from the heart of jerusalem

Victory’s brilliance can blind to future dangers


There is a mystical idea which suggests that hidden within every fire of destruction is the spark of redemption.

Such, for example, was the case on Aug. 3, 1492, which was also the Ninth of Av, the anniversary of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem. On that day, the Inquisition was imposed on the 250,000 Spanish Jews who faced the choice of expulsion, conversion or death.

On that fateful August morning in 1492, the very day 80,000 Jews followed Don Yitzchak Abarbanel across the border into Portugal, and thousands of boats filled the harbor setting sail with the better part of the Spanish Jewry — that same morning, Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria sailed out of the harbor to discover a new world which would one day save the remnants of the Jewish people from the Holocaust.

And just as the fire of destruction hides within it the spark of redemption, so too, the fertile fields of victory hide within them the potential dust of defeat. Thus, it was the mood created by Israel’s lightning victory in the six-day war of 1967 that bred the overconfidence, which allowed for the debacle of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Yanosh, and the story of the seventh brigade, is a case in point. As the summer of 1973 wound down, the seventh brigade, one of the Israeli armored corps units whose battles in 1948 are the stuff of legends, was stationed on the Bar Lev line, along the Suez Canal.

On the eve of Rosh Hashana, the brigade was given a week’s leave for the holidays and a skeleton crew was left behind for guard duty. As the men headed off for R&R all over the country, Yanosh, the brigade commander, stopped off in the General Staff base in Tel Aviv. For Yanosh, a full bird colonel, it was an ingrained habit to keep abreast of intelligence reports.

What he saw alarmed him: Egyptian and Syrian troop buildups along the Suez Canal and in the Golan Heights, a great increase in Arab military radio traffic, and an unusual amount of activity in the Arab airfields. Two weeks before that fateful Yom Kippur, Yanosh became convinced the country was headed for war.

He immediately went to the Central Command radio room and put in a call to his division commander, advising him of his opinion, and asking for a first-stage general call up of critical reserves, and the recall of all the troops that had been given leave that very afternoon.

But that is a lot of work, and intelligence reports can be interpreted in different ways, so the Division Commander disagreed. Yanosh had somewhat of a reputation as an impulsive firebrand, and didn’t give up easily, convinced as he was that his country was in grave danger, and going over his commander’s head, he appealed to the Commander of central command, then the chief intelligence officer of the IDF, and finally the chief of general staff himself, commander of the entire Israeli army at the time, Dado Elazar. But no one wanted to listen.

Flushed with the success of the Six Day War, Israel could not imagine the same Arab armies poised ready to destroy the state of Israel, and so the phone calls were not made, the highways remained silent, and Israeli troops went on leave for the holidays.

In retrospect, one opinion in the intelligence community is that the Arabs wanted to see over the Rosh Hashana holiday whether a major troop buildup would cause the Israelis to keep more troops on alert. The results were the last stage of the Arab decision to go to war. And the Israelis were still sleeping.

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Yanosh finally concluded no one was listening, but the continued reports of major troop buildups would not allow him to let it go. Finally, he decided that at the very least he commanded his own brigade and that was better than nothing.

The situation in the North, along the Golan Heights was more tenuous than in the south, as there was no buffer zone in the North. If Yanosh was right, and Egyptian troops came pouring across the Suez Canal, at least they would still have hundreds of kilometers of desert to negotiate before arriving at Israeli cities and towns. In the Golan, half an hour on tank treads from Tiberias, Israel had no such luxury.

So Yanosh decided to rotate his brigade north to the Golan Heights, and eventually the high command acquiesced.

Recalling an entire brigade, spread out on holiday leave all over the country, getting them all the way down to the southern tip of the Sinai, and then transferring an entire armored brigade the length of the country north up into the Golan heights was no easy task. Everyone thought Yanosh was mad, and this move did not bolster his image in the eyes of his men, who had just lost a week’s leave But this single Brigade Commander’s determination and conviction brought an entire brigade on line in the north, three days before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War.

Then, when 2,000 Syrian tanks poured across the border on the afternoon of Oct. 6, instead of 75 Israeli tanks, there were 150 on line, something that made all the difference.

Hidden in the brilliance of the 1967 victory, was the spark that would blind so many to what was coming a short six years later. And, as well, the same character traits of pride and conviction, which blinded so many, were also the seeds of conviction that had one man in the right place, at the right time.

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This week’s portion, Nitzavim, is viewed by many as the consolation of G-d for the difficult verses in last week’s portion, Ki Tavoh. After hearing all of the calamitous events (the Tochacha, or curses) that will occur to the Jewish people in the event they stray from their mission, this week, Moshe comforts and assuages the pain by telling them:

Atem Nitzavim HaYom Kulchem Lifnei’ Hashem Elokeichem (You are standing today, all of you, before the Lord your G-d) (Devarim 29:9)

No matter what you will or may go through, and how you may disappoint G-d, He will always love you, and you will remain close to Him. It behooves us to recall, as a generation that has seen so many modern day miracles, that things are not always as they seem.

This column was previously published.