In his testimony before the Agranat Commission that investigated the Yom Kippur War, Col. Gabi Amir described the fateful and difficult hours of the fighting in the Sinai Peninsula as follows: The units “reported on the radios that the enemy was advancing and starting to attack us…I saw that at a distance of three to four kilometers from me, tanks and APCs were advancing, stopping, and shooting—and between them a huge amount of infantry. All of that was marching toward us, forward. It was a scene none of us had ever witnessed before. We got permission to withdraw. We received permission, but we did not retreat.”
Even 50 years after the Yom Kippur War, the reason the war ended as it did is clear to everyone. It was the bravery and resourcefulness of the commanders and fighters in the field that stood despite the failure of warning and deterrence that resulted in an existential threat to Israel; their dedication, courage, initiative, devotion and self-sacrifice; a sense shared by all of the responsibility for the nation and homeland.
It is thanks to them that the war in which Israel started out at a disadvantage ended with an impressive victory.
I was of bar mitzvah age when the war broke out, and since then, every year on the Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror, growing up in Tel Aviv’s Tzahala neighborhood, the names of the 11 heroes from the area who fell in the war echoed in my ears: neighbors and friends, the siblings of my best friends, my brother’s best friends. The war left its mark on an entire generation that suffered a fatal blow and experienced a great fracture. I do not know if the wounds sustained 50 years ago will ever heal.
The war taught us two major lessons that remain relevant even after half a century.
The first was best described by my father, the late sixth President Chaim Herzog, in his book “War of Atonement: The Inside Story of the Yom Kippur War.”
In it, he wrote that following Israel’s incredible victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, there was an atmosphere of “we were like dreamers” in society that led to the IDF ignoring its many weaknesses revealed during the conflict, including those pertaining to intelligence regarding the Arabs’ intentions, which turned out to be false.
The Yom Kippur War further reinforced the lesson that Israel needs to be prepared for any and all scenarios and work to produce quality, integrated and diverse intelligence while operating with humility and constant self-examination.
We learned not to ignore the signs of approaching war and bask in the euphoria of the achievements of the past, however great they may be. The world must know that Israel can protect itself by itself—in any way, at any time and in any place.
And there is a second, equally important lesson: not to ignore the signs of peace. In hindsight, it became clear that then-President of Egypt Anwar Sadat conveyed clear messages in the year leading up to the Yom Kippur War regarding his desire for a peace treaty. Unfortunately, just as the signs of war were ignored 50 years ago, so was the hand outstretched in peace.
And the peace that seemed impossible just a few years prior became a reality, largely thanks to Israel’s victory in the war.
The Yom Kippur War changed the face of the nation and shook it diplomatically, politically, mentally and socially. Some argue that that was the point when solidarity within Israeli society eroded, and we all see the deepening of the divide even today.
The events of the last few months have further deepened the divisions in Israeli society, making unity the most challenging and important battle that awaits us, perhaps since the dramatic days of the Yom Kippur War. The effort to bring together the nation, to connect, to mediate our differences and to build bridges was and still is my life’s mission, as well as that of all of Israel.
Fifty years after the Yom Kippur War, we all remember with admiration our brave brothers, who paid the heaviest price of all, and their loved ones who live in the shadow of loss and those who were wounded in the war, in body and soul.
On this day, we all bow our heads before the magnitude of their sacrifice and wish to be worthy of it as a country, as a society and as citizens.
Originally published by Israel Hayom.