The Yom Kippur War and the Kurds

At this time of Yom Kippur, the focus of Israel is upon the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

Additionally, the anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War focuses our attention on that conflict and its ramifications in the present as Israel faces potential conflict with Iran and its proxies among militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.

However, a disturbing event in Syria involving the unreliability of Donald Trump should give us all pause.  Trump recently in his “great and unmatched wisdom” decided to withdraw US troops suddenly from Northern Syria and allow Turkey to make war on the Kurds, erstwhile US allies and the spearhead of the US campaign against ISIS.   It is certainly no secret that Netanyahu has put all of his eggs in the Trump basket.  However, can we trust Trump who calls himself an “extremely stable genius?”  Perhaps a review of a real profile of another of Israel’s complex and conflicted “saviors” in the Yom Kippur War might give us some insight into the present reality.

President Nixon is always lauded as the savior of Israel when he came to the aid of the Jewish state.  His shipments of NATO stockpiles of tanks, planes and all kinds of weapons, including new TOW anti-tank and Hawk anti-aircraft missiles undoubtedly did help to turn the tide of the war.  But, did US pressure lead Golda Meir’s government to relinquish Israel’s greatest poker card, the preemptive strike and lead it to contemplate the use of nuclear weapons to save the Jewish state from extinction?

The contrast between the Yom Kippur War and the conflict with the Arabs in 1967 can not be more marked and must be considered in detail.  While some historians have argued that the Israeli victory in 1973 was actually greater (whether in territory, Arab casualties, etc.) there were key differences between 1973 and 1967.  Obviously, the Israeli butcher bill for the 1973 War was much higher in terms of Israeli casualties:  Israeli casualties were 2569 killed, with 7500 wounded in three weeks of conflict.  This contrasts with only 776 dead in 1967.

Like now and in 1973, there was a seeming love affair between an Israeli prime minister and an American president.  Golda Meir had secured more from Richard Nixon than any previous president, including cutting edge M-60 tanks and F-4 Phantom jets in unprecedented numbers.

What is not considered so much by historians was the radically different postures Israel had going into both conflicts.  In 1967, as in 1956, Israel enjoyed the option of the preemptive strike.  This was not an option Golda Meir used in 1973.  While Egypt mobilized several times before Yom Kippur 1973, Israel was most likely pressured by its new ally not to strike first as it had in 1956 and in 1967 when France was Israel’s primary ally.  For instance, in May of 1973, in response to a massive Egyptian military mobilization in the Sinai, Golda Meir did not order a preemptive strike but rather constraint.  The huge number of Egyptian mobilizations lulled Israel into the surprise of Yom Kippur, 1973.

Certainly, I would have to conduct extensive research into the Nixon archives to prove whether or not Nixon was actually pressuring Golda.  However, he might not have had to spell it out.  Certainly, an unwritten understanding must have floated in the Israeli Prime minister’s mind, staying her hand in May of 1973.

Ironically, the success of the 1967 War, as well as French losses in Algeria and Vietnam caused a cooling off of relations with France, Israel’s past primary military supplier.  The military connection was severed and Israel was forced to rely solely upon the US, a country that had respected the British embargo on weapons to Israel in 1948 and who would not even sell Israel defensive weapons in the 1950s.  This situation only began to change with JFK’s administration in the early 1960s when second hand M-48 tanks were sold to Israel by West Germany from NATO stockpiles and Israel was able to purchase Centurion tanks from Britain.

In the wake of the surprise Arab attack on Yom Kippur, Moshe Dayan justified the lack of a preemptive in a convoluted press conference.  The befuddled hero of Israel truly was not in his element.  “I encourage you to read this on the Israel Foreign Ministry website,”

There is also a Youtube link.  I do not have it at hand, but it is worth looking up.

Whether or not this was actual Nixon administration policy is in dispute.  John Loftus in his book the Secret War Against the Jews claims that this was due to Nixon’s country club anti-Semitism and Kissinger’s vow to “bleed” Israel a little to get them to the conference table with Sadat.  However, it can certainly be seen by any historian the difference between 1956, 1967 and 1973.  While David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol struck first, Golda Meir did not and we have never done it again since 1967 in a general conflict although we have in lightning, isolated strikes (such as the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981) and the butcher bill goes up for our main engagements.  In all other cases and with increasing frequency as the US-Israel relationship deepens, such actions are cleared with Washington before Israel proceeds.

As an aside to Uncle Bibi, national unity governments are the best way to go.  Guess which was the first prime minister to call one?  Levi Eshkol in 1967 (hint, hint, we may be going to war soon).

In 1984, I and a buddy of mine took leave from the US Army from my Pershing missile unit in West Germany and flew to Israel.  For both of us, it was our first time in the Holy Land.  We spent a Shabbat on a kibbutz.  I was amazed at the dedication of the Nachal troops who had just conducted a patrol and had came back dirty from head to toe.  They were cleaning their Galil assault rifles before they cleaned themselves.  Suddenly, I realized that they were not so different from us.  Just like us, they cleaned their weapons first thing upon returning from the field.  They were soldiers just like us.  Good soldiers everywhere share a good habit, that is, discipline. This discipline has won Israel’s wars, not just weapons.

In a US Army mess hall, I once saw a picture painted on the wall of an infantryman with his rifle that said “the ultimate weapon.”  Our IDF are our defense.  We should not forget that.

However, that memory of 1973 hung over the kibbutz.  A hostess in the hotel that I struck up a conversation with was from New York City.  She recalled vividly how thankful she was that her son made it through the war alive and that many mothers and fathers in this tiny country were not so lucky.  Their sons came back in body bags, injured, or not at all.

The memory of the 1973 War lives on.  Before Yom Kippur, I visited my kids who live with my ex in Maale Adumim.  I told them of the legacy of 1973.  They often roll their eyes as their history fanatic dad regales them with tales of the past.  I embrace them sweetly.  However, as I write this, I wonder if I will be so lucky when my son and potentially one of my daughters will go out to serve in the IDF.  Certainly, Kurdish mothers and dads are cursing Donald Trump for the cut and run.

I do not think we will be like the Kurds.  Israel is too important of an ally to the US and America has too much at stake here.  However, will Trump be like Nixon in 1973 and hold the supplies until the very last moment and then claim to be our savior when we are massively attacked (problem, reaction, solution as they say)?  After all, what good are the best weapons in the world if Israel is not allowed to win the conflict once and for all? The state of Israel does not need to become involved in conflicts, especially those with superpowers like Russia unless it on our terms and in our interests.

Going back to Pershing, I am a member on some Facebook groups for Pershing and other US veterans.  Versions of the Pershing missile system were deployed by the US from 1959 until the end of the Cold War in 1991 when the units were disbanded by the US Army.  To my surprise, one of the group members from my old unit, 1/81 Field Artillery in Neu Ulm, Germany posted something about being in the field on October 6, 1973 and ready to deploy either in Europe or to the Middle East.  Another Facebook buddy said that he was in the infantry in the field at Ft. Riley, Kansas and ready to deploy to the Middle East.  In a press conference by Nixon, he said that a readiness order to US Forces worldwide had been issued on 24 October, 1973 upon credible intelligence that the Soviets were about to insert a large force into the Middle East.  This raised the readiness of US forces worldwide to DEFCON 4, one step below that of full scale nuclear war, briefly creating the most intense US-Soviet standoff since the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962.

Nuclear weapons were almost used in the Yom Kippur War.  In Israel, on the 7th of Oct 1973, following 24 hours of a desperate fighting withdrawal, the Golan Heights had been mostly overrun and Syrian forces almost made it into the Galilee. There is a great interview by the Wilson Center of Arnan Azaryahu, an aide to Golda Meir where he documents how she decided that Israel would not assemble and use nukes because the reserves were about to arrive and she had received assurances of resupply of weapons. Then she decided to use conventional means only. This followed her historic phone call to Nixon in the middle of the night in the Nixon bedroom which is why the conversation is not on the Watergate tapes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-G-YpBJEDA?

Only time will tell what will happen in the present.  However, I think we need to study the Kurdish situation as it unfolds and reexamine the Trump egg basket.  We really need more than one. In Israel’s short existence, we have been allies with the Soviet Union, France, Britain and the US and changed them as the need required. This strategy served Israel well for the first two decades of its existence and disregarding policy since has only caused us 50 years of grief and death.


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About the Author
Akiva ben Avraham is a former community college professor, US Army intelligence analyst and officer, and a caregiver.
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