Forty two years after it ended, more information has emerged on the tensions that dogged the IDF in the wake of the Yom Kippur War.
The new documents, which were part of the protocol of the Agranat Commission which investigated the IDF and government’s conduct during the war, show a sharp dispute between former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was called back to the army to help in the war effort, and Southern Command head during the war, Shmuel Gonen.
The debate stems from the dual results of the Yom Kippur war – the success of the ground campaign against Egypt, and the failure in the mind of the public over the demolition of the “Bar Lev Line,” the first line of Israeli defense in Sinai near the Suez Canal.
On Yom Kippur – October 6, 1973 – Egyptian forces broke through that line and routed Israeli forces there, moving into the depth of the Sinai.
In order to fight back the Egyptian invasion, Sharon was given the task of setting up a bold counterattack – by encircling the Egyptians and attacking from the east, with forces sent from the Negev, and the west – from over the Suez Canal.
The maneuver was eventually successful, but in the days leading up to the ultimate battle (called The Battle of the Chinese Farm), Sharon had attempted several other maneuvers – according to Gonen, against the orders of then-IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar.
In one of Sharon’s maneuvers, Israeli soldiers were forced to beat a hasty retreat after they encountered much stronger than expected Egyptian resistance. Israel lost 20 tanks in that battle – prompting Gonen to send letters of complaint to Elazar and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan.
Gonen wrote that he had personally urged Sharon to respect the decision of the Chief of Staff and that Sharon had agreed – but resumed his operations when Gonen left the field.
In the documents revealed Monday, Gonen told the Agranat Commission that Sharon was guilty of “dereliction” throughout the war, and that the fact that he successfully led the encirclement of the Egyptian Third Army – which was stuck in southern Sinai and could not resupply – plus the singular accomplishment of taking and holding Egyptian territory on the west side of the Suez Canal – should not be a factor in a decision to court-martial Sharon.
While Sharon enjoyed hero status for his maneuver, Gonen bore the brunt of the blame for the fall of the Bar-Lev Line and other setbacks.
The Agranat Commission eventually ruled that Gonen was responsible for numerous failures, especially for the stranding of many IDF units who were unable to connect to other units and were eventually taken as prisoners of war by the Egyptians. Sharon, meanwhile, emerged from the investigation unscathed.
Gonen resigned from the army after the war and went into private business, passing away in 1991.
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