As more time passes since the war of October 1973, whose deputy chief of staff Yisrael Tal was laid to rest this week, it becomes that much more clear that it should be positioned as one battle in the saga of the Seven-Year War, which lasted from June 1967 to June 1974.
The Six-Day War claimed the lives of 760 Israelis; between the major wars 970 were killed, over 500 of them in the heart of the War of Attrition, from March 1969 to August 1970; and 2,600 during the Yom Kippur War, until the separation of forces with Syria. In all, over 4,300 dead - the vast majority of them soldiers. This was a dizzying period in terms of the feelings it caused, from existential distress to heady victory, from relief to depression (the lot of the generation subjected to the mandatory draft ), to complacent relaxation, and once again to existential distress and the loss of confidence in the military and political leadership.
Despite the understandable temptation to personify these periods with prime ministers' images, it is interesting in this case to observe not Golda Meir, nor her predecessor Levi Eshkol, nor his predecessor David Ben-Gurion, who undermined Eshkol and terrorized chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin; the focus is the Israel Defense Forces, and the writer would do well to search for six characters within: Rabin, his deputy and successor Haim Bar Lev, Lev's successor David (Dado ) Elazar, Tal, Ariel Sharon and above all Moshe Dayan.
The Seven-Year War is a circular story, fascinating in its human vicissitudes, such as the Rabin-Dayan seesaw. The first act begins with Rabin's collapse, which intensified the paralysis within the Eshkol government and contributed to the security portfolio being transferred from Eshkol to Dayan. June 1, 1967 was the first day of the Dayan era. The third act ends on June 2, 1974, the last day of the Dayan era and the first day for Rabin, the new prime minister brought in from the far reaches of the second rank of the leadership, no. 20 on the slate - in the shock wave of the collapse of the Dayan school of thought on Yom Kippur.
Rabin, who promoted both Tal and Sharon to the rank of general, recognized their military talents and knew how to exploit them to build and operate the force. As deputy chief of staff in 1961, Rabin favored Tal over Elazar as the commander of the tank forces; but the outgoing commander, Bar Lev, had chief of staff Tzvi Tzur sign up his man, Elazar, who thereby received three years of seniority over Tal.
Dayan, who in May 1967 wanted to command the southern front at the expense of the head of the command, Yeshayahu Gavish, claimed two years later that a candidate for chief of staff must have experience in the south, and therefore Gavish should be appointed the deputy of the chief of staff of the War of Attrition, Bar Lev, and Elazar transfered from the north to the south; Gavish and Elazar were nearly twins, born just two days apart. Dayan, as usual, did not insist, and when Tal refused to inherit stationary fighting on the Bar Lev line from Gavish, Sharon wound up with the appointment. Three and a half years later, he moved into politics, armed with the command of a reserve division.
For a moment, Bar Lev politically overshadowed ambassador Rabin in Washington and rose to greatness as the chief of staff, and the favorite of Golda Meir and Pinhas Sapir, but he collapsed along with the fortification line named after him. When Dayan momentarily threatened to resign, while Meir was forming her government that was about to fall, Rabin was about to be appointed defense minister. In that position, had he accepted Elazar's resignation - as the Agranat Report recommended - he would certainly have worked to appoint Tal as his chief of staff. Rabin would not have rejected Tal due to his rivals' claims about how he'd functioned in the Yom Kippur crisis.
None of them, with the exception of Sharon who is now in a coma, are still with us. The personal and military relations between all of them have the makings of a fascinating and instructive narrative.
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