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Yom Kippur War & Palestinian Negotiations

Maj.Gen.(res.) Avigdor BenGal: 'The U.S. Pullout From Iraq Poses Threat Of New North-Eastern Front Against Israel Comprised Of Iran, Iraq & Syria'

'For Small Country Such As Israel, Territory Is Of Supreme Importance... Just Imagine If Sinai, Golan Heights, Jordan Valley Basin & West Bank Were Not In Israeli Hands At Outbreak Of Yom Kippur War'

IsraCast Assessment: In Current Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks, Prime Minister Netanyahu Will Insist On Wide Ranging Security Arrangements That Take Into Account The Threat Of New North-Eastern Front

 Israelis and Jews around the world have marked the Yom Kippur Day of Atonement. Thirty-seven years ago, the Egyptian and Syrian armies exploited the holiest day in the Jewish calendar to launch a massive surprise attack that nearly succeeded in defeating the IDF and possibly wiping Israel off the map. What are the ramifications today when it comes to Israeli territorial concessions to the Palestinians and Syria? This assessment by IsraCast analyst David Essing deals with some of the issues.

 What bearing, if any, does the Yom Kippur War of 1973 have on the current Israeli Palestinian peace negotiations? Thirty-seven years ago, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a massive offensive along the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights that caught the Israel Defense Forces almost totally by surprise. The two Arab armies attacked with a ratio of 10:1- ten tanks and artillery pieces to every Israeli one and threatened to break through Israeli lines into the Jewish state. During those first darkest days, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was even quoted as saying he feared the Third Temple was about to fall. However although vastly outnumbered and suffering heavy casualties, the Israeli troops along both fronts did not break. They held fast until the reserves raced to reinforce them. After regrouping and some initial setbacks, IDF Chief of Staff David Elezar then led a devastating counter-offensive. The Yom Kippur War ended with the IDF routing the Egyptian and Syrian forces on both fronts. In the south, the IDF had crossed over the Suez Canal, totally surrounding the Egyptian Third Army leaving the road to Cairo open and undefended. In the north, Syrian forces were swept back off the Golan Heights with IDF artillery in range of Damascus.

Israeli historian Prof. Uri Bar-Joesph has written the definitive book on the Yom Kippur War entitled 'The Watchman Slept'. Granted there was an Israeli intelligence debacle in failing to properly interpret the signals that Egypt and Syria were about to launch their combined surprise attack. However contrary to popular opinion, Bar-Joesph views the outcome of the war, in light of the opening circumstances, as one of the IDF's greatest victories. Moreover, although the Chief of Staff was later forced to resign by the Agranat Commission of Enquiry, Bar-Joesph has described Elezar as one of the IDF's finest commanders. What went wrong? In Bar-Joesph's considered opinion:'Surprise, surprise, surprise!' He compared the start of the Yom Kippur War to a soccer match where one team rushed out to the field and started scoring goals, while the other team was still in the dressing room.

Mahmoud Abbas, Benyamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama(Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

What does all this have to do with the current Israeli- Palestinian peace negotiations? As reported previously by IsraCast, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is concerned about future regional threats to Israel after the withdrawal of the U.S. from Iraq. Although the talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been conducted under wraps, it is reasonable to assume that Israel's leader has raised the issue of territory in the evolving Middle East arena.

IDF Maj.Gen.(res.) Avigdor BenGal was one of the heroes of the Yom Kippur War. As a senior armored corps commander, he played a key role when his outnumbered forces on the Golan were nearly overrun by waves of Syrian tanks that were barely prevented from penetrating Galilee. In an interview with the Yisrael Hayom newspaper on the eve of Yom Kippur, BenGal assessed the situation then and now.

BenGal: 'After the U.S. withdrawal the potential will be created for southern Iraq, including Baghdad, which is mainly Shi'ite, to fall under the major influence of Iran. Northern Iraq with its Sunni majority will remain weaker and more isolated. The new situation will enable the formation of a bridge that links Iran, Iraq and Syria. It will constitute the basis for a new north-eastern front against Israel. This new front will tend to mitigate Muslim differences between Shi'ites and Sunnis while escalating the call for Jihad against the Zionist state. Iran will stand at its forefront with all its resources and nuclear ambitions. In my view, Iran will not need to use its nuclear capability other than as a deterrent to others. Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza will pose secondary threats in support of the main thrust from Iran, Syria and Iraq. This new front will have the combined strength of a regional power.

Question: Does the U.S. retreat from Iraq abandon Israel to face this very significant threat?

BenGal: 'Indirectly this is certainly the case. But it is only natural that President Obama thinks first of his own people, the American economy and his administration's survival.'

Question: Will the U.S. retreat now be viewed in the region as a proclamation of failure?

BenGal: 'The U.S. did not achieve anything significant in Iraq and Obama has no alternative but to withdraw his forces from there. I assume this will also be the case in Afghanistan which no foreign power has ever conquered. Afghanistan is a diffused tribal state with no strong central government and this situation provides fertile ground for militias and terror groups. The Soviets and British failed there in the past and in my view the Americans will suffer a similar fate'.

Question: Is there a possibility that Turkey will also join this north-eastern front against Israel?

BenGal: 'Turkey is a threat. The hope that Turkey would turn into a Western style democratic state based on Islamic fundamentals has gone by the board. What differentiated Turkey from the other Muslim states has now dissipated. The Turkish army that was the last bastion of secularism is also undergoing a change that will gradually alter its character. Western Europe which rejected Turkey has driven that country into the Muslim bosom of the Arab world. There is no way of knowing where that will lead and what role Turkey might play in an evolving north-eastern front. In its national situation assessment, Israel must take seriously the changes occurring in Turkey.

Question:After the salvos of rockets that paralyzed half of Israel during the Second Lebanon war in 2006, it appears the enemy has realized the ramification of rocket attacks on the Israeli rear. In light of this, what is the probability of a major land offensive against Israel such as the Yom Kippur War? Are such land attacks a thing of the past?

BenGal: 'Rockets have never conquered any target. Rockets are a terrifying threat with direct influence mainly on the civilian front but not on the military whose mission is to absorb and keep fighting. Rockets spread panic and have a major impact psychologically as well as on morale. However I recall the German blitz on London that appeared unbearable yet London never fell, nor did the British stop fighting. Nor did the immense U.S. carpet bombing of Germany deter the Nazis from fighting on to Hitler's last bunker. Territory is of supreme importance and the decisive force will always be a land army.

Question: Israel of today is different from that of 1973- do you think Israel now has the mental and moral stamina to stand up to a serious assault on its rear front?

BenGal: 'I hope so, that we'll stand. It will be very tough but we'll pull through. Zionism will not be eradicated by rockets.'

Question: As a military man, you have made your position clear on holding territory. Is that a reason for Israel to hold on to territory it took in war?

Bengal: 'Israel is a small country limited militarily and economically. Its territory is extremely small and therefore it requires strategic depth. It is forbidden to give up the Golan Heights, the Jordan Valley Basin and Judea & Samaria (West Bank). Not only from a national point of view but from the solely military aspect. Just imagine what would have happened if the Yom Kippur had broken out without Sinai, the Golan Heights, Judea & Samaria and the Jordan Valley Basin in our hands. From the military aspect, it is a grave mistake to give up territory. Moreover it seems to me the dialogue with the Palestinians over the years has amounted to no more than worthless living-room chit-chat. They don't believe us and we don't believe them. The gulf is so great between us that nothing can bridge it in the foreseeable future.'

The views of Maj.Gen.(res.) Avigdor BenGal

Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian border

And this footnote: In order to appreciate Israel's concern with security arrangements and the crucial importance of strategic territory consider this: Israel's total area without West Bank: 8,370 sq.miles Width of Israel from Mediterranean to West Bank- 7 miles, less than the length of Broadway

By comparison:
Israel is smaller than U.S. state of Vermont- 9,250 sq.miles and less than half the size of Canadian province of Nova Scotia- 21,300 sq. miles

Is it little wonder, the Israeli leadership will be deeply concerned about any future territorial withdrawals in light of the evolving situation not only in Iran, but also in Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey?
David Essing

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