In the months leading to Yom Kippur, 1973, Israeli intelligence had gathered reports of an Arab troop build-up and the possibility of war. To combat such forces, they warned, Israel was not able rely on her standing army, and had to call up her reserves. Nevertheless, each time the Prime Minister and the cabinet were alerted, the warnings were rejected. "There is no need," explained Golda Meir, "to sow panic among the populace."
In the days before the war, and even on the day the war broke out, the cabinet met, and the nation's military leaders demanded that the reserves be called up, for the Arabs were obviously preparing for war. They explained that the call-up itself might prevent the war. For if the Arabs saw that Israel was ready, they might hesitate before launching an attack. At the very least, the call-up would place the Israelis in a position to repulse the attack, and launch an immediate counterattack.
Despite the army's urgent insistence, the cabinet remained unwilling. In her autobiography, Golda Meir admits that she and her advisors had intelligence reports of an impending attack. Nevertheless, they refrained from calling up the reserves so that the world would see that Israel was not an aggressor. Allowing herself to be attacked would clearly demonstrate Israel's peaceful intent to the Americans and encourage them to support her with arms.
The argument is so absurd that it is difficult to write it down in a manner which makes any sense at all, but that is what happened. Because of the government's desire that Israel appear as a peace-loving nation, a fierce war which cost over two-and-a-half thousand Jewish lives ensued. A large proportion of those casualties took place in the first days, when Israel's lack of preparation left her open to Arab attack. And because of the Arab advances during those first days, Israel was forced to fight from compromised positions later on.
Nor was this the end of the Israeli willingness to sacrifice her security because of what a few politicians imagined international opinion to be. When the Israeli army succeeded in turning the tables and launching a counterattack against Syria and Egypt, they met immediate success. They reconquered large portions of the Golan and proceeded toward Damascus. Although they were only short miles away from the Syrian capital, and there was no substantial opposition in front of them, they suddenly halted their advance. Instead of conquering the Syrian capital, the Israeli army simply sat still.
Because they did not advance, the Syrians had time to regroup their artillery, and inflict losses on the Israelis. But that was not the most severe loss the Israelis suffered. The war ended shortly afterwards. Had Damascus been conquered, Syria would have been defused as a power for decades. Instead, after the war, she emerged as Israeli's most belligerent foe.
Why didn't Israel seize this opportunity? Because her diplomats overruled her generals. The diplomats were afraid of world opinion. But whose opinion? Not that of the Communist bloc. They had sided with the Arabs and could never be won to the Israeli side. The Americans? They would have been overjoyed if Syria was conquered. Syria had openly identified with the Russians, and America wanted nothing more than to have her power restricted.
True, at the outset, America would have protested. In order to appease the Arabs, it would have had to make a gesture. But everyone would have realized that it was merely a gesture. Israel could have gone about dealing with her own security needs without any interference.
True, such a campaign would have caused losses. But there have been Israeli losses due to Syrian forces ever since and the danger of greater losses still persists. Without a Syrian presence would the Lebanon front have ever developed? When a person has a malignant disease he does what is necessary to deal with the problem. An operation may be painful, but it is preferable to allowing the malignancy to spread. The faster action is taken, the better.
A similar mistake was made on the Egyptian front. Egypt's Third Army had penetrated the Sinai Desert, but there they were surrounded by Israeli troops. Their supply line was cut and they were without food and water. The vanguard of the Israeli troops had already crossed the Suez, and were threatening the Egyptian capital. Not surprisingly, the Egyptians began to sue for a cease fire. Although they had started the war, they now wanted to end it as soon as possible.
Did Israel demand the surrender of the Third Army? No. They allowed the Egyptians to receive humanitarian aid from relief organizations. As a result, because they had not surrendered, it was recognized in the cease-fire agreement that this army had recaptured portions of the Sinai. A brilliant turnover on the battleground was again soured into a defeat by the diplomats at the negotiating table.
Why? Because they were unwilling to stand firm, and wait for the pressure to be placed on Egypt. At that point, the Egyptians needed the cease fire more than the Israelis, and yet in their desire to appear as peace-loving, Israel made concession after concession.
In New York, the months preceding the war were also charged by intense activity. Although he was not privy to the intelligence information coming out of Israel, the Rebbe began a campaign to strengthen Jewish education for children. Citing the verse, "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings You have established the strength... to destroy an enemy and an avenger," the Rebbe explained that the Torah study of young children generates protective spiritual influences for the Jewish people. For months, the Rebbe repeated and expounded this verse at public gathering after public gathering, in letters, and in personal meetings. He later stated that he had felt impelled from above to take this step.
After the war broke out, at public gatherings and at private meetings with Israeli leaders, the Rebbe spoke out fiercely against Israel's unwillingness to conquer Damascus. "When I asked army commanders why they didn't conquer Damascus," the Rebbe said, "they told me that it is surrounded by rocky terrain which makes an advance difficult. Had I not heard this myself, I would not have believed that such an excuse could be given."
Over and over again, the Rebbe urged Israelis to recognize that they had been saved by a Divine miracle: instead of proceeding further after breaking through the Bar-Lev line in the Sinai and Israel's initial defenses on the Golan, the Egyptian and Syrian troops had halted their advance. That halt had given Israel the time to mobilize her reserves. With thankful acknowledgement, the Rebbe continued, Israelis should have wisely used the advantage provided to them by the new territories they had conquered and not sacrificed them because of the whims of several diplomats.
- (Back to text) Psalms 8:3.