On July 18, 1972, the then-President of Egypt Anwar Sadat announced the expulsion of Soviet military advisors from Egyptian territory, accusing the Soviets of the alleged termination of the offensive armament supply.
Traditionally, the Soviet troops were said to have been brought to Egyptian territory as a response to the Israeli introduction, in January 1970, of the first set of the Phantom planes, purchased from the United States, widening the radius of their strategic targets and bombing deeper into the Egyptian territory.
The recently declassified documents and interviews with Soviet veterans of the war revealed that all the preparatory work had been done before the Phantom American bombardment, as the first contingent was already in Egypt by December 1969. Soviet pilots performed reconnaissance flights; the Soviet military deployed special services and radio-electronic scramble forces on Egyptian territory, turning the Israeli-Arab opposition into a competition with the United States over the best military technology. Another measure was bringing in a significant number of Soviet military advisors to train the Egyptian Army.
The Soviet Union preferred to be discreet about the degree of its involvement in the conflict, as none of the soldiers who had ever seen duty in Egypt had any record of this service in their files; however, the number of regular troops present in Egypt between 1967 and 1973 is estimated at 50,000.
On July 18, 1972, Anwar Sadat unexpectedly announced the expulsion of 20,000 military advisors, giving as the reason for his decision the Soviet refusal to provide weapons to Egypt. Not long earlier, such a gesture by the Egyptian leader would have been perceived as a major disgrace for the Soviet Union.
The recently-discovered trophy of the Egyptian files suggest it was a decision in the framework of the Cold War, made after a series of negotiations between the USSR’s Leonid Brezhnev and America’s Richard Nixon in May of 1972.
In July 1972, a large number of the Soviet troops left Egypt. They, however, belonged to the regular forces who, by 1972, had already fulfilled their mission and were dismissed, while the Soviet military advisors resumed their service in Egypt, and the flow of military supplies to Egypt was not only not stopped, it was augmented.
Since the Soviet Union never acknowledged that it deployed its regular forces in Egypt, and the United States preferred to keep quiet about knowing of it, both parties agreed to refer to the withdrawal of the regular troops as “the departure of advisors”.
It was the United States’ Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who came up with the “expulsion” idea, later deeming it one his best diplomatic wins.
Both the Egyptian and Soviet governments did their best to make the withdrawal look like an expulsion, misleading the Israeli intelligence services. Israel believed that, without the help of the Soviet Union, the Arabs would never be strong enough to start a war. When they finally realized what was happening in reality, it was too late to take any preventative actions.
This operation by the Soviet Union secured Anwar Sadat success in the forced crossing of the Suez Canal in 1973, and restored Arab military dignity, shattered after defeat in the Six Day War of 1967.