IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi on Friday issued a special letter to his troops on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War:
“The war, which started by surprise, ended with IDF forces threatening the capitals of Egypt and Syria, and imposing a ceasefire on them. In our decisions at the military level and in our actions on the battlefield, we bear responsibility for the fate of a nation. Let our enemies know that the spirit of the IDF’s fighters and the cohesion of its ranks do not fall short of those of the Yom Kippur fighters and that the IDF is as ready as ever for a multi-arena military conflict should it be required.”
The Yom Kippur War broke out on Shabbat, Yom Kippur, October 6, 1973, with an attack by a coalition of the armies of Arab countries against Israel, led by Syria and Egypt, and supported by forces from Iraq and Jordan. The start of the war surprised then-Chief of Staff David Elazar and the IDF intelligence led by Major General Eli Zaira, who, following the great victory of the Six Day War in 1967, developed the notorious “conception,” and did not anticipate the war, the intensity of the attacks, the opening moves, and the fighting abilities of the Arab armies.
At the heart of the conception, as defined by the Agranat Committee of Inquiry after the ’73 war, stood two fundamental assumptions:
1. Egypt will not go to war against Israel unless it first guarantees its air capability to attack deep inside Israel, and especially Israel’s main airports, to paralyze the Israeli Air Force.
2. Syria will not launch a major attack on Israel except at the same time as Egypt.
Since May of 1973, the IDF command shot down reports of preparations for war by the Syrians and the Egyptians because they conflicted with the conception above. Those were heady times for the IDF command, having smitten the armies of three Arab countries a scant six years earlier. An unwavering row of military experts reassured the country and its leaders there was nothing to worry about.
Israelis have since learned that when rows and rows of experts are united around a concept there’s plenty to worry about.
Still, by the end of the war, the IDF managed to turn the tide. After the recovery from the initial shock, and despite suffering heavy losses in a series of battles that followed, the IDF managed to repel the Syrian forces deep into Syria, cross the Suez Canal and encircle the Egyptian Third Army, and decide the war in favor of Israel, despite the heavy loss of life.
Elazar and Zeira were both blamed by the committee for the failures of the war, while the political echelon, most poignantly Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who were “merely in Charge,” were allowed to go scot-free. But the Israeli public did not forgive them, and both were forced to resign a while later.
Elazar died of a heart attack in 1976, at age 50.
On Tuesday Chief of Staff Halevi met with the family of the late Chief of Staff David Elazar and told them: “We have a great privilege to learn from example, to look up and say, should there be difficult tests, this is how we want to be.”
Seriously? Do we want a repeat of a conception backed by countless unquestioning, high-ranking military experts that would, God forbid, cost Israel another 2,200 dead, 7,500 injured, and 300 POWs?
Of course, Chief of Staff Halevi was making nice to his predecessor’s broken-hearted family members, and that’s understandable, even commendable. But Halevi himself has been imprisoned by a destructive conception of his own making, namely that a relatively small number of elite reservists who owe their life of luxury to the state and the army, who wield their privileged positions to bend to their will a democratically-elected government, must not be punished and made an example but instead be cuddled and encouraged to inflict even more chaos and destruction.
And rows and rows of military experts approve.