Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

The Yom Kippur War-A struggle for survival against all odds


The 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War occurs this year. The war was launched in 1973 in a surprise attack by Syria and Egypt on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Even though the signs of an imminent attack were noted by the Israeli intelligence, the Israeli government decided to ignore them for political and strategic reasons. Consequently, the country’s borders were very sparsely defended, creating a dangerous void on the front. The invading armies outnumbered the Israelis at a ratio of 100 to one in manpower and 10 to one in armor and artillery.

Since the bulk of the Israel army is made of reservists, it took two days for them to mobilize and deploy. During these critical days it was only the vastly outnumbered soldiers in the front and Israeli pilots that held the line and stalled the attackers. It was their heroism and determination that saved the country from being overrun. Their devotion and sacrifice compensated for the lack of sufficient equipment and supplies. The strategic depth of the Sinai desert and Golan Heights also provided the country the time needed to mobilize the reservists.

This war posed the most serious threat to the existence of Israel in modern history. Even though Israel was eventually able to achieve a military victory, the country paid a steep price, both in lives lost and in the citizenry’s confidence in their leaders and themselves. Almost 3000 soldiers gave their lives; which is a ratio of one per 1000 Israelis; a steep and painful price for a nation of three million. Over 10,000 were wounded in the 17 days of fighting. Almost every household and neighborhood was affected. The pain and sorrow was and still is very searing. Deep within the psyche of the nation, this conflict shattered conventional wisdom that the country was invincible. It also illustrated the importance of having secure and defendable borders and the need to prevent such deadly attacks. It highlighted the urgent need for a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors. An important outcome of the Yom Kippur War was the creation of a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt that was signed in 1979 and ended 31 years of conflict between the two nations.

The help provided by the United States was also very instrumental in helping Israel prevail. The ammunition, spare parts, armor and fighter jets reached Israel at a very critical moment replenishing the heavy losses and enabling Israel not only to repel the attackers but go on the offensive ending the war 65 miles from Cairo and 25 miles from Damascus. Also the political and military commitments by the United States countered the Soviet Union who threatened to intervene to assist their Arab surrogates.

I was a battalion physician during the Yom Kippur War. Like thousands of Israelis I join my battalion which was assigned to supply the armored corps with ammunition, fuel, water and food. We rushed to the front to head off the attack hoping to protect our families and our nation. The war was difficult and trying. The soldiers of my battalion risked their lives throughout the war replenishing tanks with fuel and ammunition under enemy fire. I watched them as they overcame the many difficulties and performed their mission, despite constant danger, as they heroically conquered their fears and anxieties. Many of them paid the ultimate price doing that. I had to cope with my soldiers’ war injuries and battle strain. It was a daily struggle for survival in the war zone requiring resourcefulness and performance despite fear and anxiety and loses of friends. This war changed my definition of courage. It is the performing one’s duty despite one’s fear.

For Jews who have lived through the Yom Kippur War, the holiest of the High Holy days will never be the same. For us, it stands not only as a day of atonement but as day of gratitude to God for the miracle of survival. It is also a time for remembering those who paid the ultimate price for preserving and protecting Israel, and will always commemorate a renewed commitment to preventing Israel from ever experiencing such a peril in the future.

Dr. Itzhak Brook retired from the U.S. Navy in 2006, after 27 years of service. He is a professor of Pediatrics at Georgetown University and the author of the book: “In the Sands of Sinai- A Physician’s Account of the Yom Kippur War.” The book can be read and/or obtained at: http://yomkippurwarphysiciansaccount.blogspot.com.


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