Israel: Three Months of Yom Kippur

Jerusalem, late December

The aftermath of the October war is still very much before us, but Israeli society is already gripped by the urgency of “drawing conclusions” (“hasakat maskanot“). Indeed, the name “Yom Kippur War,” tentatively assigned by the Israeli press, seems to have stuck fast for reasons far transcending the actual day of attack. For the pain, introspection, and grim self-criticism which Jews so vigorously exercise on Yom Kippur have become, for the present at any rate, a way of life. This is a society facing its short-comings; the achievements can wait.

Internal political criticism has become stormy among a citizenry recognized for its insatiable political appetite and its generally patronizing approach to its own political leadership—even during the most tranquil periods. Each new assault on hitherto sacred cows (golden calves?) has led to feverish assaults on others; no one, nothing is immune. One must be cautioned, however, that the high voltage which the present public debate is generating should not be conceived as a threat to national unity, or to the fundamental authority of government to decide issues of peace and war. It is precisely the Israeli’s sense of social interdependence and the ultimately “for better—for worse” resignation characterizing the relations between Israelis and their governments that have made this intensity of critical debate possible. Only a couple each of whose partners is secure in the other can enjoy the constructive luxury of brawls, particularly in the midst of authentic crisis. The disenchantment here is with policies, decisions, and deciders, not with the Jewish national project.

Premier Golda Meir, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, and Minister Without Portfolio Israel Galili, a special adviser on security affairs, are obvious preliminary targets, for they bore, indeed usurped, complete civilian responsibility for defense. The defense watch-dog committee of the Knesset has long been starved into paralysis, and the government as a whole was not consulted or advised about the deteriorating condition on the borders until four hours before the outbreak of hostilities. No doubt, Meir, Dayan, and Galili presided over a remarkable victory by military standards; but Israelis have other standards. Two thousand five hundred killed is a staggering setback to a life-hungry society. Nor are there joy and comfort here from the casualties inflicted on the other side. Quite the contrary.

There is, moreover, an unqualified dissatisfaction with the state of the country’s defenses at the outbreak of war. For Israelis get their “real” news from their husbands or sons at the front, and the stories filtering back from the Syrian front suggest that only the perfectly heroic skill and sacrifice of Israeli sons (baneinus), coupled with Syrian logistical incompetence, prevented destructive incursions into productive northern heartlands. On the Egyptian front, furthermore, there appears to have been such a shocking breakdown of communications that the General Staff’s “full alert” was not executed by the Southern Command.

That Israelis draw inspiration and confidence from the dependable idealism of the Israeli Defense Forces (Tzahal) only …

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Letters

Imperial Israel? April 18, 1974