Israel’s Yom Kippur 2020 – as Bad as 1973

Israel Harel
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A police officer enforcing a lockdown in Tiberias during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
Israel Harel

This year is the 47th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. The nation was saved mainly thanks to the heroism of the rank-and-file soldiers and the junior and mid-level officers. They, unlike senior government officials such as Moshe Dayan (“the destruction of the Third Temple”), didn’t become mired in despair. They hurled themselves onto the battlefield and gave the nation the greatest victory ever won by a Jewish army.

The settling of accounts with the government and the army brass was done, as befits a sane and level-headed nation, after the victory, and gradually: the Agranat Commission, the 1977 election, and especially the courtroom of history.

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Egyptian generals wrote in their memoirs that because of their army’s inferiority in armored warfare and the Israel Air Force’s superiority, a war was conditional on the Egyptians’ ability to achieve strategic surprise. Their intentions and plans were discovered by Israeli intelligence, as was the estimated date of the outbreak of the war, and in the end, even the precise day.

To prevent the war, the Israeli leadership should have ordered a large-scale call-up of reservists, which should have been made public. Such a mobilization, the Egyptians later wrote and said, would have stopped them from going to war.

Despite the colossal mistakes of the political leaders, and the erroneous conception of the high command, Israel’s unique superiority soon came to light, especially in the tank battles that changed the face of the campaign. After only 16 days the Israeli army stood 101 kilometers (63 miles) from Cairo, and was an artillery shell away from the presidential palace in Damascus.

Due to the foul-up of failing to mobilize the reservists, we paid with almost 3,000 dead and over 15,000 wounded, while thousands were traumatized. To this day there are still signs of national trauma. Many people, including some of the war’s heroes, lost their confidence in the government and emigrated. Others express their trauma by showing a lack of confidence in the political leadership and abandoning national solidarity.

Yom Kippur 2020. This time too there was no shortage of intelligence. This time too the government didn’t take the enemy seriously and didn’t prepare for war. This time too the shortsightedness of the political leaders, along with the stubborn and erroneous perspective of the professionals, have brought a disaster upon us. Its dimensions in human life, a socioeconomic crisis and despair with the state, its leaders and institutions are likely to be as they were in ‘73, and God forbid, even worse.

Prime Minister Golda Meir made two personal-historical mistakes before the Yom Kippur war: She prevented the call-up of the reservists and opposed a preemptive strike. Nevertheless, during the war itself, Meir turned out to be a true leader: authoritative and instilling confidence. On the other hand, the leader in the 2020 war exudes hesitancy and inconsistency. Most of his voters are giving him a failing grade in the fight against the pandemic.

The functioning of most of his coalition partners is even worse. The result: The number of coronavirus deaths in recent days is similar to the daily losses during the peak of the ‘73 war. The number of dead, the experts warn, is likely to be far higher than in the Yom Kippur War – and perhaps even higher than the total in all of Israel’s wars.

As opposed to our conduct 47 years ago, this time the nation, not only the government, is behaving arrogantly and irresponsibly. Today, instead of fighting the virus, the Israelis are fighting their brothers, as in the biblical past, tribe against tribe.

It’s just as in the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, when Jews torched the food stockpiles after Titus had already brought down the city gates. Already the biblical poem “Ha’azinu” in Deuteronomy (which was read in synagogues Saturday morning) described the Israelites as “a generation crooked and perverse … O foolish people and unwise.”

From that day to this we hear the cry of the prophet Hosea: “Return, O Israel ... for thou hast stumbled in thine iniquity.”

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