Attack at Jom Kippur - Israel’s national trauma


Marcel Serr

In October 1973 Israel was surprised by an attack of both Egypt and Syria. The trauma of this attack still has a lasting effect on Israel’s society. In this essay the Jom Kippur War is examined from three different perspectives: (1) The military perspective deals with the relative strength, tactics, strategies, and the course of the war. (2) The inner-Israelite perspective examines the failure of Israel’s secret service. (3) The security-political perspective takes a closer look at the deterrent effect of Israel’s nuclear weapons. In October 2013 the war will see its 40th anniversary. The Egyptian-Syrian offensive of 6th October 1973 took Israel by surprise and nearly defeated Israel’s Defence Forces for the first time in the nation’s modern history. Although Israel’s Defence Forces finally managed to be successful in this military conflict, the surprise attack hit Israel hard, and its psychological after-effects can still be felt today, particularly as the attack happened exactly on the highest holiday in Israel - the day of reconciliation (in Hebrew: Jom Kippur), the only day of the year when all public life stops in Israel. For this reason, the Jom Kippur War has been regarded the most traumatic event in the history of modern Israel up to the present day. Despite the utmost unfavourable initial situation, the war ended on 24th October with Israel’s military victory. At the Northern Front, Israel’s Defence Forces regained complete control of the Golan Heights and had reached Syrian territory. Thus, the suburbs of Damascus had become located within the range of Israel’s artillery. At the Suez Front, Israel’s Defence Forces had encircled Egyptian troops, and Egypt’s air defence system was close to collapsing. Nevertheless, Egypt had succeeded in holding on to two narrow strips of land in the Sinai. During the first days of the war Israel’s Defence Forces had got into serious difficulties, and this is why the aura of invincibility, which had surrounded Israel’s Defence Forces until then, became scratched. Israel’s Defence Forces, however, displayed remarkable morale - the swiftness with which Israel’s Defence Forces overcame the shock of the surprise attack is noteworthy. The military victory of Israel’s Defence Forces was a great one in the end, and there were no victims among the civil population. It was, however, no quick and elegant triumph like the one in the Six-Days’-War, but a bloody and imperfect one. For this reason the Jom Kippur War was not only a materiel battle of gigantic dimensions. Although Israel won the military war, the Egyptian President Anwar as-Sadat won the political victory. The calculation with which he had entered the war proved to have been correct in the end. The initial military successes of the surprise attack restored Arabian pride and actually kicked off a political process which resulted in an agreement (1974) leading to the withdrawal of Israel’s Defence Forces from the Suez Canal and finally to a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel (1979). This result became really lucrative for Israel as well. As a result, the isolation of the Jewish state in the Near East came to an end.