October 6, 1973 at 2:00 in the afternoon, the armies of Egypt and
Syria went to war. Along the Suez Canal, 100,000 Egyptian men and
1,550 tanks faced 436 Israeli troops and three tanks. In the Golan
Heights, 45,000 Syrian troops and 540 tanks attacked an Israeli
force of 175 men and 177 tanks. An Israeli army and air force,
which was viewed by the world as invincible based upon its military
success of June 1967, was clearly staggered by the surprise attack
that coincided with the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. Howard
Blum's THE EVE OF DESTRUCTION: The Untold Story of the Yom Kippur
War is history in an anecdotal style. Blum tells the story of the
war through the broad canvass of action by the nations involved,
and the smaller snapshot of the individual participants in the
Blum spends a great deal of his account attempting to answer a
familiar and significant question. How did the Arab nations achieve
such a surprise and why was Israel so unprepared for the war?
Nearly half of the book is spent providing the answer, an answer
that has eerie similarities to contemporary events in the Middle
East. Israel had substantial information that war was impending.
Prime Minister Golda Meir even had a secret meeting with Jordan's
King Hussein wherein he advised Meir of Egypt and Syria's plans.
Israeli intelligence chose to ignore the information received
because it failed to comport with their strategy and analysis. In
addition, the Israelis were duped by an elaborate double agent plot
by the Egyptians that fed crucial false information immediately
prior to the commencement of hostilities.
The initial Arab assault succeeded in administering a near knockout
blow to the Israelis. For 72 hours the Israelis staggered and
tenaciously sought to hold off the advancing armies from both the
north and south. So bleak was the situation that Defense Minister
Moshe Dayan concluded that the "Third Temple" was about to fall.
Prime Minister Meir authorized the use of Israel's nuclear arsenal
should the nation be overrun. But just as the Israelis had
miscalculated, so had Egyptian President Sadat, and that error
changed the course of the battle.
Sadat's strategy was for a limited retaking of territory across the
Suez Canal. He assumed that the Israelis would counter-attack and
his army had been thoroughly prepared in defensive tactics. The
goal was to wear down the Israeli Army and obtain a superior
bargaining position for peace negotiations. But the Israelis
elected a different strategy. They eliminated the Syrian threat and
then turned their attention to the Egyptian front. Through a series
of maneuvers, they outflanked the Egyptians and crossed the Suez
Canal. Ultimately, the Americans and Soviets prevailed upon the
parties to cease the hostilities, but Israel had come perilously
close to cataclysmic defeat.
THE EVE OF DESTRUCTION focuses on many of the participants in the
Yom Kippur War. Blum has interviewed hundreds of the participants
and presents the story of the conflict in an easily readable
narrative. This is not dry history loaded with footnotes and source
material. The Six Day War of 1967 changed the balance of power in
the Middle East. The Yom Kippur War tilted that balance back
towards level. Those wars were actually battles in what has become
a 35-year war that continues to be fought to this day. For those
people who wish to better understand the ongoing struggle, Blum's
book is mandatory reading.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 21, 2011