Memories of the Yom Kippur War

August 19, 2013 by  
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Professor Itzhak Brook was a physician in the field during the Yom Kippur War which will shortly reach its 40th anniversary. He recalls treating Australians and New Zealanders among the IDF….From Professor Itzhak Brook…

Professor Brook in 1973

Professor Brook in 1973

The 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War occurs this year. The war was launched in 1973 in a surprise attack by Syria and Egypt on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Even though the signs of an imminent attack were noted by the Israeli intelligence, the Israeli government decided to ignore them for political and strategic reasons. Consequencely, the country’s borders were very sparsely defended, creating a dangerous void on the front. The invading armies outnumbered the Israelis at a ratio of 100 to one in manpower and 10 to one in armor and artillery.

Since the bulk of the Israel army is made of reservist, it took two days for them to mobilize and deploy. During these critical days it was only the vastly outnumbered soldiers in the front and Israeli pilots the held the line and stalled the attackers. It was their heroism and determination that saved the country from being overrun. Their devotion and sacrifice compensated for the lack of a sufficient equipment and supplies. The strategic depth of the Sinai desert and Golan Heights also provided the country the time needed to mobilize the reservists.

This war posed the most serious threat to the existence of Israel in modern history. Even though Israel was eventually able to achieve a military victory, the country paid a steep price, both in lives lost and in the citizenry’s confidence in their leaders and themselves.  Almost 3000 soldiers gave their lives; which is a ratio of one per 1000 Israelis; a steep and painful price for a nation of three millions. Over 10000 were wounded in the 17 days of fighting. Almost every household and neighborhood was affected. The pain and sorrow was and still is very searing. Deep within the psyche of the nation, this conflict shattered conventional wisdom that the country was invincible. It also illustrated the importance of having secure and defendable borders and the need to prevent such deadly attacks. It also highlighted the urgent need for a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors. An important outcome of the Yom Kippur War was the creation of a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt that was signed in 1979 and ended 31 one years of conflict between the two nations.

Professor Brook today

Professor Brook today

The help provided by the United States was also very instrumental in helping Israel prevail. The ammunition, spare parts, armor and fighter jets reached Israel at a very critical moment replenishing the heavy losses and enabling Israel not only to repel the attackers but go on the offensive ending the war 65 miles from Cairo and 25 miles from Damascus. Also the political and military commitments by the United States countered the Soviet Union who threatened to intervene to assist their Arab surrogates.

I was a battalion physician during the Yom Kippur War. Like thousands of Israelis I join my battalion which was assigned to supply the armored corps with ammunition, fuel, water and food. We rushed to the front to head off the attack hoping to protect our families and our nation. The war was difficult and trying. The soldiers of my battalion risked their lives throughout the war replenishing tanks with fuel and ammunition under enemy fire. I watched them as they overcame the many difficulties and performed their mission, despite constant danger, as they heroically conquered their fears and anxieties. Many of them paid the ultimate price doing that. I had to cope with my soldiers’ war injuries and battle strain. It was a daily struggle for survival in the war zone requiring resourcefulness and performance despite fear and anxiety and loses of friends. This war changed my definition of courage. It is the performing one’s duty despite one’s fear.

For Jews who have lived through the Yom Kippur War, the holiest of the High Holy days will never be the same. For us, it stands not only as a day of atonement but as day of gratitude to God for the miracle of survival. It is also a time for remembering those who paid the ultimate price for preserving and protecting Israel, and will always commemorate a renewed commitment to preventing Israel from ever experiencing such a peril in the future.


Dr Itzhak Brook retired from the US Navy in 2006 after 27 years of service.  He is a Professor of Pediatrics in Georgetown University and the author of the book: “ In the Sands of Sinai- A Physician’s Account of the Yom Kippur War.” The book can be read and/or obtained at:


2 Responses to “Memories of the Yom Kippur War”
  1. Everett says:

    Some days into the Yom Kippur War, Israel was reaching the point of absolute desperation: its war materiel, tanks, ammunition, rockets and other weaponry, was running out. Without immediate replacement of these urgently needed supplies, Israelis would be reduced to fighting back with their fists — in short, the entire nation faced annihilation. Golda Meir pleaded with President Nixon for help. He responded as no other president had done before, or has done since. He ordered an air-lift of the needed massive resupplies from the U.S. The Soviets, getting wind of this, threatened nuclear war with the U.S., putting its forces around the world on a war footing. Nixon did not back down. He answered with moving American forces around the world to a similar war footing, and went ahead with the feverish preparations for an air-lift. The Soviets had been preparing for an invasion of Israel by its own forces, and had moved its naval fleet into the Mediterranean for this; the invasion was put on hold for the moment. Now comes the really crucial part: Nixon asked the N.A.T.O. countries to allow American planes to land in Europe to re-fuel, as part of their air-flight to Israel. And all the N.A.T.O. governments refused to do this. They were willing to sit by as uninvolved “bystanders” while Israel went down and more millions of Jews were killed. (In light of this, the pro-Islamist/Arab “Yes” votes or “Abstentions” of the European nations in the constant U.N. resolutions moved against Israel, and most recently the EU sanctions against “illegal settlements” products, all show a completely consistent attitude.)

    Still, President Nixon did not give up. Instead, he ordered in-flight refueling of those cargo jets, and the air-lift went ahead, going on around the clock and involving hundreds of round-trip flights. Never before in history had such a long-distance and massive air-lift been organized, using in-flight refueling. And it worked. Israel got the tanks, airplane parts, ammunition and other materiel it so desperately needed, and was able to turn around the war and win. Without Nixon’s help, Israel would not exist now.

    And the Soviet Union, which had relied on its expectation of invading Israel at the vanguard of the Arab armies and wiping it out to the applause of the world, was furious. It had to recall its Mediterranean fleet. This was just as serious a humiliation as that of the Cuban Missile Crisis, or even more so.

  2. Danuta Glendenning says:

    I lived in Holland during and after the war. The Dutch people were fully behind the Israelis. After the war a plane load of soldiers was invited to Holland; and they marched through our city of The Hague while being applauded by the public. Many had brought suitcases filled with goodies for the soldiers. In the end every soldier carried a suitcase, the rest was transported. How times have changed. Now the Muslims are so dominant in Holland and Belgium (Belgisthan) and anti-semitic notions rear their ugly head. A crying shame. I now live in New Zealand where the HIT system (Hosting Israeli Travelers) is very actively showing young Israelis love and free lodging. Shalom, Danuta.

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