The beginning of the Yom Kippur War (Part 1)


October 6, 2023 marks the 50-year anniversary of the first day of the Yom Kippur War — perhaps Israel’s most traumatic war. This miniseries unpacks that trauma, guiding our listeners through the lead-up to the war, the battles, the behind-the-scenes geopolitical maneuvering, and the painful aftermath. This episode explores why the war began, and describes Israel’s shock and fear on the first day of the assault.

Subscribe to this podcast

I spend a lot of time thinking about time. Whoa, meta much? It’s true, though. Shabbat marks the close of another week. Rosh Chodesh celebrates the first day of each month. Rosh Hashanah is the start of a new year. You get it.

Other Jewish holidays celebrate some kind of anniversary. On this date, we left Egypt. On this date, we narrowly avoided genocide. Etc. The Jewish calendar is structured to remind us of all the generations that came before us. In fact, remembering is kind of a major feature of Judaism. We remember everything. The good stuff — like leaving Egypt. And the bad stuff — like everything that went down in Egypt before we left. That’s actually what I like best about our holidays. We don’t skimp on the uncomfortable details. We tell the whole truth.

Take Purim. Each Purim, we read the book of Esther, which tells the story of how Esther and Mordechai saved the Jewish people from annihilation. Sounds heroic, right? But Esther is surprisingly ambivalent at first. She may have been married to the king of Persia, but you don’t just show up unannounced at his court and ask for stuff. Not unless you have a death wish. But Esther’s uncle, or maybe cousin, gives her a pretty unsympathetic pep talk slash low-key death threat, and reluctantly, Esther agrees. I love that the story doesn’t skip over this very human moment. Queen Esther is a hero precisely because she struggles with being one. 

“Esther Denouncing Haman” by Ernest Normand (1888) (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Or take the Passover seder. Even as we’re celebrating our freedom, we’re spilling out wine to remember that the ten plagues weren’t exactly pleasant for your average Egyptian. There’s solemnity and reflection mixed in with the joy.

But this isn’t a podcast called Unpacking Jewish Holidays — though, side note, that would be pretty interesting. So, what does all of this have to do with Israeli history?

Well, I’ve literally just now made the connection that the way we tell stories in Judaism, the way we mark time, has directly inspired the way I think about this podcast. ’Cuz on this pod, we really try to get into the nooks and crannies of history — which means we talk about the uncomfortable stuff. The ambiguous. The complex. The morally gray.

And we mark anniversaries. Just a few weeks from when we’re producing this episode, October 6, 2023, will be the 50th anniversary of one of the most traumatic events in Israeli history: the Yom Kippur War. The war lasted three weeks, so, for the next three weeks, we’ll be delving into the complicated legacy of the war. And we, hopefully, will be including everything: the triumphs, the dark nights of the soul, the screw-ups, the heroism. The intricate dance between two warring empires. Egypt vs. Israel…A battle from 3300 years ago…and 50 years ago.

An Israeli Centurion tank operating in the Sinai during the Yom Kippur War. (Photo: IDF Photo Archives/Wikipedia Commons)

But most importantly, we wanted to hear the story from people who were actually there. Sure, the Yom Kippur War is history. It’s in textbooks and everything. Sure, lots of its big names are no longer with us. Golda Meir. Moshe Dayan. Ariel Sharon. But plenty of its figures remain to tell their story, exactly as they lived it.

Like Avigdor Kahalani, who commanded a tank battalion that saved the Golan from the Syrians. Kahalani is a household name in Israel. He’s a war hero, decorated with Israel’s highest military and civilian honors. He’s a former Knesset member and party founder who served as Minister of Public Security under Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s written six books and speaks frequently about his experiences in the wars of ’67 and ’73. Like so many Israelis, he’s paid the highest possible price for living in the Jewish state. The Yom Kippur War took his brother and brother-in-law.

Avigdor Kahalani during the Yom Kippur War, October 10, 1973. (Photo: IDF/Wikipedia Commons)

I still kind of can’t believe we got to interview him. Let me spell this out for the American audience out there. Imagine I were hosting a podcast on the Vietnam War and just casually texted war hero John McCain to ask if I could talk to him about his experience. (OK, in this imaginary scenario, McCain is still alive, obviously.)

That’s Kahalani’s status in Israel. He’s a legend. When he tells his story, it’s like he’s summoning the past into the present. He reminded me that history – especially Israeli history – isn’t just something you read about in books. Every single person you’ll hear about today was – is – achingly real. Many are no longer in the position to tell their own story. I hope we’ve done them justice. Especially because the Yom Kippur War is unusually complicated.

See, when a war ends, it’s usually pretty obvious who won. Not here.

On the one hand, of course Israel won. How is that even a question?! The Jewish state started the war wrong-footed and outgunned, and ended it with its tanks pointed towards the enemy’s capital cities. To quote from Abraham Rabinovich’s incredible book “The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East,” which we relied on heavily while researching this episode, and which all of you should read, quote:

“In military terms, Israel would recognize its reversal of fortune on the battlefield as having few historic parallels… As a military feat, the IDF’s performance in the Yom Kippur War dwarfed that of the Six Day War.”

Arab countries claimed 8,528 casualties. But according to Israeli figures, Arab losses were nearly double that, numbering 15,000 dead.

On the other hand, the war shattered Israel’s morale. The government even appointed a commission to investigate how Israel had been caught so off-guard. Whoever was responsible for this fashla, or screw-up, had blood on their hands.

As Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi at the time, Shlomo Goren, put it “none of Israel’s wars were as drenched with blood as the Yom Kippur War.” In a country of three million people, a death toll of 2,656 is horrific. And half of those deaths came in the first three days of the war, as Israel, unprepared, scrambled to respond. Could those deaths have been prevented? Who should answer for them?

On the other hand, and yes, at this point we have three hands here, maybe this particular war resists the binary of victory or defeat. Maybe Israel won militarily but lost psychologically. Maybe Egypt won politically but lost on the battlefield. Maybe Syria…well, no, I think Syria just straight-up lost here, actually. Sucks to suck, Syria.

And on the fourth hand, maybe both Egypt and Israel won. Because six years later, the two countries signed a historic peace treaty that likely wouldn’t have been possible without the Yom Kippur War. Their relationship has been cold but cooperative ever since. See what I mean? It’s complicated.

So, we’re going to unpack this story with as much nuance, sensitivity, and complexity as we can muster. Like our series last season about Israel@75 — and go back and listen if you haven’t already — these episodes are a little different from our usual. Each episode focuses on a different aspect of the war: the lead-up, the battles, and the aftermath. We’ll wait till the final episode to summarize the takeaways and share reflections.

Last week, we shared a re-released episode on the Yom Kippur War from all the way back in our very first season. (Ah, memories…) That was a high-level overview, and it’ll probably be pretty useful if you’re looking for a refresher on the basic facts. Like, for example, why the war has so many different names: the Yom Kippur War, the Ramadan War, the October War, the Fourth Arab-Israeli War. We talk about the role of the US and the post-war Agranat Commission. It’s a good episode.

But this three-part series is different. It’s a lot more personal. A lot more detailed. It weaves in testimony from soldiers who stood on the battlefield, knowing they were outnumbered 6:1 on the southern front, 8:1 in the north. Who watched fellow soldiers fall and continued fighting because they had no other choice. Who have the sort of perspective that can only come with having been there. Theirs is a complex retelling. One that acknowledges the intimate relationship between a strategic military victory and a tragic human loss.

So let’s go back to Israel in 1973. Back to the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Back to 18 days in October whose legacy still echoes today. Back to 2pm on Yom Kippur, when the wail of sirens interrupted the holiest day of the year…

Chapter One: For Our Sins

If there’s one advantage to being surprise-attacked on your most important holiday, it’s this: at least the roads are clear.

Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement — 25 hours of fasting, prayer, and reflection that bring the Jewish state to a halt. As of 2019, over 60% of Israelis fast. Stores close. Roads empty out. Over half the country goes to synagogue.

Egyptian military trucks cross a bridge laid over the Suez Canal on October 7, 1973, during the Yom Kippur War. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Ironically, that was another bonus of going to war on the holiest day of the year in the days before cell phones and the internet. At least the soldiers getting called up were easy to find.

On the afternoon of October 6, 1973, military couriers burst into synagogues across the country with mobilization orders. They watched as the gabbais, or sextons in English — basically, a person who assists with the reading of the Torah — read their own sons’ names, as weeping parents embraced their children, knowing that this might be their last hug.

Rabbis gave explicit permission for soldiers to break their fasts and drive to the front. This was pikuach nefesh. A matter of life and death. The soldiers hitchhiked or took cabs or drove their own cars through empty highways. Some went north, to protect the Golan from the Syrians. Others turned south to defend the Sinai against an Egyptian assault.

The wail of air-raid sirens shattered the characteristic quiet of the holiday. Across the country, terrified citizens wondered how did this happen? Every article you read about the Yom Kippur War calls it a “surprise.” And that’s true… sort of. It was a surprise for the soldiers called to the front. For the ordinary people whose prayers were interrupted by military couriers and sirens. For a society still high on the triumph of the Six-Day War. 

It’s impossible to talk about Yom Kippur ’73 without first explaining the Six-Day War. Back in June of 1967, the tiny pariah of the Middle East wiped the floor with three much larger armies, more than tripling its landmass; humiliating the Arab world; and instilling unprecedented levels of collective Jewish pride all over the globe.

Jews around the world held their heads a little higher. American Jewish men started wearing yarmulkes in the street. Jewish women stopped tucking their chai necklaces into their shirts. It was an extraordinary victory for a people still haunted by genocide. For a state that had sacrificed one percent of its population in its war for independence. 

For a brief and glorious moment, it seemed as though Israel had quashed all of its existential threats, and could get on with the business of just being a normal country. And normal countries had decent relationships with their neighbors, right? So one week after the war, Israel proposed a peace agreement with Syria and Egypt, offering to evacuate most of the Sinai and the Golan in exchange for peace treaties. 

Not an armistice. Not a cease-fire. Not an uneasy quiet broken by cross-border raids. Real and lasting peace. As Foreign Minister Abba Eban put it in a press conference on August 15th, 1967, “We will reject any form of armistice and we reject all the kinds of euphemisms designed to provide our neighbors an escape route from the necessity of normal interstate relations.” In other words, we’ve got the upper hand now, y’all. You can make a real, official peace with us, or we can keep up this status quo where we hang on to the Sinai and the Golan. Your choice.

The thirteen countries of the Arab League made their choice clear a month later when they adopted the Khartoum Resolution, which had three simple tenets: 1. No peace with Israel. 2. No recognition of Israel. 3. No negotiation with Israel. From 1967 to 1970, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and the PLO tried to wear Israel down and maybe even get back some land. But they failed, and in 1970, Egypt agreed to a ceasefire without having gained an inch of territory.

So yes, for the six years between the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, Israel’s neighbors were a major thorn in its side. But the country’s top brass never dreamed that the Arabs could recover from their epic humiliation. First of all, they didn’t have the weapons — or so Israel thought. But more importantly, they didn’t have the guts to risk a round two so soon after the Six-Day War.

This sense of invincibility was known as the concepzia – a euphoria that blinded Israel to all the warning signs. Some called it hubris. And, nerd corner alert, as anyone who has ever been forced to read a Greek tragedy knows, hubris tends to be a fatal flaw. 

This sense of invincibility was known as the concepzia – a euphoria that blinded Israel to all the warning signs.

Most Israelis looked down on their Arab neighbors. In August of ‘73, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan gave a speech outlining the inherent weakness of the Arab enemy. He said, quote, “It is a weakness that derives from factors that I don’t believe will change quickly: the low level of the their soldiers’ education, technology, and integrity; and inter-Arab divisiveness which is papered over from time to time but superficially, and for short spans.” But the Israelis underestimated their enemy. And their hubris blinded them to the many vulnerabilities in their defense plan. 

If Israelis were euphoric, the Egyptians were depressed. Morale was low. The economy was in shambles. The three-year War of Attrition — and yes, one day we’ll do an episode on that — had done nothing to restore their honor. In 1971, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat indicated to the UN that he’d be willing to live in peace with Israel, if she retreated to her pre-67 borders. But Israel said no way, Jose. The ’48 borders were treacherous and hard to defend — “Auschwitz borders,” in the words of Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban.

It’s hard to say whether Sadat’s offer was sincere. His wife, Jehan, later said that her husband needed a war to restore Egyptian dignity. So after Israel’s refusal to return to pre-67 borders, the Egyptian president turned crafty. He would lull Israel into a false sense of security. And then, he would make her pay.

By mid-’71, he’d stopped threatening war, and started talking instead about an “extended struggle.” He planted rumors that Egypt’s weapons systems were in disarray. That the country was unprepared for another war with Israel. That he and Syria’s president, Hafez Assad, were on the outs. 

Cleverest of all, in the spring of ’73, Sadat sent his army to Israel’s southern border, putting the Jewish state on high alert. But the Egyptians quickly retreated without attacking, and the alarm came to nothing. Basically, Egypt had just pulled the geopolitical equivalent of your most annoying sibling holding their finger super close to your face and chanting not touching not touching not touching. (Yes, little sibs Tani and Ma’ayan, this is a call-out.) The Israelis exhaled in relief. No one seemed to care that Sadat had left a decent chunk of weaponry behind, along the Suez Canal.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1980 (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Meanwhile, in Syria, President Hafez al-Assad was stewing. As Syria’s defense minister during the Six Day War, Assad had been particularly humiliated by the Israeli victory. Unlike Sadat, who was — at least on paper — willing to come to the negotiating table, Assad steadfastly refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. At the very least, he wanted the Golan Heights back. But he knew the Syrian army didn’t stand a chance of regaining territory…unless the IDF was busy elsewhere. Like the Sinai desert.

So in early ’73, Assad flew to Cairo in secret to hammer out a plan of attack. He left that meeting confident that he and the Egyptian president were on the same page: Syria would take the Golan Heights while Egypt would wrench back all 23,000 square miles of the Sinai, which is nearly three times the size of Israel, keeping the IDF too distracted to properly defend its north. 

But the two Arab leaders were not on the same page. Sadat had no intention of trying to conquer the entire Sinai. He just wanted to humble Israel so that she came to the negotiating table ready to make significant concessions. Assad, on the other hand, envisioned an all-out assault that would regain him the Golan.

Everyone knew he couldn’t do it on his own. So even as Assad began massing troops on Israel’s northern border in late September of 1973, the Israelis were cautious but not quite alarmed. Not even an emergency visit from King Hussein of Jordan could convince them that something big was about to happen. Yes, you heard that right, a visit from King Hussein of Jordan.

See, officially, Jordan and Israel were enemies. Unofficially, though, the king was pretty tired of Egypt and Syria. They’d dragged him into the Six-Day War and lost him the West Bank. He didn’t need another war spilling over onto his doorstep. So the day before Rosh Hashanah 1973, he and his prime minister flew to Tel Aviv to warn Prime Minister Golda Meir that the Syrians were deploying troops. And he was “pretty sure” that they were going to attack in tandem with Egypt.

Now, of course, “pretty sure” wasn’t enough for Israeli intelligence. They kept a close eye on Syria and knew all about the forces in the north. But, the thinking went, Syria wouldn’t go to war without Egypt, and Egypt didn’t have the weapons. Plus, as per the concepzia, this was the Syrians and Egyptians. Were they even really that big of a threat?

Hussein’s warning about a coordinated attack was pure conjecture, Israeli intelligence decided. Still, Israel called up some troops to the Golan, just in case. If the Syrians wanted a fight, they’d get one.

Lt. Colonel Avigdor Kahalani was repairing his roof when he got the call summoning him to the northern front. The 29-year-old had already earned a Medal of Distinguished Service for his stint as a tank commander during the Six-Day War. On the third day of the war, his tank sustained a direct hit, and he spent a year recovering from the third-degree burns that covered 60% of his body.

And now, he had to tell his wife that he would be spending Rosh Hashanah on a military base in the Golan Heights. This is how he explained it: “We came from Sinai. We didn’t know Golan Heights is completely different. Sinai is the desert. I know how to fight in the desert all my life. I was in the desert. When we arrived we had to use the time to study the area, to study how to move between the store to store, to know the bunk camps, to know which kind of enemy we’re going to meet, which kind of tank we are going to engage, whatever.”

Rosh Hashanah passed without incident. All was quiet on the northern front. But the warning signs kept piling up, each more troubling than the last. 24 hours before Yom Kippur, Soviet diplomats were airlifting their families out of Cairo and Damascus. A highly-placed source inside of Egypt made an urgent late-night call to his Mossad handlers, warning that within a matter of hours, Israel would be fighting a war on two fronts. Nerd corner alert: this highly-placed source was later revealed to be Nasser’s son-in-law and Sadat’s confidante! God, the Middle East will never fail to shock me. Okay, where was I? Oh, right.

Mere hours before Yom Kippur, military intelligence received an alarming piece of news. It was the ninth day of Ramadan, and the Egyptian army had ordered its troops to break their Ramadan fasts. A Muslim country, ordering its troops to break their Ramadan fast? No way the Egyptians were prepping for a mere military exercise. This could only mean one thing: war. At dawn on Yom Kippur, Prime Minister Golda Meir, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, and IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar scrambled for a plan. They knew they had hours — not days — to make life-or-death decisions. 

Like, for example, whether the IDF should borrow from the Six-Day War playbook and attack Syria preemptively. It was arguably Israel’s preemptive attack on the Egyptian airforce back in ’67 that guaranteed an Israeli victory. But neither Meir nor Dayan wanted to be seen as “the aggressors.” One preemptive strike, and you’re a military legend. Two surprise attacks, though, and you start looking like a bully.

Now, Meir and Dayan didn’t get there on their own. Israel had done its fair share of, uh, questionable things over its 25-year history. So I think it’s important to mention that they were in close contact with the Americans. And that had two effects on Israel decision-making.

One: the CIA had no indication that war would break out. Later, the State Department’s intelligence chief would say “Our difficulty was partly that we were brainwashed by the Israelis, who brainwashed themselves.” So, you know, it’s kind of a Mobius strip of blame: the Israelis didn’t see it because the Americans didn’t see it because the Israelis didn’t see it… you get it.

But more importantly, you gotta remember that this was smack in the middle of the Cold War. The Middle East was a highly strategic battleground for both the US and the USSR. 

The US was Israel’s strongest ally. But that didn’t mean that President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger weren’t keeping a close eye on the Arab world. An unprompted Israeli attack would drive the Arabs even deeper into the embrace of the USSR. Plus, it would royally tick off Moscow, and Washington had no desire to pick a fight with the USSR. So Kissinger told the Israelis “there must be no preemptive strike.” Running underneath this directive was a not-so-subtle threat: if you attack first, you can forget about our help. But Golda knew she needed to be able to count on American aid if things went south. 

Golda Meir, Richard Nixon, and Henry Kissinger meet in the Oval Office in Washington, 1968. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

So whether because of the US’ advice, international opinion, or a misguided belief that the IDF would easily prevail, Israel decided not to strike first. It was a decision that would cost them. 

The first bombs dropped at 2 pm — four hours earlier than expected. No one had wanted to admit that war was coming. Now it was here. Kahalani describes the initial assault in his memoir, quote:

“We were walking away from the Jeep when it happened — the whine of low-flying aircraft, then loud explosions that shook us and the buildings. I froze for a second, then looked up to see four MiGs dropping their bombs on the camp and on the men clustered around the vehicles. I felt helpless, didn’t know which way to run…I felt humiliated. Syrian planes were driving over an Israeli camp, doing whatever they wanted.”

And why wouldn’t they do what they wanted? The Syrians fully expected to take the Golan Heights within 24 hours. They had Soviet backing. They had 1,400 tanks to Israel’s 177. 115 artillery batteries to Israel’s 11. And where Israel had 200 infantrymen stationed along the 40-mile border, Syria had forty thousand. Plus, they knew they weren’t the only enemy. Israel had to split its attention between the northern and southern fronts.

Things were equally grim down south. In the first minute after the initial assault, Egypt strafed Israel with ten thousand shells. Loudspeakers broadcast the soldiers’ rallying cry: Allahu Akbar! Tank after Egyptian tank rolled through the Sinai Desert, cutting through the Israeli fortifications like a hot knife through butter. Israel had built the Bar-Lev fortifications to withstand exactly these kinds of attacks, and the IDF was confident that the line would hold for at least a full day, if not two.

A destroyed Syrian T62 Tank in the Golan Heights after the Yom Kippur War, 1973. (Photo: Egged History Archive/Wikipedia Commons)

But within hours, the Egyptians were standing in Israeli territory – or, as they saw it, in their territory, lost to Israel six years prior. 268 Israeli tanks stared down a force of 2,000 tanks and 70,000 men. At 6:30 pm, as the fast was winding down, Prime Minister Golda Meir addressed her nation via radio:

“Our enemies had hoped to surprise the citizens of Israel on the Day of Atonement, when so many of our people are fasting and worshiping in the synagogues. The aggressors thought that on this day we would not be ready to fight back. We were not caught by surprise…. We are in no doubt that we shall prevail, but we are also convinced that this renewal of Egyptian and Syrian aggression is an act of madness. We did our best to prevent the outbreak… We have full confidence in the spirit and the strength of the IDF to overcome the enemy. The victory of the IDF is our certain assurance of life and peace.”

But not everyone was so confident. Her defense minister, Moshe Dayan, had been fighting for Israel since he was 14 years old, and he’d never backed down from a fight. In 1973, he was 58, a military legend with a global reputation for his military brilliance.  He was also, unexpectedly, shattered by the surprise attack.

For weeks, he’d been dismissing the signs, sure that 1967 had taught the Arabs the lesson they needed. He was badly shaken by Syria and Egypt’s chutzpah, and perhaps also by being wrong. Two hours into the war, Dayan told the press, “The Egyptians have embarked on a very big adventure they haven’t thought through. After tomorrow afternoon [when the reserves begin to reach the front] I wouldn’t want to be in their place.”

Then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (R) and defense Minister Moshe Dayan meet their troops October 21, 1973 on the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War. (Photo by Ron Frenkel/GPO/Getty Images)

At 6 pm that night, he admitted: “Because they attacked first, they were able to cross the canal in certain places. In the Golan Heights, a number of Syrian tanks were able to penetrate our lines here and there. These aren’t significant successes. Thank you, and I believe that I can say with confidence, gmar hatima tova — may we all be signed and sealed in the book of life.” That’s the traditional Yom Kippur greeting, because it’s on Yom Kippur that God decides who will live to see the next one.

But Dayan was painfully aware that four hours into the war, dozens of soldiers had not made it into the Book of Life. And within the day, as the enemy wore down Israel’s meager defenses, Dayan was singing a different — and much more mournful — tune. 

By the evening after Yom Kippur, he was preparing for a televised address to inform the public that Israel had lost the war. When Herzl Rosenblum, the editor of one of Israel’s biggest newspapers, heard this news, he immediately called the Prime Minister. Do not, under any circumstances, let Israel Television broadcast this address, he told her. And Golda, wisely, immediately canceled the broadcast. As Shlomo Goren put it in his autobiography: “If Dayan had been allowed to proceed with his broadcast, it would have destroyed the morale of the entire country.”

But that didn’t stop Dayan from being a total downer to his colleagues and confidantes. He began repeating that the Third Temple is in danger — a statement that never failed to majorly stress out every single person who heard it. See, for 410 years, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was the crown jewel of the nation, a symbol of Jewish power — until it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.

But the Babylonian exile was relatively short. 70 years later, enough Jews returned to Judea to build a Second Temple. This one stood for 420 years, until its destruction by the Romans in 70 C.E. Every day, observant Jews pray for the building of the Third Temple, which will happen only once the Messiah arrives.

But Dayan wasn’t talking about a literal house of worship or a messianic age. He was referring to Israel itself. For him, the Third Temple was a metaphor for a self-determining Jewish state, at risk of crumbling after only 25 years.

The legendary one-eyed war hero was no coward. But he was a pragmatist. Israel was home to three million Jews — a tiny fraction of the eighty million Arabs just beyond her fragile borders. If the Syrians and Egyptians continued to batter Israel’s defenses, she wouldn’t stand for much longer. Eighty million Arabs would overrun Israel’s three million Jews, erasing everything but the memory of Jewish self-determination. 

So yes, Dayan was scared. Terrified. But he wasn’t going to let Israel fall. He’d take down the entire Middle East if he had to. The Jewish state had a little something in her back pocket. A last resort for the darkest hour.

Had the darkest hour finally arrived? After the British occupation and constant skirmishes with the neighbors, after two major invasions and countless cross-border raids, after two thousand years of hoping and praying and fighting – was this the end of Israel?

It’s 2023 and I’m still hosting a podcast called Unpacking Israeli History, so you already know that Dayan’s worries never came to pass. But things were looking grim. So… how did Israel turn the tide? Tune in next week, for the second episode of our three-part series on the Yom Kippur War.

Enjoy this podcast with friends by hosting a podcast listening party.

Subscribe to This Week Unpacked

Each week we bring you a wrap-up of all the best stories from Unpacked. Stay in the know and feel smarter about all things Jewish.