I saw the Syrian commando helicopter twice. For the first time, it was 50 years ago, over the Golan Heights, on one of the first days of the Yom Kippur War. The second time, a few months later, I saw him above Kozlovsky Hill in Givatayim, not far from my home in Ramat Gan. The second time it was a bad dream, a nightmare. It was a dream you can't forget. Eternally.
Both times I felt that they were coming to kill me. And they didn't succeed. I got through that war safely. But did I leave traumatized? Did everyone who was there, in the Golan Heights and Sinai, all my generation and my class in the army, all of us come out of the Yom Kippur War, even if intact in our bodies, with a scar on our souls? Like everyone else, the sirens of Yom Kippur 50 years ago caught me by complete surprise. I was with my wife at her parents' house in Tel Aviv.
An IDF force moving on the northern front during the war, photo: Avraham Vered/IDF Archive and Ministry of Defense
I was preparing for a Latin exam in the Department of History at Tel Aviv University. And suddenly, like everyone else, we found ourselves facing a different, cruel test. There is a war. What to do? At that time, a little more than a year after my discharge, I still hadn't been assigned to a reserve unit. I was an artillery officer, a lieutenant in the reserves, a civilian. Apparently, the IDF did not have time pressed. In any case, the feeling was that Israel was in an excellent security situation. They were going to shorten the service. What's burning? Then, everything burned. The Egyptians crossed the Canal.
The Syrians broke through the fences. The Syrian commandos took over the Hermon outpost. I immediately threw the Latin book aside. Who cares now about Julius Caesar's boast about his victories in the war against the Gauls? My wife Miri and I hurried back home, to Ramat Gan, on foot. Around us, along Kaplan Street and on the bridge on Peace Road (today Azrieli Junction, of course), hundreds of others rushed and ran. The Kirya camp was crowded with cars and uniformed people. War. As I clung to the radio, to hear the (incorrect) updates on what was happening on the fronts, I bombarded the reserve branch at the headquarters of the chief artillery officer with my phones to tell me where to report. Took time.
Finally, they told me to go to Pilon Hospital, near Rosh Pina. How to get there? My wife, who wanted to help me get there quickly, called Arkia to find out if there was a flight from Sde Dov to Mahanayim. "Madam," they told her, "are you crazy? There is a war. There are no more flights." I got to Pylon by bus and hitchhiking. Those who have traveled on the roads probably feel that most hitchhikers, with a backpack in their hands or on their backs, are making their way to battle. In Philo, to my delight, I encountered several officers I knew in the regular service. They were engaged in equipping their reserve battalion, the 160th Radar (313 mm Self-Propelled Heavy Mortars) Battalion, which later changed its name to the 7035th Battalion.
Fighters in the trenches, photo: Zeev Spector/GPO
I joined them, another battery officer. And I found myself in an excellent battalion, with professional, friendly, determined officers and fighters. The next day, we went up to the Golan Heights. The war was burning all around us, and on us. We shot, and we kidnapped. Explosions of shells all the time. Exits and falls. Clouds of black smoke. Soot vehicles and tanks. Occasionally, our air force planes arrive at low altitude, and then one of them is hit by a missile, and falls. And Syrian planes, and our planes are coming up, sitting on their tails, and shooting them down.
War without stopping, without calm. Then I saw the Syrian commando helicopter, far away, north of us, but without a doubt, a Syrian helicopter. By that time, there were already rumors about what the Syrian commandos had done at the Hermon outpost. To us, they didn't come. We later learned that the Syrians had carried out an extensive commando attack that day, and sent helicopters to the rear of IDF forces for various missions, including attempting to take over the Tel Avital outpost, setting up ambushes on roads and junctions, and raiding units. The helicopters were apparently sent to the central and northern sectors of the Golan Heights.
A battlefield in the Golan Heights, photo: Gettyimages
They did not succeed, and most of them were eliminated. But some of them ambushed the force of the 7th Platoon – the reconnaissance company of the 7th Brigade. And there, I learned much later, the company commander, the late Lieutenant Uri Kar-Shani Fishman, was also killed. After his death, he was promoted to the rank of captain.
I got to Pylon by bus and hitchhiking. Those who have traveled on the roads probably feel that most hitchhikers, with a backpack in their hands or on their backs, are making their way to battle. In Philo, to my delight, I encountered several officers I knew in the regular service. They were engaged in equipping their reserve battalion, the 160th Radar (313 mm Self-Propelled Heavy Mortars) Battalion, which later changed its name to the 7035th Battalion.
The intention was to establish cruisers similar to the artillery divisions as well. It was a wonderful two months of navigating all over the country – and a social experience with a group of Armored Patrol fighters. First rate guys. Salt of the earth, they say. A few weeks ago, an article was published on the Wynette website about the battle of Platoon 7, and Uri Kar-Shani's picture suddenly jumped out at me.
Suddenly, more than 50 years after that course, I remembered. In the guys who were there, especially Uri Kar-Shani, one of the most prominent figures in the group – professional, smiling, quiet, a natural leader, and in battle with the Syrian commandos, he was killed. And alongside him quite a few from the cruiser. But IDF reinforcements were poured into the fierce battle, and together they managed to eliminate most of the Syrian soldiers. In war, you need luck. I later completed a master's degree in military history.
Reinforcements were sent into the campaign. In war, you need luck, photo: Michael Astel/IDF and Ministry of Defense Archives
Much has been written about strategy and tactics, and good and bad leaders, and the art of war and how to win war, and intelligence and logistics, and heroes and cowards, and warlords and ordinary soldiers. But in reality, it turns out, on the battlefield you need, first of all, luck. I learned this lesson at the very beginning of my service in the artillery, in what later became known as the War of Attrition.
In the winter of 1970-1969, I served as deputy commander of the 155mm self-propelled gun team in Battery B of the 404th Battalion. The battalion was deployed in a canal line. It was there that I first learned what anti-battery fire is. It was simple, and dangerous. Our battery enters the position and fires – and within minutes, someone from the Egyptian side, a forward observation officer, ranges it with counterfire, and when the shells exploded between our gunners – we had to jump to another position, write down a zero line (the method by which the gunners' sights are ready to receive data) and start firing again.
The fire of war. Shells from all directions, photo: IDF Spokesperson, IDF Archives and Ministry of Defense
And then again. One morning we deployed in a position. A position in its artillery meaning can be an excavation, but also just an open sandy area. Suddenly, the commander of the battery appeared in my office. He brought with him a soldier I didn't know. He had just come to the battalion, he told me. Take it. He joins your team. Respectfully, I said. Welcome. We didn't talk anymore. We started shooting at the Egyptians. The new soldier stood behind the gunnery, passing shells and explosives from hand to hand, like everyone else. Then we got anti-aircraft fire inside the battery. I don't remember where the first shells fell. But I do remember that the new soldier, the one who arrived that morning, fell on the sand.
One of the shrapnel hit him in the head, and he was very badly wounded. Two days later, he died. Shmuel (Shmulik) Haddad, z"l. It was the first fatality I had ever seen. In the next war, I saw more. In war, you need luck, I've already said. What coincidence is it that the soldier who arrived that morning, the soldier no one knew, the soldier who didn't have time to exchange a word with any of the crew – was actually killed? Under Egyptian fire, the commander ran towards us. A shell exploded to his right, a shell exploded to his left. Amid the smoke, he fell. And immediately got up. And came to us, unharmed.
How can this be? Luck. Three years later, fifty years ago, the 313th Radar Battalion went to war in the Golan Heights. We went up through the Yehudia route, shot in the battle for Hosheniya, advanced north on the "oil route", reached Nafah. All along, we saw our tanks, burned. And our bodies, lying down. and Syrian tanks, burned. And their bodies, lying down. We fired a lot of bombs at the enemy (mortars firing bombs, not shells). "Battery purpose" is the command you receive over the radio.
Yom Kippur War // Courtesy of the Israel Film Archive, Jerusalem Cinematheque
Sometimes, when a stronger fire strike is desired, by the entire battalion, the order is David's goal. You shoot, and hope to hear from the CAC that there are good hits on the target. We fired at the Syrians, we fired at the Iraqi and Jordanian reinforcements. We've heard quite a few "good hits." We fired at a frantic rate of fire. At times, the mortar barrels became so hot and reddened that it was impossible to touch them. The ammunition always ran out very quickly. On one occasion, a semi-trailer truck carrying ammunition came into the embankment, clung to the mortars, and the fighters opened the boxes and moved the bombs from the truck – straight to the barrel.
Attached to the Syrian tanks, they were pushed across the border. Back to their territory. What's next? The battalion arrived opposite Quneitra. We knew that the IDF intended to attack into Syrian territory. And we found ourselves right at the top of the spear, attached to the tanks. It was usually thought that in battle, the tanks and infantry were in front, while the artillery in the rear, calmly firing at a range of 17 km, drinking juice and resting. This is not true, and it was certainly not true of us: the heavy 160mm mortars had a short range – 9,6 km – and they were considered auxiliary weapons for armor.
Soldiers writing letters and postcards to their relatives during the war, photo: Alex Gal/IDF and Defense Establishment Archives
We were attached to the tanks. And between firing at the Syrians, and Syrian anti-aircraft fire, we also found some time to talk. About the unimaginable surprise in the north and south. We didn't have any real information – but how the hell did that happen? Where was the intelligence, where was the government, where was the security and military leadership. How did the IDF, which only six years ago defeated all the Arab armies within six days, find itself facing an Egyptian army that occupied almost all the outposts along the canal and halted the counterattack of our armored forces, and against the Syrians who almost slid into Tiberias? How did they bring us to talk about the destruction of the Third Temple? It was all a shock. All this was a shock.
All this was, mostly, an insult. All this meant that something didn't work with us, and that we are now paying the price.The 313th Battalion was relatively lucky. In the whole war, one soldier was killed, Corporal Eliyahu Novgorod, z"l, and we had, I think, 14 wounded, and maybe a little more. Others took much more. Regular batteries were washed up immediately at the beginning of the war. Among my classmates, Ofer Ne'eman was a gun position officer for 175mm guns in the south. His battery, which crossed the canal, was hit by Egyptian Katyusha barrages, which lit fires carrying ammunition, causing deaths and injuries and heavy damage.
Eliyahu Novgorodkar z"l and Shmuel Haddad z"l, photo: Yizkor website
His best friend, the late Lieutenant Danny Bernheim, also from our course, ran to help the wounded, was seriously wounded and died. And after his death, he was promoted to the rank of captain. Another member, Ilan Admon, served as a lieutenant colonel in the 175mm battalion. One of the batteries – not his own – was bombed from the air on the "Spider" axis. Fighters were killed and wounded, and the image of the damaged battery, with the barrels of 175mm cannons, is one of the most famous photographs of the war. Ilan and his battery also crossed the canal, shot and absorbed.
One of his men was killed, others were wounded. We had mostly struggles with anti-aircraft fire, and one encounter with MiGs. As we sat next to Quneitra, we came under anti-aircraft fire right inside the battery, and shrapnel knocked on the sides of the battery's command tracker and tore the tarpaulin cover. Another officer and I crouched on the bottom of the command center. On my wrist I carried a wonderful new watch – the Omega Speedmaster – that I had received as a gift from my father-in-law the year before. The officer next to me noticed him, grabbed my hand and said, jokingly, "Remember, I'm taking the watch."
Since then, I haven't changed the watch, and I don't take it off my hands. And he's 52 years old, manually stepped on a spring, and still works. Then, the morning before the attack into Syria, what became known as the Syrian enclave, MiGs attacked us. I saw the commando helicopter in the distance; But those MiGs were very, very close. They flew in front of us, then turned in our direction, and then dived and attacked us. It was scary. That was the scariest. Just as in movies about World War II, attacking "Stocka" dive bombers, with whining sirens, is the scariest sight – so we had, with the MiGs.
IDF force in um Hashiba in Sinai during the war, photo: Morris Kushelevitch/Courtesy of the IDF Archives and the Defense Establishment
In this attack, our soldier was killed. In this attack, instinctively, I took cover under a rock. I clung to the ground, and then I told myself that if I got out of this safely, I would have a child. It's impossible, I told myself in those seconds I'll never forget, that that's it, I'm over. That I, only 22 years old, will delete. That I, who grew up with stories about David Zakariasz, one of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters who fought bravely against the Nazis until he was killed there, will end my life from some casual Syrian bomb.
I was lucky. I wasn't killed. And so my eldest son was born. From what I heard from my friends after the war, they had similar experiences. And so are many other fighters. Thus was born the concept of "the children of the winter of '73"; In fact, the children of the autumn of 1974.With the tanks, the battalion entered the territory of Syria. We came under a lot of anti-aircraft fire. In one case, for some reason, we found ourselves galloping along the "America" route, the road to Damascus, ahead of everyone else. A battalion of heavy mortars, which look like a shoebox (an armor box on the body of a World War II Sherman tank), and are suddenly the spearhead of the IDF.
Jeep moving with loot from the war on the American axis, photo: private album
On the right came Syrian fire, on the left Israeli fire. So in between, the officers and commanders went down to the narrow road, and directed the vehicles to hunt and turn, using the hand signals familiar to anyone who served in units with armored vehicles – fist right, fist left, drive back, drive forward. But some Syrian KTC dressed up on us, and started chasing us with anti-aircraft fire. First, artillery shells; Then Katyusha barrages. Lucky, have we already said? Later, we reached Syrian villages at the foot of Mount Hermon. We fired a lot of bombs in support of the conquest of Mount Hermon.
Then came the ceasefire. Six months of reserve duty, and we had more time to try to understand what actually happened here. We were a little comforted when it turned out that we had passed through positions of the Moroccan force that had come to help the Syrians. The soldiers were no longer there, but they left behind caches of foods with a foreign aroma - sardines and canned goods and La Vash Ki Ri cheese. Little did we know then that we would serve four months straight, be discharged at home for a month, and then return for another two months. Little did we know that we would have the coldest winter, with meters of snow covering all the dishes.
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We didn't know there would be a war of attrition against the Syrians. We didn't know that the Passover Seder of 1974 would be put on high alert, because someone thought the Syrians would attack again. And by this time, we have already learned the cost of war, with more than 2,600 dead. We already knew which of our friends or acquaintances had been killed, and who had been wounded. And almost every street in Israel had a home for war victims. We knew that, militarily, we had won. The IDF was at kilometer 101 to Cairo, the IDF deployed 175mm guns that threatened Damascus. We won, but the distress was terrible. What happened here? As a reminder, that was 50 years ago
Information was scarce. Rumors ran all over the country. What happened to Dayan, what happened to Golda? What happened to the Chief of Staff? What happened to the head of Military Intelligence? Shortly after the war, the book "The Failure" by journalist Yeshayahu Ben-Porat and a number of other journalists was published. As far as I can remember, it was a sensation. For the first time, an answer was given. The concept of "omission" has entered the consciousness, the lexicon, the history of Israel. The impact of the concept was enormous. Question marks have become exclamation points. We all understood that there was an unforgivable blunder. Then came the Agranat Commission, and although it directed its conclusions in the direction of the military echelon, it marked the end of Golda and Dayan's terms. It took another three years, and the upheaval of 1977 came.
He had many reasons, but the omission was the main one. The people of Israel learned that they could not rely on anyone. And as the years passed, and the information was revealed, and the protocols were published, and even the picture of the most important spy of all was recently shown for all to see, the anger only grew. How they, the leaders, ignored the obvious. How they fell captive in conception. How they abandoned us, all of us.
Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. For the first time, the concept of "omission" was introduced, Photo: Ron Frankel, GPO
After that, the war was managed better. But the omission has not become more understandable, or more forgivable. On the contrary, it turns out to be more serious.What does all this tell us 50 years later? Somehow, during my military service, I discovered Mahler's symphonies. I went to war with the Second Symphony playing in my head. "Resurrection," the resurrection, is called. It takes time, for a young man, to realize that although its central theme is "Judgment Day," its finale is the most auspicious one: you pass Judgment Day, and come back to life, with great victory. Yes, it was hard, very. And it may be cliché, but we have proven ourselves.
Israel was attacked, and it seemed on the verge of destruction. We went out to fight for our lives, our families, our wives, our loved ones, our children, our friends. And we've heard "Lou Yahi" quite a bit. And we hoped for the best. So what will happen? Over the years, I have had the privilege of writing more than once about the war, and about my experiences. Some of what has been written here has already been published to mark decades of one kind or another. I didn't think to write any more. What should I add? But somehow, 50 years is truly a milestone. That war changed all of our lives. And she will stay with us. All IDF fighters, in all wars and operations and security forces, deserve appreciation. And what "deserves" the fighters of the Yom Kippur War?
On visits to the United States, I experienced a common American custom: when a citizen encounters a uniformed person on the street or at the airport or any other public place, or someone wearing a hat or a veteran shirt, he reaches out and says, "Thank you for your service." And the uniformed person replies: "Thank you for your support." And this is mainly what I think the fighters of the Yom Kippur War deserve, in addition of course to treating bereaved families, the wounded and victims of post-traumatic stress disorder: that even after 50 years, we will not forget to say one word to everyone who was there: "Thank you!"
Amos Regev is the founding editor of Israel Hayom. He participated in three of Israel's wars: the War of Attrition, the Yom Kippur War and the First Lebanon War
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