Similar sense of victory
In the wake of the revolution, the anniversary of the 1973 October War is being commemorated with renewed passion, reports Amirah Ibrahim
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Celebrating Egypt's military victory in the 1973 October War has a different taste this year
Thirty eight years have passed since they took part in the making of Egypt's military victory in the 1973 October War, to date the only Arab military victory over Israel. Despite the many years that have passed, the heroes of that war meet on every anniversary to relive the moments.
Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, a number of October War soldiers say they are commemorating the victory this year with more enthusiasm -- for this is the year of Egypt's revolution -- and the hope that Egypt will enjoy a bright future. They thank the new generation which changed the destiny of the country, much the way they did in 1973.
Lieutenant General Adel Fouda was only 23 when he received orders on 6 October 1973 to deploy with his intelligence unit to a desert point in the depth of the Sinai Peninsula just behind enemy lines. The mission was to provide Egyptian military commanders with accurate information during battle.
"My unit was one of dozens spread out in Sinai, along marks 100, 150, 200, up to the borders with Israel," Fouda said. "Our targets were Israeli air force bases, airports, command centres and major roads."
When Fouda moved out with his group they were certain their mission would extend for not more than a week. But they stayed for six months working behind Israeli lines without being discovered.
"We contacted Bedouin tribes whose leaders and sheikhs proved to be very loyal to their country when viewed with what Israel had been trying to propagate during the occupation of Sinai. They provided us with food, clothes, and saved us many times during Israeli air raids. Most important was that they provided safe access to my soldiers to cross the desert. We even entered the Melees Airport in central Sinai several times."
"I remember seeing former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir a few metres away from me as she joined military commanders at Melees Airport. During military operations, I used codes to report Israeli fighters that were preparing to take off to attack Egyptian sites. This saved time and proved efficient. My whereabouts could have been discovered but I didn't care about myself. None of my colleagues cared about themselves either."
Fouda returned home on 21 March to discover he had been awarded the Military Star Medal. He then asked to meet the army commander, Field Marshal Ahmed Ismail. "I promised one of the Bedouins to tell my commanders about their help and army commander Ismail agreed to meet him to express his deep thanks for what his people had done for us."
Fouda believes Egyptian youth who led the revolution early this year share with his generation a similar sense of victory. "We have written history not only for Egyptians but for all Arabs. The October 1973 generation paid an exorbitant price for this victory. I was disappointed that the current generation was not lucky enough to have a goal to live and die for, as we had. But now they have. They changed the static, spoiled atmosphere when no one believed it possible. They have, as we had, proved that there is nothing impossible."
A famous hero of the October War, Youssri Emara, believes youths who sacrificed to free their people from injustice should not rush to collect gains before their due time. "I am not happy with the continued strikes and protests. This could kill the achievements. Why not wait, observe and prepare for the future?" Emara asked.
Emara captured the highest ranking Israeli officer during the war: Colonel Assaf Yagouri, commander of the 190th Israeli Armoured Brigade.
Emara also captured an Israeli officer. "He was a kick boxer and I remember his name: Dan Avidan Shamoun."
Emara remembers the first time he used live bullets was before the war; he shot dead an Israeli dog. "It was a trained dog tracing our footsteps while we were on a surveillance mission in Sinai," he remembered with a smile. Emara crossed to Sinai more than once. He said he recalled crossing the Suez Canal to free Sinai "as if I were watching it live".
"On the third day of the war, we had surrounded Al-Frirdan command centre when we learned that the enemy was moving strategic reserves to break the siege.
"They pushed in 110 tanks but within half an hour we destroyed 70 of them. The troops then turned east when I was hit with bullets and was injured. However, when I saw an Israeli solider in his olive military uniform, I did not hesitate a second. I just jumped and we fought. I saw my soldiers waiting to see the performance of their leader against an Israeli officer. I smashed his skull in. One of my soldiers, Mohamed Hassan, saved my life when he discovered more Israelis hidden behind a small hill. Hassan was killed later in battles on 14 October," Emara said.
Capturing the Israeli commander Assaf Yagouri, who made Emara famous, was easy, as he relates. "The officer and his men were hiding and watching us killing their colleagues. They feared we may kill them and cried in Arabic, "Prisoners". Only later on, at the hospital, was Emara told he had captured a commander of the Israeli army. For his efforts Emara was awarded the Military Star.
Meanwhile, air forces pilots who participated in fierce air battles in the October War, are not happy with what the revolution of 2011 has brought.
"Those who started the revolution do not understand the reality of recent history. They should learn from older generations how to be patient, for years, as we did. They can't wait for a few days!" stated Major General Nabil Shoukri who was commander of the Inshas air base during the war.
"We, the army, remained patient for six years till we liberated our lands and beat the Israelis. This is an important lesson for youth to learn from."
Shoukri was the first fighter pilot to take off on 5 June 1967, and promptly shot down an Israeli fighter plane. "In the days that followed, several of my colleagues carried out successful missions against Israeli targets... the Air Forces was not to be blamed for the 1967 defeat."
Shoukri is naturally upset over the claim by prominent writer Mohamed Hassanein Heikal that the Air Forces attack under Hosni Mubarak's command was nothing but a "false demonstration".
"Heikal only seeks revenge from all the leaders who succeeded Gamal Abdel-Nasser for not treating him the same as Nasser did," Shoukri believed. "We planned two massive strikes to paralyse Israeli abilities and pave the way for the troops to cross the stream. But when the first wave of planes returned, the results were amazing. It hit all the targets with more than 95 per cent accuracy. Thus the second wave was cancelled and the troops crossed the canal. If it had been a show, Mubarak would have sent the second wave as planned, but he didn't."
Shoukri is not pro-Mubarak. "I was imprisoned following the 1967 war for 14 months. Later on, I was found innocent and freed. I was forced to retire as a lieutenant. However, when the army called me back in 1970 I returned and fought the battles of 1973.
"Mubarak did not treat me well after the war. I should have been awarded an honorary Star medal. Later, I had to resign when he was president to protest against such treatment."
Some of the October heroes still keep their daily notes. Some check them out every day. "He was my commander, Lieutenant General Saad El-Shazli, head of military operations, who ordered us to write down each detail about the soldiers," explained Major General Fouad Fayoud as he leafs through the yellowed papers of his small notebook.
On one page, he shows remarks written in pencil. "This solider, Ramzi Labib Faltas, was a researcher in agricultural science. Three years ago, as I was reading a newspaper, I stopped at the same name, Faltas, who it said had passed away. I picked up my notebook and looked up his name. He was the same person."
Fayoud sent a letter of condolences to the soldier's family, calling him a hero who served his country in war and peace. Fayoud believes that the young generation should consider the fact that the army contributed to the revolution which could have never succeeded if the Armed Forces had adopted a different stand.