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What responsibility did Golda Meir have for the Yom Kippur war?

What responsibility did Golda Meir have for the Yom Kippur war?

I read in the book "The Iron Wall" by Avi Shlaim, there was a description of the Yom Kippur war that happened due to Golda Meir's insistence on keeping parts of Sinai and not trading them to Egypt for peace. In a chapter called "Immobilization" in the authors book, it was described in the end, that Meir was given a similar peace agreement to what Menachem Begin was given (At Begin's time, a peace agreement was signed that related to the return of Sinai to Egypt for peace between the countries). It was also described that it was Meir's fault for not accepting the agreement, a situation which later on led to a war.

How much evidence is there that supports or opposes Meir's failure in diplomacy/politics to achieve peace with Egypt and prevent the Yom Kippur war?


I think you are referring to a proposal by Moshe Dayan to Meir in December 1970 that Israel withdraw 20 miles from the Suez Canal in order to aid the Egyptians in reopening the canal and possibly averting their motivation to go to war, according to this article in the Times of Israel. Two months later, Sadat, in a speech to the Egyptian National Assembly adopted Meir's proposal, but his proposal did not include recognition of Israel or a willingness to negotiate and agree on border, two items that were fundamental Israeli demands, and things that Sadat ultimately agreed to with Begin. Moreover, the article asserts that Israel was advised by the Nixon administration not to agree to Sadat's proposal without further conciliatory gestures from Sadat.

In 2013, the Israeli government released documents that in early June 1973, Israel sent Sadat a secret message through West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, proposing that Israel would be willing secretly meet with Sadat to trade Sinai to Egypt for peace. In a later meeting she described the offer, saying: "He can tell Sadat that he, Brandt, is convinced that we truly want peace. That we don't want all of Sinai, or half of Sinai, or the major part of Sinai. Brandt can make it clear to Sadat that we do not request that he begin negotiations in public, and that we are prepared to begin secret negotiations, etc." For the original Hebrew-language document, see Document 8.

Coming so closely after the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli atheletes, Brandt was not so willing to involve West Germany in the negotiations at a high level. He sent a relatively low-level diplomat to meet with Egyptian officials. According to a 2013 Times of Israel article, Hafiz Ismail, a close adviser to Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, and relayed the Israeli proposal, advised Sadat to reject the offer on the basis that unless Israel was willing to retreat to the pre-1967 cease-fire lines, there was no point in talking directly with the Jewish state.

Meir's disappointment with Sadat's failure to accept her offer to meet was reflected in her first comment to him when they met on his first visit to Israel in 1977, where she said simply, "what took you so long?" Hinn, Benny, Blood in the Sand, p. 150.


Golda Meir elected as Israel's first female prime minster

On March 17, 1969, 70-year-old Golda Meir makes history when she is elected as Israel’s first female prime minister. She was the country’s fourth prime minister and is still the only woman to have held this post.

Meir, who was born in Kiev, Ukraine and raised in Wisconsin, began her career as a Zionist labor organizer, and later held several positions in Israeli government, including Minister of Labor and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Upon the sudden death of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in 1969, Meir was chosen as his successor. 

During her tenure, Meir gained a reputation as a savvy diplomat. She saw the country through the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, after Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel. Although Israel was victorious, over 2,500 Israelis died, and many criticized the government for a lack of preparedness.

Due in part to her age and ailing health, Meir resigned in October 1974. She was succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin.


PLO Official: ‘Palestine is Nothing But Southern Syria’

As late as May 1956, Ahmed Shukairy, subsequently head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, declared to the United Nations Security Council, “It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but southern Syria.” In view of this, I believe I may be forgiven if I took Arab spokesmen at their word.

Until the 1960s, attention was focused on the Arab refugees for whose plight the Arab states would allow no solution though many constructive and far-reaching proposals were made by Israel and the world community.

I repeatedly expressed my sympathy for the needless sufferings of refugees whose abnormal situation was created and exploited by the Arab states as a tactic in their campaign against Israel. However, refugee status could not indefinitely be maintained for the original 550,000 Arabs who in 1948 joined the exodus from the battle areas during the Arab attack on the new state of Israel.

When the refugee card began to wear thin, the Palestinian terrorist appeared on the scene flourishing not the arguable claims of displaced refugees but of a ghoulish nationalism that could only be sated on the corpse of Israel.


Rise to Power

Almost immediately, Meir took on positions of responsibility in the Histadrut, the workers&rsquo federation responsible for the lion&rsquos share of pre-1948 economic development, social services, and political leadership. In 1928 she was appointed as executive secretary of the Women Workers&rsquo Council, and served as emissary to the Pioneer Women&rsquos Organization in the United States from 1932-34. Upon her return to Palestine, Meir was invited to join the executive committee of the Histadrut and, two years later, was appointed as head of its Political Department. In June 1946, Meir replaced Moshe Shertok (later Sharett) as head of the Jewish Agency&rsquos Political Department, the quasi-foreign ministry of the state-in-waiting.

In 1947, the British announced their intention to leave Palestine, and turned the question of the country&rsquos future over to the United Nations. As the UN General Assembly prepared to vote on the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, Meir was sent on a clandestine mission to negotiate in person with King Abdullah of Transjordan. In a November 1947 meeting with Meir at Naharayim, in the Jordan Valley, the king declared himself an ally of the Zionists and promised to abstain from hostilities against the Jewish state. Yet six months later, rumors reached the Yishuv&rsquos leadership that Abdullah had joined the Arab League and was planning to join the coming attack on Israel.

On May 10, 1948, Meir set out again, this time for a meeting in Amman. She traveled disguised as an Arab woman, changing cars several times to preserve the meeting&rsquos secrecy. This time the king was less forthcoming. He admitted the Jews were his only allies in the region, but said that his hands were tied. He argued against the declaration of statehood and offered the Jews the status of a protected minority in an enlarged Jordanian state. Meir, unsurprisingly, rejected the offer.

On May 14, 1948, David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel. Meir was one of the signatories to the proclamation. Shortly thereafter she was dispatched to Moscow as Israel&rsquos first diplomatic representative to the Soviet Union, where she was welcomed enthusiastically by Soviet Jews.

Returning from Russia in 1949, Meir was elected to the first Knesset. As minister of labor she initiated massive public works programs that provided employment for the hundreds of thousands of new immigrants then flooding the country. From 1956-1965, in her capacity as foreign minister (upon appointment to the role, she Hebraized her name from Myerson to Meir), she defended Israel&rsquos attack on Egypt in the Sinai Campaign to the international community and initiated relationships with newly independent black African states, offering Israel&rsquos technical expertise and assistance.

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol&rsquos death in 1969 left a power vacuum at the top of the ruling Labor Party. Meir &mdash then Labor&rsquos secretary general &mdash was floated as a compromise candidate to stave off bitter conflict between prime ministerial contenders Yigal Allon and Moshe Dayan. After much deliberation and with great trepidation, Meir accepted the position, becoming Israel&rsquos first and &mdash to date &mdash only female prime minister, and only the third female head of government in the world.


Golda Meir

When the word "greatness" comes to mind, Golda Meir comes immediately to the forefront. Her commitment to her land and to her people was the paragon of human dedication. Her complete involvement, tempered with love, fired by fierce devotion, caused the world to know that she was a true mover of mountains.

Though born in Kiev, Russia, she moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her family in 1906. In 1915, she joined the Labor Zionist Party. In 1917, she married Morris Meyerson and they moved to Tel Aviv (then Palestine) in 1921. Later they became the proud parents of Sarah and Menachem.

Eighteen years ago today (March 7, 1969), Golda Meir was nominated by the Labor Party to be Prime Minister of Israel. She held this esteemed position until 1974. Before Golda Meir became Prime Minister, she was the Foreign Minister for Israel from 1956 to 1965, During her time as Foreign Minister, she had the opportunity to work with the cooperative agricultural and urban planning programs between Israel and Africa. Golda Meir was very proud of her international, as well as domestic work. After this time she became the Secretary General of the Mapai Party. She was Minister of Labor from 1949 to 1956, a position which was her personal favorite, for she had the time to work with and for the people.

Always concerned with her people, Golda Meir, working with the Labor Movement, attended the Zionist Congress in Geneva in 1939, to help ensure protection of European Jews. She was greatly saddened to discover that many Europeans were not as caring as she thought they might be. In 1948, she was part of the People's Council signing the vital proclamation establishing the State of Israel.

One of the hardest days in the life of Golda Meir was October 6, 1973 - the beginning of the Yom Kippur War. It was a great tragedy for Golda Meir. In June, 1974, Golda Meir retired from political life.

Dates and positions do not begin to explain the lasting positive influence of Golda Meir. She is still deeply loved today by her people and by millions more throughout the world. Her dedication to her country and her personal concern for all people are legendary. Whatever Golda Meir did, she did for the people.


What responsibility did Golda Meir have for the Yom Kippur war? - History

The Charmer — the Golda Meir you didn’t know

Tough and energetic, but also empathetic and captivating. Though commonly perceived as rigid, Israel’s only woman prime minister to date is revealed as tender and charismatic, having affairs with Zalman Shazar and David Remez simultaneously.
Naama Lansky

During the first days of the Yom Kippur War, Golda Meir smoked 90 cigarettes a day instead of her usual 60. These were more potent cigarettes, with no filter. Together with them, she drank dozens of cups of strong, bitter black coffee. She ate little, and when she got any sleep at all, it was for only minutes at a time. She was 75 years old and had suffered from ill-health for years. Cancer lurked in her blood aches and pains plagued her exhausted body, so well-versed in disease and hospital stays.

The entire public suffered the shock of the terrible blow that had fallen on the State of Israel on the afternoon of October 6, 1973, as did Golda. She was under terrible mental pressure. Later on, she recalled that she had been close to taking her own life. “On the second day of the war, I decided to kill myself,” she admitted to Brig. Gen. Avner Shalev, who was the bureau chief of the chief of staff, David Elazar (Dado). Her defense minister, Moshe Dayan, saw apocalyptic scenarios and descended into a terrible depression. When he shared the apocalyptic scenarios about the country’s future with Golda, she felt that if they were to come true, her world would be utterly destroyed and there would be no reason for her to go on living.

But Golda fought her despair and kept it from sweeping her away. As always, she was careful to show the world a front of total control and create an atmosphere of confidence in everyone around her. “I can’t imagine a more listening ear, open mind and courageous heart than Golda’s,” Dayan said during the war. Her close friend, Minister Yisrael Galili, described her as having the “force of a fearless combat soldier, with a level head and warm heart.”

When the war ended, Golda succeeded in being elected to the premiership once again, but the populace began to criticize her performance, and the stain on her reputation spread. Above the election victory floated the images of the thousands killed and wounded, the heavy economic and military cost of the war, disappointment and anger.

Among the tens of thousands of people who opposed Golda was Yossi Goldstein, who was studying for his master’s degree at the time. He had served as a paratrooper in the war, been wounded, and now, embittered, saw Golda as the devil. No one was more pleased than he when she withdrew from political life.

“As a historian, I regard Golda with reverence today,” says Goldstein, now a professor. “She was an amazing person, and when I see how she has been demonized, it distresses me terribly. People treat her as the worst prime minister in Israel’s history, and I say that’s not correct. She was excellent. The poison arrows that people shoot at her represent a misguided perception of the results of the war. My students are always amazed when I tell them that except for the War of Independence, the Yom Kippur War was our most splendid victory. It’s a completely amazing victory if we take into account where we were when it started. I don’t accept the idea that it was entirely a fiasco.”

Trusting completely in Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate until the eve of the war, Golda had adopted Dayan’s mantra, that if Egypt even tried to cross the Suez Canal, “we would wipe them out.”

She relied on all the assessments stating that Egypt would not resume fighting against Israel and concentrated on other matters, including the approaching elections. Later on, she regretted not having been more stubborn, not having asked more questions, not having insisted on a wide-scale call-up of the reserves, which could have changed the first, tragic days of the war.

Goldstein says that with all the intelligence Golda received from the defense minister, the chief of staff and the head of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate, it is doubtful whether she could have made decisions other than the ones she did. “Beside the prime minister stood the most experienced people the defense establishment had to offer. Their role was to provide assessments, and they failed. What could she do? Think instead of them?

Her job was to ask questions and demand explanations, and the members of the Agranat Commission said unequivocally that she did so.”

Q: But even before the “concept” that Egypt would not start a war, she showed contempt, refusing any hint of a peace initiative that could have prevented the war.

“Golda couldn’t make peace. She was the most loyal representative of Israel’s power-drunk state at the time. To her credit, it must be said that she never deluded anyone into thinking that she believed in the Arabs and believed in peace. It seems that the Yom Kippur War was necessary for creating a dramatic change in public opinion. In any case, I think that even though she made mistakes, Golda won.

“The victory in the Yom Kippur was clearly and unequivocally ours. Our intelligence personnel’s belief that Egypt would not start a war was rational and correct. I don’t want to minimize the extent of the fiasco — intelligence did not take into account the possibility that Egypt would go to war despite its inferiority. But it makes me angry that the intelligence error has been turned into the main thing, and no distinction was made regarding Israel’s great victory. The victory is historical truth.”

Q: How was her performance during the war?

“It was amazing. She was quiet, and didn’t let anything slip through her fingers. She was on top of things all the time, making decisions, approving actions, in a constant state of high alert. Her power was at its most significant in small forums. She called many meetings and told Chief of Staff David Elazar (Dado) and Dayan to report the exact situation to the ministers. All of them were partners, and she made the decisions. The minutes of the meetings show how clear it was to everyone that there was someone up above who was in control of the situation.

“She appeared at every forum and provided a feeling of absolute confidence that we would win, and she did it convincingly. People followed her. The strongest man and the most devoted to security at the time, Moshe Dayan, turned out to be mentally broken. Three times he submitted his resignation and was turned down. But Golda stayed as strong as steel.”

An American girl

The more Goldstein went through the material, the more he saw the image of a woman who said what she meant. Direct, tough, energetic and firm, but soft too, adaptable and empathetic. Modest and captivating. Unlike the prevailing view of her — that she was conservative to a fault, not bright, dogmatic, masculine and racist — a different sort of woman took shape: well-dressed, feminist, smart, charismatic and self-confident. A woman who knew how to charm and enrapture those around her.

“I think that Ben-Gurion was the first to really see her good qualities when he appointed her foreign minister instead of Moshe Sharett,” Goldstein says. “He chose her out of everyone. Sharett writes in his diaries that she didn’t know how to write, minimizes her worth and treats her like an uneducated person of limited intelligence. But Ben-Gurion did not agree with him at all, and saw Golda as head and shoulders above everyone.

“On May 17, 1948, three days after independence was declared, David Ben-Gurion said to Golda, ‘Fly to America. We have no money to keep on fighting.’ He hoped that she would raise five million dollars. She came back with fifty million in suitcases, in one-dollar and five-dollar bills. That was how we bought arms. That was Golda. That was her strength and her expertise. She went to America, organized conferences and swept everyone along with her. Ben-Gurion said then, ‘It will be said that it was a Jewish woman who brought the money that enabled the founding of the state.’”

Golda was born in Russia in 1898 and grew up in a home where want and death were frequent visitors. Her father, Moshe Yitzhak, was an unsuccessful carpenter. His business had failed, and he moved his family from one moldy apartment to another in the poorest quarters of Kiev and Pinsk. Her mother, Bluma, had eight children, five of whom died young. Because of her father’s lack of success, her mother had to go out to work. She worked as a cleaner and baker, sold sewing machines door-to-door, and worked as a wet-nurse for a year. All this hardly fended off starvation.

Golda had very few happy memories of those first years in Russia. The constant poverty shaped her as a person who was content with little and did not seek luxury. The pogroms and acts of anti-Semitism became memories that later served as the justification for her political beliefs.

Her older sister, Shayna, was involved in a Zionist-Socialist group whose members met secretly in the forests of Pinsk and in synagogues. As a young girl, Golda attended several revolutionary conferences, where she began forming her world view.

In an attempt to save his family, Moshe Yitzhak immigrated to America, where after three years he managed to find a job with a company that laid railway tracks in Wisconsin. The women of the family joined him, and Golda quickly metamorphosed into an American girl. She learned English quickly and stopped speaking Yiddish, was an excellent student and continued leading struggles for social justice.

Golda’s love affairs

Golda ran away from home at the age of 15, after her parents forced her into a marriage with a man twice her age, and opposed her attending high school. They preferred that she learn to be a secretary or typist. Golda went to her older sister in Denver, where she met Morris Meyerson. His wisdom and sense of humor compensated for the fact that he was “not particularly good-looking,” as she later admitted in her autobiography, “My Life.” She was 16 and Meyerson was 21. During the romance that developed, Golda was the boss, and he accepted all the rules that she set out. She was energetic and outgoing, while Morris was quiet and introverted.

After they were married, Golda became an emissary of Poalei Zion and an energetic and successful political activist. She would leave Morris for weeks at a time when she went on trips throughout the United States and Canada. She was addicted to activity and earned a good salary from her political work, while Morris spent his time reading and listening to classical music.

At the age of 23, Golda immigrated to Israel. Morris came with her.

Since she considered kibbutz life the Zionist ideal, she insisted on joining Kibbutz Merhavia in the Jezreel Valley. This young American woman, who thought everything was “so very primitive,” quickly adapted to a lifestyle that included getting up at 4:00 a.m., working in the dairy and the poultry run, planting trees and coping every day with the malaria-bearing Anopheles mosquito.

“I insisted on doing all the work that the young men did,” she said later. Still, she was careful to dress well, completely unlike the other girls who lived on the kibbutz, who thought that being a pioneer meant abandoning their femininity.

At the same time, Golda was chosen as a member of the Histadrut council, together with the most prominent members of the workers’ movement, such as Ben-Gurion and Berl Katznelson. There she was discovered, and she became a well-known and admired public figure, full of joy and a feeling of self-fulfillment.

What about Morris? He felt that his privacy had been stolen from him and that kibbutz life lacked culture. He had a difficult time living in the little room that had been allotted to them, and became unhappy and bitter. Golda had to move with him from Merhavia to Tel Aviv. They later moved to Jerusalem, where their two children, Menahem and Sarah, were born two years apart. Golda was happy with the children, but felt despair over the social isolation and the necessity of staying at home.

She later recalled that the years in Jerusalem during the 1920s were “the most bitter I had ever known.” The family’s financial situation was terrible, and raising the babies prevented Golda from devoting herself to public activity. She felt like a prisoner, but paid that price in order to protect her marriage and her family.

David Remez, the second most powerful man in the Histadrut after Ben-Gurion, was the one who threw her a lifeline by offering her the position of secretary of the women workers’ council. Her son Menahem was three years old, and her daughter Sarah was one year old. Her marriage to Morris had already failed, and Golda followed her heart back to the Histadrut. This was not the first time Remez created a job for her. She had known him in the Histadrut in the past, and Remez, who was married, gave her sponsorship and became her close friend and also her lover, in a complex, stormy relationship that lasted two decades.

“There is no doubt that Remez helped her and nurtured her at the beginning of her political career,” Goldstein says, “but to say that she got ahead by going to bed with him would be contemptuous of Golda. Remez understood how smart and strong she was, and that was why he promoted her. He had four lovers, and only Golda became what she became. He got her jobs because he admired her character traits, not because he was in love with her. Even without the romance with Remez, she would have succeeded in moving forward.”

Her relationship with Remez, which took place far from the public eye, was full of desire and jealousy, but also of friendship. Using an apartment that belonged to the Histadrut, he secretly turned it into a love nest for himself and Golda.

She never divorced Morris. He refused to give her a divorce to his dying day. Tortured by pangs of conscience, she gave her children to a nanny and devoted all her energy to work. She was absent from home for months at a time, sometimes almost a year, as she went on missions abroad.

Although she was tormented by the separation from her children, Golda could not do otherwise. “I was never free of the feeling that in some way I was hurting them,” she wrote in her memoirs. “There is also the kind of woman who cannot stay at home, that despite the place that her children and family occupy in her life, still her nature and her character demand something more. She cannot cut herself off from a larger social life. She cannot allow her children to narrow her horizons. And a woman like that will never find rest.”

Addicted to political activity

Even though Golda renounced family life to a great extent, she never renounced romance or intimacy. She was surrounded by admirers. According to Goldstein, the most prominent of them was Zalman Shazar, who had an intimate relationship with her for many years even though he was married to Rachel Katznelson, one of the leaders of the Yishuv, and according to rumor also had a stormy love affair with the poet Rachel (Bluwstein).

Golda had affairs with Shazar and David Remez at the same time.

Sometimes she would prefer Shazar, and at other times she would prefer Remez.

She had many other romantic relationships as well. In the Jewish Yishuv, rumors spread about affairs with Zalman Aran, who later became the secretary of Mapai, and later a member of Knesset and a government minister.

Another romantic partner was Yaakov Hazan, the leader of Hashomer Hatzair. But she gave her admirers only a little of her time.

Her days, nights, weekends and holidays were devoted to serving the party and the Histadrut, its institutions and its needs. “She was addicted,” Goldstein writes in his book, “obsessed with the political activity that filled her entire being.”

Later, Golda had an affair with Henry Montor, a good-looking and impressive Canadian, who was the vice president of the United Jewish Appeal and seven years her junior. According to the gossip at the time, she also had a relationship of sorts with Berl Katznelson. At the time, there were also rumors that she might have been involved with Ben-Gurion as well.

“She admired Ben-Gurion a great deal,” Goldstein says. “For her, he was the most admirable man on earth, even when she clashed with him during Eshkol’s term. I read the letters Ben-Gurion wrote to her and find a great deal of feeling and love in them. While he never called her ‘my beloved,’ as he called others, it is obvious that he loved her very much.”

For example, in a letter of condolence that he sent her after her mother’s death, Ben-Gurion wrapped her in words that came from his heart. “A mother is the most intimate thing on earth. There is nothing like her,” the prime minister wrote to his labor minister. “I do not know whether there is anything dearer than a mother to a human being. I lost my mother when I was ten years old, and I feel the loss to this day. And there is no difference between a mother who is young or one who has reached old age. There is a mother only, and when she leaves, a large part of the world, the world of the individual, is left in darkness. That which has no parallel in love, loyalty, the most intimate closeness — is uprooted cruelly from the soul, from the heart, and a precious treasure that can never be replaced or compensated for is lost forever. That is the fate of all the living.”

Tension arose between Golda and Ben-Gurion during Eshkol’s term as prime minister. Ben-Gurion opposed Eshkol, while Golda stood by him loyally and gave him encouragement. From 1965 to her dying day, on December 8, 1978, she never quite forgave Ben-Gurion, though she continued to admire him.

As prime minister, Golda befriended the Jewish-American millionaire Louis (Lou) Boyer. Golda did not bother to deny the rumors of a romance between them. She even held a birthday party for Boyer that her close associates and relatives attended. According to the book written by the French-Jewish author Selim Nassib, “The Palestinian Lover,” Golda also had a romantic relationship with Albert Pharaon, a Lebanese Christian banker and aristocrat who lived in Haifa. In light of her complete mistrust of Arabs, a romance of this kind shows that her desire overcame her ideology — a trait unsuited to Golda’s tough character. Nassib claimed in the past that while most of the love affair came from his imagination, it was based on a solid grain of truth that is difficult to prove today.

Beauty and chicken soup

“Many people consider Golda an ugly woman,” Goldstein says. “So in order to compensate for her lack of beauty and still charm everyone around her, she had to have a lot of soul and strong charisma, much more than a beautiful woman had. So here comes an ugly woman with an arsenal of 300 words, and charms everybody. The fact that men such as David Remez and Zalman Shazar, people for whom intellect was the most important thing, were among her admirers, explains her power. They appreciated her wisdom.

“To me, she was beautiful. During my work on her biography, I went to Ora, my wife, showed her photographs of Golda as a young woman and said, ‘Look how beautiful she is.’ My wife practically fell off her chair, and she laughs at me to this day. Maybe I have no taste, but the greatest people of Israel were captivated by her, just like I was.

“She was called ‘the man of the government,’ and maybe she found it convenient to be thought of as masculine, but she was not. During crucial meetings that she held in the small kitchen of her home (that is also the source of the phrase ‘kitchen cabinet’ as a forum where fateful decisions are made), she would feed everybody gefilte fish that she had prepared herself, blintzes and chicken soup.” The recipe for her chicken soup, “Golda’s Meir’s Chicken Soup,” can be found to this day on American recipe websites.

Q: Yet still, the collective memory of her is not exactly flattering.

“I can explain things only from a historical perspective. As labor minister and foreign minister, as the secretary of the Labor Party and prime minister, the public loved and admired her. She was an excellent labor minister.

“The situation was an impossible one. Thirty thousand immigrants were being absorbed every month on scorched earth, with no money and with no food. She succeeded under extremely tough restrictions. She also pushed for a system of social-justice laws, with the National Insurance Institute law at their center.”

Three car bombs

Golda seemed to be the perfect answer to the rightward shift in public opinion after the Six Day War. She maintained her opposition to withdrawal from the territories that had been occupied, claiming that Israel must never return to its previous borders and be exposed to existential dangers. She ordered her ministers to avoid using the word “withdraw” and never responded to American peace proposals because she considered them “a return to the geography of 1967 and the demography of 1947.” It is not that she was an adherent of the Greater Israel ideology or saw the territories as sacred in any way. She simply did not accept the idea that returning territory would bring peace. Her political motto until her dying day was that the Arab peoples desired the destruction of Israel, so their leaders would never want peace.

Shortly after she was elected prime minister in 1969, Golda became very popular. Public-opinion polls indicated that more than 60 percent of the population supported her. The more the public learned of her uncompromising political stance, the more they loved her. Goldstein found that for four and a half years, more than 50 percent of the public was pleased with almost every aspect of Golda’s performance in office.

At times, she received support of 70 and even 90 percent. Unlike Eshkol before her and Rabin and Begin after her, she did not suffer from the mid-term syndrome — a decrease in public support halfway through her term, a phenomenon that occurs in almost every democracy.

At the same time, she was also very popular in the U.S. In a public opinion poll conducted by the New York Times, she was chosen as the most admired woman by Americans for the year 1973, the year of the Yom Kippur War.

Paradoxically, another expression of her ‘popularity’ were the plots by terrorist groups to assassinate her. One group almost succeeded on Golda’s visit to Washington in March 1973. A member of the Black September group prepared three car bombs along her convoy’s route and planned to detonate them.

For many people, the peace treaty with Egypt, which was signed by Menachem Begin at Camp David, was proof of Golda’s failure and guilt.

They felt that Golda could have prevented that war by making peace. But Golda maintained her position. In an interview, she said of the peace talks, “We all dream about it, but it is serious? Is it possible? Is there a minister or citizen of normal intelligence who believes in it? It’s not a serious thing.”

After the treaties were signed, she tried not to spoil the joyous atmosphere, but continued to believe that the Arabs were not willing to have peace, and that Israel could not live within the borders that had preceded the Six Day War.

“It is possible that the memory of the war and the criticism afterward have blurred matters, but Golda Meir was the most popular prime minister in Israel’s history,” says Professor Goldstein. “Ben-Gurion was maybe more popular than she, but only at certain times. It saddens me, as a historian, that she is seen as one of the worst prime ministers in Israel’s history. It’s not fair to her.”


How Richard Nixon Saved Israel

Since land was set aside by the United Nations to establish the State of Israel in 1948, a series of regional and ideological conflicts – and, indeed, often violent fighting – has broken out between Israel and the Arab States, collectively known as the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Six Day War of 1967 was one of them, and resulted in a decisive Israeli victory, gaining new boundaries for Israel. Syria and Egypt, two leading nations in the Arab world, desired their lost land, declaring afterward in a summit that there would be “no peace, no recognition, and no negotiation with Israel.” Egyptian President Anwar Sadat publicly decried the Jewish state, and announced that even a slight admission of defeat by Israel may alter the status-quo in the unstable region. It is then no surprise that Israel began a military buildup and attempted to heavily fortify its borders.
Then came the attacks of October 6, 1973 – a coordinated, surprise attack on Yom Kippur, the Holiest of days in the Jewish calendar. To demonstrate how much Israel was up against: 180 Israeli tanks faced over 1400 Syrian tanks closer to the Suez Canal, a mere 436 Israeli infantry were poised to fight over 80,000 Egyptian soldiers – this even after Israel’s military buildup. The attacks by Egypt and Syria were backed by nine Arab states – as well as one non-Arab state: the Soviet Union.

Richard Nixon’s role, and that of those within his Administration, in the Yom Kippur War has been credited with literally saving Israel from an onslaught of potentially devastating attacks. The President recognized the threat that an Arab victory posed, the “threat of victory by Soviet arms,” according to author Conrad Black. The Soviet government was the Arab world’s chief supplier of munitions, and was strategically attempting to spread its influence throughout the region.

RN knew that the only way to end the crisis and push out the Communist influence was to provide American arms to the Israelis in order to defeat Russian arms in the hands of the Syrians and Egyptians. Both Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the President wanted to conduct the airlift, but according to CIA Director Vernon Walters, “Nixon gave it the greater sense of urgency. He said, ‘You get the stuff to Israel. Now. Now.’”

Things did not go particularly well for Israel over the next couple days, but as Israel started to push back the daily advances, the Nixon Administration initiated Operation Nickel Grass, an American airlift to replace all of Israel’s lost munitions. This was huge – planeload after planeload of supplies literally allowed munitions and materiel to seemingly re-spawn for the Israeli counter effort. 567 missions were flown throughout the airlift, dropping over 22,000 tons of supplies. An additional 90,000 tons of materiel were delivered by sea. According to Abraham Rabinovich, “while the American airlift of supplies did not immediately replace Israel’s losses in equipment, it did allow Israel to expend what it did have more freely.”

And the results were promising. The Soviets had not counted on the Israeli advances, and only began talking about peace when tide turned and those in the Politburo realized that the Arab states could lose. General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev urgently wired President Nixon requesting a ceasefire. The President agreed, and a ceasefire was signed on October 24.

But things soon took a rocky diplomatic turn.

Anwar Sadat requested in an interesting proposal that the United States and Soviet Union enforce the ceasefire by sending ground troops to the region, which the White House quickly rejected. Brezhnev immediately sent a tartly-worded letter requesting the President to comply with Sadat’s suggestion, and even threatened that if the Americans refused to send troops, the Soviets would enforce the ceasefire unilaterally.

Upon hearing this, RN summoned the Washington Special Action Group, consisting of the Secretaries of State, Defense, National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and CIA Director, and ordered that the U.S. military be put on a higher level of alert. Air Force strike units were readied for attack and two aircraft carriers were redeployed to the Mediterranean as war with the Soviet Union came to its closest point since the Cuban Missile Crisis eleven years earlier.

The scale of the response worked, as the Soviets abruptly called off their threat.

More astounding during these difficult three weeks was that the President was at this time heavily consumed domestically with the Watergate affair, and finding a new Vice President after the resignation of Spiro Agnew could not possibly have been an easy task.

To this day in Israel, Richard Nixon is regarded very highly. Prime Minister Golda Meir, with whom the President kept in frequent touch with throughout the ordeal, referred for the rest of her life to Richard Nixon as “my president,” and said, “For generations to come, all will be told of the miracle of the immense planes from the United States bringing in the materiel that meant life to our people.”

“Those were momentous events in world history,” noted historian Stephen Ambrose. “Had Nixon not acted so decisively, who can say what would have happened? The Arabs probably would have recovered at least some of the territory they had lost in 1967, perhaps all of it. They might have even destroyed Israel. But whatever the might-have-beens, there is no doubt that Nixon… made it possible for Israel to win, at some risk to his own reputation and at great risk to the American economy.

“He knew that his enemies… would never give him credit for saving Israel. He did it anyway.”


Golda Meir: The Civilian Who Exposed Israel’s Lack of Preparedness for the 1973 War

PM Golda Meir, Maj. Gen. Rehavam Zeevi and DM Moshe Dayan on a military helicopter flight during the Yom Kippur War, image via Wikimedia Commons

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,770, October 6, 2020

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Although Israeli PM Golda Meir lacked military knowledge, her questions during government discussions on the eve of the Yom Kippur War exposed the fact that deterrence and early warning, the two cornerstones of Israel’s security conception, had not been adequately addressed. If the IDF officers and the many bithonistim (officials with a security background) in her government had heeded her questions, the war could have gone very differently and perhaps even have been averted.

On the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the IDF’s alertness and preparedness were affected by two conceptions. Both were based on intelligence assessments, but their endorsement by the chief of staff and the defense minister made them established IDF conceptions. The first, and better known, was that Egypt would not initiate a war until it had long-range warplanes that could attack the Israeli home front, while Syria would not go to war without Egypt. The second was that Egypt and Syria were deterred by the IDF and hence “would not launch a war and certainly not a big one,” as military intelligence averred as late as October 5, 1973, a day before the outbreak of hostilities.

The seeds of this notion of deterrence were planted in 1971, but it gained most of its strength in April 1973 when an intelligence assessment that Egypt and Syria would not go to war—despite indications on the ground—was indeed borne out. No one knew at the time that the war the two countries had intended to launch was forestalled by Soviet pressure, not by fear of the IDF.

In September 1973, bolstered by the belief that these two notions had been vindicated by the April events, Israeli military intelligence claimed that subsequent recurring signs of an imminent war were false alarms: “Today, from a military standpoint, the main reason for the fact that there is no war is the Arab feeling and assessment that their air forces are not sufficient for a war with any chance of success.” In a discussion held on October 1, the intelligence officers argued that “the Syrians are taking this [emergency] footing because of fears of our forces…and not [because of] offensive plans.” Military intelligence told a foreign inquirer on October 1 that “they [the Syrians] do not believe they could win.” On October 5, one day before the war broke out, intelligence claimed that “the Egyptians…are truly apprehensive” and “neither the Egyptians nor the Syrians have any great optimism about their possible successes [if they were to start a war].”

The intelligence assessments that the enemy was deterred and hence would not initiate a war were accepted not only by the chief of staff but also by the bithonistim in Meir’s government. They included Defense Minister and former chief of staff Moshe Dayan Deputy PM and Education Minister Yigal Allon, who had been commander of the Palmah and an outstanding general in the War of Independence Industry and Trade Minister Haim Bar-Lev, who had also been chief of staff Minister of Transportation and Communications Shimon Peres, who for many years was director-general of the Defense Ministry and Minister without Portfolio Israel Galili, who in the lead-up to the War of Independence was political commander of the Hagana.

Despite her inexperience in military and security matters, PM Meir apparently did not put her trust in the confidence of the intelligence branch regarding Arab fears of the IDF. During the cabinet discussions, she raised several questions about those ostensible fears:

  • What factors caused the Arabs to fear the IDF? Intelligence replied that “the Arabs are always apprehensive” and that “the alert stems from their fear of us” after Israel had downed 13 Syrian planes in September.
  • Meir then inquired as to the possibility that “the Egyptians will keep us a little busy when the Syrians want to do something on the Golan.” The response of the intelligence branch (not the chief of staff) to that question was that “Assad knows his limitations, because they are aware of Israel’s strategic superiority…he is deeply cognizant of Israel’s strategic superiority.”

In answering Meir’s incisive questions, intelligence did not add any facts to substantiate its assessment that the Arabs were deterred that stemmed from an appraisal of the enemy’s logic, intentions, and perceptual and psychological state. Yet no alarm bells went off for the chief of staff and the many other experienced military men who took part in the discussion, and most oddly not for Galili. As the Hagana’s political commander, he must have recalled the dismissive intelligence assessment before the War of Independence regarding an all-out Arab invasion—an assessment that David Ben-Gurion fortunately tossed in the trash.

A post-Yom Kippur War investigation by the IDF found that Egypt and Syria were aware of the great weight accorded by Israel to the assessment of how much the Arabs were deterred, and hence made sure to supply a glut of false information about their fears of Israel.

Meir was familiar with the basic operational picture as well as the fact that, whereas the Egyptian and Syrian armies were deployed on Israel’s borders at full strength, the IDF had deployed only the thin forces of the standing army. Hence her third question focused on the margin of time that an early warning in the Egyptian arena would provide. Intelligence responded that the warning on that front would not only be tactical but also operational—that is, a warning of several days. This was a reiteration of what the chief of military intelligence had said in May: “I do not think there could be a surprise crossing of the [Suez] Canal…. I can promise a warning on the subject of the crossing.”

Meir was also familiar with the advance warning that intelligence was asked to give before 1967, which entailed identifying as early as possible the departure of the Egyptian forces from their encampments west of the Canal toward the Israeli border, which was 300 kilometers away. That distance enabled the IDF’s reserve forces, which were located 100 kilometers from the border (between Hadera and Gedera), to mobilize rapidly, arrive quickly, and take over parts of Sinai before they could be seized by the Egyptian army, and thereby defend Israel far from its border.

The PM apparently understood that the post-1967 close proximity between the IDF and its enemies (albeit at a greater distance from Israel’s borders), with only a few meters separating them in the north and the Suez Canal separating them in the south, had erased the large margin of warning that Israel had hitherto enjoyed. Thus, in response to the high confidence expressed by intelligence regarding an early warning on the Egyptian front, she raised the fourth and inevitable question: “How will we know when we know?” That is, how could intelligence provide a warning without the necessary margin for such a warning?

The answer mainly concerned early identification of a clearing of the Egyptian positions along the Canal—but for purposes of a new “war of attrition” (of the sort that raged along the Canal in 1969-70) and not for a wholly different all-out war. Hence the government was exposed to the fact that another basic component of the Israeli security conception—getting an intelligence warning early enough to mobilize the reserves and transport them to the borders (a distance of about 400 kilometers)—was not really being addressed.

This discovery should have shocked a government with so many officials rich in military and security experience and brought an end to the futile discussion, which was based on the intelligence assessment of the enemy’s logic, intentions, and feelings. Instead, the chief of staff should have initiated an operational discussion on how to prepare the IDF for containing a possible surprise attack (like the one that indeed occurred) solely with the standing army for many hours and even days.

If such a discussion had been held, it would presumably have concluded with a directive from the political echelon to the IDF to pull back the soldiers along the Bar-Lev Line immediately after their task of warning of the outbreak of war had been fulfilled, because keeping them on the front line would have turned them into an operational burden and entailed the potential for a national trauma—like the one that indeed occurred.

Meir’s bold questions during the prewar cabinet discussions did not change a thing. The proof is that on the eve of Yom Kippur, intelligence issued its notorious last assessment that “no change has occurred in the Egyptians’ assessment of the balance of power between them and the IDF. Therefore the probability that the Egyptians intend to renew the fighting is low.”

Golda Meir was known as a stubborn and authoritative leader, and apparently the only explanation for her acquiescence in the lack of preparedness that her questions exposed (particularly the lack of an early warning margin that would enable mobilizing the reserves) was her expectation that spies Israel had recruited deep within the Egyptian government and military would provide such a warning. She was also relying on Dayan, who, until the outbreak of the 1973 war, was a defense minister of mythical stature. Like the intelligence branch, Dayan maintained that the Egyptians knew that if they crossed the Canal, they “would find themselves in an extremely inconvenient position… [because] there are many difficulties in crossing the Canal, and after that they have to traverse an endless expanse, and we will be coming at them from all sides.”

Dr. Hanan Shai is a lecturer in strategic, political, and military thought in the Political Science Department at Bar-Ilan University.


Golda Meir Resigns as Prime Minister

Following a week of intense public debate and finger pointing, Prime Minister Golda Meir announced that she was resign as leader of the country at a Labor Party meeting, just one month after forming the 16th government of Israel following the December 1973 elections. The following day she announced her resignation to the Knesset.

On April 2, 1974, the Agranat Commission presented its interim report to the government. The Commission, headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Shimon Agranat, was created to investigate how and why Israel had been caught unaware and ill-prepared at the onset of the October 1973 Yom Kippur War. The report caused a public furor and led to the dismissal of several key military leaders, including Chief of Staff David Elazar.

The report did not directly implicate the Prime Minister, however public criticism mounted against both her and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan in the days following the report’s release. As criticism against the government was mounting, Meir had an increasingly difficult time maintaining her coalition which threatened the Labor Party rule. In making her announcement, Meir said, “I have reached the end of the road. I cannot carry on any longer.” Yitzhak Rabin, then serving as Minister of Labor, emerged as the new Labor Party leader defeating his rival Shimon Peres. On June 3 rd , he became Israel’s 6 th Prime Minister.

The photo shows the outgoing and incoming Prime Ministers Rabin and Meir at a special farewell party held in June 1974.


The Yom Kippur War and Commentary

“On October 6, 1973, hoping to win back territory lost to Israel during the third Arab-Israeli war, in 1967, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a coordinated attack against Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Taking the Israeli Defense Forces by surprise, Egyptian troops swept deep into the Sinai Peninsula, while Syria struggled to throw occupying Israeli troops out of the Golan Heights. Israel counterattacked and recaptured the Golan Heights. A cease-fire went into effect on October 25, 1973. When the fourth Arab-Israeli war began on October 6, 1973, many of Israel’s soldiers were away from their posts observing Yom Kippur (or Day of Atonement), and the Arab armies made impressive advances with their up-to-date Soviet weaponry. Iraqi forces soon joined the war, and Syria received support from Jordan. After several days, Israel was fully mobilized, and the Israel Defense Forces began beating back the Arab gains at a heavy cost to soldiers and equipment. A U.S. airlift of arms aided Israel’s cause, but President Richard Nixon (1913-94) delayed the emergency military aid for a week as a tacit signal of U.S. sympathy for Egypt. On October 25, an Egyptian-Israeli cease-fire was secured by the United Nations. Israel’s victory came at the cost of heavy casualties, and Israelis criticized the government’s lack of preparedness. In April 1974, the nation’s prime minister, Golda Meir (1898-1978), stepped down. Although Egypt had again suffered military defeat at the hands of its Jewish neighbor, the initial Egyptian successes greatly enhanced Sadat’s prestige in the Middle East and gave him an opportunity to seek peace. In 1974, the first of two Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreements providing for the return of portions of the Sinai to Egypt were signed, and in 1979 Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (1913-92) signed the first peace agreement between Israel and one of its Arab neighbors. In 1982, Israel fulfilled the 1979 peace treaty by returning the last segment of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. For Syria, the Yom Kippur War was a disaster. The unexpected Egyptian-Israeli cease-fire exposed Syria to military defeat, and Israel seized even more territory in the Golan Heights. In 1979, Syria voted with other Arab states to expel Egypt from the Arab League.” [History]

“ Considering the adverse initial circumstances, the speed and the thoroughness with which the IDF had been able to reverse its fortunes was remarkable. Yet the Yom Kippur War went down in Israel’s history as a qualified failure. The surprise rankled and the cost was heavy: 2,688 soldiers fell. Intelligence was faulted for failing to sound the alarm in time – the Chief of Staff, David (Dado) Elazar and his Chief of Intelligence had to resign. Too many airplanes were lost to Russian-made SAM-missiles. The branch that distinguished itself during the Yom Kippur War was the Navy, which only now came of age: without a single loss of its own, it had sunk 34 enemy vessels had secured the coasts of the country and had succeeded in restricting the enemy to his bases. This was indeed the Navy’s War.”

Key Israeli Decision Makers During the War

Israel’s Prime Minister Golda Meir was blamed for the country’s near defeat in the Yom Kippur War, but was she the one responsible? Secret government files reveal that while the war hero Moshe Dayan considered surrender, it was Golda who pulled victory. (Sunday Times 06/22/08) President Anwar Sadat did not hide his intention to fight Israel. He warned his people that “a showdown with Israel was inevitable and that he was prepared to ‘sacrifice a million men’ in the forthcoming war.” (Sachar, 747) Sadat laid the groundwork for a confrontation with Israel. He contacted Assad in Syria and proposed a joint military action against Israel with the support of the Soviets they planned on starting a war in two fronts. Although the Israeli military intelligence service collected ominous evidence that the Arabs are planning an attack “its chief Major General, Eli Zeira, had continued to insist there was ‘low probability’ of war breaking out almost to the moment shooting began.” (Sunday Times, 06/22/08) Faced with overwhelming evidence on the eve of Yom Kippur (October 5), the general staff agreed to declare a “C” alert. (Sachar, 754) On October 6 at 4:00 am, “Israeli and American monitors had intercepted the unmistakable radio signals of final Arab war preparations.” (Sachar, 754) David Elazar, the IDF chief of staff, urged Dayan the day before and now Golda, to authorize a repeat of the devastating preemptive air strikes that destroyed the Egyptian air force on the ground during the first hours of the Six Days War. Again, he was overruled. Golda reluctantly took Dayan’s side, saying: “There is always a possibility we will need someone’s help, and if we strike first, nobody is going to help. I wish I could say yes because I know the meaning of it but, with a heavy heart, I say no.” (Sunday Times, 06/22/08) Elazar pressed for a total call-up of the reserves (2/3 of the IDF). Dayan did not believe that Egypt and Syria were capable of launching an audacious joint offensive. He argued that even limited mobilization will prove unnecessarily costly. Golda sided with Elazar saying if it came to war, it was “better to be in proper shape to deal with it, even if the world gets angry with us.” (Sunday Times 06/22/08) Dayan accepted her ruling. The Nixson’s administration informed Golda that the US opposed a preemptive attack, and Golda assured that it wouldn’t happen but left no doubt that Israel expected swift and substantial arms shipment from the US in the event that war should break out. Utterly unprepared, with too few soldiers guarding the borders (it took more than 24 hours for all the men to reach their units), Israel faced destruction as Arab tanks crushed its defenses and advanced toward civilian population centers. Dayan informed the northern front that Syrian advance could not be halted and he advocated abandoning the Golan and establishing a new defensive line beyond the Jordan River after blowing up the bridges across it. He confessed to Golda that he had been “wrong about everything” and warned her that Israel is facing a catastrophe. She rejected his offer to resign in order not to increase the public’s panic. Golda prepared for the worse – 13 nuclear bombs were strapped to phantom jets in case Israel faced defeat. (Sunday Times 06/22/08) After she was briefed by Elazar and with the reserve units on their way to the front lines, things became more manageable. Dayan argued that Israel should pull back from the Suez to the more defensible Sinai desert, but the ministers reaffirmed Golda’s faith in Elazar. Dayan was to appear on TV and was planning to tell the public that Israel is being defeated, but Golda was informed and vetoed his appearance. The tide of battle was slowly turning in Israel’ Favor the Syrians were pushed back on the Golan Heights and Egypt’s swift advance from the Suez Canal was finally stalled. Golda contacted Nixon directly and reminded him that she had vetoed preemptive strike that would have saved many Israeli lives. Within days the supplies to guarantee Israel’s survival were arriving. A final push in the Sinai driven back the Egyptians and Golda gave the order to cross the canal. As 40,000 soldiers of Sadat’s Third Army were surrounded by Israeli forces, Golda was pressured by Washington to agree to an immediate ceasefire. In February 1974 Motti Ashkenazi, an infantry captain who repeatedly warned superiors about enemy preparations for an attack across the Suez waterways and was ignored, stood outside Golda’s office with a placard saying “Grandma, your defense is a failure and 3,000 of you children are dead.” (Sunday Times, 06/22/08) Ashkenazi laid the blame on the nation’s political and military elite, arguing that only the courage and motivation of junior officers and the soldiers on the front lines had saved the day. Other reservists joined him. One held banner reading “My son didn’t die in battle. He was murdered – and the murderers sit in the defense ministry.” (Sunday Times, 06/22/08) Under growing pressure from an angry public, Golda appointed an independent commission to investigate the conduct of the war. The Agranat Commission report cleared her and Moshe Dayan from any blame for the intelligence and operational failures, while recommending the dismissal of Lt. General David Elazar and head of the military intelligence, Eli Zeira. Elazar was shattered by the “betrayal” and resigned. Golda led the labor party to victory in December 1973, but just over 3 months later, she resigned feeling it was the “will of the people”, haunted by the thought that she should have authorized the preemptive strike before the war began.

“Chief of General Staff David Elazar was forced out of the army in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War because of failed decisions leading up to it, but his performance during the fighting was exemplary, and crucial to Israel’s ultimate success… In subsequent years, documents and the testimony of principal players would reveal Elazar as the anchor who held Israel together in its darkest hour. He would prove to have been Israel’s greatest wartime chief of staff, indeed someone who merits a prominent place in the pantheon of military commanders in modern world history. His merit lay not in brilliant maneuvers but in keeping his head in a time of extraordinary stress and in his ability to analyze with clarity a rapidly evolving military and political situation and shape appropriate responses… Elazar was wakened at 4:30 Yom Kippur morning 1973, a Saturday, by a telephone call from an aide passing on a report from Mossad chief Zvi Zamir in London that Egypt and Syria would launch a surprise two-front attack this day. There was no one better positioned than Elazar to grasp the staggering significance of this report. Both Arab armies, he knew, were massed on Israel’s borders while Israel’s reserves, two-thirds of the IDF’s strength, were still unmobilized. It would be at least two days before reserve forces could begin to reach the Suez Canal, by which time the Egyptians would have brought an entire army across. The Golan front was closer but it was questionable whether reserves could arrive before five Syrians divisions broke through the two brigades holding the line. Despite the alarming situation, Elazar functioned as if he had woken into a General Staff command exercise. His wife would describe his look as “almost ceremonial” as he donned his uniform. Before leaving home for the underground war room – the “pit” – in Tel Aviv, he telephoned Air Force commander Maj.-Gen. Benny Peled to ask him to prepare a pre-emptive strike against the Syrians. Elazar’s first meeting in Tel Aviv was with Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who shocked him by rejecting his proposals for immediate large-scale mobilization and a pre-emptive air strike. Despite the Mossad warning, Dayan was not convinced the Arabs would attack. There had been such warnings before which turned out to be false alarms. The world would not tolerate another pre-emptive strike by Israel, he maintained, after it had launched one in the Six Day War. Even a large mobilization, he argued, would be seen as a provocation. He was willing to accept mobilization of only two divisions, one for each front. The issue was left to Prime Minister Golda Meir to decide. She backed Dayan in negating a pre-emptive air strike (cloud conditions over the Golan Heights, it later developed, would have prevented it anyway) but backed Elazar on mobilization, which got under way a critical four hours before the Arab attack that afternoon. The Syrians had overrun much of the southern half of the Golan and there was nothing to stop them from descending into the Jordan Valley inside Israel. The Egyptians had overwhelmed the Bar-Lev Line and were putting their Second and Third armies into Sinai across pontoon bridges. Apart from the shock of the surprise attack and the gross imbalance of forces, a chilling realization was taking hold in the high command that the IDF’s two main fighting arms had been neutralized by advanced Soviet weapons in Arab hands. The air force was taking unsustainable losses from SAM anti-aircraft missiles on both fronts while on the Egyptian front infantrymen wielding Sagger anti-tank missiles and a profusion of RPGs had knocked out two-thirds of an Israeli armored division in 12 hours. The Golan was the more serious problem because of its proximity to Israel. On Sunday morning, Elazar, in one of his first major decisions, dispatched a reserve armored division initially destined for Sinai to the Golan instead. He also sent his boyhood friend and predecessor as chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. (res.) Haim Bar-Lev, to Northern Command to steady its head, Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak Hofi, who was questioning whether the Golan could be held. On Sunday night, the second of the war, Elazar flew to Southern Command to meet with its commander, Maj.-Gen. Shmuel Gonen, and the commanders of the two reserve divisions which had begun to arrive at the front – Ariel Sharon and Avraham (Bren) Adan. Elazar ordered a limited counterattack the next morning, Monday, aimed at breaking the Egyptian momentum. However, in view of the heavy losses suffered so far, he said, there would be no attempt to retake the canal bank or to cross the canal until adequate strength had been built up. Elazar was devoting much of his time to briefing the cabinet because Dayan had been seized by despair and Meir preferred consulting with the chief of staff whom she would describe as “a rock.” Tied up in cabinet meetings Monday morning and distracted by the dire situation on the Golan, Elazar followed the counterattack in Sinai only intermittently. It was not until he flew down there again Monday night that he learned of its total failure. Gonen had ignored Elazar’s directives and instead of stopping the Egyptians his forces had been driven back with significant losses. The mood in the Pit the following morning, Tuesday, was black. Dayan spoke of arming civilians in the heart of the country with anti-tank weapons in the event that the enemy broke through. There was a proposal at a conference in Elazar’s office that Israel resort to “special means,” believed to be a euphemism for unconventional weapons, but Elazar rejected it. Maintaining his equilibrium, he declined a suggestion by Dayan for a deep pullback in Sinai, which Elazar deemed premature, and he rejected a request by Ariel Sharon to try to rescue the beleaguered garrisons on the Bar-Lev Line which Elazar deemed too costly. Dayan would acknowledge that Elazar was more optimistic than he was. “Maybe it’s the age difference,” said Dayan who, at 58, was 10 years older than the chief of staff. Aligning his priorities, Elazar replaced Gonen with Bar-Lev as commander of the southern front and froze military movements in Sinai in order to focus on the Golan. By Wednesday, reserve formations in the north had pushed the Syrians back in fierce battles to the pre-war Purple Line. A decision now had to be made as to whether to dig in along that line again or to push towards Damascus. As he would do at critical points throughout the war, Elazar launched a discussion within the General Staff and in the cabinet in which he talked his way through the problem, absorbed feedback, and arrived at conclusions which were often the opposite of his starting point. At the beginning of nine hours of talks, he advocated halting the forces on the Purple Line – the best defense line between the Golan and Damascus – and sending a division south to participate in a renewed attack in Sinai. At the end of the discussion, he favored continuing the attack into Syria. The decisive consideration was the desire to hold a stretch of enemy territory when the war ended. With talk of a cease-fire already being wafted in the UN, it did not seem likely that Israel would have the time to drive the Egyptians out of Sinai, let alone seize territory across the canal. More tellingly, it was not clear whether Israel had the strength to do it even if time allowed. But territorial gain was possible on the Syrian front. Bowing to reality, Elazar was prepared to accept a cease-fire which would leave the Egyptians still holding the Sinai bank of the canal, thereby conceding a clear victory for Cairo. “I’m only thinking out loud and it may well be that I exaggerate,” he said to Dayan. “Things won’t get any better than they are now. Therefore we need a cease-fire so that we can rebuild the army.” This army would be twice as big and it would have thought through the strategic and tactical implications of the current war. The problem was that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was in no mood for a cease-fire. The war had been going better than he could have hoped for and it would require a dramatic move to make him change his mind. The only such move possible would be crossing the Suez Canal, a pre-war contingency plan which Sharon was pushing for but which Elazar had until now regarded as too risky. Even if Israel succeeded in piercing the eight-kilometer-deep Egyptian bridgehead in Sinai and getting forces across the canal, it would have dangerously thin, extended lines on both sides of the canal vulnerable to a war of attrition. “I would be happy, and you don’t know how happy, if you have any better ideas,” he told his officers. Sharon, delighted at the prospect, pushed for an immediate crossing but Elazar insisted on waiting to see if the Egyptian armored divisions on the west bank of the canal would cross into Sinai. Better to meet them in head-on battle on the Israeli side of the canal than to have them challenge the crossing itself when the Israelis would be at their most vulnerable. Dayan, who opposed a canal crossing, absented himself from the discussions, leaving behind his aide. Angry at what he took to be the defense minister’s evasiveness, Elazar told the aide to inform Dayan that he was requesting a meeting of the inner cabinet. “I want clearance from the political echelon today.” The meeting was just getting under way in Golda Meir’s office a few hours later when Mossad chief Zamir entered with a report from an agent that the Egyptian armored divisions would cross within the next 48 hours. The battle that would open the way for a canal crossing would soon be joined. It was not until Tuesday afternoon, 83 hours after being wakened by the telephone on Yom Kippur morning, that he lay down on an office cot. It was his first nap of the war except for occasionally nodding off on helicopter trips to the fronts. Two nights later, after another briefing to the cabinet and before another flight to the front, he was leafing through a pile of papers on his desk when he almost fainted. Aides rushed to him and brought him something to drink. No pills, he said. He could not afford to have his mind clouded, even temporarily. After Dayan recovered from his depression he was a valuable sounding board for Elazar but the chief of staff had come to trust his own instincts. Dayan, who had ample opportunity to observe Elazar close up, generally deferred to him. So did Golda Meir. He himself had few people he could rely on besides Bar-Lev on the southern front. Elazar’s deputy, Yisrael Tal, would not figure large in his calculations. He had replaced Gonen as head of Southern Command in the midst of the war and found it necessary to shore up the head of Northern Command with , Hofi, with a deputy, Maj.-Gen. Yekutiel Adam, after Bar-Lev was transferred south.

Elazar’s one unalloyed comfort was his visits with the troops at the front. “Whoever feels depressed in these dark corridors,” he told the officers in the Pit upon returning from Sinai on the eve of the canal crossing, “should go into the field and see the boys. You’ll come back in a grand mood. We’re eight days into the war but when you meet the tankers they talk as if this were the third year of World War II. They’re on top of things. They know what the Egyptians are up to and they have an answer for everything. The best of our people are down there.” Elazar’s last major decision in the war was to have far-reaching political ramifications. After the epic battle for the Chinese Farm by Sharon’s division that opened the way to the canal and the construction of a pontoon bridge, Bren led his division across the canal and with great panache began to encircle Egypt’s Third Army to the south. However, Elazar’s wish for a cease-fire was granted too readily by Egypt’s alarmed leader, Anwar Sadat. A UN cease-fire resolution went into effect just after darkness on the 18th day of the war before Bren’s tank formations could complete the encirclement. In the morning, Bren pressed Elazar to let him continue, claiming that the Egyptians were violating the cease-fire – with not a little help, it must be said, from the Israeli forces in among them. Elazar did not need much pressing. He asked permission of Dayan and by the time fighting in Bren’s sector stopped two days later the Third Army was cut off. It was this, plus the skillful diplomacy of US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, which persuaded Sadat to agree to the first ever direct Egyptian-Israeli talks. Six years later, the two nations, never having stopped talking, would sign a peace agreement. Towards the end of the war, Kissinger stopped over briefly in Tel Aviv on his way back from Moscow to the US and met with Israel’s leaders. He also asked for a meeting with the military chiefs. Elazar told him that the Egyptian and Syrian armies had fought well. When Kissinger asked to what he attributed the IDF’s success, Elazar said that a wide gap remained between Israel and the Arab armies in leadership and the quality of the fighting men. Kissinger would write of Elazar in his memoirs: “[He] struck me as a man of rare quality, noble in bearing, fatalistic in conduct. He briefed us matter-of-factly but with the attitude of a man for whom the frenzies of the day were already part of history.” History would need some years more before Elazar’s role would be properly appreciated. The ruling of the Agranat Commission had been harsh but just. Elazar had not mobilized the reserves in time. He had accepted, albeit with growing discomfort, the assessment of his intelligence chief, Maj.-Gen. Eli Zeira, that despite the Arab buildup along the borders, Egypt and Syria would not go to war. Elazar had also been responsible for a major strategic miscalculation upon assuming his position the year before when he insisted on maintaining the Bar-Lev Line on the canal despite warnings by Sharon and Tal that it was a death trap. However, during the war itself he displayed a coolness and clarity of thought that are the marks of greatness in a military commander. He had first revealed such characteristics as a young Palmah officer during the battle for the San Simon Monastery in Jerusalem during the War of Independence. He and a small number of comrades, including other future generals, fought for 16 hours against hundreds of Arab militiamen. “He had a special tone of voice,” recalled one of the participants in the battle who had not known him before, “quiet-like, as if he were singing, as if he were having a friendly chat or explaining something. I remember saying to myself then: ‘What a character that one is.’” Elazar’s biographer, Hanoch Bartov, describes him shortly after the cease-fire entering his secretaries’ office to look for a document. A transistor was playing a new song sweeping the country, “Would that it were,” a poignant work about the war. Elazar stood transfixed, then hurried back to his office without taking the document. His chief secretary hurried after him. When she opened the door to his office, she saw the man who had not permitted himself to waver for a moment during the war sitting at his desk, holding his head and sobbing.

“…The Yom Kippur War, the breaking point for Israeli society, caught even Dayan off guard. It is difficult to isolate his part in the failures of the war, but it is clear that he was one of those chiefly responsible for the disaster. His greatest tragedy is most likely the fact that the Agranat commission absolved him of any responsibility, and allowed him to continue in a position others were made to resign from in similar circumstances. On the night between the 5th and 6th of October 1973, the phone rang at the house of Transportation Minister Shimon Peres. Dayan was on the other line asking to meet with Peres urgently. Dayan told Peres that both Golda Meir and Chief of Staff David Eliezer (“Dado”) believe that a general draft should be announced, though Dayan himself had reservations. He claimed that the draft would take 48 hours, during which time Egypt and Syria might consider the announcement as Israeli aggression and start the war claiming Israel had in fact started it. Dayan’s solution was a discreet reserve draft for the first day. Meanwhile in the field, soldiers were called back from leave. Both agreed it was the right thing to do. This story is a lesson in the refutability of the facts from that day in October, and that war in general. The widespread claim is that Dayan was against a general draft and remained complacent to the last minute – it also says something about Dayan’s loneliness. Peres was very faithful to Dayan, and their relationship had always been strong, though it is hard to understand why Dayan needed Peres’s support in particular at that critical time. General (res.) Avraham “Bren” Adan, Commander of the 162nd Division which crossed the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur War, knew Dayan from the 1948 War of Independence and served as his operations officer in the early 1950s when Dayan was Southern Command chief. “I got the impression he was a brave man. That he saw with one eye further ahead than most people could. That he was smart and did whatever he wanted to,” he says. Nevertheless, Bren admits there was “a huge gap between Dayan’s image as ‘Mr. security’ and his functioning in the Yom Kippur War.” He further adds, “He gave many ‘ministerial advises’ during the war, i.e. non-binding suggestions, and to many it seemed he was shirking responsibility. For instance, when he listened to Arik (Ariel Sharon) who had many claims, he came to the command and said: ‘Arik said so and so, I want you to discuss this.’ He was very passive.” “The refocus on Dayan is wrong,” says Colonel (res.) Yaakov Hesdai, who served as battalion commander in the Sinai during the war and who was later appointed as a military investigator on behalf of the Agranat Commission. “Dayan lost the trust of a large part of the public immediately after the war and therefore the protocols being published now offer no news. All facts about him were already known. The big question was what happened during the war. “I was of the opinion that the war reflected several fundamental problems, both on the senior command level and on the national leadership level. Dayan did not represent the problems I pointed to. He was no more responsible for the army’s preparation than Dado was. Dado himself admitted he erred and did not foresee reality. Everyone was caught off guard, not just Dayan. The military thinking failure was a collective one, not to mention the Military Intelligence Directorate that had erred. “The security establishment fell dormant, pure and simple. When the committee investigated it turned out there were no complete war plans. Many of the commanders were not yet ready for their roles. These things did not happen suddenly on October 7, 1973, but formed years earlier. The arrogance and complacence were not characteristic of Dayan. It characterized the senior IDF leadership as a whole on the eve of the previous war. “Moshe Dayan’s moods and status evaluations had no effect on the course of the war,” says Brigadier General (res.) Avner Shalev chairman of Yad Vashem, who served as Dado’s right hand man during the war and who attended the meetings documented in the newly released protocols. “Lucky for the State of Israel that it had a very strong prime minister who ran the war together with the chief of staff. True, Moshe Dayan came to the meeting feeling very down and had his own status evaluation but he experienced mood swings throughout the war. “What is important to understand is that at that stage Dayan’s influence was very small and it diminished as the war progressed. On that night, Golda did not accept Dayan’s assessment but the IDF chief of staff’s and adhered to it all the way in a very firm manner. It is important for me that the public know that at that point in the war, as in most others, Moshe’s status evaluations had no effect on the way the war was conducted or of the chief of staff’s evaluations.” “The problem with Dayan is that he became a symbol,” Hesdai says. “A symbol of the Tzabar, a symbol of ‘Mr. security’, a symbol of Israeli success. You ask me on a personal level whether he deserved that trust? I would want to see people with other qualities leading the country. But the trust given to him by the public, that is what was special. It is hardly surprising that a man climbs up a ladder placed before him. But those who placed the ladder, those who trusted him as he climbed it, they are the ones who should provoke interest. It’s the story of an entire country, not of him.” “We are in the midst of a post-mythical age,” says Professor Almog. “A large percentage of the Jewish population doesn’t know who Dayan was or that specific period in time. He belongs to a past that only the older generation knows. My aunt has a saying: ‘Now, one cannot know what will happen in the past.’ There’s no one to kill anymore, it’s just abusing the corpse.”

The Soviets gave their wholehearted political support to the Arab invasion. Starting as early as October 9, they also began a massive airlift of weapons, which ultimately totaled 8,000 tons of material. The United States had given Israel some ammunition and spare parts, but it resisted Israeli requests for greater assistance.

The superpowers actions during the war

“As Israeli troops began to advance on Damascus, the Soviets started to panic. On October 12, the Soviet ambassador informed Kissinger that his government was placing troops on alert to defend Damascus. The situation grew even more tense over the next two weeks, as Israeli forces reversed the initial Egyptian gains in the Sinai and began to threaten Cairo. The Egyptian Third Army was surrounded, and Israel would not allow the Red Cross to bring in supplies. At this point, Sadat began to seek Soviet help in pressing Israel to accept a cease-fire. On October 24, the Soviets threatened to intervene in the fighting. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that the Soviet airlift to Egypt had stopped and that it was possible the planes were being prepared to change the cargo from weapons to troops. Responding to the Soviet threat, Nixon put the U.S. military on alert, increasing its readiness for the deployment of conventional and nuclear forces. The United States was in the midst of the political upheaval of the Watergate scandal, and some people believed Nixon was trying to divert attention from his political problems at home, but the danger of a U.S.–Soviet conflict was real. In fact, this was probably the closest the superpowers ever came to a nuclear war other than the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Fortunately, the Soviets backed down and never sent troops to fight. On October 12, Nixon ordered an emergency airlift to Israel. Cargo planes carrying spare parts, tanks, bombs, and helicopters flew round-the-clock to Israel. The resupply efforts were hampered by America’s NATO allies who, capitulating to Arab threats, refused to allow American planes to use their air space. The one exception was Portugal, which as a consequence became the base for the operation. Between October 14 and November 14, 1973, 22,000 tons of equipment were transported to Israel by air and sea. The airlift alone involved 566 flights. To pay for this infusion of weapons, Nixon asked Congress for and received $2.2 billion in emergency aid for Israel.”

Egyptian Historical View of the war

“On Sunday, Israeli officials failed to show up at several memorial services across Israel to honor its soldiers who fell during the 1973 October War. The reason: a protracted cabinet meeting concerning a controversial vote on social justice reforms that have been demanded by Israeli protesters for months. Popular backlash against Israel’s government was severe. ‘The parliamentarians don’t remember the fallen soldiers,’ read a headline from Israel Channel 2 news website. The right-wing daily Israel Hayom wrote that in Tel Aviv, ‘bereaved family members became outraged and threatened to call off the ceremony.’ Government officials later issued an apology. Thirty-eight years after the 1973 October War, memory of the event remains a powerful force, not only in Egypt, but also in Israel. As Egypt began celebrating the 38th anniversary of the 1973 October War, which began with the crossing of the Suez Canal on 6 October, Israel began mourning for the surprise assault that ultimately resulted in ‘the mother of all traumas,’ in the words of Gideon Levy, a commentator for Haaretz, Israel’s left-wing daily. By the war’s end on 25 October, there were about 2500 Israelis dead and 9000 wounded, more than three times as many as its previous three wars combined (the War of Attrition, the June 1967 War, and the 1956 Suez War). Although Egyptian and Syrian casualties during the October War vastly outnumbered those of Israeli, the comparatively tiny population of Israel meant that its casualties represented a greater proportion of the population than was the case for its Arab counterparts. On 6 October, 1973, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a coordinated, surprise attack against Israel in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Warnings of the attack were issued late by Israel’s high command, giving its troops little time to get to the front in an orderly way. Although Israel eventually succeeded in repelling the advancing Arab armies, popular anger in Israel at the leadership’s failure to anticipate the attack led to the resignation of Golda Meir, Israel’s then-prime minister, in 1974. According to Israeli academic Udi Lival, ‘If the ultimate Jewish trauma was the holocaust, the ultimate Israeli trauma was the Yom Kippur War,’ the name Israelis give to the 1973 October War because the fighting began on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Lival’s words are quoted in Maariv, a Hebrew language daily, in an article entitled ‘A Cry from the Grave: More and More Books Deal with the Yom Kippur War’ by journalist Shiri Lev-Ari. She notes a rising interest among the Israeli public in learning details of what happend in the conflict. ‘Israelis are drawn to this sad chapter of history as if the wound is still open and bleeding,’ she writes. Writing for the Jerusalem Post, Hirsch Goodman, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, suggests the reason. ‘War had broken out simultaneously on two fronts,’ he writes, ‘Israel had lost intelligence assets and territory on the Golan in a flash and Egyptian forces were streaming over the canal, easily tramping over the skeleton Israeli crews, almost all reservists, who had been sent to the front lines for the holidays so the youngsters could be with their families.’ Moshe Dayan, Israel’s defense minister at the time, said he feared ‘for the destruction of the Third Temple,’ meaning the newborn Jewish state. In Maariv, Dan Halutz, who served as Israel’s air force commander and chief of staff during the Second Lebanon War, writes an op-ed entitled ‘War, Memory, and Lessons’ about the air squadron in which he served. ‘We began with 55 fighter pilots,’ he says, ‘but at the end, we sat in the debriefing room with only 34, many of us physically healthy but mentally harmed.’ Perhaps Israel’s greatest trauma, then, was psychological. Israel’s Channel 2 news runs an interview with Gabi Ashkenazi, Israel’s former chief of staff who stepped down earlier this year. Ashkenazi was drafted into Israel’s armed forces in 1972, and saw action for the first time during the October War while serving in Sinai. Israel had become accustomed to crushing its enemies. ‘We grew up with an Egyptian army that ran away,’ Ashkenazi recalls, ‘with their sandals and shoes thrown on the side of the road – because it was easier to escape barefooted – with wrecked vehicles and burnt out tanks along the whole way to the canal. And Israeli tanks racing in the dunes, soldiers standing up erect behind their gun turrets, with their mythological leadership… that was the image we grew up with.’ In obliterating that image, the war therefore created a sort of cognitive dissonance. ‘We were really our own prisoners,’ writes Halutz, ‘in believing that we were so strong and that our rivals wouldn’t doubt [our strength]. The word ‘surprise’ was not in our vocabulary, as far as it related to the military initiative of Arab countries.’ In an op-ed, Dan Margalit, a journalist with Israel Hayom, recalls the general mood at the end of the war. Despite his insistence that ‘the IDF ultimately prevailed in what was an unparalleled victory,’ he concedes, ‘the feeling was that we had been dealt a crushing defeat, and our hearts were wrenched. His article is titled ‘The Lesson from the Yom Kippur War: No to Defense Cuts.’ In Israel’s best-selling daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s current Chief of Staff Benny Gantz is reported as talking about the lessons of the war. The main one, he says, ‘is that we must always be war-ready.’ Channel 10 news and Channel 2 news, the country’s primary television news networks, show Gantz putting his words into action. He is shown lecturing troops last Thursday, one day before Yom Kippur, on the importance of training and preparation. In what Yedioth Ahronoth calls ‘a rare and unusual step,’ he had called up two divisions the day before as part of an emergency drill. The exercise, in which reservists had 24 hours to report to their bases, was to “test the soldiers’ level of response and readiness for war,” according to paper. The drill’s timing – against the back-drop of the Arab Spring and recent tensions with Egypt – does not go without notice. ‘The timing is more than a coincidence and is part of the army’s preparation for the upcoming days in light of changes in the region,’ Yedioth Ahronoth quotes the head of the Operations Division’s Inspection Department, Colonel Shlomi Fayer, as saying. In early September, the same newspaper had also reported Major General Eyal Eisenberg, IDF Home Front Command Chief, warning that the ‘Arab Spring’ could turn into a ‘radical Islamic winter.’ He had said that recent revolutions in the Arab world – combined with deteriorating ties with Turkey – increases the likelihood of regional war. Egypt was listed as only one of a litany of threats, that also included Turkey, Iran, and Hamas: ‘In Egypt, the army is collapsing under the burden of regular security operations, and this is reflected in the loss of control in the Sinai and the turning of the border with Israel into a terror border, with the possibility that Sinai will fall under the control of an Islamic entity.’’’


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