The package of documents recently published by the Israel Archives on the occasion of the October War sheds light on what happened within the government of then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir during this conflict.
This package of 61 documents comprising a total of 1,229 pages (including 14 summaries of government sessions dealing with war management, 21 summaries of sensitive diplomatic and security consultations, and 26 summaries collected in the Prime Minister’s Office) reveals concerns, tensions, and disagreements over how to deal with The situation that prevailed in Meir’s government, when the Egyptian and Syrian forces suddenly attacked the positions of the Israeli army in the Suez Canal and the Golan.
According to these documents, senior army officers admitted to the prime minister, in a meeting held on the morning of October 7, 1973, a day after the start of the war, that the situation was uncomfortable on both fronts.
In these circumstances, Golda instructed officials to immediately communicate with US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and issue a “SOS” to him and ask the United States to rearm.
According to the new documents, Golda expressed her concerns about the risk of the international community leaving Israel, saying: “The little support we get from the international community will disappear, and they will throw us to the dogs. They don’t like Jews let alone weak Jews.”
She warned in the October 7 meeting that the Egyptian and Syrian forces would continue to advance, and said that the Israeli army must move from one defensive line to another while continuing its attacks on it, stressing the need to deal “harsh blows” to the enemy.
The documents revealed that Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan took a realistic position regarding the developments in the conflict, based on pessimistic reports from the generals on the ground.
Dayan warned in one of the ministerial meetings that withdrawing from the Golan is not a solution, warning of the danger of Syrian forces entering Israel with the aim of “eliminating the Jews.”
According to the documents, by the end of the second day of the conflict, Dayan had lost hope of driving Egyptian forces back behind the Suez Canal, although future developments were positive for Israeli forces.
The documents quoted the defense minister as saying in a meeting held on October 19 that Israel made a mistake in assessing the capabilities of its opponents, saying: “There should have been different results than it is, and we should have stopped them.”
At the same meeting, Meir supported an investigation into these failures.
Dayan admitted, according to the documents, that “the Arabs are fighting better than before,” while Meir said: “I say this with full awareness of its importance: we did not face such a danger in 1948.”
The losses in the first phase of the war triggered Israel’s fears that it seemed weak and might lose US support in the future.
On October 17, Dayan asked Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Simcha Denitz, to tell Kissinger: “You won’t be ashamed of us.”
The documents show that in the final phase of the war, Israel and the United States saw their top priority in preventing a possible Soviet intervention in the conflict.
At the same time, Meir asked then-Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban to prevent Security Council Resolution 242 (which states the illegality of Israel’s capture of the Golan and Suez Canal) from being mentioned in any draft resolution declaring a ceasefire.