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Defense Minister Moshe Dayan: "If We Launch Preemptive Air Strike Or Even Carry Out Major Mobilization Of Reserves, U.S. Will Blame Israel For Starting Yom Kippur War!"

IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar: "If We Do Not Preempt With Air Strike, At Least Mobilize Reserves!"

 Publication of confidential IDF protocols reveals dramatic details of confrontation between Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar, just hours before Egypt and Syria launched a combined offensive against Israel. Dayan later dissuaded Prime Minister Golda Meir from carrying out a preemptive air strike or a total mobilization of the IDF reserves; this while Egyptian and Syrian aircraft, artillery, tanks and troops were about to go to war. Although Dayan's position was previously known, the new details cast the final hours before the Yom Kippur war of 1973 in a new light. Israel, at Dayan's insistence, bowed to the U.S. which believed the Arabs would not attack. In so doing Israel paid a heavy price – many of the Israeli soldiers and pilots killed in the war would be alive today, if Israel had decided differently. It also raises the issue of what will happen if Israel and the U.S. disagree over when to act on a nuclear Iran, even if Netanyahu and Obama have reached a tentative understanding. 

Israeli forces crossing Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War

 Oct.6, 1973- 6:00 AM- Israel's Defense Ministry:

 What transpired at the crucial meeting between Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar just hours before Egypt and Syria launched their massive surprise attack on Oct.6, 1973? With intelligence reports pouring in that Israel had been caught napping and the Arab attack was imminent, should Israel try to preempt with an air strike and total mobilization and risk alienating the U.S.? Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar locked horns leaving it up to Prime Minister Golda Meir to work out the compromise. 

 Dayan:"We have said if we are certain that they (Arabs) are going to war, then we do not have to wait, but if that certainty is based solely on information then we must not.” (A preemptive strike would require the visible movement of enemy forces on the ground. Intelligence data was not sufficient, as credible as it may be. This also applied to spies and listening posts because this would not convince Washington that an Arab attack was imminent). 

 Gen. Elazar: "What exactly did the guy say?” (DE: Egyptian spy, Marwan Assraf, known to have close contact with President Anwar Sadat). 

 Brig. Raviv:"The planned offensive is slated to start this evening. Sadat cannot go back on this now and it begins this evening.”

Moshe Dayan

 At this point, Dayan picked up the phone to call an aide of Mossad chief Zvi Zamir, who had traveled urgently to Europe for a face-to-face meeting with Assraf and had not yet returned. The aide informed Dayan that Assraf had indeed spoken of “this evening".

 Dayan:"The current international situation does not enable us to do what we did in 1967.”  (DE: Massive Israeli air strike ordered by Dayan to break the Arab chokehold by Arab armies massed on Israel's borders). 

 Elazar:"I'm beginning to take seriously Marwan's report. We are capable of conducting a preemptive strike on air bases in Egypt and Syria, and then to focus on Syria - the air force and anti-aircraft missile defenses.”

 Dayan:"The answer is no. A preemptive strike is out of the question mainly because the Americans say the Arabs will not attack us.” 

 Gen. Elazar:"Relatively speaking, the Arabs have achieved a great surprise. I have ordered the Israeli Air Force to be prepared for a preemptive strike if you decide. I'm keeping this option open - either a preemptive strike or if they (the Egyptians) do attack at five this afternoon, this will give me an hour of daylight.”

 Dayan:"If there are no unexpected developments, it is out of the question. In my estimate, and this is important, even if the Americans were 100% certain, they will not allow us to attack first. It may be if there are terrible reports, we'll go to Golda and she may say 'yes'. In my opinion she'll say 'no' and I will not recommend it. It could be that if there is a misfire (Arab) a kind of SCUD (missile) that might serve as a pretext for us to roll this to the maximum. But as for a preemptive strike, the answer is no.”

Gen. David Elazar

 After being denied the possibility of launching a preemptive air strike, the Chief of Staff raised the question of mobilizing IDF reserves. 

 Elazar:"I want to order nearly total mobilization- some 200,000 men.”

 Dayan:"In my view it is still impossible to do so on the basis of existing information. What do you require on the Golan Heights? What alignment are you planning?”

The IDF forces were outnumbered by ten to one and more.

 Elazar:“An alignment of all divisions. Let's say they (Arabs) break out. I want to go over to a counter-attack with three divisions.”

 Dayan: "What will the mobilization give you? Announce it tonight and implement in the morning. If you dispatch another battalion up to the Golan Heights that will be sufficient to strengthen the line and I still don't see the necessity of a counter-attack.” 

 Elazar:Even if they attack tonight on the Golan we are prepared. A division is 12,000 men. If it's only for defense purposes, I would mobilize only 50,000 men for the whole country.”

 Dayan:"The question is, what is the latest hour we can put off the mobilization? And I'll have to talk to Golda about it."

 Elazar:"I would mobilize two divisions for the North, one division for the South. and one for the Centre."

 Dayan:"You'd reach 100,000 reservists. The entire air force must be called up; one division for the North and one for the South, with the air force that's 50,000 people."

 Elazar:"I'd issue a total mobilization; let all the world know that we're prepared for war.” 

Israel and the U.S. are keeping time on Iran's nuclear countdown with different clocks.

 Dayan: "That could be detrimental from the political viewpoint - they'd say we were planning to go to war because a mobilization is an act of war. Fine, we'll go to Golda with two options. It will be a great 'scandal' (with the U.S.) if we mobilize everyone. But just for defense there is no alternative ... let's agree on evacuating all the children from the Golan Heights and from Abu Rudeis (in the Gulf of Suez). You have my approval for mobilizing all air force reserves and one division in the North and South."

 Gen. Eli Zaire:"We have a photograph showing that the Egyptians have moved up SA-16 anti-aircraft missiles into the Suez Canal zone." (In violation of the cease-fire agreement).

 Dayan:"That can facilitate their crossing the canal."

 Elazar:"I want photographs (aerial) of the Suez Canal and a pilotless drone over Syria - that will give us a more in-depth picture."

In 1973, Israel underestimated the strength of the looming Arab offensive and was willing to suffer the consequences... In the case of Iran, it is doubtful that ... the new Israeli security cabinet... will risk Israel's very existence for the sake of the 'special relationship' with America.

 Even at this juncture, Defense Minister Dayan appeared overly cautious: "There's a chance they'll be shot down. That's not good if they do - that will give them a pretext. I suggest we don't fly over the border."

Barack Obama talks with Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion Airport (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

 At 10:am Dayan and Elazar met with Prime Minister Golda Meir, who approved the partial mobilization but meanwhile three valuable hours were lost. And then four hours later, not at five in the evening but at two in the afternoon, Egyptian and Syrian jets roared in along the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights to bomb and strafe while Egyptian artillery launched a massive bombardment of Israeli positions. In their wake came tens of thousands of Egyptian troops in landing craft across the Suez Canal. The IDF forces were outnumbered by ten to one and more; and only after suffering heavy losses were they able to smash both the Syrian and Egyptian armies leaving the roads open to both Cairo and Damascus.

 When the fighting was over 2,656 IDF soldiers were killed and more than 9,000 were wounded. Obviously, it is impossible to estimate how many of them were due to Israel's reluctance to mobilize in time and in strength for fear of angering the U.S. Since 1973, Israel has had to defend itself against Hizbollah terror emanating from southern Lebanon, and Palestinian terrorism from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These battles have not clashed with U.S. global interests, on the contrary. However, a nuclear Iran is a different question altogether. Israel and the U.S. are keeping time on Iran's nuclear countdown with different clocks. In 1973, Israel underestimated the strength of the looming Arab offensive and was willing to suffer the consequences - so much for the notion of the Israeli tail wagging the American dog. In the case of Iran, it is doubtful that the composition of the new Israeli security cabinet or the current defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, or Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu , will risk Israel's very existence for the sake of the 'special relationship' with America.  

David Essing

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