Despite terror warnings and the opposition of senior defense officials, close to 150 former IDF soldiers and officers traveled to Egypt on Sunday to participate in a historic reunion with Egyptian soldiers whom they fought against during the bloody Chinese Farm battle in the Yom Kippur War.
Arranged by the Defense Ministry, the group led by former senior IDF officers, including Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Mordechai, a former defense minister, was scheduled to meet with its former enemies in Taba on Sunday. On Monday, they were to continue together to the Chinese Farm, a vast patch of desert on the east bank of the Suez Canal.
The battle at the Chinese Farm during the 1973 war enabled the crossing of the Suez Canal, and while it cost Israel dozens of casualties and tanks, it was seen as a turning point in the course of the war.
The trip was almost canceled, The Jerusalem Post learned, after Brig.-Gen. (res.) Danny Arditi, head of the Counterterrorism Bureau of the National Security Council, warned of growing attempts by Islamic terrorist groups to perpetrate attacks against Israelis in Egypt. The visit was under the tight security of the Egyptian Secret Service.
"I saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity," said Shlomo Gilad, who participated in the battle to cross the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War. "It was important for me to see the battlefield one last time."
But not all of the former soldiers felt the need to travel to Egypt. One soldier said he decided not to go due to the terror warnings. "It would have been interesting to go," he said, "but I didn't think it was worth risking my life."
One Defense Ministry official who coordinated the trip with the Egyptians called the visit "historic and unprecedented." Egypt, he said, was interested in enhancing its ties with Israel, especially following Hamas's win in last week's Palestinian Legislative Council elections.
"This is the first time soldiers are going back to the Chinese Farm," he said. "It is an important visit and signifies the close relations we have with the Egyptians."
In October, Arditi urged Israelis to leave the Sinai, citing specific information Israel had received regarding a kidnapping plan, including a target and its location. He said the Egyptians were aware of the plan and were moving against terrorist cells in the Sinai region.
Thirty-four people were killed, including 12 Israelis, in two terrorist attacks at the Taba Hilton and the Ras as-Satan resorts in the Sinai in 2004. In July, 88 people were killed and hundreds wounded in an attack in Sharm e-Sheikh.