By Prof. Paul Eidelberg

The Arab conception of war differs profoundly from that of the West in general, and of Israel in particular.  For example, virtually every Western commentator would say that Israel won the Yom Kippur War.  But the mere fact that Egypt inflicted a surprise blow on Israel was enough to restore Arab national pride, devastated by Israel’s stunning victory in the Six Day War.  The Arab media hailed the Yom Kippur War a great victory for the “Arab Nation.”  No longer did the Arabs regard Israel as “Invincible.”

It was indeed to restore Arab pride on the one hand, and to exact vengeance on the other, that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat launched the Yom Kippur War.  The notion of “enemies in war, in peace friends,” enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence, is utterly foreign to the Arab mind.  As Bernard Lewis observed, the Egyptian media’s ventilation of Jew-hatred  increased after the Israel-Egypt treaty of March 1979.  Israeli governments have never had the courage to face this basic aspect of Arab mentality.

Notice that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon embraces Mamoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as if this Arab were an Englishman.  Sharon thinks Abbas looks upon Jews killing Arabs just as he, Sharon, looks upon Arabs killing Jews—as nothing more than an inevitable consequence of war.  Sharon ignores the fanatical pride and intense group loyalty that animates Arabs.  He ignores the fact that when a Jew kills an Arab, especially an Arab leader, the Arab’s death must be avenged.  It is in this light that one must understand the murder of cabinet minister Rehavim Ze’evi.

What needs to be emphasized again and again is that Israel is dealing with an enemy whose proneness to conflict is a fundamental and immemorial cultural trait.  Proneness to conflict is deeply engrained in the Arab psyche, so much so that intra-Arab conflict punctuates Arab history.  This trait springs from the Arab’s desire to display manliness, courage, mastery—a trait commented upon by numerous Western Arabists.

Arab conflict proneness precedes Islam but is encouraged by Islam’s early conquest of much of the civilized world.  It is a profound and deadly mistake to think that genuine and abiding peace is possible between Arabs and Jews in the foreseeable future.  Arabs cannot even live in peace with each other, let alone with “infidels.”  The past five decades are replete with fratricidal war among Arabs and Muslims: Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Syria, Pakistan, Algeria, and of course the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose terrorist factions enjoy havens in various Arab-Islamic countries.

Reinforcing their cultural addiction to conflict is the Arabs’ virtual indifference to death, which is bolstered by the Islamic doctrine of predestination.  Anwar Sadat once said he’d sacrifice a million Arabs to eliminate Israel from the Middle East.  Ponder his interview with Arnaud de Borchgrave of The Washington Times published May 18, 2002:*


In March 1973, Sadat told this reporter that “war [with Israel] is inevitable and we are mobilizing for the final battle.”  I responded, trying to get to the bottom of his thinking, “but everyone knows Israel can defeat Egypt with one hand tied behind its back.”  This off-the-record dialogue then ensued:

Sadat: “Tell me how many Vietcong were killed in the [1968] Tet offensive in Vietnam?”

Borchgrave: “About 45,000.”

Sadat: “That’s right and you wrote they didn’t reach a single one of their objectives.”

Borchgrave: “I did.”

Sadat:  “But President Johnson felt compelled to abdicate a few weeks later by declaring he would not run for re-election.  So where was the defeat for Hanoi?”

Without waiting for my response, Sadat continued.

Sadat: “And tell me, how many North Vietnamese troops were killed in last year’s Easter offensive [March 1972]?”

Borchgrave: “Intelligence estimated about 70,000.”


Sadat: “That’s right. And you again wrote that Hanoi did not reach a single one of their objectives.  Well, guess what I read in today’s Al Ahram. I read the last American soldier left Vietnam yesterday.  So where was the defeat for Hanoi?”

Borchgrave: “Are you suggesting with these two analogies that the purpose of resuming hostilities against Israel would not be to inflict maximum damage against Israeli forces but perhaps the other way around?”

Sadat: “You are beginning to understand.”


*I am indebted to Dr. Robert Warren for the reference to The Washington Times interview with Sadat.

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