17 Сивана 5784 г., первый день недели, гл. Шлах

The Possible Preventive Strike in the Yom Kippur War (I)

On the southern front, the Egyptian army crossed the Suez Canal swiftly and almost without casualties, pushing deep into the Sinai Peninsula before the Israeli reservists got there.

03.01.2023 443 (0)
The Possible Preventive Strike in the Yom Kippur War (I)
The Possible Preventive Strike in the Yom Kippur War (I)

During the Yom Kippur War, the people of Israel confronted one of the greatest threats to their existence in the last 30 years. On the northern front, the Syrian army had broken through the defense line in the southern Golan Heights, and its forward units were only seven kilometers from Lake Kinneret.

On the southern front, the Egyptian army crossed the Suez Canal swiftly and almost without casualties, pushing deep into the Sinai Peninsula before the Israeli reservists got there.

Our planes, desperate to hold back the enemy offensive, took heavy fire from rockets and anti-aircraft guns and were only able to provide partial assistance to the ground forces, who themselves were under severe attack.

Could this scenario have been avoided? Apparently so!

Over the years, numerous intelligence and army records, transcripts of government meetings and the Prime Minister’s cabinet have been made public. Material from foreign sources has also become available showing what decisions were made by the Arab leaders and superpowers` governments of the time.

According to all this data, it is clear that the Israeli political leadership received a warning about the war from the head of the Mossad, Zvi Zamir, on the night of Yom Kippur and deliberately decided to “skip the strike”, letting the Arabs begin the war first, instead of letting our army launch a preventive strike. This was done because of the anxiety of the Israeli leadership about the reaction of the international community.

The Chief of Staff insists on a preventive strike

Having received the warning of the imminent Arab attack at 4:30 on Yom Kippur day, the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Force, David (“Dado”) Elazar first called Major General Benjamin Peled, the commander of the air force.

The reason why the air force chief was the first to hear this important news was that in case of an expected enemy attack it was the aviation that was to play the most important role in the Israeli army’s concept of defence. Moreover, since the war was to begin within a day, it was clear that the reserve ground forces would not have enough time to take part in the first containment battles, while the air force, which relied heavily on active duty and professional pilots and flight technicians, could prepare and deploy much more rapidly.

In addition, it is clear that it takes long hours to deliver tanks and APCs to the front lines, whereas military aircraft have the ability to fly to the enemy and attack them within minutes. In other words, the air force can strike the enemy in a relatively short period of time. Moreover, the air force is also capable of moving rapidly from one battleground to another, so it could strike both the Syrian and Egyptian armies quickly.

The Chief of Staff himself explained it this way: “We have always seen the Air Force as a critical element of containment... We have always relied on the assumption that the Air Force should have the time and take the initiative to attack missiles and missile complexes in Egypt and Syria, thus achieving freedom of action, and only then being able to respond sufficiently... meaning the Air Force can... defeat missile complexes and enemy air forces, and then be free to provide effective assistance.”

(From the 1,350-page study “The Yom Kippur War” — Decisions made by the General Staff of IDF during the Yom Kippur War — compiled by Lt. Col. Shimon Golan from IDF documents, testimonies of senior commanders, commanders’ notes and diaries, transcripts of the Army Central Headquarters, the Intelligence Department and other reliable sources.)

During the conversation, the Air Force Commander and the Chief of Staff agreed that a preventive strike should be launched against the Syrian SAM system and the Syrian Air Force. The reason why the Syrian army was " given priority" over the far more powerful Egyptian army was the closer proximity of Syria to the population centers of Israel, especially the villages in the Golan Heights and cities in the north of the country.

Immediately after the call, the commander of the air force gave the order, according to which the air force began preparations for a preventive strike against the Syrian missile installations.

Attacking anti-aircraft systems — a war of attrition

In order to properly understand the importance of the preventive strike that the Air Force was about to launch against enemy missile batteries, it is worth shortly exploring the development of the air campaign against anti-aircraft missile systems during the War of Attrition (1967-1970) and especially after it.

In fact, the War of Attrition provided the Air Force with an excellent chance to measure the performance of enemy surface-to-air missile systems. During the Six-Day War, the Air Force had no such opportunity, simply because Syria had no anti-aircraft missiles at all and Egypt had only a small amount of batteries that didn’t appear to be a serious problem.

However, this situation changed dramatically during the War of Attrition, which resulted in the development of a massive ground-to-air SAM force in Egypt as well as in Syria.

The number of SAM batteries in Egypt reached 146! Ten of them were equipped with the latest missiles, given to Egypt by the Soviet Union just before the war: the SA-6 (“Kub” — a Soviet surface-to-air missile system for military air defense).

In Syria, where the front line with Israel was much tighter than the Egyptian, and its army far smaller than the Egyptian army, the formed air defense force was limited to 36 anti-aircraft batteries.

But it was a system that reliably protected the Syrian forces which were going to infiltrate the Golan Heights, and it included 15 batteries of the latest Soviet model, the SA-6.

As already mentioned above, in the War of Attrition our air force had to confront surface-to-air missile defenses more than once. In this war, the Israeli Air Force acted with great success both in the Suez Canal and behind it, attacking strategic targets deep in Egypt. During the 13 months of fighting in the War of Attrition our military aviation succeeded in flying over 10,500 missions and dropping approximately 50,000 bombs.

In the beginning, our air force clearly gained superiority over our enemy in the War of Attrition. This was evident both by the number of Egyptian fighters shot down, by destroyed anti-aircraft missile systems, and by the attacks on Egyptian ground forces. Later, however, the Soviets began to take part in the fighting. The Soviet Union deployed a military force of 32,000 troops in Egypt, with dozens of advanced missile batteries and three Soviet fighter squadrons. After that, our air force, as directed by the political elite, began to reduce its raids deep into Egypt.

At this stage the Israeli Air Force concentrated its efforts on fighting the Egyptian missile batteries, which the Egyptians began to deploy closer and closer to the Suez Canal. Egypt wanted to position its missile batteries as close to the Suez Canal as possible to create a situation where our air force would face an obstacle of anti-aircraft fire, right on the border, the Egyptian side of the canal, and thus would not be able to break deep into Egypt.

Moreover, the Egyptians intended to bring their missiles closer to the canal so that later, as part of the big war against Israel, which they had already planned at that time, it would be possible to cross the canal and push into the Sinai Peninsula under the dense cover of anti-aircraft fire protecting their ground troops.

Needless to say, our air force did everything in its power to prevent such scenario, and made enormous efforts to do so, which, despite the use of technological advances and American assistance, was accompanied by considerable risk to the lives of our pilots.

The French embargo on arms supplies to Israel resulted instead in the United States gradually becoming the main supplier of arms and military equipment to the Jewish state, additionally viewing Israel as an important outpost against the Soviet Union expansionist ambitions in the Middle East.

During and after the War of Attrition, the United States provided Israel with modern radar systems, air traffic control systems, intelligence and communications systems, seven “Hawk” missile batteries (American medium-range surface-to-air missile systems), 76 helicopters and various electronic warfare systems capable of knocking out the radar and communications systems.

Our Air Force also adopted the latest “McDonnell-Douglas F-4” (“Phantom-2”), a third-generation two-seat tactical fighter, as well as many “Skyhawk” jets, American light deck assault aircrafts; in addition, a number of technological means and special anti-missile techniques were developed.

The country’s best engineers worked with the best pilots to develop these desperately needed anti-missile techniques, and indeed the Egyptian missile systems suffered heavy losses. It is estimated that in the final stages of the War of Attrition, about 4,000 Egyptian soldiers were killed in battles between Egyptian air defenses and our air force.

It is known that the War of Attrition ended precisely when the Israeli government decided to accept the American suggestion for a cease-fire. This Israeli decision was made by the same people, Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who, on the starting point of the Yom Kippur War, rejected using a preventive strike against the enemy armies.

And it was this decision for which Israel ended up paying a very high price in the Yom Kippur War.

As part of the cease-fire agreement, the Egyptians, according to the American guarantee, had to remain in place and no longer move their anti-aircraft batteries toward the Suez Canal.

However, just exactly one day after the cease-fire agreement came into force, the Egyptians broke it and began to move quickly their anti-aircraft missiles in the direction of the canal. Israel reported to the Americans that the Egyptians were in serious violation of the cease-fire, but the United States kept quiet. There has been no strong reaction from the American administration, which initiated and was the guarantor of the agreement itself, in response to the violation.

Indeed, as soon as it became known that the agreement was to be signed (and even before the Egyptians had violated it by moving their air defense batteries towards the Suez Canal), the Lubavitcher Rebbe King Moshiach SHLITA warned Israel against entering into any agreement, explaining that Egypt wanted a cease-fire only to begin preparing for the next war and to move their forces back to canal. The Lubavitcher Rebbe tried his best to prevent the signing of that agreement, but when it was signed, the Rebbe tried his best to ensure that if Egypt violated the agreement, Israel would also have the right to do so and immediately attack the Egyptian forces approaching the canal.

Unfortunately, the Israeli government chose to bury its head in the sand. It did the same thing later, on the very edge of the Yom Kippur war, when it was already clear that war was imminent. Despite the obvious proximity of the war outbreak, the government refused to carry out a preventive strike against the Egyptian and Syrian forces with our army (more about this in the second part of this article). In addition, the “Gahal” bloc (the political bloc of the Israeli parties: the right-wing Herut party, headed by Menachem Begin, and the larger part of the Liberal party), the future nucleus of the present Likud party, then left the unity government because of its consistent objection to the cease-fire.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe then stated painfully: “How many sacrifices we have made in an effort to prevent Egypt from deploying missile systems! Now it is clear to everyone that Egypt needs the cease-fire only to strengthen its military positions near the Suez Canal. Even the ‘Phantom’ jets will not help in this situation. Every day they move their missile launchers closer to the canal, who knows how many casualties we will suffer because of this in the future!”

As mentioned above, immediately after the cease-fire agreement was signed, Egypt violated it. The Soviet-Egyptian anti-aircraft missile system, which included dozens of anti-aircraft batteries and hundreds of anti-aircraft guns, quickly moved closer to the canal and was deployed alongside it.

In this way Egypt achieved what it wanted — a massive anti-aircraft system (the power of which increased even more over time) to protect its forces around the canal. This is what made it possible for the Egyptians to break into the Sinai during the Yom Kippur War without having the fear of the Israeli air force’s superiority.

The Egyptian anti-aircraft missile system, about 30-50 km from the canal, was deployed within days, reinforced by trench and fortification systems in the canal area, and became a serious threat for several dozen kilometers of Israeli airspace over the Sinai.

Our air force faced a serious problem. The Egyptian missile system was deployed right in front of our border, while the hands of air force commander were tied by the political leadership, who demanded that we should not respond to Egypt’s serious violations and the huge risk that the Egyptian air defense system now presented to Israeli jets in the airspace of Israeli territory.

In this way the direct path to the Yom Kippur war was paved.

Translated by D. Bilyayev From Возможный превентивный удар в канун войны Судного дня (часть I) Comments: 0

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