On October 6, 1973, a surprise attack launched simultaneously by Syria and Egypt caught the Jewish state woefully off guard—and not only because much of the country was in synagogue, or fasting. The defense establishment had missed or flat-out ignored warning signs of an impending war, and in the first few days of the conflict Israel’s existence seemed seriously threatened. This led to bitter postwar recriminations that have remained salient in the country’s collective memory. But, to Eyal Zisser, far more significant was the war’s outcome:
In very short order, the IDF launched a counterattack that took it to the outskirts of Damascus and the west bank of the Suez Canal and a mere 62 miles from Cairo, the Egyptian capital. Additionally, the Egyptian Third Army was completely besieged by Israeli forces, on the verge of utter collapse and surrender.
At that very point in time, on the precipice of the enemy’s complete ruination, the war ended. The enemy had been stopped in its tracks, pushed back, severely pummeled and was staring at annihilation. Due to extenuating diplomatic considerations, however—among them, for example, the lack of awareness on the Israeli side of just how close the enemy was to its breaking point—the Israeli government ceded to U.S. pressure and agreed to a cease-fire.
Israel’s military victory was strategically significant. A direct line stretches from the Yom Kippur War to the Camp David Accords with Egypt. It’s likely that a peace deal of such magnitude would never have been attained had Egypt’s political and military echelon not felt the weight of Israel’s force and determination [and] become convinced that Israel could not be defeated on the field of battle. The quiet that has persevered on the Golan Heights for over 40 years—including Damascus’ self-restraint every time the IDF attacks on its soil—is [also] due to the results of the Yom Kippur War and the steep price paid by the Syrians.
For several years now, however, Israel has elected to ignore these unprecedented images of victory and instead to sink [into] sorrow and despair [reflecting] the fiascos and failures of the war’s first days. The Soviets didn’t conduct themselves this way after World War II, which caught them off guard and exacted a horrific price; and it’s not how the Americans choose to remember the end of their war against Japan, which began in total surprise and failure at Pearl Harbor and also exacted a heavy price.
[Likewise], there is no reason for the younger generation of Israelis to be raised on an imaginary story of defeat, and there’s no reason to forget the most important lesson from that war—that determination and military might are necessary to survive in our region and to attain the peace for which we all yearn.