No war left the Israeli society more traumatized and in search of leadership and guidance than the October War, which began on the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Forty years ago to the date, a well-coordinated Egyptian and Syrian military attack caught Israel by complete surprise, and shook Israel’s society and political system to the core. The Day of Atonement of 1973 was different from any one before or after it. It is usually the most sombre of days in the Jewish calendar during which many Jews around the world fast and pray, and beg for forgiveness. In Israel there is an eerie atmosphere, normal life stops for a day, as cars are not driven and thousands and thousands of people flock to synagogues, many wearing their prayer shawls. October 6, 1973 was very different.
Some still fail to learn the lesson of these dark days back in October 1973.Yossi Mekelberg
Israel’s failure to detect the war plans in Cairo and Damascus was due to a combination of intelligence breakdown and political misperception. The roots of the Israeli psyche which led to the October 1973 surprise can be traced to a large extent to their victory in the 1967 Six Day War. Back then the Israeli army managed to win a war on three fronts, and within six days the territory of the country was quadrupled. Erroneously it gave Israeli society a sense of invincibility, which resulted in complacency and perhaps even arrogance. By the end of the war Israel found itself with strategic depth stretching from Sharam el-Sheikh in the south to the Hermon Mountain in the North. Moreover, with the occupation of the West Bank, it was also the beginning of messianic Zionism among some quarters of religious national movement. They were in an ecstatic state of mind derived from controlling of some of the holiest places to Judaism, including the Wailing Wall and the Cave of Patriarch. For this segment of the population, this was the ultimate proof of divine intervention in the war. The military success of 1967 led on one hand to a sense of security and self-confidence, but at the same time a complete lack of understanding as to the effect it would have on the defeated countries, as well as Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who came under Israeli occupation. In the prevailing euphoria very few in Israeli society fully realized that what they misperceived as ‘liberation’ was the beginning of a prolonged occupation, which would bring more conflict and would in the end alter the nature of Israeli society.