Mossad, shin bet officials tackle israel's toughest challenges

By Yonah Jeremy Bob January | JPOST | 24, 2019

Former Mossad Personnel Division chief Rolly Gueron and former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) deputy chief Arie Pellman have spent their lives in Israel’s intelligence community protecting the country’s security and internal and global interests.

They are no lightweights. When they talk about national security, you can not only hear, but also feel from their animated expressions, that their unique experiences in the Mossad and Shin Bet have given them a much deeper understanding of the issue than most.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Jerusalem Post Magazine about Hezbollah, Iran, terrorism, the International Criminal Court and other security issues, they connected all of this to the need to give the Palestinians a peace horizon.

Their backgrounds in intelligence, which give them perspectives even different from some of their IDF compatriots in the group Commanders for Israel’s Security, are what make their views so interesting.

As part of CIS, they are campaigning for various coordinated interim withdrawals from the West Bank and rehabilitating Gaza in exchange for quiet and some interim concessions from the Palestinian side.
They also have a report arguing that the opposite approach, annexation of the West Bank, would cost the state NIS 52 billion per year, or equivalent to NIS 2,500 per Israeli.

The two were pressed that, even if arguably in the 1990s it might have seemed that reaching compromises with the Palestinians could help solve Israel’s other security issues, most experts now say that threats have evolved. In other words, the threats from Hezbollah, Iran and possibly Syria, will remain problems regardless of the Palestinian issue.

If so, then why make concessions to the Palestinians when there are so many other threats wielding more powerful weapons to use against Israel than the Palestinians?

WITH FOCUSED eyes that have seen more of the world than most, Gueron acknowledges that the issue is very complex. “I do see the Iranian threat and its proxy Hezbollah as a very serious threat to Israel. But they are not an existential threat that could lead us to cease to exist.

“The harm from a conflict with Hezbollah... could be severe and almost unlivable, especially to Israeli infrastructure.”

Showing his bipartisan attitude, he also compliments Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his handling of the Hezbollah-Syria threats. “All that Israel is doing today to deal with these issues are the correct strategies.” But, crucially, he adds, “that doesn’t mean we need to hide from the Palestinian issue and I would not compare these issues as being on the same level.”

Gueron’s experience with threats ranged from nearly 30 years in the Mossad at all levels to fighting in the 1967 Six Day War, the War of Attrition, stationed at the Suez Canal, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, on the Golan Heights.

He calls the Palestinian threat “an existential threat that presents a clear and present danger to the future of Israel as a majority Jewish nation and a Jewish and democratic state.
“We need to deal with Hezbollah, but what about the Palestinians? The situation is urgent. Israel has enough power and energy to deal with Hezbollah rockets and tunnels, Iran and the Palestinians at the same time,” he says.

“This sounds explosive, but the root of the debate between us and the annexationists is we want to guard ‘Medinat Yisrael’ [the State of Israel] and they want to guard ‘Eretz Yisrael’ [the Land of Israel] – and this is a big difference.

“They are ready to sacrifice the State of Israel for” thinking that they will only pay an “unrealistic low price. This is intolerable. If it were possible and realistic” for Israel to hold on to more of the West Bank, that would be one thing, “but in fact we cannot” hold onto it and the price will be unconscionably high.

If Gueron talks like a philosopher, Pellman expresses himself like a straight-talking tactician.
Pellman spent 30 years in the Shin Bet, starting from operations in the field and at all levels.

He was part of the paratrooper units that took Jerusalem during the Six Day War and was an IDF artillery commander whose units reached a point only 94 km. from Cairo during the Yom Kippur War.
Pellman also says he agreed with Netanyahu’s decision in November to seek a ceasefire with Hamas “under what were not the best conditions,” partially in order “to prioritize confronting the bigger threat from the North. I get that.”

But he also says that the state should follow that logic further of prioritizing how it deals with threats. “Israel must also reduce threats. The ability to reduce the threat in the North is very limited,” implying that even as Israel may currently be reducing Hezbollah’s attack tunnel threat, it is still exposed to the Lebanese terrorist group’s primary weapons – around 130,000 rockets.

“But in Judea and Samaria we can do a lot to reduce the threat and even remove the military and terror threat. We also have an ability to influence Gaza” more than Israel can influence Hezbollah, he says.

Further, the West Bank and Gaza multiply the threat posed by each other in a way that other fronts do not, he says. “If there is an uprising in Judea and Samaria, there is no way that Gaza will sit quietly.”

PELLMAN AND Gueron discussed with the Magazine the IDF intelligence’s and the state comptroller’s conclusion that 2014’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza was set off to a large degree by the killing of three Jewish teenagers by West Bank terrorists and the IDF response to it, Operation Brother’s Keeper.

Moreover, Pellman says that a key point was “for the IDF to be ready for the next conflict with the North... We need a coalition of the US and others to back us so that if” Hezbollah provokes Israel a certain amount, “we will be able to act” strongly.

He says that since there has been no peace deal on the horizon or negotiations, Israel currently has no credit globally “to do what it did during Operation Protective Edge” – which was against Hamas – against Hezbollah in a future conflict in the North.

Questioned whether it’s true that Israel does not have this backing in light of the fact that US President Donald Trump has supported Israel’s uses of force almost without exception, he says, “It is unclear with Trump – look, he just withdrew from Syria.”

Also, he questioned whether support from Trump would translate into long-term support or whether it is just covering up weakened support for Israel globally and among portions of the US.

Noting that, at most, Trump will be around for six years, Pellman says that “six years is not a lot of time. 50 years is not a lot of time. But would you sell off all of our future,” maintaining policies that alienate many countries, including a large portion of Democrats?

Gueron points out that Democrats who nearly unequivocally support Israel, such as Chuck Schumer, Joseph Biden and Joe Lieberman (who is no longer a Democrat) “are disappearing” and that Israel needs backing for the use of force and for reaching a ceasefire since “it is not built for a war of attrition.”

Getting personal about what brought him to join Commanders for Israel’s Security’s campaign, Pellman says that there wasn’t any one incident in his Shin Bet work that altered his perspective. Rather, he reached the conclusion that a divorce from the Palestinians was necessary from his cumulative experiences.

He says that he routinely would “enter families’ houses at late hours of the night and would see the fear in the [Palestinian] children’s eyes and mothers holding their kids hoping that we would not take them... It was a very rough picture and an everyday picture.

This needs to be taken into account that” sometimes these searches must be carried out “every night in order to make sure there is quiet.” He says that he doesn’t criticize it, but that he wants to reach a solution where the nightly searches are unnecessary.

Moreover, he says that “if you are not already a liberal, then one incident” does not change your views. “But that when you see this volume, you ask yourself: is this the right solution?”

Gueron mentions that prior to serving in the Mossad, he had served in a special unit for guarding the Gaza border and performing searches in Gaza at a time when Israel still maintained forces throughout the territory.

Echoing Pellman, he says he still had strong memories of “going into houses and seeing scared families.”

Pellman estimates that sometimes around 3,500 Palestinians could be arrested per year – “these are astronomical numbers.”

This means that there are tens of thousands of Palestinians who have been in Israeli jails and that “each Palestinian has family members” who have been imprisoned by Israel.

All of the searches create “bitterness” among average Palestinians, he says, and it makes it harder to “end the cycle” of fighting terrorism in a way that leads to new terrorists.

Gueron also got more personal, saying that from firsthand experience as a Mossad official serving outside the country, “You start to understand two profound things: 1) the limits of force – even the US has limits, and 2) what our place in the world is.

“We think we are the center of the world. This is a bubba maiseh [fairy tale]. We are just part of the world and we need to be connected. It is complex with unpredictable challenges that you cannot see in advance.”

Israeli interests come first. But this still means a diplomatic horizon that the world can live with, even if it might be updated from past proposals. Explaining the importance of that horizon to the Shin Bet’s role of fighting West Bank terrorism, Pellman says his experience directing much of the counter-terrorism fight went beyond the IDF’s general security role.

He says the Shin Bet specializes in intelligence and tactics to “prevent terror before an incident” happens and not just to arrest and catch terrorists who have already committed crimes.

Praising current Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman for his recent announcement that the Shin Bet prevented 480 terror attacks and a larger number of potential attacks, he says that even with the success, the volume was simply “out of control” and that “things are erupting” on the Palestinian street.

From his vantage point, this volume represented “a breakneck pace for continually collecting intelligence and knowing where and how to arrest someone before they act,” which is not sustainable, or at least will mean some attacks getting through the net.

Pellman says he worked insanely hard to keep terror down and that when he retired from the Shin Bet, “I left an area clean” of terror, but that his successor was still stuck working just as hard “as if the area had not been cleaned out.”

“The lesson I have learned from many years” in the Shin Bet is that, “the volume in the war on terror goes up, and then you bring it down... But just like mowing the lawn, the rain comes and it grows again.”

He says the only way to prevent the growth of new generations of terrorists is “to give the Palestinians a diplomatic horizon for a better future so many people will not choose the direction of terror.”

Out of the 2.6 million Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, he says he believed that there were not even 2,000 people who were inevitable terrorists.

Discussing the problem of fighting lone-wolf terror, he says, “There are no lone wolves. There is an atmosphere that gets normal people to take actions when they feel pushed into it and then fall in with Hamas.”

RETURNING TO his diplomatic horizon, Pellman lays out several things the government should do. First, he says that when responding to terrorism, the government should never use arbitrary collective punishment, but should divide between punishing the small areas that have a high density of terror and rewarding the much larger areas that do not.

Second, he says strategy must replace tactics when dealing with the Palestinian Authority. “Is the PA a burden or an asset? The country has not decided, so what does the IDF do... it just mows the lawn. What does winning look like? What do we want regarding Judea and Samaria? Just saying ‘I want quiet’ – that is not a strategic goal,” but a limited tactical perspective that will lead to “a national catastrophe.”

Regarding the PA, he says Israel should strategically and systematically commit to strengthening it since whenever it weakens, “there is no vacuum. Where the PA goes down, Hamas goes up and vice versa.”

He also says Israel must truly come to terms with Palestinian statehood, as absent a state, “how can they fully control their own public?”

In addition, Pellman slammed Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel for a period in which he blocked workers permits of Palestinians to enter Israel. His argument was, “Economics have proven that with Palestinian villages where more people go to work in Israel” within the Green Line or within Jewish West Bank areas, “the level of terror goes down.” Likewise, if a Palestinian village “gets a well-paved road instead of an unpaved dirt road, this keeps them quiet for longer.”

How about broader diplomatic and image benefits to diplomatic moves toward the Palestinians? In the 1990s, many believed that diplomatic moves toward the Palestinians would completely alter Israel’s global image and get it favored treatment from UN-type organizations that currently criticize or harass it.

But since 2015, when the PA asked the International Criminal Court prosecutor to probe Israel on war crimes allegations, under the ICC’s rules, it now can decide to go after Israel even if the PA later backs off during peace negotiations.

The two say that “everything is political” and that they are still confident that if there is reduced violence between the sides and a strengthened peace process, “there will be pressure on the ICC” to slide the case back under the table so as not to rock the boat.

WHAT IS the ex-Mossad and ex-Shin Bet official’s message to the government and the public?
Gueron says, “many agree that debating whether to annex or not is legitimate in a democratic state. On top of that, the elected government in a democracy has the right to move its agenda forward according to its ideology.

“But I do complain that if the decisions have fateful consequences, then serious work is required to understand those consequences. We know this government has not carried out research to understand the consequences. So we did the research,” he says. “This is an issue of showing responsibility. The government has rights, but it needs to act responsibly.”

Answering their own call, Gueron and Pellman handed over a summary of a 400-page report authored by a group of experts that included three ex-Finance Ministry director-generals, Avi Ben Bassat, David Brodt and Yarom Ariav, describing “all of the consequences – economic, diplomatic, social and political” of annexation of the West Bank.

“The results would be grave,” they say, including an around NIS 52 billion per year price tag, which comes out to around NIS 2,500 per citizen to the extent that the cost is passed on in various ways.

The former director-generals arrived at NIS 52b. based on adding expenditures that Israel would owe for education, health and other socioeconomic rights for the 2.6 million Palestinians and some additional security costs, subtracting estimated taxes Israel could collect.

Israel simply “does not have the capacity to swallow this without choking ourselves,” they say, and that a divorce from the Palestinians is the only path.

Though most of their emphasis is on the West Bank, they also support reducing tension with Gaza by rehabilitating it with an offshore man-made island port. Pellman says that “as a career Shin Bet man, my view is that there is no way to guarantee Hamas will not bring problematic people, containers and weapons unless there is Israeli security supervision.

“This is the position of the Shin Bet and it is correct. You need to take into account that the dream of Hamas in Gaza is to be given an opening where they can bring in weapons on an industrial scale,” and that Israel must be ready to combat that.

Although Netanyahu previously said at a Knesset hearing that the Shin Bet was opposed to the man-made island port concept and did not mention qualifications, the Post has confirmed Pellman’s view as accurate that the Shin Bet would support a man-made island port if there was full Israeli security inspection authority.

In any case, Pellman says that it should be approved as a running concept since anyway it could take 10 years to become operational. During this time, Israel would be able to continue to monitor how well Hamas stuck to an indefinite ceasefire.

He says that in a much longer time, tossing out 25 or 50 years – “until it is quiet” – possibly Israel could hand over security to the Palestinians.

Gueron surprised on this issue, saying that while he “supports the Shin Bet and I trust them professionally and some of this is based on information I don’t have, personally [this is not a CIS view]” the port is not the real issue anymore.

“Sometimes it gets too much attention. It’s only symbolic,” saying the real issues were ending the rocket fire, bridging gaps between Hamas and the PA and “major reconstruction of Gaza” with or without a port.

Summing up the most basic and concrete benefit for Israel of avoiding annexation and moving toward a diplomatic horizon, Pellman says the PA would act more strongly against terror on its own.

“Today it is a dilemma for them... struggling against terror” when they cannot explain the benefits to their public. “But if they have a bloc of territory of their own, they will finally be able to do better at explaining why” cracking down on terror from their side to protect Israelis is in the Palestinian public’s interest.

Legal Consequences

Col. (Res.) Pnina Sharvit
Baruch, former Head of the IDF
International Law Department, a Senior Research Associate, INSS

Liberal | 01.07.2019

Applying Israeli law to portions of the West Bank - synonymous with annexation - is likely to culminate in the annexation of the entire West Bank (see The Domino Effect, p. XX) and result in momentous legal consequences for Israel.

Annexation will turn the over 2.5 million Palestinians living in the annexed territory into residents of Israel with full residential rights, including freedom of movement anywhere in Israel, social rights, and the right to request Israeli citizenship.   If the state does grant them complete political rights, including the right to vote and be elected, the Jewish character of the state may be jeopardized. On the other hand, if the state denies them equal rights, it will undermine Israel's democratic character by creating two unequal classes of people. Furthermore, the freedom of movement that forms part of resident status will generate friction liable to result in violence, followed by the inevitable imposition of severe restrictions that will also challenge Israel’s democracy.

Even if annexation is restricted to the 60% of the West Bank known as Area C, and excludes the Palestinian communities in Areas A and B - and somehow does not trigger the “domino effect” - it will create within the expanded state of Israel multiple Palestinian enclaves without territorial contiguity. It will be necessary to provide for the needs of the Palestinians in these un-annexed areas, including arrangements for passage between dozens of enclaves surrounded by Area C on all sides. In addition, since annexation will undermine the Palestinian Authority's (PA) continued operation and likely terminate security cooperation with Israel, the IDF will have to extend its direct operations to the un-annexed territory.  If the PA collapses, Israel will have to provide for all of the Palestinian population's needs. With time, preserving a viable democracy in such a situation, with no foreseeable end, will prove impossible. It can be argued that this is precisely the prevailing situation for the past 50 years. There is a difference, however, between a situation forced upon us due to the other side’s intransigence and a one which we unilaterally create, with no intention to change.

Annexation will be regarded as a violation of international law, leading to measures against Israel, including sanctions and boycotts, by countries and other entities. Even the friendly Trump administration does not recognize the annexation of East Jerusalem and it is unlikely to support West Bank annexation. The new Democratic majority in the United States House of Representatives and future changes in the US administration might lead to a less supportive administration which could even allow the passage of Security Council resolutions mandating punitive measures against Israel. When Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, which belongs to Ukraine, many Western countries imposed sanctions against it. It can be assumed that Israel, whose deterrence is far less potent than Russia’s, will be subjected to even more severe sanctions.

Another possible effect of annexation concerns the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is already conducting a preliminary examination of Israel's actions in the West Bank. The ICC will be more likely to open a full-fledged investigation against Israeli elements involved in West Bank Jewish settlements, although its jurisdiction in the matter is disputed.

It is important to bear in mind that annexation is not an easily revocable action. It requires either a Knesset majority of 61 and a national referendum or a Knesset majority of 80.

Annexation is a clear case  where responsible conduct requires thinking ahead before taking steps that might send us all down a dangerous irreversible path.

The Economic Aspect

Yarom Ariav
Former Director General of the Ministry of Finance

Liberal | 01.07.2019

In case it is realized, the West Bank annexation is an economic idiocy that will harm every household in Israel.

One of the key reasons for the thriving and growth of the Israeli economy lies in the government's responsible budget policy, along with the increasing weight of the civilian budget at the expense of the defense budget. The results of this policy came to be expressed in growth accompanied by stable prices, in a dramatic reduction in the debt-to-GDP ratio, in an improvement in the standard of living, and in a resilience in the face of external crises. All these achievements will very likely be lost if a decision is taken to annex all or part of the West Bank. In effect, it would be a true U-turn in policy and the consequences are likely to resemble the "lost decade" following the Yom Kippur War, when the Israeli economy stagnated as a result of the sharp rise in the defense budget.

A senior economic team, which advised a study regarding a future annexation, concluded that what might start with a partial annexation would trigger a domino effect, and end with an Israeli takeover of the entire territory and management of the lives of its millions of Palestinian residents, with devastating consequences to the Israeli economy. Such steps would harm the quality of life and force a drastic drop in the standard of living of every household in Israel. In other words, beyond the security and diplomatic impact, as well as the demographic consequences, the annexation of the territories constitutes economic stupidity.

Provision of regular services: the additional annual budget required to finance the security aspects involved in controlling the occupied territories, as well as providing services to its 2.6 million Palestinian residents, assuming that they will be entitled to the same rights as "permanent residents" (similar to the status of Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem), will total approximately NIS 52 billion (after the offset of direct and indirect taxes collected from Palestinians). This amounts to a budget supplement of 12.8% over the 2018 state budget. The average annual damage to each household in Israel will be about NIS 26,000, which means an "annexation tax" of sorts of about NIS 2,200 per month per household!

Security infrastructures: a one-time allocation of NIS 32 billion would be required for the takeover and financing of a new 1,800-km border fence around the 169 “islands” of Palestinian towns and villages, known as Areas A and B and surrounded by Area C (where the Israeli settlements are located).

A blow to growth: following the most conservative estimate, based on the economic consequences of the second intifada and Operation Protective Edge, an annexation scenario would ignite a multiyear wave of violence that will deal a blow of no less than NIS 40 billion to the Israeli economy as a result of reduced foreign investment, a drop in GDP, deterioration in Israeli companies’ creditworthiness, boycott damage, etc. During this period, private consumption per capita will drop by more than 20%, sending the Israeli economy decades backward, in addition to the harm caused to the standard of living of every citizen and resident. The strength of the economy as a whole would be compromised, as well as its resilience to shocks.

To meet the required budget in such a scenario, the government and Knesset will face two difficult alternatives: they will either put the entire burden on Israel’s citizens by imposing tax hikes and by cutting social services, acts which will mostly harm the lower and middle classes, or they will enact legislation that would deny 2.6 million Palestinians their legal rights.

The first alternative will very probably damage the social fabric of Israel, and result in powerful social protests the likes of which the country has never seen. The second alternative would be considered as Apartheid by the region, the world, and extensive segments of the Israeli public, and will most likely result in harsh international reaction which will further worsen the economic impact of the annexation.

Whether the economic burden is imposed on the public, or discrimination by law is applied, the strong and thriving Israeli economy we know today will be no more, and the price of a decision to annex millions of Palestinians would be paid, big time, by all of Israel's citizens.

Security-Diplomatic Consequences

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Gad Shamni
Military Secretary to two prime ministers
Head of IDF Central Command, and Defense Attaché in Washington

Liberal | 01.07.2019

The intelligence and operational cooperation with the Palestinian Authority (PA) security agencies constitutes an essential element in Israel's ability to thwart terrorism and safeguard public order in the West Bank. The United States and Jordan have been involved in training, equipping, and improving the Palestinian forces since 2007. Under the command of an American general, this activity has greatly contributed to the professionalism and operational standards of these forces, which have been hailed by the IDF and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) as full-fledged security partners.

The Palestinians will interpret annexation of even part of the West Bank as an Israeli decision to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, resulting in substantial damage to this cooperation, which is already unpopular among Palestinians. Pressure from the public and the families of Palestinian policemen will lead them to desert, causing forces that are well-trained and skilled in using weapons and warfare techniques to join criminal and terrorist groups - in some cases for economic reasons (just as trained combat soldiers joined ISIS after the Iraqi army was dismantled).

Annexation will also increase motivation and legitimacy for violent actions by Palestinian groups, leading to an immediate increase in terrorist attacks out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Under this scenario, the IDF will have to substantially reinforce – and possibly even double - its forces and deployment in the West Bank.

Roadblocks and dirt barriers will emerge all over the West Bank, traffic will be restricted and separated, and the Palestinian economy will collapse, culminating in increased violence. Without a border and a strict border regime, built-up Palestinian areas in the annexed area will become bases for terrorist attacks.

These developments will force an IDF takeover, possibly via military campaign, of cities and villages in Areas A and B.  Three to five IDF divisions will be needed, including a callup of 30,000 reserve soldiers.

The legitimacy of the PA will suffer a critical blow, probably leading to its collapse, either through a decision by its leadership or as a result of a popular uprising.

This situation will require the reinstatement of a military administration to manage the daily lives of 2.6 million Palestinians. Severe restrictions will be imposed on the movement of both Palestinians and Jews living in the West Bank in order to prevent friction between them and the resultant casualties.

Annexation of Area C, will create a new 1,787-kilometer border between the annexed area and the rest of the West Bank. Preventing Palestinians and residents of the un-annexed areas from freely entering the annexed area and reducing the risk to the Jews living in the annexed territory will require construction of a fence on the new border that will cost NIS 27 billion to build and NIS 4 billion in annual maintenance. Twice as many soldiers and police will be needed for regular security and supervision of Palestinian traffic between the cities and villages cut off from each other by Area C, and a new system of crossings, roadblocks, and special roads will be required. Israel cannot afford to pay the personnel and other costs involved without a substantial negative impact on other spheres of Israeli citizens’ lives.  The IDF will have to divert its regular forces to maintaining security in the West Bank, which will detract from its capability and readiness for dealing with challenges in the north (Syria, Lebanon, as well as Iran’s ambitions in both) and on the Gaza Strip border in the south.

The need to enforce Israeli sovereignty in the entire territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and impose Israeli law and order on millions of Palestinians will force Israel's military to deal with years of violent confrontations. It is liable to exact a heavy toll in blood from both sides, destroy Israel's international legitimacy, and culminate in an eventual recognition of the need for painful separation. With judicious measures, this separation can begin now.

War and Peace

Shabtai Shavit
Former Director of the Mossad
Member of Commanders for Israel's Security’s Steering Committee 

Liberal | 01.07.2019

The annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in February 2018 summarized the situation of Israel on its 70th anniversary with as follows: "Israel’s strategic situation is one of the most favorable the country has known in its 70 years." But - and there is always a but - Israel’s margins of security are narrow. In an environment laden with risks of unexpected escalation, Israel needs to take advantage of its improved strategic situation to widen these narrow margins because, as everyone knows, there are no second chances in the Middle East.

Since the conference, unexpected escalation has indeed occurred. Gaza is a boiling cauldron, tension on the Lebanese border has risen, a new wave of terrorism is emerging in the West Bank, the “honeymoon” with Russia has ended, our freedom of action in Syria has been restricted, and Iran has inaugurated a new direct supply route from Tehran to Lebanon.

The strategic balance still holds, but in this war between wars, our containment policy is having a substantial negative impact on our deterrence.

There are two ways of expanding our security margins:

One is to arm ourselves to the teeth and build an “iron wall” - or a bunker or ghetto, if you will - followed, sooner or later, by escalation into another armed conflict. Unfortunately, this is happening right before our eyes.

The second is to initiate a diplomatic move with the Palestinian Authority (PA), starting with a renewed dialogue, because when there is talk, guns are more likely to remain silent. Our hotheads will probably say that this idea is delusory; when people are in a messianic mood, talking with the enemy spoils the party.

The Middle Eastern chaos is fertile ground for creating a different Middle East that will include a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Middle Eastern borders, which were drawn by France and Britain in 1916, have survived for a century. The Arab Spring revolutions accelerated the disintegration of the old order in a revolt against totalitarian regimes and in favor of democracy.  These revolutions have failed to bring democracy, but have toppled regimes and challenged old borders in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, leading to the formation of ISIS and its ambition of a caliphate extending across the region.

The relative stability in some countries and the defeat of ISIS mark a new chapter in shaping borders in the Middle East. In my opinion, redesigning the borders in the Middle East will take years. It provides an opportunity that can and should be taken to solve the conflict with the Palestinians in harmony with the region's future architecture.

Clausewitz said that war is the continuation of policy by other means.  The converse is equally true - policy is the continuation of war by other means. Israel's current strategy, however, is one-dimensional: it consists of force and more force. Concepts such as diplomacy, negotiations, coexistence, and peace have been dispensed with. All that remains is a war that has continued for over 150 years, with the exception of the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and the Oslo Accords.

I believe that after 70 years, the War of Independence should be ended and a peace agreement signed. Using force will not end the conflict. Achieving peace – however complicated -- requires the creation of conditions for renewing negotiations and bringing them to a successful conclusion while using our military power for deterrence. Negotiations necessarily require compromise, and the only compromise that has a chance is embodied in the two-state solution.

Attaining the security benefits of progress with the Palestinians and regional integration requires abandoning the madness of annexation, which will exclude any possibility of separation between the two peoples and lead to a prolonged bloody struggle within the borders of one state. A small minority of extremists is dragging an entire country towards a precipice. They must be stopped to avoid the annihilation of the Zionist vision.

Political and Security Consequences

Tamir Pardo
Former Director of the Mossad
Member of Commanders for Israel's Security (CIS) Steering Committee

Liberal | 01.07.2019

In the Region

Israel has reached a momentous crossroad in its relations with the pragmatic Arab countries. These countries make no secret of their willingness to take steps towards normalizing relations with Israel, provided that progress on the Palestinian front offers them the political cover for doing so.

The pragmatic Arab countries' realization that they and Israel are threatened by the same subversive entities, led by Iran, has added momentum to this trend. Good relations with these countries hold promise not only to Israel’s economy but primarily to its security. Coordination with Israel, which already takes place clandestinely and on a limited scale, could gradually evolve into operational coordination, potentially culminating in a regional security system that could become a new and important element in Israel's security.

Annexation legislation will be interpreted in the region and beyond as a decision by Israel to slam the door on a future two-state solution. Not only will it prevent any progress in Israel's relations in the region, but will very likely terminate the existing limited cooperation. Legislated annexation will exacerbate these countries' fear that public awareness of their cooperation with Israel - in security or other matters - could arouse popular rage at home. Likewise, they fear that their enemies, headed by Iran, will utilize leaks of their cooperation with an annexationist Israel in campaigns designed to undermine regime legitimacy. These countries are consequently liable to sacrifice one security interest – cooperation with Israel, to preserve another - regime stability.

Annexation will undermine another important pillar of Israel' security: the unprecedented degree of security cooperation with Egypt and Jordan. This cooperation is crucial to Israel in two critical ways: first, in its contribution to internal and regime stability in these two strategically valued neighbors. Second, security coordination has extends Israel's strategic depth eastward, way beyond its border with Jordan and, as far as Egypt is concerned, security cooperation there does not stop at the international border either.

Stable relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the possibility of a two-state solution will make it easier for Jordan and Egypt to continue this cooperation, despite public hostility toward Israel in both countries. Any move towards annexation will inflame popular opinion, forcing both regimes to respond aggressively -  even against their will – including by suspending relations, closing down of embassies, and probably curtailing security cooperation.

On the International Theater

The leading countries in the European Union are likely to respond harshly to annexation legislation, including taking concrete measures, such as political and economic sanctions. One case in point is Germany, Israel's sole supplier of strategic naval platforms, which also helps pay for them. Germany is liable to change its stance in response to legislated annexation, thereby affecting Israel's strategic capabilities. Russia and China - the non-Western permanent UN Security Council members - are also likely to adopt punitive measures and scale down their bilateral relations with Israel.

Even the response of the Trump administration should not be taken for granted, especially now that the Democratic Party has a majority in the House of Representatives. A hostile American attitude towards annexation might damage Israel's most important security relationship.

As legislated annexation – however partial in scope -- is likely to trigger an outbreak of violence, the collapse of the PA, and an Israeli takeover of all of the West Bank, the international community can thence be expected to adopt punitive measures against Israel.

The international consensus around the two-state solution will erode, with increasing pressure on Israel to grant equal rights to all of its citizens, millions of annexed Palestinians included.  Israel will face the worst strategic dilemma in its history: it will have to choose between the status of an outcast country like South Africa of the 1990s and the loss of its Jewish character.

All who value a safe and democratic Israel with a solid Jewish majority must take action to thwart any move towards destructive annexation.

The CIS annexation study: an overview

Maj. Gen. Amnon Reshef (res.)
Chairman of Commanders for Israel's Security

Liberal | 01.07.2019

While IDF soldiers are destroying Hezbollah tunnels in the north and hundreds of rockets were launched only a few weeks ago from the Gaza Strip at nearby Jewish communities in the south, terrorism is striking once again in the West Bank. The developments in the last two fronts - the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – are a reminder of Israel's tendency to focus on them only when there is a violent outbreak, while ignoring opportunities to change the situation during periods of relative tranquility.

Generally speaking, Israel's overall security situation is reasonably good. The IDF and the other security agencies are coping well with these and other threats, and at this time, Israel faces no existential external threat.  Under the radar, however, a threat to our national security and the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is emerging.

Israeli governments have neither formed nor articulated a clear strategy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ‘Creeping annexation’ has accelerated in recent years in the form of both actions on the ground and the setting of the legislative as well as administrative infrastructure for legislated annexation. Rightwing politicians are competing with each other over whose draft annexation bill is more attractive. The situation is bizzar: while a majority of the public supports a political-security solution by means of a ‘two states for two peoples’ agreement when the conditions are ripe for one, and civil separation from the Palestinians until then, nonetheless, a public minority, which is also a Knesset minority, uses its disproportional potency in the governing coalition to dragg the country towards an abyss.

Commanders for Israel's Security, a movement whose 286 members are all former senior officers in the IDF, Israel Security Agency, Mossad, and Israel Police, has presented the Israeli leadership and defense agencies with detailed plans for Israeli initiatives, now available to the public: first, a plan which details the measures for civil separation while maintaining IDF security control in the West Bank. Second, a plan for changing the situation in the Gaza Strip. Third, an analysis of the devastating security and other consequences of annexing the West Bank.

This last study, which holds over 400 pages, assesses the implications of legislated annexation and presents its security, economic, regional, international, legal, and social consequences. The main insights are reviewed in the following five essays.

The study also shows that even the most knowledgeable advocates of annexation are making an erroneous strategic assumption: that they can ensure that annexation - even if limited to territory without a large Palestinian population (such as Area C) - will not set in motion a “domino effect”, forcing the IDF to take control of Areas A and B along with their millions of Palestinian residents.

If the Knesset passes an annexation bill, regardless of its territorial scope, this will be taken in the region and internationally as a national decision to slam the door on the possibility of future separation from the Palestinians. As explained in the following pages, this step will lead to the termination of security coordination with the Palestinian security forces and ignite a popular uprising, likely with armed Tanzim forces and Palestinian security forces taking an active part in the violence.  Either in response to these developments or in an effort to prevent them, there will be no avoiding a renewed takeover by the IDF of all of the West Bank and its millions of Palestinian residents.  This will trigger the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, contribute to the consolidation of Hamas at the helm of the Palestinian leadership, and we shall find ourselves responsible for managing the lives of millions of Palestinians.

In sum, what might start out as “luxurious annexation” - intended to incorporate as much land with as little Palestinian residents as possible, will inevitably end with Israel taking over the entire territory, assuming responsibility for the lives of millions of Palestinians, and coping with the ensuing destructive consequences for Israel's security, economy, regional and international standing, and Jewish and democratic character.

This act will present the Zionist enterprise with the  greatest challenge since Israel’s independence.

The present Israeli government is accelerating a creeping annexation

Rolly Gueron - Radio interview
KAN - Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation

The chief reason for launching the campaign now is to sound an alarm of a failing on the national level.

The present Israeli government is accelerating a creeping annexation of Judea & Sameria by Knesset bills and ministerial proposals laying down the legislative infrastructure for that.

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There is a northern front and a southern front - so we must avoid a central front!

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The Silver Platter of the Yom Kippur War

By Zvi Harel | Israel Today | 09.18.2018

[su_note note_color="#fbfbec"]Dressed in battle gear, dirty,
shoes heavy with grime,
they ascend the path quietly.
To change garb,
to wipe their brow
they have not yet found time.
Still bone weary from days and from nights in the field.

From: The Silver Platter
A Poem by Natan Alterman
Written towards the end of 1947,
a few weeks after the outbreak of the War of Independence.[/su_note]

It would hardly be possible to relate the terrible story of the October 1973 Yom Kippur War – especially the dramatic turn of events that literally saved the State of Israel – without putting the 14th Brigade front and center.  This standing armored brigade, under the command of Col. Amnon Reshef, played a critical role that merits greater attention.  When the war broke out, the 14th was the only tank brigade defending the 200 kilometer long Suez Canal front.  The strongholds along the canal were manned at the time by reservists from the 16th Jerusalem brigade along with soldiers from the Nahal brigade.  As a result the 14th was virtually alone, holding the line against wave after wave of a massive Egyptian military crossing of 90,000 infantry soldiers and 820 tanks within the first 18 hours of the war on October 6th.

photographer: Yosi Zliger

The 14th brigade continued to play a critical – and heroic – role throughout the war.  It took part in stopping the Egyptian armored assault on October 14th; crossing the Suez Canal (Operation Stouthearted Men), breaking through the Egyptian deployment in the deadly battle of the “Chinese farm” (October 15th and 16th); and then battled on to the gates of Ismailiyah.  The 14th brigade took heavy casualties in these bitter engagements, losing 302 of its men, with hundreds of others injured.  82 were killed on the first day of battle alone.  Another 121 lost their lives in breaking through Egyptian lines at the Chinese farm.

Reshef was given command of the brigade about a year before the Yom Kippur War.  On the eve of battle, the 14th numbered almost 1,000 soldiers.  Two battalions with 56 tanks were under Reshef’s command and a third, deployed in the northern sector of the canal, was under the command of the 275th brigade.  Reshef had previously led the 52nd battalion and the 189th reconnaissance battalion.  He received his first battle experience as a company commander during a 1959 raid on a fortification in the Golan Heights, carried out jointly with a force from the Golani brigade. During the Six Day War he served as intelligence officer and Deputy Commander of the 8th brigade, where he fought both in the Sinai and the Golan.

Six months after the Yom Kippur War he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and appointed Deputy Commander of the IDF armored division.  In 1979 Reshef was given command of the IDF armored corps and raised to the rank of Major General.  He retired from active duty in 1984.

In 2014 he founded Commanders for Israel’s Security, bringing together hundreds of former senior commanders from all branches of Israel’s security forces (the IDF, Mossad, Israel Security Agency and Police).  Reshef, who chairs the movement, opposes the annexation of Judea and Samaria, warning that Israel will be burdened with responsibility for the civilian population there.

Reshef argues that the soldiers from his brigade never received due credit for putting their lives on the line during the Yom Kippur War.  Even an official IDF study was riddled with factual errors on this point.  Protesting these inaccuracies, Reshef convinced IDF authorities not to publish it.  To set the record straight, Reshef conducted his own, painstaking research, reviewing untold quantities of documentation in the process.  The resulting, 640 page book, We Will Never Cease!, was published five years ago (Kinneret Zmora-Bitan, Dvir publishers).

He dedicated the book to the fighters of the 14th brigade, to those who gave their lives and their families.  We Will Never Cease! is meticulously documented.  Reshef consulted the brigade’s sources, including aerial photographs, eyewitness accounts of commanders, front line soldiers, men who served in the canal strongholds and Israeli POWs; transcripts of radio communication, captured enemy documents, and transcripts of the commission of inquiry headed by Justice Shimon Agranat, -- a commission in front of which Reshef testified twice (four hours each).

Now, 45 years after the war, Reshef agreed to an interview with Israel Today, sharing not only details of what happened on the battlefield but also his insights as he reflects on those momentous events.

I listened to his riveting story for hours on end.  Reshef told me about his struggle to survive the blood drenched battles of the Yom Kippur War, as bullets, tank shells and Sagger missiles shrieked overhead.  His performance won him the admiration, not only of his own men but of his commanding officers.  Thus, for instance, Major General Yisrael Tal, Deputy Chief of Staff during the war, says “Amnon’s experience was unique.  I don’t know of another commander anywhere who went through what he did that night.”

Reshef is a tall fellow (1.9 meters).  Heis speaks with a calm voice and displays a phenomenal memory.  “I didn’t think I’d make it,” he tells me as he describes an operation to rescue fighters trapped in the Purkan stronghold. “I was ready to pay the price.  Maybe it was the sight of so many dead and injured. I really thought I was next.”

After the fighting had ended, Reshef often looked back wondering what gave him the strength to battle on in the face of death.  The answer, he concludes, begins with a less than easy childhood, mired by his mother’s death when he was only 13.

Mentally Unprepared

Reshef, a father of five and grandfather to 16, was born in Haifa 80 years ago. His parents made Aliyah from Hungary in the 1920’s.  Before Hebraizing it, his family’s name was Izaak.  “When I was a year and a half old,” he relates, “we moved to Tel Aviv.  The family was poor.  The four of us – my parents, my younger brother and myself -- lived in a one room, cellar apartment.  My father was a tailor and our home was his workshop.  But despite the scarcity, we were happy.  We lacked for nothing.”

Reshef’s family was traditional.  “Mainly because of my mother,” he relates.  “We kept a kosher kitchen and I usually covered my head – not with a kippah, but with a beret.  I sang in a children’s’ choir that performed in synagogues around Tel Aviv. “

Reshef studied in the Tel Nordau elementary school.  At the end of WWII, his mother’s nephew -- a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp -- came to stay with them.  The family came up with a creative housing solution for him, placing a basic metal bed on the balcony and enclosing it with wooden boards.  Five months later, after the uncle found his own apartment, two of his sisters – Auschwitz survivors as well – came to Israel, taking his place on the balcony.  “We honestly didn’t feel crowded,” Reshef recalls.

When he reached the age of 13, the family moved to a two room apartment in Bat Yam – near the sand dunes, a kilometer outside the town’s built up area, adjacent to the industrial zone.  As a youth, Reshef worked in the nearby popsicle factory.  After his mother died, his brother was sent to a kibbutz and then to a boarding school.  Reshef stayed at home.  In light of the financial situation, Reshef was advised to study at the Shevach trade school.  His mother’s death was very hard on his father.  She had been the dominant figure in the family. Reshef lasted only a year at school.

photographer: Yosi Zliger

At 15 Reshef began working full time to support the family.  He remembers working at a milling machine in a dark cubicle in Jaffa.  “It wasn’t easy for a child to travel each morning to work in Jaffa and come back at 5 in the evening.   Our apartment had no hot water.  We used primitive methods to heat up water when we needed it.”

The turning point came at age 16, when Reshef decided to go back to school.  He registered to study mechanical metalwork at the Max Fein School in the afternoon, while continuing to work full time, starting his day at 5:00 am.  He maintained this exhausting routine until he was drafted into the army on the eve of the Sinai campaign, in August 1956.

Why did you chose to serve in the armored corps?

Reshef:  You’ll have to ask the folks who sent me.  I actually wanted to be a pilot, but I failed the vision exam at the Tel Nof base.  The tank commander’s course attracted young people from all over – city kids and kibbutzniks – from well to do families.  I personally didn’t choose tanks.  In fact, I wasn’t an outstanding trainee.  They just sent me to the armored corps training base and decided that I’d be an instructor.

As the years went by, Reshef never gave up hope of continuing his education.  He wanted to complete his matriculation.  Army officials made all kinds of promises, from a degree at the Technion to studying in the US.  But in the end, they never came through, appealing instead to his sense of duty.  Reshef blames the commanders of the armored corps, including Yisrael Tal and Avraham Adan, who failed to make good on their promises.  He recalls an emotionally charged meeting right after the Six Day War, when General Tal asked him to assume command of a tank battalion.  “I was tense going into the meeting.  I told him to forget about it.  I said it was time to deliver on what was promised.  Tal played on my sense of guilt, reminding me of our fallen comrades.  He promised that after this commission, all kinds of possibilities would open up.   ‘You can study in the US, whatever you want,’ he told me.  He put me in an impossible situation.  We all knew the guys who had lost their lives.  It was only after being released from military service, having reached the rank of major general, that I was able to study for a B.A. in history at Tel Aviv University.  I graduated with honors, despite never having completed my high school matriculation.”

Our discussion proceeds to the eve of the Yom Kippur War.  In June of 1973, the brigade conducted a challenging exercise – a night time assault, with no dry run.  We were at the peak of our training, ready for action.  A few days before the war, Reshef’s soldiers reported unusual Egyptian troop movements, along with the arrival of reinforcements.  He reported to the information to those responsible.  His unit was originally scheduled to leave the Bar Lev line (the Suez Canal front) on October 8th.  By that time, however, the war was in its second day.

“You have to remember Israel’s mindset at the time,” Reshef points out.  “We were drunk with victory after the Six Day War.  We were all guilty of hubris, and completely discounted the enemy.  ‘Who the hell are they?’ we thought to ourselves.  The image I had in my own mind was of Egyptian soldiers fleeing, barefoot, on the sands of the Sinai.  Don’t confuse technical preparedness with being mentally prepared.  No matter how many times we spoke with the troops, we could never convince them to take the possibility of war seriously.

“Shifting from one psychological state to another is difficult.  The sad truth is that the IDF had no defensive plan for the Sinai.  There were two schools of thought at the time.  Former Chief of General Staff Haim Bar Lev called for setting up fortifications.  Generals Tal and Ariel Sharon argued against fortifications and insisted that if they must be set up, they should be small.  In military terms, Bar Lev favored a static defense while Tal and Sharon advocated mobile defense.  As a field commander, I was clearly on the side of Tal and Sharon.  But IDF strategy at the time called for defending every inch of the canal front. I should also point out that the IDF failed to adapt itself to a number of developments that had taken place. First, after the War of Attrition, in the summer of 1970, Egypt violated the cease fire and deployed anti-aircraft batteries, thereby denying Israel control in the air.  Secondly, though we had obtained access to Egypt’s war plans, the IDF simply did not understand those plans and failed to prepare a response.

“When Egyptian President Sadat said he was ready to sacrifice a million men, we did not understand him.  He told his generals that he wanted to cross the canal and penetrate the east bank to a distance of ten kilometers.  He saw the war as a means towards political ends.  We acted as if the Egyptians wanted to reach Tel Aviv.  That thought never crossed his mind.  It is true that Egypt also had plans to take the entire Sinai, but they knew this was not realistic.

200 Planes Overhead

Where were you on the first day of the war, October 6?

“At 12:30 in the afternoon we were told with certainty that a war would break out.  I told my driver that  war was coming.  He replied ‘it is good to die for one’s country.’  I answered, ‘you fool, it’s good to live for one’s country.”

“At 1:47 pm we heard sirens on our radio frequencies, indicating that Egyptian planes had crossed the canal.  Simultaneously, 2,400 Egyptian artillery cannons opened fire and over 200 jets started bombing us.  The entire Sinai peninsula shook like and earthquake.  Our tanks immediately headed out to their firing positions.

“To give you a sense of how surprised we were, I’ll tell you a story.  After the war, I was told about a tank commander who, while the earth was shaking all around him, asked if he should load a shell into his cannon.  In some cases, Egyptian soldiers who had already crossed the canal fired on us even before we reached our positions.  Meanwhile, they launched Sagger missiles at us from across the canal, 3.5 kilometers away.  Three tanks under the command of Ronny Weiner were hit even before they reached firing position.”

Reshef relates that two and a half hours after the outbreak of fighting, 23,500 Egyptian infantrymen crossed the canal.  “Israeli forces, all told – those manning the outposts and our own two platoons (mechanized infantry and reconnaissance) – numbered only 500.  It was terrible.  The numerical imbalance is impossible to comprehend.  Within the first 18 hours of the war, 90,000 Egyptian soldiers and 800 tanks crossed the Suez Canal.”

“Let me illustrate,” he continues.  “Twenty kilometers separated the Purkan and Matzmed strongholds.  An entire Egyptian division crossed the canal in that gap, virtually unopposed.  The soldiers of the 14th brigade literally stopped the enemy with their bodies.  On the second day of the war, our brigade came under the authority of Ariel Sharon, commander of the 143rd division.  We were also reinforced by two battalions.  I reported to Arik that out of the entire brigade, we only had 20 tanks left.  But we kept fighting.”

In his book, Reshef he brings two different descriptions of his own meeting with Sharon on October 7.  The first is from Sharon’s autobiography, Warrior.  “After a long and bitter night Amnon was exhausted.  Still he kept his cool and had the presence of mind to offer a detailed description of his encounter with Egyptian infantry.”  The second account is from Uri Dan, the journalist who followed Sharon throughout the war. “Everyone is silent.  Only one person speaks:  Amnon, the brigade commander.   A young colonel, no more than 35 years old, the fatigue and tension is noticeable on his face.  Arik interrogates him quietly.  Both men keep their cool.”

Caught up in a major catastrophe, Sharon and Reshef – like the IDF as a whole – acted furiously from the very first minute to execute plans for evacuating the canal forts.  One of the strongholds Reshef spoke with was Purkan, manned by 33 reservists under the command of Maj. Meir (Meirka) Weisel.  A member of Kibbutz HaLamed Heh, Weisel would subsequently be awarded a citation from the commander of the southern front for his resourcefulness, initiative and outstanding leadership, in recognition of his success in preventing the capture of his soldiers by Egyptian forces.

Initially, Sharon had ordered Col. Haim Erez, commander of another armored brigade, the 421st, to evacuate Purkan on October 9.  As soon as Reshef heard this, he called Sharon and asked to evacuate Purkan himself.

Reshef (right) with Moshe Dayan and Ariel Sharon, at a lookout point during the Battle of the Chinese Farm. \\ 14th Tank Brigade’s archive

“I asked Sharon for the assignment because these men had served under me before the war, and because I had been the one to plan the evacuation route.  Sharon agreed immediately,” Reshef explains.  Reshef and Weisel agreed that the soldiers would march 10 kilometers under the cover of darkness, cross enemy lines and meet up with the evacuation force the next day.  Reshef instructed Maj. Shaul Shalev, commander of the 184th battalion, to organize a small evacuation force.  It would include two tanks, four armored personnel carriers, a doctor, medics and a mechanized infantry platoon headed by Maj. Shlomo Levine.  Erez’ brigade (the 421st) would provide cover.  Reshef decided to put his life on the line and personally lead the small evacuation force.  He told Weisel to fire green flares to help locate the soldiers.

At the critical moment, however, Reshef’s force came under massive fire of different kinds from all directions.  “It was madness.  The evacuation took place in broad daylight,” Reshef explains.  “I was really ready to die.  I thought I wouldn’t make it.  They’re firing rockets at us and we’re maneuvering zig-zag to avoid getting hit.  We were in a frenzy.”

At one point, Reshef relates, he came upon a group of soldiers.  Thinking they were his evacuees, he duly reported it over the radio.  When he reached within 100 meters of the force, however, he realized they were Egyptians.

“I opened fire with my own, 30 caliber tank mounted machine gun, while brigade communications officer, Maj. Shlomo Wachs, fired his Uzi.  We threw grenades and ran over them with our tank treads at zero range.  Suddenly, after the charge, I found myself alone on top of a hill.  I grab my binoculars and see what looks like a monster coming at me, with a cannon sticking out of it, and dozens of soldiers piled on top.  It turned out to be the soldiers from Purkan, who had climbed aboard Shalev’s tank and escaped unharmed.  I did not see the four armored personnel carriers (APCs) that were part of my evacuation force.

“I asked Shalev where the APCs were.  He said they had all been hit. I couldn’t believe it.  I asked him again, and he repeated that tragic report.  The evacuation had taken a heavy toll:  five dead and 28 injured.”

Several hours later Reshef suffered another blow.  Maj. Shalev, hero of the Purkan evacuation, had been killed while leading a charge to evacuate a stranded tank crew.

A damaged Israeli and Egyptian tank, one next to the other. \\ 14th Tank Brigade’s archive

As a result of the 14th brigade’s heavy losses and the reinforcements that had to be sent in, Reshef commanded no less than 18 battalions over the course of the war, 9 of them simultaneously (a regular brigade consists of 3 battalions).  On October 15 the brigade was ordered to lead Sharon’s division (the 143rd) in breaking through Egyptian lines and creating a corridor to enable Israeli forces to cross the canal.  Sharon had four brigades: Reshef’s standing brigade and three reserve brigades – the 600th armored brigade, under the command of Col. Tuvia Raviv, whose job was to create a diversion; the 247th brigade under Col. Danny Matt that would cross the canal on rubber boats and establish a beachhead; and the 421st brigade, under the command of Haim Erez, whose job would be to drag the bridging equipment necessary to cross the canal.  After being reinforced, the 14th brigade now numbered seven battalions:  four armored and three infantry and paratrooper units.  From the 20 tanks remaining after the first day of battle, the 14th now numbered 93.

Units assembled and reassembled almost spontaneously, as the following story illustrates.  Shortly after he left a staff meeting with Sharon, two officers approached Reshef’s jeep. One of them was Lt. Col. (res.) Micha Ben Ari, who had served under Sharon in the famous 101st commando unit in the 1950’s.  “He told me he had just come from the Golan Heights, looking for the war, and wanted to join up with a unit fighting in the Sinai. I asked Arik for permission to take his battalion under my command, and he agreed immediately.  This was one of two paratrooper battalions in my brigade.”

No one in the 14th brigade, however, could imagine the hell they were about to enter on the night of October 15.

Like Hail on a Tin Roof

The division as a whole suffered from a dearth of accurate intelligence about the inferno lay ahead.  Around 6:00 pm, the brigade started moving.  Their destination was a 50 square kilometer zone known as the Chinese Farm.  They entered the farm at night.  30 hours later the 890th paratrooper battalion, headed by Itzik Mordechai, joined the battle only, to suffer heavy casualties.

The “Chinese Ffarm” consists of 140 kilometers interwoven irrigation ditches, lined by mounds of earth.  For the most part, these were unpassable.  Some parts of the farm were covered in swamp where a tank could easily sink up to its turret.   As a result, several tanks from the 14th capsized in the course of the operation.  The objective was to break through the dense Egyptian line and create a four kilometer wide corridor for Israeli forces to pass through so as to cross the canal.

“We didn’t know where the enemy was,” says Reshef.  “I decide to cut right through the Egyptian lines, like a knife, opening fire as soon as I see the enemy.”   Under cover of darkness, Amnon’s forces proceeded for two hours without being discovered.  “At 9:12 pm, I suddenly come upon the enemy camp:  bonfires, burned out vehicles, trucks, tanks.  It was a logistical center for an Egyptian division.  Now I’m surrounded by dozens of Egyptian soldiers, just meters from my tank.  I find myself performing three jobs simultaneously:  I’m a brigade commander, a tank commander and a regular soldier.  The bullets hitting my turret sounded like hail on a tin roof.  I have one machine gun and dozens of Egyptian soldiers trying to kill me.  An enemy jeep lurches towards me.  I open fire and destroy it.  In the middle of the night five tanks approach me.  I think they are friendly.  At 30 meters I realize they’re Egyptian.  I order my crew to open fire.  In rapid succession we destroy them all with our cannon.  At 9:43 in the morning we took the Tartur-Lexicon road.  This was the first time I yelled “cease fire!”

Reshef continues with a description of evacuation efforts.  Tanks, like that of Platoon Commander Rami Matan, went back and forth, evacuating the wounded and the dead.  After the war I interrogated him. Matan, in the tradition of modesty he learned at the military academy, gave a laconic description of events, and did not receive a citation.  The truth is he deserved no less than the Medal of Valor.  During a moment of calm I went up to battalion commander Amram Mitzna’s tank.  He had been waiting to be evacuated himself.  I kissed him on the forehead and went back to my tank.  Only later on did I discover, after analyzing aerial photographs, that the area had been covered with 3,000 Egyptian infantry fire positions.

During the bitter fighting at the Chinese Farm, the various units of the 14th brigade lost 121 men.  Sixty two were wounded.  Of the 93 tanks with which it entered the farm, only 36 were left at the end of the battle.  Two days later, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan visited the burned out wreckage of the battlefield.  He arrived in Sharon’s armored personnel carrier, while Reshef related what had transpired.  In his autobiography, Dayan described the horrors he saw that day.  “I’m not newcomer to war, but I have never seen horrors like this.  Not on the battlefield, not in a picture, not in the movies. One, vast killing field, extending as far as the eye can see.”

All Because of One, Small Jeep

Reshef criticism of military intelligence during the war is withering.  In his book he goes so far as to call it “criminal negligence.”  He emphasizes over and over again that the IDF did not provide sufficient support for the canal crossing effort that changed the entire direction of the war.  The air force, he says, made two flyovers per day to take photographs, but these photos never reached those who needed to see them.  The major failure of Israeli intelligence was its inability to understand that the main threat to Israeli tanks came from enemy infantry.   Reshef investigated and discovered that the photos never reached their destination because there were no jeeps available to take them.  “Idiots!” he proclaims.  “They should have brought us the photos by helicopter.”

Reshef has mostly praise for Sharon, with whom he worked closely during the war.  Sharon, believes Reshef, is responsible for the dramatic turnaround in Israel’s fortunes on the battlefield.  Still, he qualifies this by saying that Sharon also had some very strange ideas at the beginning of the war that would have only led to major casualties had they been carried out.

Until three month before the Yom Kippur War, Sharon had served as commander of the southern front.  He was replaced by Maj. General Shmuel Gonen (Gorodish) who was later deposed.  The Agranat commission concluded that Gonen “had not properly fulfilled his duties, and bears part of the responsibility for what happened.”

I asked Reshef if the Agranat Commission was not too hard on Gonen.  He begins his response by saying “We are all guilty” (a statement originally made by then President Ephraim Katzir, z”l).  Still, Reshef has his own words of criticism for Gonen.  He describes a meeting with Gonen in the war room of southern command.   “Gorodish sat on an easy chair.  I had thought that, as head of southern command (Haim Bar Lev replaced him on October 10) he would ask his own brigade commander what had happened on the battlefield, particularly since the 14th brigade had been fighting from the very start of the war.  You must remember that by this time, we had lost over 100 men.  Gonen, sitting opposite me, did not ask any questions or express the slightest empathy.”

During our interview, Reshef’s usually dispassionate demeanor betrays true emotion when praising the brigade’s officer in charge of wounded soldiers, Dina Zeltz, who received the Chief of Staff’s Citation for her dedicated efforts during the war.  He also is full of praise for his former wife Yehudit who, with five children to care for, helped the brigade’s wounded and the grieving families of its fallen.

Many painful visits are burned into Reshef’s memory.  He recalls, in particular, one visit to wounded soldiers at Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva after the war.   Many of them suffered severe burns.  It was nevertheless heartening to see them proudly wearing the insignia of their unit on their pajamas.

He also remembers an awkward encounter during a visit to the Givat Shaul military cemetery a few months after the war.  By this time he was already a Brigadier General.  “As I took part quietly in the ceremony, someone I didn't know came up to me and said ‘I’m gonna kill you and Dayan.’  I told him I’d like to speak with him after the memorial service.  He answered ‘I have nothing to discuss with you.’  I subsequently was able to obtain background information on him.  It turns out that his son, a tank commander, had come to reinforce the brigade and was killed on the second day of the war.  I tracked down his address in Ramat Gan and made my way to his house one evening.  I politely asked permission to enter.  As our discussion proceeded, he opened a bottle of whiskey.  We ended up talking until two or three in the morning, taking leave of each other with tears and embraces.”

photographer: Yosi Zliger

I ask Reshef if he knows how many shell shocked soldiers the brigade suffered.  “At the time,” Reshef replies, “we were unaware of the phenomenon.”  He divides victims of shell shock into two categories:  those who remain in denial and refuse treatment for many years, and those who show signs of trauma only years after the events.  “No one who experienced the war has remained the same.  We have become purer, more open, more sensitive and emotional, more human.”

Reshef is convinced that it was the outstanding bravery and the willingness of IDF soldiers to sacrifice themselves that brought about Israel’s victory, a victory that ultimately “led to peace with Egypt,” as he ends his book.  It is a conclusion he cannot emphasize enough.”

[su_note note_color="#fbfbec"]The Brigade Commander’s Speech on the Eve of the Fateful Battle Reshef: It is a great honor to lead this brigade, and the IDF, to victory.

The 87th reconnaissance battalion was a reserve, armored battalion in Sharon’s division (the 143rd). It was set up six months before the war. Three days after the outbreak of hostilities, its commander, Col. Bentzi Carmeli, z”l, was killed by shrapnel from an artillery shell. Reshef immediately appointed Maj. Yoav Brom to replace him. Fifteen minutes before setting out for the battle to cross the canal on October 15 (Operation Stouthearted Men), at 5:45 pm, Reshef spoke to his troops. The confident tone of his words comes through clearly in recordings that can be found on the website of the 14th brigade. Reshef’s speech is often quoted in IDF commanders’ courses. The job of the reconnaissance battalion was to lead the attack force. After telling them about positive developments on the Golan Heights and in the Sinai, Reshef offered the following words of motivation:

“Yesterday we battered their armored division, causing major damage. We are now poised to launch a flanking attack, from the side and in the rear of the Egyptian army, after which two of our own armored divisions will enter Egyptian territory. We believe this wedge, which we will drive into the throat of our Egyptian enemy, will bring about their collapse. It will not happen overnight but it will cause the enemy to collapse, disrupt the existing balance and, slowly but surely, break the Egyptians. Yesterday, the reconnaissance battalion carried out a superb attack on the Egyptian flank, straight out of the literature of tank warfare. Today, your reconnaissance battalion – our battalion – is leading the way for the IDF as a whole. This is a great honor. I have served as a reconnaissance battalion commander, and I knew what people expected of me. I want you to know that we all expect the battalion to meet its objectives, carry out its missions and lead the brigade and the IDF to victory. Let me repeat: we will not defeat them in one day. But by this action, we will have set in motion the beginning of the end. This afternoon I spoke with the Chief of Staff and the senior generals of the IDF. I inspired them with confidence. I was able to do this after witnessing your fighting spirit on the battlefield. I am convinced that during this battle, we will prove that the hopes that are pinned on us will be realized.”

After the speech, Deputy Battalion commander Zvi Aviram, turned to the soldiers assembled and said, “To battle! Let’s do the job!” In response, men cried, “To battle. . . to battle. . . to battle!”.

Yoav Brom, z”l, led the reconnaissance unite for eight days before he was killed in the Chinese Farm, only ten hours after he and his men listened to Reshef’s speech. [/su_note]