New recordings from Yom Kippur War

Dayan Told Then IDF Chief: 'Whoever Gets Killed - Gets Killed’

New documentary reveals voices from the IDF’s underground command center in October 1973. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan: 'This is now a war for the Land of Israel.’

Haaretz Staff
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Haaretz Staff

A new documentary series to be aired on channels 1 and 8 reveals recently discovered recordings from the 1973 Yom Kippur War, including frank exchanges between Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. David (Dado) Elazar.

Other officers who were recorded in the chief of staff's office in the “pit,” the IDF's underground command center in Tel Aviv, include Maj. Gens. Israel Tal, Benny Peled, Eli Zeira and Rehavam Ze'evi, as well as the IDF's second chief of staff, Yigael Yadin, later a member of the Agranat Commission that investigated the IDF’s failings during the war. The transcripts of the recordings, first published here, were discovered two years ago by researchers for the series “The Avoidable War” ("Lo Tishkot Haaretz”), a four-part documentary produced by Amit Goren to be aired from October 6. The researchers discovered the recordings in a box in one of the GOC offices in Tel Aviv.

For the past 40 years the conversations were part of an historical study of the GOC during wartime, led by Lt. Col. Shimon Golan, but the voices of the commanders during the war, including the tension, distress and (often premature) rejoicing, were never made public. After the fighting subsided, Dayan and Elazar waged an all-out war over responsibility for the IDF's failings in the buildup to the war and how it was conducted.

The series includes exclusive interviews with Mossad agents of the operational unit "Caesarea" who held contacts with Egyptian source Ashraf Marwan, as well as with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his deputy in the National Security Council, General Brent Scowcroft. It portrays the circles of intelligence, policies, the preparation of the IDF and its deployment in the war, and includes secret recordings of conversations between U.S. President Richard Nixon and Israeli Premier Golda Meir (included in materials revealed during the Watergate scandal). Other recordings deal with the battles in the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights and aerial battles during the war.

One of the most difficult conversations between the defense minister and chief of staff took place on the second day of the war, October 7, after Dayan returned from visits to commands of both fronts. The intelligence officer of one of the divisions in the north, Itamar Chizik (now CEO of Maccabi Haifa soccer club) recalled Dayan's mood before this meeting: "He said, very gloomily, 'the situation is difficult, we're on the defensive, the significance is — the fall of the Third Temple, that the Third Temple won't fall,' something like that."

Dayan, in his conversation with Elazar at the command center, said that "this is now a war for the Land of Israel."

As to the besieged soldiers in the strongholds near the Suez Canal, Dayan said that "when darkness falls they should be told to get out and break through with their weapons. Whoever gets killed, gets killed, and the remaining wounded will be taken prisoner. Forget the tanks, forget everything, these posts should be evacuated, otherwise we are being simply worn down without gaining anything. We should put an end to this, whoever falls prisoner, falls prisoner, and whoever manages to break out, will break out."

On the next day, after the failed counterattack in the Sinai Peninsula, Elazar is heard grumbling about the functioning of GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Shmuel "Gorodish" Gonen: "I received a note today 'please approve at 16:00 the capture of Suez,'" Elazar says. "A person who hasn't yet left Tasa [the IDF headquarters dozens of kilometers away from the canal], a normal person, usually doesn't ask for permission to conquer Suez [a city on the western bank of the Canal]."

Zeira, director of Military Intelligence, responded: "If he's normal."

Elazar concurred: "If he's normal … Shmulik is asking permission to cross the Suez Canal. I said, 'oh, I'm in a great condition, just like during Six-Day War.' I tell Shmulik, it's fine, go, I'm happy."

The research, scriptwriting and interviews for the series were conducted by Amir Oren, Micha Friedman and Gideon Avital-Epstein.

Moshe Dayan at a lookout point on the Golan Heights on October 19, 1973.Credit: AFP