WAR AND NONWAR
A man would have to be blind, deaf and
dumb not to sense how much the adminis-
tration favors our military operations.
Yitzhak Rabin, September 19, 1969
The War of Attrition between Israel and Egypt in the period 1967-70 was a sideshow in a world arena where Vietnam was the main event. Yet it was a deadly serious confrontation between a defeated Egypt striving to reassert itself as a regional power and a victorious Israel which saw little need to compromise with the vanquished.
It was an expensive contest, although the losses seem small on a world scale. The most comprehensive and authoritative account of this conflict is David Korn's Stalemate:The War of Attrition and Great Power Diplomacy in the Middle East. Kom puts Israel's casualties on all fronts at 3,500, of whom 750 were killed. Egypt's casualty figures have never been released. Korn says the Israelis estimated them at 10,000. 1 Egypt's losses were proportionally lower than Israel's, but they were a serious political and military burden for both countries, even though the governments of both concealed the damage being done from the public and the international community.
This minor war laid the groundwork for the Egyptian offensive in 1973, led to the first Soviet commitment of troops to the defense of a state outside the East bloc, and posed a major, and eventually frustrating, challenge to the Israeli Defense Forces, whose apparent military triumph had unforeseen consequences.
Most important for our purposes, this war was marked by a major miscalculation of Soviet intentions by the United States and Israel. Neither took seriously a warning from the Soviets that they would have to do something if Israel did not stop its deep penetration raids into the Egyptian heartland in early 1970. When the Soviets subsequently made a major commitment of men and equipment to defend Egypt against these raids, it came as a shock to both the Americans and the Israelis, both of whom were victims of their perceptions regarding Soviet behavior and,