Sharon in '73: No senior brass in field

Testimonies from Agranat War C'tee reveal tension, confusion in top IDF ranks during Yom Kippur War.

By
October 7, 2008 14:31
3 minute read.
Sharon in '73: No senior brass in field

yom kippur war 224.88. (photo credit: AP [file])

 
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Thirty-five years after the Yom Kippur War, testimonies from the Agranat Commission were released for publication Tuesday, revealing tension, confusion and disharmony in the top IDF ranks throughout one of Israel's costliest wars. The Agranat Commission was set up by the government to investigate the IDF's conduct before and during the 1973 war. In his testimony to the commission, former prime minister Ariel Sharon - commander of Division 431 in the Southern Command during the war - slammed the top IDF brass and told the panel, "What caused the most damage during the war was the absence of senior officers from the field." During the war, 2,656 soldiers were killed and another 7,250 were wounded. The commission released its interim report in April 1974, after which then-chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. David Elazar and then-prime minister Golda Meir both resigned. "The chain of command was distorted," Sharon said. "There was a problem that orders were not obeyed and I don't think that this war is the hardest we have yet to face." He gave as an example a push into Egypt made by two divisions on October 8, 1973. "The commander of the Southern Command [Maj.-Gen. Shmuel Gonen] should have been there and if not him then at least his deputy - someone needed to coordinate between the forces," he said. Sharon said that when his division was called up for duty on October 7, he called Gonen and said that in his opinion, the top IDF command was unfamiliar with what was happening on the ground in the south. "I advised him to order all of the commanders to leave the command center and join their forces in the field to get a better sense of what is happening," Sharon said. "the pictures were very difficult particularly in light of the losses we had already suffered." Sharon was reserve general who had finished his term as commander of the Southern Command in July, three months before the war. He was called up to command a division and later commanded the crossing of the Suez Canal, an operation that was pivotal in ending the war and defeating the Egyptians. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, IDF brigade commanders came under heavy criticism for sitting in command centers where they watched operations on plasma TV screens instead of being in the field with their units. Based on Sharon's testimony, this was not a new problem. "I had a feeling that to meet the challenges the only way was to set an example," Sharon said in 1974. "As a result, I decided to be with my men and to share the burden equally." Elazar accused then-defense minister Moshe Dayan of thwarting a preemptive strike against Egypt that could have changed the way the war opened. "The defense minister gave a preemptive strike to the preemptive strike," Elazar told the Agranat Commission. "He said that we cannot do it this time. According to the information we had at the time [of the cabinet meeting], he said we cannot strike even five minutes before the war begins." Elazar also told the committee how Dayan thwarted his suggestion to call up the reserves on the eve of the war and only agreed to draft the air force and two armored divisions - one for the north and one for the south. He added that Dayan had refused to call up any reservists to respond to a possible Jordanian attack. In his testimony, also released Tuesday, Dayan explained his objection to calling up the reserves. He presented the committee with an intelligence report that was written several months before the war and concluded that Israel had strong enough forces to hold back an initial attack in the south. Asked by the committee if he thought it was possible that there would not be a war, Dayan said that there was such an assessment, since the information indicating an imminent war had been received from an intelligence source. "We received word that the war would break out at 6 p.m. from a certain man in a certain city," he said. "But there was no indication on the ground to back that up, so the question was whether the intelligence was reliable or not and until they opened fire, it wasn't."

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