As Israeli leaders weigh their response to the tentative dialogue between Tehran and Washington, which they regard as an Iranian ruse, the invisible presence at the cabinet table in Jerusalem will be the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.In declassified testimony just released by an Israeli national commission investigating the country’s initial failures during the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, Meir explained why she hadn’t ordered a pre-emptive airstrike against Arab forces, though she knew by the morning of Oct. 6 that an invasion would happen within hours. She feared losing American support. “I am scared,” she recalled telling her cabinet. “We will not receive necessary assistance when we have the need for it.”

Meir’s restraint was vindicated by an American airlift of military aid during the war. Yet her decision not to order a strike, along with the army’s failure to respond to earlier intelligence warnings by drafting reservists, almost resulted in Israel’s first military defeat.

As Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a coordinated attack on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, a relative handful of soldiers and tanks were all that stood between them and the Israeli home front. Despite initial failures, the Israel Defense Forces reversed the invasion and achieved a victory that is studied in military academies around the world. Still, over 2,500 Israelis were killed and thousands more wounded—the equivalent today of 230,000 American dead.

In recent weeks, Israelis have been commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, arguably the most traumatic conflict in Israel’s history, with reunions of army units and media programs offering more revelations about the those terrible days in early October 1973. Once again, Israelis are debating the causes for the war’s initial setbacks. And many Israelis have concluded that the war—or at least its most devastating consequences—could have been avoided.


Prime Minister Golda Meir (R) and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan meet with Israeli soldiers on the Golan Heights after intense fighting during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Reuters (more…)