The Lessons We Learned in 1973

"The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter that Transformed the Middle East" by Abraham Rabinovich. (Schocken, $27.50).

In a reflective moment toward the end of the Yom Kippur War, then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan told a confounded and confused Israeli Cabinet: "We generally understand these things a generation later."

Throughout his career, Dayan certainly made his share of mistakes, but as his remark reveals, he was usually among the most farsighted leaders Israel ever had.

Books about the devastating 1973 surprise attack against Israel began to appear almost as soon as the smoke had cleared. But it is only now, a generation after the war, that we have anything like full-scale, analytical and interpretive accounts. In recent months, at least three Yom Kippur War books have appeared in English, but Abraham Rabinovich’s is surely the best. The veteran reporter, born in New York but living most of his life in Jerusalem, based his book on official Israel Defense Forces (IDF) archives, the recently declassified 2,000-page Agranat Commission inquiry into the war, numerous other documentary sources and more than 130 personal interviews.

[Personal disclosure: Bumie Rabinovich and your reviewer for many years were colleagues and friends at The Jerusalem Post. Further disclosure: As a new Israeli who, in 1973, had just finished his basic training in the IDF, your reviewer was mobilized on the first day of the Yom Kippur War and was even more shocked and disoriented by the surprise attack than his native-born comrades in arms; after all these years I’m grateful to Bumie for finally making sense of those traumatic days.]

Still, in a world of dizzying change, the Yom Kippur War today seems ancient history, as distant and half-remembered as those figures who like Dayan played such major roles in the event: Golda Meir, Anwar Sadat, David Elazar, Haim Bar-Lev, Henry Kissinger, Leonid Brezhnev. This was the era of Watergate and of the Cold War and of the still raging conflict in Vietnam. Since the Yom Kippur War, Israel has signed peace treaties (Egypt and Jordan), engaged in new wars (Lebanon) and faced different assaults (Iraqi Scuds, Palestinian terrorists). Why should Americans care about bygone battles?

Three reasons immediately come to mind.

The first is that the surprise attack on Oct. 6, 1973, succeeded largely because of a massive Israeli intelligence failure. Massive American intelligence failure, it is becoming increasingly clear, is precisely what allowed the Sept. 11 attacks, and the public response, official inquiries and the political fallout that followed the Yom Kippur War in this regard are instructive. A second reason is the light it shines on the sole principal player who is still very much on the scene. As Rabinovich documents it, Ariel Sharon was deservedly a hero of the war, but far from the only one, and his superiors considered Sharon so dangerous he was almost relieved of his command.

But the third, and most compelling, reason for reading "The Yom Kippur War" is that it is, at the same time, a heart-breaking and enthralling narrative. The story is wrenching of course because of the fate of those poorly prepared and shabbily equipped soldiers who had to bear the brunt of the attack behind ill-conceived and criminally neglected defense lines. The story is enthralling because the endless instances of Israeli courage and tenacity almost beggar belief. On that fateful Day of Atonement, the Israelis were outnumbered and outgunned by staggering margins. In Sinai, for example, exactly 450 Israeli troops faced an invading force of 100,000 Egyptians, who enjoyed a superiority in artillery of 40-1 and a force of 1,350 tanks against Israel’s 91. On the Golan, the Syrians had eight tanks for every Israeli tank, and even higher ratios of troops, guns and planes; later the Syrians would be bolstered by contingents of Iraqis, Jordanians, Palestinians, Saudi Arabians, Kuwaitis and Moroccans. In addition, the Arabs were equipped with the latest in Soviet rocketry, against which Israel had virtually no defense.

How the IDF roused itself; how Israel’s armored corps improvised to cope with a forest of Sagger missiles; how Israel’s air force, momentarily rendered useless by the SAM-6 umbrella, learned, on the job as it were, new formulas for aerial warfare, and, above all, how Israel’s young sons held their ground and then went on the attack with the ferocity of mother lions — all of it seems the stuff of Hollywood.

Yet even the most imaginative of scriptwriters would be hard pressed to top, say, Zvika Greengold, the young son of Holocaust survivors who day after day and night after night virtually single-handedly destroyed scores of Syrian tanks. Or Lt. Col. Eliashiv Shimshi, who grimly accepted orders to lead a suicidal armored counterattack in Sinai that rivaled the Charge of the Light Brigade. Or the "retired" air force pilot who leaped into the cockpit of a jet fighter, roared off to the Golan, downed four enemy aircraft and returned to base — all in 20 minutes, while the regular pilot was away from the tarmac answering a call of nature.

These are just a few hints of what a spectacular story this is. And Rabinovich has told it spectacularly well.

Is FBI Watching Other Groups?

New twists and turns in the case of alleged wrongdoing by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have left many in the Jewish community baffled.

A week after allegations first broke suggesting that AIPAC was involved in the exchange of classified information from the Pentagon to Israeli officials, new reports suggest FBI investigators have been monitoring the pro-Israel lobby for more than two years.

The first question many in the Jewish community are asking is, "Why?"

"We’re pitching in the dark," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "We haven’t seen a shred of evidence."

Much remains unknown about the origins of the investigation, hurting Jewish groups’ ability to respond and defend one of the most prominent organizations in the community.

While they work to exonerate AIPAC in the public eye, Jewish leaders say they also must make sure the issue won’t affect the way they do business. Groups worry that they, too, could be targeted for investigation or left to deal with potentially changed perceptions of the organized American Jewish community.

Jewish leaders said talks are ongoing as to new ways to defend AIPAC and the Jewish community in both public and private contexts.

Quietly, there is deep concern in Jewish circles about the effect the investigation will have, no matter how it plays out, on Jewish groups’ ability to function. With the summer ending and many people in Washington returning to work, the next few weeks will be an important test for how the organized Jewish community is perceived in the capital.

"It really has done a considerable amount of harm, no matter what the outcome is," said Barry Jacobs, director of strategic studies at the American Jewish Committee.

Chief among the concerns is whether other Jewish entities might be under investigation without their knowledge, or are being monitored in relation to this case.

"If they are watching AIPAC, how many other Jewish organizations are they watching as well?" asked Tom Neumann, executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).

Confident they have nothing to hide, Jewish leaders say they won’t change the way they do business. But the case could serve as a guide to reinforce to Jewish officials the need to play by the rules on security matters.

Beyond security concerns, Jewish leaders worry that now they may be seen differently when they walk into a room with governmental officials or people unfamiliar with different groups in the community.

"They don’t necessarily know the difference between AIPAC and JCPA and the federations," said Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Congressional officials say they’ll take a wait-and-see approach toward AIPAC, but are skeptical about the investigation. One Democratic congressional aide said if the issue under scrutiny was a policy discussion about Iran, as has been reported, the line between legal and illegal dialogue is pretty thin.

Publicly, Jewish leaders remain solidly behind AIPAC. Several Jewish organizations have released statements supporting the work AIPAC has done over the years, and most others have expressed similar thoughts when asked by reporters.

AIPAC is one of the best-known Jewish organizations in the country, respected for its strong ties to government officials, especially members of Congress. While some Jewish groups resent AIPAC’s ability to set the Jewish community’s agenda on Middle East matters, or don’t always agree with its tactics, there is strong sentiment that any negative attention for AIPAC will hurt all Jewish groups’ efforts.

Some Jewish leaders say the initial feeling in the community was that it was better not to speak out — not because of a lack of support for AIPAC but in hopes of minimizing media coverage of the story. But now that more than 300 articles already have been written on the issue in American newspapers, that thinking has changed.

Jewish leaders now are minimizing the investigation, suggesting it can’t be of real merit because it has been going on for two years without arrests. They also note that if there were merit to the case it’s unlikely that President Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice would have addressed the group after the investigation was launched. Rice reportedly was aware of the investigation.

If the FBI is pursuing an intelligence investigation, as is believed, and not a criminal investigation, it’s hard to know what launched it. The guidelines for that type of investigation are classified, a former senior FBI official said.

He said it would be normal for the investigation to go on for a long time without arrests, though it would have be to reviewed and adjudicated internally at the FBI or Justice Department.

"AIPAC is not a soft target," the official said. "To launch an investigation against AIPAC, you are going to have to have some credible information to go with it."

Once an investigation is launched, its direction can be tailored by people who might be out to prove — because of bias or in the interest of catching a big fish — that AIPAC acted illegally, Jewish leaders said.

There also is concern that the saga may not have a succinct end.

It may be difficult to learn when the investigation into AIPAC is completed, if no charges are filed, and its exact origins — information Jewish leaders say would be useful in clearing the name of AIPAC and the community in general.

"I don’t think there is a great deal of trust in an investigation in this political climate," said Rosenthal of the JCPA. "I hope we find out the facts and find out why someone would start this story."

For now, theories abound. Some suggest anti-Semitic or anti-Israel entities within the government are propelling the investigation forward or leaking it to the media. Others suggest that opponents of the war in Iraq are trying to tie some of its key architects — so-called "neoconservatives" in the Pentagon — to Israel and to possible dual loyalties.

AIPAC is hoping to weather the storm by proving its strength as an organization. In an appeal to contributors Tuesday, AIPAC leaders said decisionmakers in Washington will look at AIPAC’s financial strength to gauge its overall viability.

"We cannot abide any suggestion that American citizens should be perceived as being involved in illegal activities simply for seeking to participate in the decisions of their elected leaders, or the officials who work for them," read the letter, signed by AIPAC’s president, Bernice Manocherian, and executive director, Howard Kohr. "That is our right as citizens of the greatest democracy in the history of mankind. That is a right we will proudly exercise. That is a right we will staunchly defend."

IDF at Odds With Militant Activists

The bad blood between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and a group of international pro-Palestinian activists continues to grow as more members of the group are injured in Israeli anti-terror operations.

A British activist was shot in the head last Friday as a group of foreign and Palestinian protesters approached a unit of Israeli tanks posted near the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. The incident ignited a crossfire of words and accusations between the IDF and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).

Thomas Hurndall, 21, from England, suffered a head injury that left him brain dead. He was the third casualty from the ISM in a month.

The ISM is a movement of international activists working for "Palestinian freedom and an end to Israeli occupation," according to its mission statement, sometimes through illegal protests and rallies.

Though members of the group call themselves peace activists, they work only to protect Palestinians from Israeli anti-terror actions, making no attempt to protect Israelis from Palestinian violence.

Hurndall was shot when a sniper on an IDF tank allegedly fired on a group of protesters marching toward them in an effort to thwart an IDF incursion into Rafah. This Palestinian city, which straddles the Gaza-Egyptian border, is one of the main zones for arms smuggling into Palestinian areas. The IDF said a tank fired only one round in the area that day. It had targeted and killed a Palestinian sniper who was hiding in the upper stories of a nearby apartment building, firing at a column of armored vehicles, military sources said.

Still, Hurndall’s shooting is a disturbing addition to a string of recent bloody confrontations between the IDF and the ISM.

Only a few hundred yards from where Friday’s incident took place, American activist Rachel Corrie, 23, was killed several weeks ago when she tried to prevent a bulldozer from demolishing a terrorist’s home. Witnesses said the bulldozer crushed Corrie, a student from Olympia, Wash., and immediately backed up. The army, which characterized the death as an accident, said the driver didn’t see Corrie.

Last week, Bryan Avery, 24, of Albuquerque, was shot in the face while walking with a fellow activist in the West Bank city of Jenin. The IDF said it was not aware that Israeli soldiers had shot Avery, but said soldiers had been targeting Palestinian gunmen in the area.

"This goes beyond the pale," ISM leader Tom Wallace said. "It was a sniper [that shot Hurndall], and we know from experience they don’t miss. The photograph clearly shows that he was wearing a bright orange vest, that he was clearly not a combatant. This man was going to pick up a child."

Wallace said he considers the shooting a criminal act.

According to ISM activists and an Associated Press photographer, Hurndall ran to scoop up a child out of harm’s way when he was shot in the back of the head.

While the IDF has expressed sorrow at the chain of injuries, it says ISM activists increasingly cross the line of neutrality. One example occurred on March 27, when IDF forces launched a manhunt for a top Islamic Jihad terrorist in Jenin.

Intelligence information led the IDF to believe that Shadi Sukia was being hidden in a Jenin compound that holds a bank, a Red Cross office and the ISM office. After combing the entire building and finding nothing, the soldiers asked two ISM activists if they could search their offices. ISM coordinator Susan Barcley refused. The soldiers insisted, forcing their way in. The intelligence information proved correct: Sukia had taken shelter with the ISM. Both he and Barcley were arrested.

"Many of the ISM activists are nothing short of provocateurs," an IDF source said. "They try to incite the Palestinians. They’re almost spoiling for a fight."

An infamous photograph of Corrie, for example, shows her with her head covered like a religious Muslim woman, burning a mock American flag in the Gaza Strip. The IDF source intimated that Corrie’s death, though regrettable, was preventable.

"That day they were running amok around the soldiers, not letting them do anything. Even when the armored units pulled back, they chased them," the source said.

Some of ISM’s tactics are daring, Wallace admitted. Others might call them downright foolish.

"ISM’ers often break curfew, just to show how ridiculous it is and because curfews are illegal according to international law," Wallace told JTA.

The IDF source said the army maintains close relations with many humanitarian organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, but has yet to find a modus vivendi with the ISM.

"If the ISM’ers in Jenin had nothing to hide, why prevent the soldiers from coming in [when they were looking for Sukia]?" the IDF source asked.