Robert Sid Ahmed,
INT: What did it mean to Israel? How did the Israelis feel to be losing their control of the Suez Canal? Why was it so important?
A: On the one hand, the southern command and the two fronts... for the two fronts, the main goal was to mobilize quickly and to run forward as fast as possible, to cross the 250 kilometers to the borders. On the other hand, a war was going on on the border, and it was very hard fighting, full of heroic actions: small strongholds that were holding out against great forces surrounding them, small groups of a few tanks acting, and it was a desperate and heroic war on the Canal front and also on the Syrian front, and most of the forces were running to the border.
INT: Was there a sense of sort of civilian panic and real fear?
A: At this stage of the war, people didn't yet know what was going on; they did not receive information, and there was great confidence in our ability to withhold [withstand an attack], and there was no panic - on the contrary, people mobilized, people came from abroad, students rushed to the embassies, and there was a feeling of confidence that we would overcome the situation.
INT: And your family... your son himself was involved as well. Was he fighting alongside you?
A: My son was a pilot in the air force; he had just finished his training course, and he was among the aircraft that gave assistance to my division during the battles, especially in the second part of the war, after I had crossed the Suez Canal. And my daughter was in the Gaza Strip.
INT: So the whole family was involved, in that case. How did you manage to turn the battle around a little bit, and when did you start to begin to make some sort of advances?
A: At first, when we reached the border and I arrived with my division - and I arrived after 24 hours; that means on the 7th in the morning - I was in the northern section of the Suez Canal, and I took command of the northern sector, and I found out that all the strongholds were surrounded, although none of them had been taken yet; that the Egyptians were crossing and crossing and crossing on bridge-heads, and that the tank force sent to this sector... I met the brigade commander, with two tanks and one APC, and all the rest were all either stuck in marshes near the Canal, and had gone for help, or [had been] hit, and I understood that the Sinai division had very great casualties. They had only 10 tanks left after the first night. My forces were rushing in; an Egyptian force attacked us and tried to block our way. While we tried to get off the tank carriers, we were attacked. I turned a brigade against them, which fought them all day, until they managed to eliminate the commando forces. And then I managed to get to the front and deploy along the northern sector, and to begin to evacuate the Sinai division forces, the regular soldiers who had fought there all night, and to organize forces, and to structure new forces. That went on until the afternoon, from the morning to the afternoon. Forces kept rushing in, and it continued at night. The convoy of my division spread out from El Arish toani, maybe 110 kilometers, on a narrow road between sand dunes. It advanced and advanced, but I knew it would take a long time before it would be concentrated in one spot. And we also gave preference to the tanks to move forward, and artillery and engineers and infantry came in later; first the tanks rushed into the front.
(Pause - b/g talk. Cut.)
INT: ... So can you tell me... tanks are very, very important in this, and a huge Israeli loss is suffered. Could you give me some sort of indication of the sort of losses that you were suffering at this point in the war?
A: We had had very few losses in previous wars - I call them "de luxe wars" - but in this war, because of the surprise, in the first 24 hours we had great losses, and throughout the first days we had great losses. We weren't prepared and we weren't organized for evacuation and for telling the families and for registration. The amount of deaths in the whole war was 2,500, and many more wounded, and most of the losses were in the first days. The pressure on the hospitals was huge; there was a lot of logistics involved, and it was a terrible blow to morale when the hospitals were filled with so many wounded. We also made mistakes at the beginning of the war. The ratio between ourselves and the enemies... the Syrians and Egyptians had prepared their entire army, and from the very beginning of the war they used their entire army, and we were only using a tenth of our army, so in the first part, the ratio was 1:30 - 1:50. For example, we had one artillery battery and they had [Interpreter: "some number"]; they had 1,200 tanks, we had 300. So we had great losses at the first stage. When the reserve service arrived, we decided to take the initiative and not to allow them to take advantage of their success. So, although we were not prepared, we attacked with part of our forces on 8th October, just as they arrived, and again that was a mistake because we did not have the power, and again we suffered great losses. Only later did we decide to organize first and to switch to an offensive, when we were prepared to concentrate all our forces.
INT: Why was it important that Israel receive fresh supplies from the United States?
A: The battles were huge here: there were hundreds of tanks, and on both fronts thousands of tanks on both sides, fighting each other. The artillery force was enormous. So our weapon storehouses were emptying very quickly, not so much of tanks, but artillery ammunition was running low. And what was worse was that we had tanks and soldiers hit. Tanks we managed to fix, but wounded people returning from hospitals to the battlefront - some of them did, but most didn't. And then we had a need for soldiers; we had to mobilize everyone. And it was only later, when people came from abroad, students came from abroad, that they were sent directly to the front, and we managed to man more tanks and to put them into battle. There were tanks we had to repair. Our repair system, our ammunition system, worked on the battlefield and in workshops inside the country, and each tank was repaired quickly and sent back into battle; and it was lucky that we could concentrate people quickly and to form teams quickly and to man the tanks. So our main problem was that we had suffered great losses in men and tanks. The tanks we managed to fix, but the problem was how to man the tanks and send them back into battle. To give an example: on the second day of the war, my division consisted of about 100 tanks, and 10 days later I had almost 250 tanks. I got reinforcements: I got a whole battalion of students mobilized from abroad; I got soldiers thareturned from hospitals. During the war we managed to strengthen [increase our strength].
INT: So were you aware of the military supplies from the United States? Were the supplies coming through to you? Did you welcome the re-supply?
A: We were very much depon supplies from the United States, and, for some reason, because of political problems, the Americans were not glad to send them on an air convoy. We were very disappointed and angry that supplies were arriving very slowly and only on our El Al aircraft. And the air convoy was delayed and delayed, and only towards the end of the battles was it organized and weapons were sent over. We knew this in the battlefield and we were very angry about these delays, especially since we knew that at the same time the Russians were constantly sending weapon systems and ammunition to the Syrians and Egyptians.
INT: Some of the slightly ridiculous proposals that were being put forth to get the supplies into Israel... were you aware of some of the suggestions that were made for getting the airlift, the supplies into Israel - the fact that it was on American charter planes, [and] only finally they decided to put it on the military...?
A: Yes, we were aware. We were in very close contact, daily contact with Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, and he would update the platoon commanders; he would visit the divisions every day and he gave us information on what was going on at the political level.