Jerusalem —, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Gaza Strip, Israeli leaders saw no need to engage in negotiations with the Arab countries and contended that the Arabs were not prepared for a diplomatic solution. Instead, they opted for diplomatic intransigence, dramatically increasing the likelihood that the Arab countries defeated in 1967 would finally decide on a military solution to regain the territories occupied by Israel.
Kapeliouk argues that Israel missed a great opportunity for peace after 1967. Following the Six-Day War, Israel could have seized the moment “to launch a new era in relations with the Arab world and to advance towards peace settlements with the neighbouring states.” The few voices espousing relative moderation within Israel were ignored. This was the case with the deputy chief of staff General Israel Tal, who, as Kapeliouk details, argued that most of the Occupied Territories would need to be returned to the Arabs in order to avoid a new war. It is hardly coincidental that Tal was one of the few high officers that believed an attack was imminent during the last weeks of September 1973. At that time, intelligence indicating a military build-up by Egypt and Syria started to accumulate but no decisive action was taken.
The general assumption was that the Egyptians lacked the needed military power to challenge Israel and Hafez al-Assad’s Syria would not move without first coordinating with Anwar al-Sadat. It was not surprising that the annexionist policy Israel followed after 1967 would beget more conflict. However, as noted by Kapeliouk, “Israel’s leaders, starting with Defence Minister Moshe Dayan, reacted to the possibility of Arab military action with undisguised contempt, based on their prejudices and their wishful thinking regarding the chances of war.”
The root cause of Israel’s complacency is to be found in what Kapeliouk aptly called “the illusion of a never-ending status quo,” namely the belief that Israel’s neighbors would in time come to accept the territorial losses of 1967 and not dare to initiate a war against Israel. In the unlikely case of an attack, Israeli leaders were convinced that the Arab armies would suffer a humiliating defeat.
The 1973 War represented a deep shock for Israeli society. As political scientist Charles S. Liebman wrote, the war “found the Israeli public as well as the army unprepared.” Documents disclosed in 2010 demonstrate that Dayan visited Prime Minister Golda Meir shortly after the Arab attack and told her, “The Arabs are much better soldiers than they used to be.” The war dragged on for 20 days, left around three times as many Israeli casualties as the Six-Day War, and placed a serious economic burden on the country. The territorial situation after the end of the conflict remained largely unchanged, but there were profound feelings of unease within Israeli society.
Kapeliouk was a prescient analyst and understood already in 1975 that the shock caused by the 1973 War would not lead to any major rethinking of Israel’s general direction. In a representative example, Not by Omission explains how the response of the Education Ministry to the growing number of youths who doubted Zionism’s righteousness after the war consisted of reinforcing ‘homeland consciousness’ in the schools. Kapeliouk also describes the different protest movements that emerged in Israel after the 1973 War. Their main demands were accountability for the failures that led to Israel being surprised by the Arab attack, the internal democratization of the political parties, and the rejuvenation of their cadres. The key aspect, however, and here it is worth quoting Kapeliuok at length, is that:
“Not one of the movements grappled with the main problem which had caused the big upset, the primary political problem in Israel: the government’s policy on the Israeli–Arab conflict. Hardly any of the spokespersons of the protest movement spoke of an alternative Israeli policy that could have prevented the last war [of 1973].”
In December 1973, Israelis went to the polls in an election that had been postponed for two months because of the war. The elections returned a Knesset with limited changes but a certain growth of the right-wing nationalist Likud, headed by Menachem Begin. Begin, who led the terrorist Zionist group Irgun during the British Mandate in Palestine, would become Israel’s Prime Minister following the 1977 election. After the limited electoral gains of 1973, Begin’s Likud received a third of the votes in 1977 and forced Labor out of the government for the first time in the country’s history.
His election represented the confirmation of the fears Kapeliouk expressed in Not By Omission: that Israel would fail to critically examine its responsibility in the 1973 War, deciding instead to double down on its confrontation with the Arab world. Shortly before being elected, journalists asked Begin about his intentions for the Occupied Territories. He replied, “We do not use the word annexation; you annex foreign land, not your own country.” This was a statement of intent. During his six years as prime minister, Begin presided over the establishment of 62 settlements in the West Bank, as compared to 10 settlements in the previous decade.
Kapeliouk concluded Not By Omission by highlighting the importance of a “moral sensitivity” towards the Palestinian Arab people. His book is infused with equal doses of this sensitivity he found so necessary and talent for political analysis. As Kapeliouk wrote in 1975, only “a peaceful border is a secure border”. Holding on to the Occupied Territories was not compatible with peace after 1967, and neither is it today.
 David C. Unger, “Not Such a Lovely War,” The New York Times, February 15, 2004, https://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/15/books/not-such-a-lovely-war.html.
 Amnon Kapeliouk, Not by Omission: The Case of the 1973 Arab–Israeli War (London: Verso, 2022), p. xxv.
 Ian Black, “Amnon Kapeliouk: Israeli Writer and Journalist Who Opposed Occupation,” The Guardian, August 13, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2009/aug/13/obituary-amnon-kapeliouk.
 Jim Hedge, “Major General Israel Tal Obituary,” The Guardian, September 20, 2010, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/sep/20/major-general-israel-tal.
 Kapeliouk, Not by Omission: The Case of the 1973 Arab–Israeli War, p. 68.
 Ibid., p. 117.
 Charles S. Liebman, “The Myth of Defeat: The Memory of the Yom Kippur War in Israeli Society,” Middle Eastern Studies 29, no. 3 (1993): 399.
 Ethan Bronner, “Transcripts on ’73 War, Now Public, Grip Israel,” The New York Times, October 10, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/11/world/middleeast/11israel.html.
 Ibid., p. 218.
 James Feron, “Menachem Begin, Guerrilla Leader Who Became Peacemaker,” The New York Times, March 9, 1992, https://www.nytimes.com/1992/03/09/world/menachem-begin-guerrilla-leader-who-became-peacemaker.html.
 Richard M. Weintraub, “Israeli Ex-Premier Begin Dies in Tel Aviv at 78,” The Washington Post, March 9, 1992, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1992/03/09/israeli-ex-premier-begin-dies-in-tel-aviv-at-78/63bf79cb-8539-4126-9caf-d83f516a11dc/.
 Kapeliouk, Not by Omission: The Case of the 1973 Arab–Israeli War, p. 241.
 Ibid., p. 124.