Files Declassified from Desperate Early Hours of Yom Kippur War

Israeli Tank Battles Egyptian Forces in the Sinai Desert during the Yom Kippur War. (Israel Defense Forces)

In the latest of a series of annual disclosures about the 1973 war on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Defense Ministry declassified some of the secret deliberations during the most desperate moments of the conflict.

As the gravity of the military situation on Israel’s borders became apparent, then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was seized with worry over a critical lack of weapons and manpower.

“What do I fear in my heart more than anything? That the State of Israel will in the end be left without enough weapons to defend itself… There won’t be enough tanks, there won’t be planes, there won’t be people, there won’t be people trained to protect the land of Israel,” Dayan told the IDF General Staff according to the just-released transcripts.

Dayan told the army to consider an emergency draft of people too old for reserve duty or too young for the regular draft.

“Check the possibility of enlisting all those we released, to enlist the youths, for reservists in order to put them into tanks, in the air, whatever is needed. We’ll get tanks [from the United States] and there won’t be people. Take the elderly people we’ve released, take the young we haven’t yet taken from age 17,” Dayan told the generals.

He also feared an Arab uprising. “The internal Arabs: They’ll definitely… when the blood rises to their heads, we’ll again need to deal with them with all kinds of actions — not demonstrations, but with martial law and police and border guards because they can go to the transportation routes and keep us busy,” Dayan said.

In the end, not only did the Israeli Arabs not rebel, but they actively contributed to the war effort, replacing Jewish reservists at work, donating blood, purchasing government war bonds and helping with civil defense.

In other declassified documents, IDF chief of staff David “Dado” Elazar urged Israel’s head of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Eli Zeira, to continue working on breaking the sense of complacency in Washington.

Zeira said he had been briefing the Americans every night on the war effort, “and yesterday I gave them a briefing that was pretty bleak.”

On October 8, Elazar instructed him to “give them another [bleak briefing] tonight.”

Elazar said it was imperative that they have massive reinforcements: 300 to 500 tanks, 48 McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II fighter jets and 24 Douglas A-4 Skyhawk jets were on the list.

“We need them pretty soon,” Elazar said.

After agonizing delays—the cause of which historians continue to ponder—the U.S. airlift finally provided the tools of survival: 22,325 tons of tanks, planes, artillery cannons and munitions.