Not many countries celebrate defeat. Syria does. Not many countries want to be reminded of grossly embarrassing encounters.
Syria is celebrating Israel's victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It's a celebration with a twist. While the rest of the world records Israel's October 1973 victory over Syria and Egypt, Syrian historians, Syria's military and most importantly Syria's president Bashar Assad tell another story. The Syrians have re-written history. And in their version, Syria emerged victorious against the enemy Israel.
Delusional is the word that comes to mind. But for Syria, properly placed myths and choreographed delusions are often a very effective propaganda tool.
Israelis commemorated Yom Kippur in synagogues across the country. This past Saturday, over the border in Damascus, Syrian crowds cheered and waved flags in parades sponsored by the government in celebration of their great victory against the Israelis in the Yom Kippur War. In Arabic the celebration is called Harb October or Harb Tishrin. Harb means battle, October is October and Tishrin is the name of the Arabic month during which the war was waged. Sometimes, it is simply called the '73 War.
There is no historical doubt that Syria, as a country and Assad, as president, are totally re-writing history. Yes, for the first few hours of the '73 War it appeared that Israel was caught with their fatigues down - but within 48 hours Israel had repelled both the Syrian and the Egyptian armies and Israeli soldiers were on their way to Cairo and Damascus.
By the time the armistice was signed at the end of October Israelis were only miles away from the Syrian and Egyptian capitals.
Josef Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, was fond of saying - in the most profound of ways - that the big lie actually works. He believed that as a rule, people are gullible. That if a lie is repeated often enough and with enough conviction, especially if it is voiced by those believed to have authority the people will believe the lie. Syrian leaders and Egyptian leaders are proof that Goebbels was not telling a lie. Both Syria and Egypt have actually erected monuments commemorating victory over Israel in October, 1973.
Bashar Assad is not the inventor of The Big Lie of '73. His father was. As the situation began to change, as it became more obvious to Syria's leaders that they were losing ground, Hafez Assad made the decision to prevent the Arab press from covering the war. Arab reports of the war from day one and day two are accurate and historical - the Arabs were winning. Arab reports beginning day 3 of the Yom Kippur war are pure fiction. There is no mention of the fact that the Israelis had taken the advantage, no mention that by the conclusion of the war Israel had defeated the Arab armies of Syria, Egypt and Iraq. There was no mention because the media was given no access, they were fed information and the information they were fed was false.
Syrian and Egyptian leaders had to lie. Their lives and kingdoms are not built on reality, their lives and kingdoms are built on Arab pride. If the people knew that their armies lost a war to Israel they would have been shamed. Blame would have fallen on the shoulders of their leaders. Control would be lost. Countries would be destabilized. And heads, quite literally, would roll.
Time marches on, but Syrian politics remains unchanged. Here we are, 34 years later, and Bashar Assad is still pumping up Syrians. He is saying that we did it in '73 and we can do it in '07. He is saying that we the Syrians can still defeat Israel. As proof, he is using another piece of altered history. He is citing the Lebanese war with Israel that took place this past summer. He is recalling the message that rang clear throughout the Muslim world that Israel can be hurt badly, that Israel can be defeated.
Bashar Assad knows the truth about the Yom Kippur War of '73. He understands the realities of today. He is conveying a warped reality to his people for a purpose. Assad is laying the groundwork for a Syrian offensive against Israel.
The Saturday editorial in Al Tishrin, a Syrian government-sponsored daily, named after the Syrian victory in the October War reads: "there will be no real resurrection for the Arabs unless they recapture the glorious spirit of October, which demonstrated our people's courage and willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice. Our brave leaders went on to secure the Arab victory and on the 34th anniversary of this glorious Arab war we must pay homage to our deceased leader Hafez al-Assad ... what the Arabs need now is not to pine for October's war but to regain its political, military and financial principles."
Glory? Victory? Principles? The Syrians lost!
But the lies work!
The lies, the delusions and the conspiracies now emanating from Damascus and Cairo are dangerous, explosive, motivational tools. Assad and Mubarak are preparing for war against Israel. In the Arab world leaders do not create illusions and tell lies in order to bring about peace. Sadly, it is always about war.