Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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24 Teves 5765 - January 5, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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IDF Historical Research on Yom Kippur War

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

The IDF distributed a revised version of research that its Historical Branch conducted in 1992 on the Yom Kippur War. The report has not been released up until now, due to the opposition of various retired senior officers who were involved in the war. However, a year ago, Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon ordered that the research be updated and published.

The research, authored by Lt. Colonel (res.) Elhanan Oren, was sent to the media last week, and the IDF is planning to make it available to the public in the near future.

The History of the Yom Kippur War is based on research originally classified as secret, but later downgraded to confidential, in 1998, so more people could have access to it.

In the introduction to the volume, which is not classified, the head of the Historical Branch, Colonel Shaul Shai, says it is "meant to provide the reader with a broad overview, a bird's eye view" of the war. However, browsing through the book and comparing it to classified research on the war provides less of a bird's eye view and more of a view of a worm.

Criticism of the commander of Division 143 in October 1973, Ariel Sharon, which characterized the 1992 edition, was softened in the 2004 edition.

Extensive chapters from the two formerly secret volumes edited by Oren, whose conclusion was that Israel failed to prevent the war and emerged from it with military gains that "were only partially related to the war aims, as they were defined," were published in 2003, marking the war's 30th anniversary.

Only then after that did Ya'alon authorize updating the research that led to the recent release.

The new volume includes considerable criticism of the Air Force and the way it was employed by the General Staff in the early stages of the war. According to the original battle plan, the Air Force was to establish air superiority on the Egyptian front at the outset. Instead, because of the pressure that was experienced on the Golan Heights from Syria, the Air Force was ordered to split its activity between the northern and the southern fronts, so that it did half a job in both but a complete job in neither.

The report concludes that it is "worthwhile" to review the considerations and the decisions that were taken by the General Staff (Mateh Klali) in using the Air Force, "even after taking account of the impressions created by the reports and warnings from the front, that were darker than the reality."

The report notes that at 7 am on the second day of the war, October 7, the Air Force was just beginning its operation Taggar that included over 100 missions against AA batteries and ground-to-air rocket installations, as well as attacks against Egyptian air bases, when dire reports arrived from the Syrian front that led Chief of Staff David Elazar to transfer the main air effort to the north.

The hasty and ill-planned effort in the north began without normal preliminary steps such as special flights to photograph enemy positions and artillery bombardment. The air operations were a near failure, with only two Syrian rocket emplacements knocked out permanently and a third disabled for only two days. Six planes were lost.

No sooner had that disastrous attack ended than the Air Force was sent to the south, but not to carry out its original plan. Rather it was sent to attack bridges over the Suez Canal laid by the Egyptian military, as well as enemy supply convoys. Even though the area was covered by enemy AA batteries, this attack was successful. Seven bridges were destroyed and another six were crippled. The Egyptian Third Army was delayed by a full day, and it eventually found itself effectively boxed in on the east bank of the canal.

The whipsaw of the Air Force resulted in the worst day of losses for the entire war. Altogether 22 planes were shot down, 13 from rockets, eight by ground fire and one in a dogfight.

On subsequent days, Air Force was also not used in the way that in retrospect seems most reasonable. Nonetheless, besiyata deShmaya, the Air Force did establish superiority over the enemy air forces, and prevented any bombing of Israeli cities. In the end, the Air Force provided crucial cover that allowed the reserve forces to get organized and to go to reinforce the troops in the field.

The report also covers the confusion and cross-purpose action that prevailed between General Ariel Sharon who commanded Division 143 and was ordered to prepare just for defense. Instead he attacked at various points, not always successfully. Later he argued that he only attacked in the context of preparing his defenses, but that was not the impression he gave at the time to the commanders in the field.

In short, the more one hears the details of what happened, the more one has to conclude that the most important ally in war is Hashem Elokecho.


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