Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | January 11, 2014

A Quote for Today

In the Preface to the 1990 edition of his book To Lose a Battle, Alistair Horne includes the following somewhat boastful collage of reminiscence and publication history (pp. 33-35) (footnote in original):

The Israeli Army, which regards itself as being one of the best read in military history in the world, and possesses its own publishing house, is carefully selective in printing only works that it deems to hold a direct bearing on Israel’s survival. Thus, after their great success in the 1967 ‘Six Day War’, I was gratified – but somewhat taken aback – when the Israelis purchased my book on the Battle of Verdun, 1916, The Price of Glory, for translation into Hebrew. …

Now, it so happened that in 1971, two years before the Yom Kippur War, Israel’s Ministry of Defense publishing house had followed up by translating and publishing in Hebrew the third book of my Franco-German trilogy, To Lose a Battle, with its detailed account of the Manstein Plan, Sichelschnitt, which had given Hitler his blueprint for total victory in that summer of 1940. I thought no more about it. Then when war broke out, in October 1973, I was in Algiers, researching for my new book on the Algerian War, A Savage War of Peace. From Algiers I watched with disquiet as the Egyptians swarmed back across the Suez Canal, taking the Israelis thoroughly by surprise. By not manning their front line with the bulk of their forces (as indeed the French Army might well have done, in either the First or Second World War), the Israelis saved themselves from instant defeat; yet, after the first few days, it still looked as if – at best – Israel faced a costly stalemate; which, to her, would in effect equal defeat in the long term. But, out of the blue, Israel’s dashing General Ariel Sharon[1] launched a daring but carefully conceived counter-thrust across the Canal, striking on the hinge of the two Egyptian armies and fanning out behind them with deadly consequences.

From what little I was able to glean from the press reports in Algiers, the Sharon action had elements that made it at once look amazingly familiar; it was a replay of Manstein’s crossing of the Meuse in May 1940, and the military result was nearly as deadly. With one of its principle armies cut off, the Egyptians were forced to seek a cease-fire. Israel was saved.

[1] His reputation later became somewhat tarnished in the Lebanon.

Ariel Sharon died earlier today, after being in a coma for the past eight years. He was 85.

Image Credit: Department of History, U.S. Military Academy.



  1. “His reputation later became somewhat tarnished in the Lebanon.”

    More than ‘somewhat’, I’d say.

  2. British historians have a long tradition of elevating understatement to an artform.

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