'There is going to be a war tonight' - Israel opens Yom Kippur War archive

Moshe Dayan: ‘What am I most afraid of in my heart? That the State of Israel will eventually be left with insufficient weapons to defend itself’

 IDF medical crew evacuating an injured soldier from the battle field during Yom Kippur War (photo credit: IDF FLICKR)
IDF medical crew evacuating an injured soldier from the battle field during Yom Kippur War
(photo credit: IDF FLICKR)
The Defense Ministry has published new archival material describing the drama of the critical hours prior to the outbreak of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
“There is going to be a war tonight,” said IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. David “Dado” Elazar at 4:30 a.m. on October 6, 1973, the day the war broke out, to commander of the IAF Maj.-Gen. Benny Peled and the head of Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Eli Zeira. “There are military signs, moves and reports that should be taken seriously.”
An hour later, Elazar warned Zeira that the military should go on high alert and mobilize thousands of reservists.
At 7:15 that morning, in another meeting with commanders, Elazar concluded: “If no preventative strike will be approved by noon, we will be on immediate alert,” since it was estimated that the war would break out at 6 p.m. Elazar also addressed the issue of evacuating civilians from the Golan Heights to the center of the country.
“I am aware of the political limits of this, but when we are confident that a war is going to break out, it is important that we win as fast as possible,” he said.
The Yom Kippur War came almost as a complete surprise to Israel. A warning notice was given too late for an orderly call-up of the reserves, before the Syrian and Egyptian armies launched a joint surprise attack on IDF positions in the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula.
The transcripts released by the Defense Ministry showed that the day before the outbreak of the war, Elazar informed Dayan of plans to cross the Suez, plans that he said the IDF “will need a few days conditional on the disruption of the Egyptian defensive line.”
A few hours before the war broke out, deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. Israel Tal announced that between 15,000 and 18,000 reservists needed to be mobilized immediately.
An hour-and-a-half before the outbreak of the war at 12:20 p.m., a briefing was held with the head of the Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Shmuel Gonen, who reported that the Egyptians were going to open fire on Israel “immediately.”
Gonen had been viewed as a rising star in the military, and had been awarded a citation for bravery as a captain who led the IDF’s Seventh Brigade through the Sinai Desert in the 1967 Six Day War. Four days into the Yom Kippur War, he was relieved of his command and replaced by former chief of General Staff Gen. (Res.) Chaim Bar-Lev.
In the transcripts released on Monday, defense minister Moshe Dayan told Bar-Lev on October 10 that he “more than admired” him, and couldn’t fully trust Gonen or Ariel Sharon, who was brought back into the military to command the 143rd Armored Division. Sharon is remembered by many as a hero of the war, for commanding the crossing of the Suez Canal leading to the encirclement and defeat of the Egyptian forces.
A day before Dayan asked Bar-Lev to take command of the Southern Front, Sharon attacked the Egyptians in contravention of orders. He lost 20 tanks in the process, most of which were abandoned in enemy territory.
“It’s a war crime,” Elazar said on October 9, according to the transcripts. “Today, he went against orders and fought a big battle – against orders – and lied to Gorodish [Gonen]. And I’m listening to him on the radio, and I see that he’s lying to me. And now he’s asking for permission to cross to the second bank” of the Suez Canal.
“Will you accept the Southern Command... to take matters into your own hands?” Dayan told Bar-Lev over the phone the day after that incident. “I don’t even know what to do there...
“Not in order to get things done, but how in the long-term we need to economize things in order to have a good ending [to the war.] I’m very worried that from here it didn’t stop and I won’t do it, we can’t do it... and those who are there, if it’s Gurudish [Gonen] or if it’s Arik [Sharon] and so on, I don’t trust them.”
The Egyptians and the Syrians both made significant initial gains during the first days of the war. The Egyptians crossed the Suez Canal while the Syrians overran the Golan Heights. Within days, the IDF counterattacked.
 “There will be no retreat from the Golan Heights,” Dayan was quoted as saying in the transcripts about the Northern Front. “We are fighting until the last man.”
The war lasting until October 26 has gone down in Israel’s history as a failure which saw 2,688 IDF soldiers killed, thousands more wounded and hundreds captured. More than 1,000 tanks and hundreds of aircraft were destroyed or damaged.
“What am I most afraid of in my heart?” Dayan said in the transcripts about the heavy losses suffered by the Air Force and Armored Corps. “That the State of Israel will eventually be left with insufficient weapons to defend itself. It doesn’t matter where the line is. We will not have enough tanks and planes, and there will be no one able to defend the Land of Israel.”
Dayan then told the military’s top brass to consider enlisting youth and the elderly “as reservists in order to put them into tanks, in the air, whatever is needed. We’ll get tanks [from the United States] and there won’t be people. Take the elderly people we’ve released, take the young we haven’t yet taken from age 17.”
Israel hoped that the United States and European countries would provide weapons and support for the IDF, which Elazar said on October 8 needed 300 to 500 tanks, 48 McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II fighter jets, and 24 Douglas A-4 Skyhawk jets “pretty soon.”
According to an intelligence report that was seen by both Dayan and Elazar a day before the outbreak of the war and released by the Defense Ministry on Monday, the likelihood of a war breaking out was low on both fronts.
“At this stage, there are no signs of concrete preparations for initiating action by the Egyptian air force, though the steps taken do improve their capability to switch into operational activities,” the report noted about the Southern Front.
Regarding the North, there was a “feeling among Syrian officers and soldiers that large-scale fighting is expected, with no explanation for who will initiate it and what the background for it will be.”
Nevertheless, “the likelihood that the Egyptians intend to renew fighting is low… The likelihood of an independent Syrian action (without the Egyptians) remains low,” it said.
Military Intelligence was faulted for failing to sound the alarm in time about the movements of enemy forces, leading to the resignation of Elazar and several other commanders, including Gonen and Zeira.