Israeli Officer Says He Made Up One of the IDF's Most Iconic Tales of Heroism

Col. Zvika Greengold received Medal of Valor for 'single-handedly destroying 60 tanks' in Yom Kippur War, but senior reserve officer says tale was spun to boost unit morale.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Syrian tanks destroyed in the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
Syrian tanks destroyed in the Yom Kippur War in 1973.Credit: Roman Frister
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

A senior Israeli army officer who fought in the Yom Kippur War says he made up one of the most famous tales of Israeli heroism in that war, in an effort to boost morale.

In a report broadcast Friday night on Channel 2, Israel Defense Forces Brig. Gen. (res.) Yair Nafshi said he concocted the story about how IDF tank commander Lt. Zvika Greengold single-handedly destroyed dozens of Syrian tanks in the Golan Heights in October 1973, holding off the Syrian advance.

Nafshi, a battalion commander in the 188th Brigade in which Greengold also served, said he created the story in order to improve morale in the 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,” said Nafshi.

Another officer interviewed for the report, Col. (res.) Amnon Sharon – who fought with Greengold and was taken prisoner by the Syrians – said that when he finally met up with him, Greengold made no mention of destroying the tanks. “The public needs to know the truth, so I can’t remain silent any longer,” said Sharon.

Haaretz has found that Sharon made similar claims as far back as 1984, when his comments were investigated by the Knesset and the Defense Ministry. Consequently, the IDF decided to review the story of Greengold’s heroism. The IDF spokesman later issued a statement, saying that Greengold had honestly earned the Medal of Valor he was awarded after the war.

Greengold’s alleged exploits were initially reported in 1974 by Renen Schorr in the weekly IDF magazine Bamahane, Channel 2 noted. In 2013, in a joint interview with Greengold for the army publication, Schorr said he happened upon Greengold by chance while looking for magazine stories in the Golan Heights. In a 1984 article in the daily Maariv, Schorr wrote that claims seeking to undermine the story of heroism were baseless. (Schorr now runs the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem.)

The headline in the initial Bamahane story about Greengold’s exploits suggested he had single-handedly knocked out 60 Syrian tanks. “The Zvika Force was no more than one tank that on its own repelled the Syrian attacks,” the article said.

Schorr told Channel 2 on Friday that he had been dismayed when he saw the original headline because he hadn’t wanted the story to be blown out of proportion. However, Schorr didn’t express those reservations when he and Greengold were interviewed by Bamahane in 2013.

Reserve Maj. Gen. Menachem Meron roundly rejected the claims made by Channel 2. “The story of the Zvika Force is not a myth but rather an act of bravery on the part of Greengold and his comrades in arms,” Meron told Haaretz.

After the war, Meron headed the committee that decided on recipients for medals and commendations, and which awarded Greengold a medal of courage in 1975. Meron told Haaretz 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. They were therefore insistent on verifying and cross-checking their information, he said.

Only eight soldiers, including Greengold, received medals for their service in the Yom Kippur War. They were conferred by the IDF chief of staff at the time, Mordechai Gur, on the approval of then-Defense Minister Shimon Peres.

Greengold, meanwhile, has never made reference to 60 tanks and, over the years, even expressed reservations about what he called media “exaggeration” over the number of tanks he had destroyed. In a number of interviews, he said he didn’t know the actual number.

“Intentionally or otherwise, my combat was very significant in the course of [efforts to] stop the Syrian army, and my story is larger than I am,” Greengold said in 2013.

He didn’t respond to the new claim that the entire story was concocted. However, when similar doubts were expressed in 1984, he said: “They are trying to undermine and sully a story of heroism that generations of troops have been educated on.”

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