Jean-Luc Renaudie, AFP
Last updated: 3 October, 2013

Israel on guard 40 years after Yom Kippur war

Forty years after the Yom Kippur war, when Arab states caught it off guard, Israel once again feels vulnerable to a surprise attack in a hostile region.

Israel’s enemies since the 1973 war, when Syria and Egypt led the assault, have diversified to include Lebanon’s Shiite movement, backed by Iran.

Israeli media have been filled with articles, analyses and documentaries about the conflict which shook Israel out of a complacency that followed its rout of the same foes in the 1967 Six-Day War.

“One of the causes of our failure at the beginning of the conflict came from a feeling of superiority that we held after the 1967 victory,” Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said at a meeting with top defence officials in September.

Israel had “too much confidence, arrogance and lack of caution. We’ll never underestimate the enemy again,” he said.

And this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed no sign of complacency as he used his speech at the UN General Assembly to attack arch-foe Iran, whose new President Hassan Rouhani has reached out to the West.

Netanyahu said Israel was ready to take unilateral military action if diplomacy failed to ease what the Jewish state sees as an existential threat from Iran’s nuclear programme.

The danger posed by Iran’s ally Hezbollah, whose southern Lebanon heartland borders Israel, is still very much alive after a 2006 showdown that killed some 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and nearly 160 Israelis, most of them troops.

Israelis were scrambling for gas masks just weeks ago, fearing reprisals by Hezbollah and its ally Damascus as a US strike against President Bashar al-Assad’s Syria looked imminent.

Israel fears that Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal could fall into Hezbollah’s hands.

Yet 40 years earlier, it was Israel’s then defence minister Moshe Dayan who urged prime minister Golda Meir to allow the use of “non-conventional” weapons against the Arab armies.

Iran’s top general on Wednesday slammed Netanyahu as a “warmonger,” saying his threat of military strikes was an act of “desperation” after Tehran’s charm offensive.

The left-leaning newspaper Haaretz gave a damning assessment of the rhetoric from Israel, the Middle East’s sole, if undeclared, nuclear power.

“Now as then, 40 years later, Israel continues on its own way. It leans only on its military power and the support of the United States. It continues to ignore its isolation and the limitations of its power,” it wrote.

In 1973, Meir ignored Egypt’s diplomatic overtures before the war, with commentators viewing Israel’s rude awakening in 1973 as both a political and military failure.

But most historians attribute Israel’s slow start in the war to military intelligence failures, as its army had failed to detect Egyptian and Syrian troops massing on the borders.

Some 2,700 Israeli soldiers were killed when Egyptian troops thrusting north across the Suez and from the Sinai and a Syrian attack from the Golan Heights surprised the Jewish state on October 6, 1973 as Israel marked the solemn Yom Kippur holiday.

After initial losses, Israel emerged victorious from 19 days of fighting, but Yom Kippur remains a black day in the history of the Jewish state’s famed military intelligence services.

Lionised after Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, Dayan was vilified as a “murderer” by parents whose sons and daughters fought and died in the Yom Kippur war.