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History

The October War : Were Moroccan soldiers betrayed behind enemy lines by the Syrian forces?

As part of the eight Arab countries that fought the October war, Morocco sent the one and only battalion it possesses in 1973 to Syria. Once there, Moroccan soldiers fought bravely on the Golan Heights even though they were betrayed by their Syrian counterparts. Flashback.

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Were teh Moroccan soldiers sent to Syria during the October war betrayed by the Syrian forces./Ph. DR

The Yom Kippur war has been a turning point in the history of Israel and several Arab countries. Morocco was one of the eight states that sent soldiers to fight against the Israeli forces and seize back Sinai and the Golan Heights. The war that lasted from the 6th to the 25th of October has shattered the myth of Israel’s invincibility.

Backed by the Soviet Union, Morocco alongside, Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Libya, Syria, Egypt and Jordan all fought against Israel in an attempt to overcome the 1967 defeat at the Six Day War. Although the October War’s theme mainly relied on solidarity and unity, historical events suggest that the Moroccan Battalion sent to Syria to operate on Mount Hermon was betrayed.

When Morocco sent its one and only battalion to Syria

Going back in time, and especially on March 1973, a Moroccan Army Battalion was sent to Syria to participate to the October war. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, an international news agency and wire service serving Jewish community newspapers, wrote on the 23rd of March 1973 that «A Moroccan Army battalion arrived at the Syrian port of Latakia it was reported today (22nd of March 1973) to participate in ‘the fight against Israel’». According to the agency «Israeli officials dismissed the unit as a military threat and suggested that the dispatch of the troops to Syria may have been intended to reduce the threat of a military coup against King Hassan of Morocco».

Indeed, King Hassan II has sent the only battalion that the Kingdom owned back in the time to back the Syrian troops on the October’s war. This was confirmed through the account previously mentioned by Yabiladi. In a memoire book written by Saad Mohamed el-Husseiny el-Shazly (April 1922- February 2011), an Egyptian military commander, entitled «The October War Diary», he gave details about his meeting with King Hassan II to discuss a potential collaboration with Morocco regarding the Yum Kippur war.

On the 18th of September 1973, el-Shazly met the Moroccan sovereign. «Morocco had just sent its one and only battalion of tanks to Syria weeks ago», he wrote. The Battalion included, as reported by Ahram newspaper, 6000 soldiers, a number of tanks and artillery.

Fighting for the Golan Heights

As soon as the war started, the Moroccan soldiers fought next to their Syrian counterparts on the Golan Heights. Based on the account provided by Hespress, thousands of Moroccan soldiers were dispatched in the Golan Heights, where they occupied the second line of defense, on the eastern slopes of Mount Hermon known in Arabic as Jabal al-Shaykh, located at an altitude of 2114 meters off the sea.

According to the same source, Mohammed Loma, a graduate of the Syrian military academy who took part of the war indicated that «Moroccan soldiers were tricked by the Syrian brigade headed by Halawa, a druze commander, who collaborated with the Israelis». «Moroccans were attacked by the Israeli soldiers and a number of them were killed and wounded», states Loma.

The alleged betrayal

However, the Syrian army was able to deal with the situation, and executed on the following day commander Halawa, who was considered a traitor. The Moroccan martyrs were also mentioned by Sasa Post, which wrote about the Moroccan battalion in the Golan. «The brigade fought well in the battle of Mount al-Shaykh. 170 Moroccan soldiers were killed during the war», adds the same source.

In a different account, Abou Riad, who was a soldier in the Jordanian army in 1973, told Arabi 21 in 2016 about how Moroccan soldiers were betrayed by some Syrian soldiers at the Golan battle.

«We were advancing strongly when we saw the Syrian tanks retired following the orders of the commanders who were in the heart of the battle, we did not understand what was happening and were not ordered to retreat, unlike the Syrian forces», he said.

Abou Riad who works currently as a mathematics professor added that «the Moroccan forces were in the forefront, they could not see the Syrian forces retreating and they were not informed of the withdrawal order. They continued advancing while the Syrian forces withdrew and they were trapped».

«We later stopped and asked about the reason behind our retreat», said Abou Riad, «while the entire land seemed completely empty». The Syrian forces announced later on that the Moroccans soldiers were heroes in order to avoid the emergence of a crisis between the two countries.

Despite the losses encountered during the October War, the soldiers who fought on the Golan Heights, including Moroccans, showed discipline in executing attacks that helped the country regain much of the honor it had lost in the debacle of 1967. Meanwhile, the Moroccan battalion fulfilled the promises made by King Hassan II.

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