Robert Sid Ahmed,
INT: So could you tell me what those various stages that were considered to get the supplies in were?
A: I think I entered... At first, the Americans were willing to give us supplies and ammunition, but they didn't want to be involved in an airlift. And since other airline companies did not want to fly to Israel during a war, only our aircraft carried supplies. They had to bring enlistees, students from abroad, and ammunition, and that was of course very small amounts which did not help us. At a later stage, when our ammunition stores were reduced, the Americans finally agreed to organize their own airlift, but that was almost on the 14th or 15th day of the war, very close to the end of the war, and in fact it almost had no effect on the battlefield. The weapon systems didn't arrive at all; only after the war, a few tanks began to arrive, a few low anti-tank systems, but that arrived only at the very end of the battles.
INT: Did you feel betrayed by the United States?
A: No, no, we did not feel betrayed, because after all the Americans did help us, and we also knew that they were constantly in a struggle with the Russians regarding cease-fires and giving us the space for us to fight and to turn the situation around to our benefit. But we were angry that, unlike the Russians [to the Arabs], they were not sending immediately large amounts of weapons and ammunition.
INT: Can you tell me how you achieved the re-crossing of the Suez Canal?
A: After the stage in which we fought, while trying to restructure our forces, we switched to an offensive, to a counter-attack, and the plan was that Sharon's division, with all the crossing equipment, would conquer a bridge-head and lay bridges in one night, and my division would remain behind, prepared, and in the morning it would cross the bridges and go directly to Suez to surround the Third Army. What happened was that Sharon's division succeeded immensely: they crossed over, they got a good position, and acted in the enemy's rear; but then the Egyptians discovered them and terrible battles began there, bloody battles at a close range: 30 meters between them. And then in the morning, we had a bridge-head, but Sharon's division was completely worn out; they had terrible losses, they had very few tanks, they had a great number of casualties, and the passageway to the bridge-head was in fact cut off by the Egyptians: it was under Egyptian fire and it was impossible to take equipment across. What was worse was that during the night, Sharon did not manage to bring across the bridge-building equipment. This equipment, I must say, was very awkward: we had rafts, each of which weighed 80 tons, dragged along by tanks. We had a bridge that weighed 250 tons, and it was dragged through the sand dunes. It broke: the rafts got stuck in the convoys way back, dozens of kilometers behind us, and none of the crossing equipment arrived at the bridgehead. In the morning, when we reached the bridge-head, it turned out that it was under Egyptian fire, so, in contrast to our plan of building the bridges and crossing in one night, in fact in the morning we woke up with a bridge-head, a passageway to the bridge-head, but no crossing equipment at all, and it was all stuck in convoys along very, very narrow roads, with sand-dunes on both sides of the roads, and it was clear that in fact the crossing had failed in a certain sense. Now, my division was activated in the morning, because the Egyptians attacked with tanks both east and west of the Canal, and we were brought into the battle in order to push them back and get them away from the bridgehead. My division was supposed to concentrate all the crossing equipment that Sharon had left behind, and we very, very slowly, managed to get all this very heavy equipment up front, not far from the bridge-head; and during an entire day, the 16th of the month, we had battles with Egyptian tanks that were trying to drag us... there were many canals there - it was called "the Chinese farm": it was an agricultural area with canals in which Egyptian soldiers were running around. They tried to use sagger missiles against us; they would attack us and run back, so that we would run after them into the trenches and [then] they would attack us. But in fact we fought them from afar and we did not get dragged into the trenches. So an entire day's fighting went by. In the meantime, we asked for reinforcements of paratroopers, infantry, to clean out these trenches and to get the Egyptians further away and broaden the bridgehead. But in the meantime, we got information that the Third Army was sending an Egyptian brigade to attack from the south. As it was, they were attacking only from the north; now we were told that Egyptian tanks would be arriving from the south to attack us as well. Then I decided that I would put a tank brigade in ambush in the sand dunes; I would camouflage them with nets and they would be there to act against the force coming from the south. And in the morning... no, at night, that night we got paratroopers, and they went out into battle to broaden the passageway to the bridgehead. They arrived quite late; they came from Sharm-al-Sheikh, from a very far-away front, and they arrived in helicopters, very slowly... and we built up a paratrooper battalion, which entered into a very difficult battle.
(A bit of b/g talk)
INT: So could you just tell me, from the point where there's the paratroopers coming...?
A: The paratroopers were involved in very heavy fighting at night. They attacked, and they suffered great losses; we sent tanks to help them. And in the morning, I had two brigades fighting tanks from the north. We managed to evacuate the paratroopers, who had a great deal of losses. And on the other side, from afar we saw the brigade advancing from the south. I asked for another brigade of mine that was being held in reserve, and I received it; it was being held at the command. It advanced from afar; it had to move for about four hours. In the meantime, the Egyptians were advancing from the south, and at the same time we were lying underneath camouflage nets and the equipment, while the paratroopers fought at night, and we saw that they were not able to clear the entire area. I decided to take a calculated risk and, under cover of their fighting, I pushed all my crossing equipment, the rafts, to Sharon, and from six in the morning they began to make bridges over the tanks, under artillery fire. While he was building these bridges, andI was...
(Batteries seem to fail here)
A: ... we were sitting face-to-face with the Egyptian generals, and a completely new situation began. It's like going from hot to cold. All of a sudden you meet people who are your enemies, and they speak to you...
(Recording breaks off)
A: ... talks were... had a very humane nature, because at first there were shots exchanged on the various fronts, and the Egyptians said, "Look, we're sorry, but it's hard for us to control every singunit in our army. If someone, some nut, starts shooting, please disregard it." They made many, very human requests. They were in a terrible situation; their morale was very low; they made many requests. We agreed to most of them. It was a very respectful atmosphere: we respected each other. But there were these requests, the Egyptian generals' requests, who were trying to care for their soldiers, and afraid that it would develop into a war again. And concessions on both sides... we finally managed to reach an agreement on separation of forces and cease-fire.
INT: And all this without the superpowers: you didn't necessarily need America and the Soviet Union to start a war, stop a war in the Middle East.
A: Yes, the superpowers had to bring us to each other; and after all, we were sitting facing each other - we could manage.
INT: Could you tell me, what was your happiest moment, your greatest achievement of the war? ... Yeah, your happiest moment - what was the best moment of the war for you?
A: I had two moments, two very great moments. One was the success of the division ambush in which, very patiently, we waited in the sand dunes under camouflage nets. Usually, it's very hard to make a tank ambush, because they are huge and they make a lot of noise, and it's very difficult for two tank brigades to prepare an ambush. And in training I tried to teach them to do it, and this was the moment when we managed to carry it out, and we attacked the Egyptians in ideal conditions: they were below us in a destruction area; on one side there were mines and lakes, on the other side there were hills. We were on the hills; we were advancing on the hills. We discovered them, fired at them, and within half an hour-45 minutes, not a single tank was left from the force below us. Professionally, it caused me great satisfaction and joy, as a military man, and it also completely changed the situation and turned it around on the front - because when we were about to cross, we had a problem: we wanted to cross with the most forces we could to the other side and to surround the Third Army, but the trouble was we were afraid that on the east bank they would advance to Birgafka, but the fact that we managed to destroy so many tanks allowed us to cross with less risk and to leave less of our tanks back on the east bank. That had great significance. The second moment was that, in spite of the cease-fire, although on the 22nd it left us with only half our job done, on the 23rd we managed to completely capture and surround the Third Army. That was very a happy moment for me.