Thirty-one years after the Yom Kippur War, it would be wise to clearly state what most Israelis refuse to understand and try to forget: It was a war that could have been prevented.
In February 1973, eight months before the war broke out, Anwar Sadat sent a proposal with American secretary of state Henry Kissinger for a comprehensive settlement with Israel. Minister Yisrael Galili, in a secret debate held on April 18, 1973, responded: "The point of departure begins with the fact that the Egyptians are ready for peace and for diplomatic relations and international guarantees and so on - all on the condition that we completely withdraw to the previous border. We can avoid all this trouble [the impending war] if we are willing to enter into a serious discussion on the basis of returning to the previous border."
These words of Galili, one of the most predatory hawks of that period, fell on deaf ears. Although Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan knew that he was right, they preferred war to negotiations that would return Israel to its 1967 borders. We all paid the price.
A few years later, and after we learned the lesson of refusal to enter into negotiations that involved difficult concessions in the most painful way possible, we gave up the Sinai peninsula, lock, stock and oil barrel, exactly as Sadat had demanded before the war. In return we received more or less what we could have gotten before that terrible war.
It is worth remembering that today, when clear voices are once again being heard from Damascus regarding Syrian willingness for peace in exchange for a return of the Golan to Syrian hands. The deafening silence in the corridors of Israeli power are very reminiscent of the blind eye Golda Meir and some of our finest leaders turned to Sadat's peace offers.
Even the logic is the same logic: Just like the Egyptians, who in 1973 were weak and lacked a military option, the Syrians today are very weak and have no real ability to harm Israel. But as we know well, until we are hurt very painfully, we are unwilling to give in. That is why at this stage, when there is no real Syrian threat on the horizon, there is no point in talking about leaving the Golan Heights, certainly not the Golan wineries that produce such fine fines, just as in the spring of 1973 there was no point in talking about abandoning Sharm al-Sheikh and its lovely landscapes.
Because history never repeats itself precisely, there are still a number of differences between the folly and arrogance of 1973 and those of today. First, unlike the assessment that prevailed 31 years ago, which viewed the deployment of IDF forces east of the El-Arish-Ras Muhammad line as a security necessity, today the chief of staff takes the view that the army can defend the State of Israel without a presence on the Golan Heights. In other words, the security argument, which was so central in 1973 to the refusal to return to the 1967 borders, no longer exists.
Secondly, in 1973 the Egyptians and Syrians exploited a failure of Israeli deterrence, which they could not have imagined even in their rosiest dreams, in order to teach us about the price of war. Today, on the other hand, we can provide a pretty good assessment of what price a new war with Syria - a war that the Hezbollah would participate in - might exact even without a surprise attack. That is because the principal threat to Israel lies in the hundreds of Syrian Scud missile, many of which are armed with chemical warheads. A barrage of dozens of such missiles on Israel's population centers could dwarf all our traumatic memories of 1973.
Third, today we know that peace is possible. The peace with Egypt has so far stood all the different tests. Cairo has been careful, even at the most difficult and tense times, not to harm the peace with Israel, which holds an important strategic place in Egypt's security doctrine. There is no reason to assume that the Syrians, who have already proved their rationality and their ability to commit to signed agreements, will behave otherwise.
Karl Marx said that history repeats itself, first as a tragedy and then as farce. Philosopher George Santayana took this idea further and said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. We are now reliving the tragic history of 1973 because we have not been wise enough to learn its lessons. However, if it does repeat itself, a farce is the one thing that it will not be.
Dr. Bar-Yosef is a lecturer in the Department of International Relations at Haifa University.