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Israeli M48 tanks, wrecked in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, on the banks of the Suez Canal in 1981.


On Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement in 1973, the new-born state of Israel was nearly wiped off the map. Egypt and Syria launched a massive surprise attack along the entire lengths of the Golan Heights and the Suez Canal. The IDF was caught napping - when it finally awakened just several hours before the onslaught, Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan rejected a plea by Chief of Staff David Elezar to launch a preventative air strike against the massed Arab forces, about to surge forward. The Israeli leaders feared the US would blame Israel for starting the war because both President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger did not believe the Arabs would dare attack Israel. In the opening weeks of the Yom Kippur War, it was touch-and-go whether the Jewish state would survive. The IDF forces along the Suez Canal and the Golan were outnumbered ten-to-one in tanks and artillery, and by far more in infantry. Moreover the Russians had just supplied sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to both their Arab allies that shot down an alarming number of Israeli aircraft. In one of the war’s darkest hours, a desolate Dayan was heard to say:

      'The Third House of Israel may be about to fall!'

The Israel government had refrained from ordering an urgent call-up of IDF reserves - again for fear of being blamed by Washington for precipitating the war. The small standing Israeli army depends on these reserves, which take up to fourty-eight hours to join the battle. It was in these hours, that the fate of Israel swayed in the balance. Channel 1 TV has just aired a dramatic report about one isolated IDF outpost on the Golan Heights. It was commanded by a twenty-year Lieutenant who had prepared his men for a possible border incident with the Syrians. They had flared up from time to time. To his amazement on Yom Kippur 1973, he observed scores of Syrian tanks massing opposite his outpost, backed up by armored personnel carriers filled with Syrian troops. First, his outpost was bombarded by Syrian jets and artillery driving everyone into the underground bunker. Then, when it was over, the tanks came clanking up to the outpost. A nearby IDF tank unit knocked out many of the tanks but they kept coming. The vastly outnumbered IDF tanks were also eventually hit and disabled. Meanwhile in the outpost the troops were firing everything they could at the advancing Syrian forces.

The young Lieutenant pleaded with his immediate commander at headquarters, a vaunted paratrooper known by his nickname 'Ya- ya'. Without reinforcements his outpost could not hold. Ya-Ya knew he had no reinforcements to send - they were still on the way on the road below in Galilee. It would take hours for them to arrive. But it was vital to hold the outpost which commanded a strategic road in the Golan. By this time the Lieutenant was himself wounded in the arm, but he still managed to keep firing his automatic rifle. One of his men spoke of how he planned on saving one last grenade to blow himself up with the approaching Syrian troops. There was no way he was going to be taken prisoner by the Syrians who are notorious for their barbarism. Now for the key line in this account, from Col. Ya-ya:

      'I didn't tell those guys I had no reinforcements to send and that they were totally on their own against the incredible odds. This would not have helped them. I told them I was doing the best I could to help them and told them to also give their best!'

Destruction in the al-Qunaytra village in the Golan Heights, after the Israeli withdrawal in 1974

The outpost commander later recounted that for him and his teen-age soldiers, Ya-ya was like a Deputy Chief of Staff and if he was confident they could hold out then they just had to - and they did. But at the time, what went through Commander Ya-ya's mind when young outpost commanders all along the line were begging for reinforcements and he had none to send?

Now years later Ya-ya said:

      'I admit. At the time I thought the State of Israel has survived for twenty-five years and it's been a marvelous experience but now maybe it's coming to an end - the odds are too great!'

In the end the outnumbered Israeli forces did not break, the reinforcements arrived and the IDF drove back the huge Syrian and Egyptian armies. At the conclusion of the war, the roads to Cairo and Damascus were open. But the IDF paid a terrible price in dead and wounded. This was due to, firstly, Israel taking too many risks and ignoring the intelligence material it had gathered that the Egyptian and Syrian armies were bent on going to war. Second, that Israel's leaders delayed taking preventative action for fear of raising the ire of the US.

Any Israeli who witnessed that war, either at home and certainly those of us on the battlefield, will never forget. It was not a matter of losing a war. In our case, it also meant the total annihilation of our homeland. Is there any country in the world that is faced with eradication, if it loses just one war? This is something to be remembered by Israel's critics and sometimes friends, even some of them Jewish, who are so brave in urging Israelis to take risks for peace.

Israeli tanks cross the Suez Canal


Fast forward to Yom Kippur this year that falls on the eve of Oct. 11th.

Today Israel's strategic position is far more secure. When presented with the opportunity to make true peace with Egypt and Jordan, Israel jumped at the chance. Even the ultimate 'hard-liner' Menachem Begin was ready to give back the last grain of sand. Now faced with the threat of a nuclear Iran, Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf states today view Israel as a potential ally. Even non-Arab Turkey has joined the Israeli fan club.

That leaves Hezbullah with its arsenal of over 100,000 rockets pointed towards strategic and population centers inside Israel. But leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah knows he will pay a very heavy price and would not dare to again attack Israel without an explicit order from Tehran.

In contrast to that defining moment for Israel on Yom Kippur 1973, Israel is not threatened by an invasion of conventional armies. On the contrary, there is the prospect of expanding ties with the Arab states. But there is one big fly in this ointment. Arab leaders are worried about the reaction of the 'Arab Street' if there is no corresponding progress between Israel and the Palestinians.

In order to understand why this plot thickens, it is necessary to look back at the genesis and the unraveling of the Oslo process signed by Yasser Arafat and Yitzak Rabin in 1994. It envisaged a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine. At that time there was a clear critical mass of Israeli voters ready to support the founding of an independent Palestinian state. However the Palestinian took the process down a bloody road of terrorism. At the time Rabin declared:

      'Israel will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace!'

Israeli intelligence reported that Arafat had 'winked' at the terrorists to carry on the attacks. It became 'an instrument of Arafat's policy'. Yigal Amir was a so convinced that Rabin was capable of leading Israel to recognize Palestine that he assassinated the Prime Minister. Enter super-dove Shimon Peres - he should have been a godsend for the Palestinians, right? Wrong! Palestinian suicide bombers were sent on the rampage during the short term of Shimon Peres. In response, Israeli voters kicked out Peres and went for Bibi Netanyahu who opposed Oslo. Israelis are weird that way - they are riled when their offer to recognize a Palestinian state is met by a wave of suicide bombers. But Bibi went nowhere to be replaced by Ehud Barak who made his debut by offering to have another go at reviving Oslo from the ashes. Again a critical mass of Israeli voters backed him. Barak then proceeded to Camp David where he offered Arafat, the kitchen sink. Just imagine this included the partition of Jerusalem, Lo and behold despite the beseeching of President Bill Clinton to grab it, Arafat packed his bags and went back to Ramallah where he promptly launched the Second Intifada.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin acknowledge applause during the announcement of the results of the Camp David Accords.

Again Israeli voters took umbrage. Barak ‘went for broke’ at Camp David and all he succeeded in getting was a new wave of Palestinian terrorists. Israeli voters kissed Barak good bye and moved on to Arik Sharon. Now here was an Israeli hard liner who would fix the Palestinians' wagon once and for all! But again Arik shocked both the Right and Left, by carrying out a total Israeli withdrawal from all the settlements in Gaza as well as all IDF positions. Now it was the turn of President Mahmoud Abbas to step up to the plate. Did he and the Palestinians jump at this opportunity by calling off the terror attacks against Israelis and rushing into a similar accord for the West Bank? On the contrary, the Palestinians in Gaza used the abandoned settlements and IDF bases as launch pads to fire rockets at Israelis just over the border and beyond. Actually they've been doing so ever since.

How did this Palestinian aggression impact that former critical mass of Israeli voters who thought the Palestinians were ready for 'good neighbor relations’? Naturally more of these Israelis started asking: 'What do these Palestinians really want - every chance they get they try and kill more of us!'

And on it goes. Sharon was followed by Ehud Olmert who during his election campaign spoke of disengaging from densely populated Palestinian areas of the West Bank. Abbas had to love Olmert, right? Especially when Olmert added in some other concessions, but again, Abbas rather than grabbing the proposal, said he would need unlimited time to think about it. Could it be that even Olmert refrained from agreeing that all the Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return to Israel. Wasn't that what the new born state of Palestine was for in the West Bank and Gaza?

When Oslo was signed twenty-two years ago, it can be said the key interest for most Israeli voters was on the aspect of secure and recognized borders'. This was stipulated in UN Resolution 242 after that Arab attempt to wipe Israel off the map in 1967. But it may also be that more and more moderate Israeli voters have given up hope of the Palestinians ever recognizing a Jewish state. They may have concluded there is no real Palestinian partner for peace - Abbas as did Arafat is only trying to con us'. Maybe this growing pessimism, (that is not without foundation) has lead them to accept the Land of Israel dogma. In other words it doesn't matter what Israel does or does not do, the Palestinians are unalterably opposed to the two-state solution and lasting peace.

And with this concluding thought:

Whether this assessment is right or wrong, nothing justifies Israel's continued building outside of the settlement blocs on land that would be part of a future Palestinian state. Prime Minister Netanyahu has harmed the national interest by using his latest settlement decision to resolve an unrelated, domestic political problem.



David Essing

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