June 15, 2013
A shorter version of this article was published this week in the
Triumph and Tragedy
NO OPERA by Richard Wagner could have been more dramatic. It looked as if it was directed by a genius.
It started low-key. A little piece of paper was thrust into the hand of Prime
Minister Levi Eshkol as he was reviewing the Independence Day parade. It said
that Egyptian troops were entering the
From there on alarm grew. Every day brought menacing new reports. The Egyptian president, Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, issued blood-curdling threats. UN peacekeepers were withdrawn.
I was one of the very few who remained cheerful. At the height of public
despair, I published an article in Haolam Hazeh, the news magazine I edited,
under the headline “
MY GOOD cheer had a simple reason.
A few weeks before, I had given a talk in a Kibbutz on the Syrian border. As is customary, I was invited to have coffee afterwards with a select group of members. There I was told that “Dado” (General David Elazar), the commander of the Northern sector, had lectured there the week before, and then had coffee. Like me.
After swearing me to secrecy, they disclosed that Dado had told them – after swearing them to secrecy – that every evening, before going to bed, he prayed to God that Nasser would move his troops into the Sinai desert. “There we shall destroy them,” Dado had assured them.
(The Soviet ambassador, Dmitri Chuvakhin, invited me for a talk and disclosed
the plot to me. If so, I said, why not ask your ambassador in
Abd-al-Nasser saw an easy opportunity to assert
Three weeks passed, and the tension became unbearable. One day Menachem Begin saw me in the Knesset lobby, drew me into a side room and implored me: “Uri, we are political opponents, but in this emergency, we are all one. I know that your magazine has a lot of influence on the younger generation. Please use it to raise their morale!”
All the reserve units, the backbone of the army, were mobilized. There were
hardly any men to be seen in the streets. Still Eshkol and his cabinet
hesitated. They sent the chief of the Mossad to
WHEN THE bow was strained to near breaking point, the Israeli army was unleashed. The troops – mostly reserve soldiers who had been abruptly torn from their families and who had been waiting with growing impatience for three weeks – flew like an arrow.
I was attending the Knesset session on that first day of the war. In the middle
of it, we were told to go to the bomb shelter, because the Jordanians in nearby
When I reached home that evening after driving through the blackout, my wife did
not believe me. The radio had said nothing about the incredible achievement.
Why? The Israeli government was convinced – quite rightly – that if the Arab
countries and the
Against this background, when the victory was announced, it looked immense – so
immense, indeed, that many believed in an act of God. Our army, which had been
formed in the small State of
SO, WAS it a “defensive war” or an “act of naked aggression”? In the national consciousness, it was and remains a purely defensive war, started by “the Arabs”. Objectively speaking, it was our side which attacked, though under utmost provocation. Years later, when I said so in passing, a leading Israeli journalist was so upset that he stopped talking with me.
Be that as it may, the Israeli public reaction was stupendous. The entire country was in delirium. Masses of victory-albums, victory-songs, victory-this and victory-that amounted to national hysteria. Hubris knew no bounds. I cannot claim that I was entirely untouched by it.
But, as in a Greek tragedy, hubris did not go unpunished. The gold turned to
dust. The greatest victory in
Just before the attack, Dayan had declared that
Since generals “always fight the last war”, it was generally assumed that the
world would not allow
The former border (or “demarcation line”) had an inward bulge near Latrun,
halfway between Tel Aviv and
I tried to intervene, but it was too late. I did succeed, however, in halting he
demolition of the town of
Slowly, the Israeli government got used to the astonishing fact that there was
no real pressure on
Thus the historic opportunity was missed. It is said that when God wants to
destroy somebody, he first makes them blind – as he smote the men of
The vast majority of today’s Israelis, anyone less than 60 years old, cannot
even imagine an
On the 46th anniversary of that great drama, we can only wish that it had never happened, that it was all a bad dream.