Daily Israel Report
Show More

OpEds


Ceremonies throughout Israel for Yom Kippur War Dead

Central ceremony at Military Synagogue at Har Herzl marks 38 years since the war that claimed 2,689 Israeli lives.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 10/9/2011, 8:32 PM

 

In dozens of cemeteries throughout Israel, ceremonies were held Sunday for the fallen soldiers of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. 

The central memorial ceremony took place at the Military Cemetery at Har Herzl, with the participation of the Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Ganz, Home Front Minister Matan Vilnai and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. 

The war was Israel's bloodiest since the War of Independence 25 years earlier, with Israel losing 2,689 of its soldiers. It began when Egypt and Syria successfully mounted a surprise attack against Israel on two fronts. In the war's initial days, Syrian tanks poured down the Golan into the Galilee, held back by a few tanks whose fighters' heroism is the stuff of Israeli legend ("Koach Tzvika" - Tzvika's unit - is one of them) and Egyptian forces crossed the Suez Canal, inflicting heavy losses on IDF forces in the outposts that lined the waterway, and on IAF jet fighters.

The war began on October 6, as Jews in Israel marked the High Holy Day of Yom Kippur. The timing was meant to maximize the effect of the surprise but held some advantages for Israel as well, since most reservists were at home and actually at synagogue services and easy to locate and call up.

The IDF recovered from its initial shock and rallied when reservists made it to the front. It mounted a ferocious, successful fight to push back the invading armies. The Golan was retaken and IAF jets pounded the Syrian Intelligence Headquarters in Damascus. IDF armor encircled the Egyptian Sixth Army in the Sinai, essentially holding it hostage, and crossed the Suez into the western side of the canal.

There has been much speculation over the years since then as to why Syrian tanks stopped their advance in the Galilee after their initial success. Some theories say that Israel threatened to use nuclear weapons against Syria. Others say Syrians were surprised by their own success, suspected a trap and had prepared no plans for conquest of parts of Israel.

The cease fire took effect October 24 but exchanges of fire continued for two more days in Sinai and into 1974 on the Syrian front. The Agranat Commission was established to determine how and why Israel failed to pre-empt or at least call up reserves before the Arab attack.

It blamed what it called "the concept" a fixed idea that Israel's military and civilian leaders embraced, that Egypt and Syria would not go to war until their air power was equal to Israel's. There were many warnings and on the night of September 25, King Hussein of Jordan actually  flew to Tel Aviv and warned PM Meir of an impending Syrian attack, but was ignored.

Another subject of debate is whether, Ashraf Marwan, Sadat's son-in-law, who was allegedly a spy for Israel, was actually a double agent. He gave his Israeli contacts two dates upon which Egypt was to attack. Both were false alarms, but the night before the war broke out, he told Mossad chief, Tzvi Zamir that war would start the following evening (it began hours earlier) and was believed.There was time for a pre-emptive strike, but it did not occur.

The fall from power of the Labor party in 1977, after almost 30 years in power since the founding of Israel, is seen by analysts as an aftershock of its actions surrounding the Yom Kippur War.

The colossal misjudgment, attributed by some to arrogance, which caused Israel to ignore signs of an Egyptian-Syrian attack, and the subsequent price in soldiers' lives, caused many Israelis to lose confidence in their government's wisdom.

Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, the Six Day War hero, was booed at public appearances. The failure of intelligence and most damning, he and Prime Minister Golda Meir's acceding to Henry Kissinger's demand, accompanied by US threats to withhold arms, that Israel not strike before the Egyptians did, were unacceptable to Israelis who paid the ultimate price. 

The military's image was tarnished as well. However, many nationalist thinkers and columnists have opined that the breast-beating over the Yom Kippur War smacks of defeatism, as the war was, in the end, a brilliant military victory snatched from the jaws of near-defeat.

Many have said that the war was won due to the unparalleled bravery of the IDF soldier in the field who made up for the mistakes of those in positions of power.