In 2004, a student at Bar-Ilan University discovered a fascinating episode that the Israeli public is not that familiar with: a secret war between Israeli and Soviet forces during the War of Attrition in 1970. An interview with a Soviet army veteran living in Siberia in a local paper about a Soviet-Israeli battle caught the eye of the student, Boris Dolin.
“Soviet missiles took off in a storm of smoke and sand and turned toward Israeli Phantoms, which were tearing through the skies. The Israeli air force hit the Soviet units on the ground hard,” Dolin read, completely taking him aback.
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“I was sitting there in front of the screen, when I read that Israel fought against the Soviet Union. That’s about like reading that we fought aliens,” he said this week. “I’d never heard about it before, and the whole story sounded totally unbelievable.”
But he subsequently came across more and more testimonies from the Russian side, and decided to expand the search. “I scoured the internet for former Soviet soldiers who fought against us that accursed summer, and I flew to Moscow to meet with some of them,” he says. They were waiting for him at a club for Soviet veterans in a Moscow suburb, crowded into a small office. Some of them gave him memoirs they had written. Others spoke with him about their experiences. To his surprise, he learned that they held an annual reunion, with representatives from the Egyptian Embassy and the Russian Defense Ministry in attendance, but when he tried to join the event, he got the distinct impression that he would be an unwanted guest.
He also went to the Israel National Archives, where he sat and went through crates packed with documents, searching for testimonies from a half-century ago in Israelis sources.
When the dots connected, he had uncovered an episode highly relevant to recent developments in the Middle East. While the mostly forgotten War of Attrition pitted Israel and Egypt against each other, in the summer of 1970 Israel found itself in direct confrontation with a superpower for the first time.
Boris Dolin.Emil Salman
The research that Dolin conducted for his master’s degree at Bar-Ilan is now being published as a book (in Hebrew): “The Suez Wall – The Story of the Secret War between Israel and the Soviet Union” (Kinneret Zemora Press).