Tanks Finally Get Their Thanks

A new study restores respect for the armored corps and infantry who fought alongside paratroopers in the Six-Day War.

During the fierce battles in the Jerusalem area during the Six-Day War in June 1967, the Israel Defense Forces lost 182 soldiers. That figure comprises more than a quarter of the soldiers who perished during the war.

The occupation of East Jerusalem, which had been ruled by Jordan, is associated with the paratrooper brigade, which was commanded by Colonel Mordechai Gur. In various Israeli research studies and books, the paratroopers are presented as the "liberators of Jerusalem." They take the glory for, on the third day of the war, reaching the Western Wall, and also because of the heroic battle they fought on Ammunition Hill.

Six-Day War, tanks - GPO

However, a new research study, or, more precisely, an expanded edition of a study that is being distributed in time for Jerusalem Day in early June, concludes that "the presence and involvement of 91 tanks in most areas of the fighting had a decisive impact in the victory in Jerusalem."

Two figures particularly deserve recognition, albeit after a delay or more than 40 years: Captain Rafi Yeshaya, who commanded 10 tanks of the "Jerusalem tank corps," and who was wounded in battle, and Major Eitan Arieli, a tank company commander in the Harel Brigade.

The study bestows historic recognition to other tank corps fighters and infantry soldiers who served in brigades that fought alongside the paratroopers brigade (the Jerusalem infantry brigade, commanded by Colonel Elazar Amitai, and the Harel tank brigade commanded by Colonel Uri Ben Ari ). Written by Colonel (res. ) Yossi Langotsky, the study inadvertently challenges one of the central myths in the history of the IDF and Israel's wars.

In 1967, Langotsky commanded the Jerusalem commando unit, and was decorated for his part in the war. After the 1967 war, he continued to serve in the IDF for a decade, during which he established the Military Intelligence special operations department; this is the unit which, among other things, deploys the elite Sayeret Matkal commandos on intelligence missions behind enemy lines. Also during his service, Langotsky commanded Military Intelligence's technology unit, a branch which develops special instruments for intelligence operations; he completed his military service as the commander of the army's intelligence gathering unit.

Perhaps the most important feature of this new study is its disclosure of a highly classified summary that Motta Gur drafted after the war, in which he himself lavishes the tank corps with praise, not only for its operations in areas north and south of the capital, but also owing to its contribution to the battles conducted in Jerusalem itself.

"The fighting within the built-up areas [of Jerusalem] without the tanks was extremely hard, and when the tanks arrived in every part of the city, they totally changed the complexion of the battles," Gur noted. "In terms of clearing out the city, the cover given by the tanks for the breakthrough was excellent. Our men lack enough words of esteem for the tanks and for the tank commanders who throughout all of this sat on the turrets, half of their bodies exposed, within range of enemy sharpshooters, and who gave extraordinary assistance."

Gur's forgetfulness

Langotsky's discovery of this secret document is important for at least two reasons. First is the disclosure of its very existence. But the second reason might be more important, as it shows Gur in a new light. He subsequently became IDF chief of staff and a minister. He committed suicide 16 years ago when he learned that he had cancer.

Very soon after drafting this summary, Gur "forgot" what he wrote in it (and according to Langotsky's research, right after the war, Gur delivered verbally to top officers in the IDF Central Command the same things he wrote in his classified summary ).

By this act of "forgetfulness," Gur prevented the tank soldiers who served in Jerusalem (some with the Jerusalem tank company, others with the Harel brigade ) from receiving their share of the glory, and he appropriated for himself and the paratroopers all of the luster that came with the 1967 triumph.

Incidentally, Langotsky is a geologist by profession, and is the discoverer of the Tamar site gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea. Tamar is named after his granddaughter, and Dalit after his daughter.

The novice butcher

The future of the popular uprising against Bashar Assad's regime in Syria remains unclear. Most commentators believe that even if Assad withstands the current round of unrest, his chances of continuing to rule for long are slim. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan recently said that Assad's approach is "either I remain or I am slain." That is why Assad, his relatives and the Alawite minority are not afraid to take violent measures to stay in power.

The man in charge of the brutal repression is Bashar's younger brother, Maher Assad, who has (unlike Bashar ) military training and experience as commander of a tank battalion. Maher is the "butcher" in the family, just as almost 30 years ago, this role was played by his uncle, Rifaat Assad, when he gunned down the Muslim Brotherhood rebellion in the city of Hama. A Western intelligence figure who has expertise regarding Syria tells a story that says something about the violent determination of the Assad family. In February 1982, during the Hama rebellion, Rifaat turned to the commander of the division that charged into the city, and reprimanded him for not suppressing the rebels. The division commander claimed that he was having trouble locating the rebels, who were in hiding.

Rifaat, who later was exiled and lives abroad, was suspected by his brother, President Hafez Assda, of plotting against him. Nevwer the less, while in charge of the siege of Hama, Rifaat gave the division commander the following order: There were tunnels under the old city, and the rebels must be hiding there, Rifaat reasoned. Pump diesel into the tunnels, Rifaat ordered. He demanded more: Rifaat ordered that T-72 tanks be deployed at the opening of each tunnel, to shell any rebel who tried to escape death underground.