The date is October 12, 1973, and after being surprised by a ferocious Syrian and Egyptian multi-front attack six days beforehand, Israeli military chiefs met to plan a series of counter-strikes.
This is the dramatic story of the Yom Kippur War, as told by one of thousands of documents now available on a new, Hebrew-language website launched on Sunday by the Israeli Defense Ministry and Israel Defense Forces archives to mark 50 years since the war.
In terms of the scope of official documents available, the new site is the largest to date focusing on the Yom Kippur War, and also contains images, videos, audio recordings and testimonies.
A document marked “top secret” and dated October 12, 1973, includes protocols from a key discussion between IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. David (Dado) Elazar, Israeli Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Benny Peled, Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Eli Zeira and other senior military officials.
They discussed the forward positioning of IAF aircraft to enable them to attack Egyptian forces, and the need to begin striking deeper inside Egypt, beyond the Sinai battle zone.
Peled states, “This is a coordinated operation to infiltrate Egypt, with all of the SA-2 [a reference to Egyptian surface-to-air missiles that threatened Israeli aircraft], with all of the [Egyptian] patrols, almost, attacking [Egyptian air] fields, a difficult type of operation, complex, but there is a chance that if we strike these bases, and this is the main base [gesturing at a map], I again remind everyone that as of now, this should not be done without precise planning.”
The chief of staff, Elazar, responded positively to the idea, saying, “Let’s discuss this among us.” He later went on to say that although it would be a dangerous operation, the fact that strikes would occur near Cairo could have a significant influence on Egypt.
“I wanted to suggest that you begin working within Egypt,” says Peled.
“We’ll begin working inside Egypt,” says Elazar.
Zeira asks the other officers, “What’s here?” pointing at a location on the map, Peled replied, “24 helicopters and 15 transport planes. This is their main parachuting and landing force.”
Zeira asks if these forces were located at Egypt’s international airport, with Peled replying that some of the forces were at Egyptian military air base and that the 15 transport planes were indeed at the international airport.
After examining more intelligence on the Egyptian helicopter deployment and transport planes, Peled says, “The question is what do you prefer: To capture these [parachuted] forces after they land in their enemy home front, or to try and disrupt them….”
To which Elazar replies, “To first of all disrupt them, and what isn’t disrupted and comes—to capture.”
Peled decides to use F-4 Phantoms for the attack; Elazar instructs him to use “all” the F-4s in the operation.
The officers also discuss the need to interrogate a captive Egyptian battalion commander to get further intelligence before the strikes go ahead.
On Oct. 14, dozens of IAF F-4 jets attempted to attack Egyptian air bases between Cairo and Alexandra, and entered into an intense engagement with the Egyptian Air Force, in what became known as the air battle of Mansoura. The EAF Commander was Hosni Mubarak, who went on to become Egypt’s president. The EAF, despite sustaining losses, was able to force some of the Israeli jets to abort strikes on ground targets.
That same day, Egyptian helicopters landed 100 commandos in Sinai to attack in the Israeli rear, but an IDF reconnaissance unit engaged them rapidly, killing 60 and taking many others captive.
The new Defense Ministry website unveils for the first time most of the intelligence material that preceded the war, which was submitted by Zeira to the official Agranat Commission appointed by the Israeli government to investigate the war and the failings that occurred in the lead-up to it.
It also includes information on the fall of the Israeli Hermon outpost to Syrian forces.
In total, the website contains 15,301 photographs, 6,085 documents, 215 videos, 40 audio recordings and 169 maps, reflecting battle zones, tactical and strategic considerations by decision makers and dramatic moments during the fighting.
The website “was set up in order to tell the story of the war’s generation, to commemorate the bravery of the soldiers, and to form an official state platform for providing a legacy of the war for future generations,” said the Defense Ministry.