On the eve of the 45th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet Sunday that Israel will never repeat the mistake it made in 1973 by not preempting an enemy attack.
“Forty-five years ago, our intelligence misjudged the war intentions of Egypt and Syria,” Netanyahu said, referring to the intelligence assessments at the time that discounted an Egyptian and Syrian surprise attack.
“When these intentions became clear beyond any doubt, and when the danger was already at hand, the political echelon committed a grave error in that it did not approve a preemptive strike. We will never repeat this error,” he said.
According to minutes from the cabinet meeting six hours before war broke out on Yom Kippur in 1973, then-prime minister Golda Meir and defense minister Moshe Dayan opposed a preemptive strike, even though by that time Israel had clear intelligence information of an imminent Egyptian and Syrian attack.
According to minutes of that meeting that were released for publication eight years ago, then chief of staff Lt.-Gen. David “Dado” Elazar raised the idea of a preemptive strike and said it would give Israel a “huge advantage and save many lives.”
“We can wipe out the entire Syrian air force at noon,” he said. “We need another 30 hours to destroy the missiles. If they plan to attack at 5 p.m., the air force will operate freely against the Syrian army. This is what we are capable of.”
Meir said that she was “tempted,” but that a decision could wait for a number of hours until there is a dialogue with the Americans. Dayan was adamantly opposed to a preemptive strike, even “by five minutes.”
He also opposed, as Elazar suggested, calling up the reserves, saying that it was important that the world does not blame Israel for starting the war.
Netanyahu, in an apparent reference to reported Israeli preemptive military actions in Syria to prevent Iranian entrenchment there or weapon transfers to Hezbollah in Lebanon, said that today “Israel is constantly working to prevent our enemies from arming themselves with advanced weapons.”
The country’s red lines are clearer than ever, and its resolve to enforce them are stronger than ever, he said.
Referring to the nearly 2,700 Israelis killed during the Yom Kippur War, Netanyahu said the country “must do everything to prevent war – the war’s victims destroyed the lives of families and are an open wound in the heart of the nation.”
At the same time, Netanyahu said, “If war is forced upon us, we must do everything to win it with a minimum of losses.”
During the meeting, Netanyahu also related to reports that the IDF was weighing the possibility of allowing convicted terrorists to request a shortening of their sentences.
“I strongly oppose this,” he said. “I know this is also the position of the defense minister, and therefore it will not happen.”