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‘the War of the Jews’

November 12, 1973
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Separate investigations of the Yom Kippur War by the government and the army appeared imminent today. Acting Premier Yigal Allon announced this afternoon following a Cabinet meeting that Premier Golda Meir intends to raise the question of an investigation at Cabinet level at an early date. She is expected to do so within a few days of her return from London where she is presently attending a meeting of the Socialist International Executive.

It was announced at the same time that the army is embarking on an “inquiry” of its own under the authority vested in the Chief of Staff. Gen. David Elazar, the Chief of Staff, told the Cabinet ministers that such an inquiry was accepted practice after a war. He said it would cover war preparations, the preparedness of the army, the battles and the strategies employed. Attorney General Meir Shamgar has ruled that an army inquiry was legal within Israel’s law and that it would not prejudice any inquiry which the government may decide to initiate.

The inquiries, it is hoped here, will cool off the increasingly bitter public debate over who was to blame for Israel being caught by surprise when Egypt and Syria attacked on Yom Kippur (Oct. 6) and why the Israeli armed forces, sustaining their heaviest losses in men and equipment, were unable to achieve a decisive victory over the enemy. The quarrel has already been dubbed “the war of the Jews” and there is a growing feeling here that the inquiries must be held without delay and completed, if possible, before the Dec. 31 national elections if the divisive debate is to be muted.

Suggestions have been made that the government initiate a judicial inquiry with a judge as chairman. Others have proposed a public inquiry by a panel consisting of leading non-partisan public figures. These and other proposals are expected to be discussed by the Cabinet as soon as Mrs. Meir returns.


Meanwhile, a new angry controversy has arisen over private interviews given by Israeli generals in recent days to local and foreign news media. Shamgar is investigating an interview with Gen. Ariel (Arik) Sharon, published Friday in the NY Times under a Rome dateline, in which Sharon charged that his superior officers had failed to exploit in time his thrust across the Suez Canal at the end of the first week of the Yom Kippur War.

Gen. Sharon, who is the founder and a leader of the Likud opposition, charged bluntly that his superiors hesitated to re-enforce his salient on the west bank of the Suez Canal until it was too late to achieve a decisive route of the Egyptian army. Complaints over the Sharon interview were raised in the Cabinet today by Health Minister Victor Shemtov and Minister of Tourism Moshe Kol.

Defense Minister Moshe Dayan said that Elazar had raised the matter with him as soon as the interview appeared and that he had instructed Elazar to refer it to the Attorney General. Shamgar, who was present at the Cabinet meeting, said he would issue requisite guidelines but did not say when.

During the Cabinet discussion the fact that other senior reserve officers have given interviews and written articles since their release from active duty was also raised. Among them was Lt. Gen. Haim Barlev, former Chief of Staff and presently Minister of Commerce and Industry, who wrote an article vindicating his defense strategy which appeared in the newspaper Maariv four days after he was demobilized.


There have been rumblings and recriminations over the Oct. 6 surprise attack since the cease-fire ended major fighting. Demands for a “purge” of those allegedly responsible for Israeli mistakes were heard in some quarters. But as long as the cease-fire was shaky and a renewal of war appeared likely, criticism of the government and army was restrained. With the signing of today’s six-point armistice agreement with Egypt, those restraints are expected to be abandoned.

Elections are only a month-and-a-half away and partisan emotions are heating up. One target is Dayan himself, the charismatic hero of the 1967 Six-Day War. Even within the Labor Party, Dayan’s prestige has declined since the war. During the first week of the war he offered his resignation to Premier Meir but she refused to accept it. The Labor Party elections committee, which met Friday in Tel Aviv with Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir, called for a thorough investigation of the war on both military and political levels. Although Dayan’s name was not mentioned, some Labor circles reported that the demand for an investigation before the elections stemmed from a belief that Dayan can no longer contribute to the Party’s strength and should resign before the balloting.

Dayan himself is said to favor an inquiry by a judicial committee, the findings of which, if accepted, could not be appealed. Addressing a meeting of local Labor Party branches yesterday, Dayan in effect blamed the Soviet threat of intervention for Israel’s failure to win a decisive victory. In addition, he said, the war was the most difficult in Israel’s history because of the sophisticated equipment in the enemy’s hands. “Whoever thinks that our planes were downed because of mistakes by General Headquarters and not by missiles is utterly mistaken,” he said. Dayan also hinted that he would be prepared to resign. “The problem is not the change of players. But if they are to be changed, I am also to be replaced,” he said.

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