Praising the decision by the White House to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Vice President Mike Pence related a moving and iconic story of bravery and heroism from the Yom Kippur War in his AIPAC speech Monday.
Pence told a rapt audience the war story of what happened when “Israel’s enemies attacked her on the holiest days of the Jewish year,” and the “young tank commander who single-handedly kept a fleet of enemy tanks at bay — the great Zvika Greengold.”
“It’s an amazing story,” Pence said. “As enemy tanks rolled into Israel, a miracle happened. Captn. Greengold moved his tank back and forth in the darkness, firing in different directions to confound and delay a far larger enemy force. His actions not only helped turn the tide of the battle in Israel’s favor, they secured the Golan Heights from enemy control — and with it saved the State of Israel from the brink of disaster.”
It is an amazing story. Unfortunately, it seems, the story may not have been true.
In 2016, a senior Israeli army officer who fought in the Yom Kippur War confessed to a television reporter that, in an effort to boost morale, he had invented the tale of Greengold’s miraculous solo battle against up to 60 Syrian tanks.
Gen. (res.) Yair Nafshi, a battalion commander in the 188th Brigade, said he concocted the story in order to improve morale in his unit, which had lost a large number of troops in the war.
“We had to rebuild [the unit] from nothing. What did you want? We needed some kind of story,” Nafshi said in the 2016 report, which said the legend was misrepresented as fact in a 1974 Israel Defense Forces magazine article.
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One of Greengold’s fellow soldiers, Col. (res.) Amnon Sharon, lent supporting evidence in the TV report, saying that after he had been taken prisoner by the Syrians and reunited with Greengold, his friend made no mention of destroying the tanks. Sharon added that since “the public needs to know the truth, I can’t remain silent any longer.”
There have been some who have still resisted the claims, and Greengold himself called the debunking a “blood libel.”
Maj. Gen. (res.) Menachem Meron headed the committee that decided recipients for medals and commendations, and awarded Greengold a medal of courage in 1975. He has insisted that the members of the panel, which included senior, experienced officers from a number of units, were aware of errors and exaggerations that crept into battle accounts and insisted on verifying and cross-checking their information.
Greengold said after the TV report that his two former comrades who debunked his story suffered from “a mixture of jealousy, evil and psychological problems. ... There’s not a shred of truth in” their claim, he said.
But even Greengold acknowledged that the headline for the initial IDF story was problematic and questioned the accuracy of accounts crediting him with destroying 60 Syrian tanks.
“I didn’t invent the headline about the 60 tanks,” he said.