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Foxbats over Dimona is an interesting and provocative book. The book's basic premise is that the Six Day War was provoked by the Soviet Union. The Soviet's goal was to create circumstances that would allow them to intervene on behalf to the Arabs, thus creating a serious set back for the United States.
The authors believe that the Soviets were trying to retaliate against the United States for the Soviet embarrassment during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The authors supply many tantalizing pieces of evidence, including interviews with Soviet military personnel that were prepared to intervene. The title of their book "Foxbats over Dimona" refers to the designation of the Soviet;s most advanced plane the MIG-25. According to the book, the Soviets flew the Foxbat over the Dimona reactor and Israel was powerless to stop it. According to the authors, this action and some other Soviet efforts provoked Israel to attack which was the Soviet plan. The Soviet plan fell apart, they claim, when the Israeli attack was so successful that a Soviet intervention on behalf of the Arabs would have been futile.
This book';s account of the war goes against conventional historic wisdom, which states that the 67 war was the unintentional consequence of a series of actions by Israel, Egypt and Syria. While the authors present compelling evidence to support their claim that the Soviets had some troops prepared to intervene and that the Soviets may have flown a reconnaissance flight over Dimona, I have serious difficulties with some of their conclusions. There is no doubt that the Soviets started the ball rolling towards war by telling the Egyptians that Israel was amassing troops in preparation for war with Syria when the Soviets knew this was false. There is a big difference between looking to cause mischief while the US was engaged in Vietnam, to actually being ready to intervene in a war that it provoked.
Supporting these authors' claims would require a serious reevaluation of Soviet policies during this historic period. Most historians believe that the Soviets were cautious and not willing to take large risks. This alleged Soviet plan would have been a very risky gambit. The authors claim that the Soviets were willing to take major risks to stop an Israeli A bomb is questionable. It's not quite clear why the Soviets would be more concerned about an Israeli bomb, which they knew was a doomsday weapon for Israel, than they would have been with the French bomb that was aimed at the Soviet Union. In addition, the authors claim that the ability of the Foxbats to fly over Dimona without Israeli intervention was a major strategic threat to Israel. However, the Mig 25 was impervious to Israel, because its Mirage could fly higher and faster. The Mig 25 could not bomb from those heights, and indeed was a fighter plane and not a fighter/bomber. Finally, while the authors show evidence of Soviet marine contingents that were prepared to intervene, they show no evidence of preparation of significant land forces (tank, artillery) that could have affected an actual battle. It is very questionable that the Soviets had the ability to project the forces necessary in the time required.
In summary, I think that this book does present enough evidence to support a conclusion that the Soviets were interested in provoking a crisis, and maybe even a war in the Middle East. However, the book falls short in proving that the Soviets planned to intervene actively in such a war.
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Response By Authors
Dear Marc (sorry, we have not found your surname on History Central),
Many thanks for reviewing our book Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War and for the positive overall evaluation of our research findings.
We would like, however, to point out some factual inaccuracies in the review, and to comment on your conclusion that "the book falls short in proving that the Soviets planned to intervene."
First, the facts: 1) "the Mig 25 was impervious to Israel, because its Mirage could fly higher and faster" -- this is simply erroneous, as a glance at any aircraft manual will show. The MiG-25, which in May 1967 was still unknown to the West, could fly higher and faster than any Western combat aircraft for many years more. Indeed, it is an established fact that Soviet MiG-25s performed numerous flights over Israel from Egypt in 1971-72, and that Israel was then still unable to intercept them; the Mirage IIIC was roughly equal in performance to the MiG-21, and much inferior to the MiG-25 in both speed and ceiling. Israel did shoot down three "Foxbats" only in the 1980's, after the F-15 was developed to match the MiG-25. What we proved, based among other sources on the testimony of a Soviet ace , was that the MiG-25 missions over Israel began in 1967, and thus account for the hitherto "mysterious" overflights of the Dimona nuclear complex that were a major motivation for Israel's decision to launch a preemptive strike.(as shown again by a recent, authoritative study).
Since our book went to press, the spokesman of the Russian Air Force has confirmed these flights by listing them among the achievements of another pilot who took part. For this and other new evidence that has emerged to corroborate our thesis, see a recent report in the Jerusalem Post.
2. "The Mig 25 could not bomb from those heights" -- it was not intended to. Its reconnaissance overflights of Dimona were meant primarily -- in our opinion -- to demonstrate that this facility was being targeted, thereby provoking Israel to act; and possibly to probe the site's "Hawk" anti-aircraft missile defenses. Our book demonstrates that Dimona was marked as a central target for Soviet strategic bombers that were readied to strike at Israel (as related, and confirmed after our book's publication, by their commander), as well as Egyptian aircraft (the latter fact has been known since shortly after the war, based on captured Egyptian documents)
3. "They show no evidence of preparation of significant land forces (tank, artillery) that could have affected an actual battle. It is very questionable that the Soviets had the ability to project the forces necessary in the time required" -- we do show that the marine units that were prepared for the landing included at least 40 tanks and mobile artillery units. One of the latter did actually land but was decimated by the Israel Air Force. We also mention that Soviet paratroop units were readied on board their aircraft for a drop in the war zone; following our book's appearance, more testimonies emerged indicating that these included at least two airborne divisions, and that they were prepared at least a month before the overt outbreak of the crisis. In any case, the main ground forces were to be fielded against Israel by the Arab countries, with Soviet weapons and advisers; the direct Soviet assistance was to be mainly by the aforementioned strikes behind Israeli lines, in addition to aerial bombing and fighter cover.
These are but a few examples. For more on the nature of evidence in such research, see our response to Benny Morris's critique in The New Republic. As to the overall strength of the case we present, Foreign Affairs has just published a review of our book by the eminent British military historian Sir Lawrence Freedman, who concludes that "Ginor and Remez have succeeded to the point where the onus is now on others to show why they are wrong."
Many thanks for your kind attention and best regards,
Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez
Marc Schulman Reply
Dear Isabella and Gideon,
Thank you for writing and commenting on my review.
I am not sure we disagree on your first point. I state that Israel
could not stop the Mig 25- which was true. But the Mig 25 other
reconnaissance was not a real threat, its ability to outperform the
Mirage was mainly an issue of flight ceiling- and at that height it
could nothing but take pictures. I did report the confirmation by
David Horowitz in JP in a daily posting I do
https://www.historycentral.com/Israel/AAGUST/0823.html. The Soviets of
course had the theoretical capability of using their strategic bombers
to attack Dimona- but there strategic bomber force to the best of my
recollection had never been used in action.
The deeper question is whether and why the Soviets would be willing to
take direct and public military action, outside the iron curtain,
something that they did not do once during the Cold War ( except
Afghanistan which was much later and different circumstances). You
could argue that they intervened in the War of Attrition, but they did
that by way of saying they were just advisers. I m not saying that it
is impossible to believe, but the bar is very high in proving it.
Also on the question of the Soviet marines, I did not and do not
understand what they were suppose to accomplish? A direct military
intervention by Soviet troops attacking Israel would have forced
American military intervention. Despite Vietnam the US in 1967 was
still able to project military power more effectively then the
Soviets. So their intervention would not have been successful and
they may have ended up in a direct military confrontation which they
would not have won, with the US. I guess you might argue that there goal
was to force the US to intervene on Israel side thus weakening it.
Possible- but again the bar is high to prove.
I think you have done an excellent job of proving your core point
something that fundamentally changes our understanding of 1967- That
the Soviets deliberately provoked the confrontation, and the war was
not an accident. If that becomes part of our greater understanding of
the period you will have accomplished a great deal. The points we
seem to have a small disagreement over would change our overall
understanding of Soviet Foreign policy during the period and risks
they were willing to take, but its your core point that has the
greatest historic relevance.
Once again thank you for writing