A Famous Past Yom Kippur Anniversary Remembered And This Year's Just Past

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By Graeme Mackay | October 10, 2012 10:52 PM EST

According to The Great Order of the World (Seder Olam Rabbah) a chronology of events in the Bible, written about 160 AD by Yose ben Halafta and much used in traditional Rabbinic teaching, the Exodus of the Jews out of Egypt commenced in 1313 BC.  Part of the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament relates how Moses, the leader of the Jews, left the Israelites for 40 days and nights in order to receive God's Ten Commandments.  During this time, the Israelites became afraid that he would not return and Aaron, who Moses had appointed as leader in his absence, was persuaded to make a calf of gold which could be worshiped as a representation of God.

Moses on his return was furious to see what had been done and shattered the tablets of stone on which the Commandments had been written and destroyed the golden calf in fire.  For the terrible transgressions of idolatry and attributing physicality to God, the Jews were to be destroyed.  Moses, however, pleaded with the Lord for forgiveness and that the Hebrews who were willing to follow the Torah (God's "teaching"), be spared.  And God relented.

This account is most certainly all theology, a parable, and not history, but it is the source of three great religions of the world who believe in only one God: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

It is also the derivation of that most holy of days of the year for all Jews, Yom Kippur, the Day (Yom) of Atonement (Kippur), the "Sabbath of Sabbaths".  A "day" of 25 hours of fasting, confession, seeking forgiveness for wrongs done through intensive prayer, repentance, and giving to charity, an integral part of repenting.  It also includes the forgiveness of others who have committed wrongdoing (or who have wronged you), just as the Lord forgave the ancient Hebrews for worshiping the golden calf.

Yom Kippur begins at sundown of the day previous (25 September 2012) and lasts until the end of the final prayers service, shortly after sunset of Yom Kippur itself, this year on 26 September - it is one of these holy days with a moving date.

As with Christmas Day when many secular Christians make the effort to attend a church service if only once a year, so secular Jews make the effort to go to the synagogue on Yom Kippur and a majority will also observe a fast.  In Israel where Yom Kippur is a public holiday for prayer and self reflection, a webcam in Tel Aviv, the country's economic heart renowned for its 24-hour cosmopolitan culture, will reflect deserted streets.  There's no radio or TV broadcasts, all the shops are closed and all transport networks stop running.

No matter how quiet the city, there would have been Israelis on constant alert on 26 October - many of the country's 176,500 members of the armed forces and some of the further 445,000 in the reserve - if only because they want no repeat of the surprise attack which happened 39 years ago. To those not of the Jewish faith or living in Israel, "Yom Kippur" usually signifies the War of that name when, on 06 October 1973 Egypt, Syria and their allies launched a coordinated offensive that struck home very hard and led to the toppling, the following year, of Golda Meir's Government.  Israel felt that its Government could have done much more to prevent the War happening in the manner it did.  

The joint enemy action was waged on two fronts simultaneously, the Egyptians across the Suez Canal and the Syrians in the Golan Heights, both forces far outnumbering the Israeli defenders. On paper, Egypt, Syria and their allies, notably Iraq and Jordan though even Cuba sent about 4,000, had one million very well Soviet-armed troops at their disposal to Israel's 375,000.  

Israel had been anticipating the War but had reckoned on it being later in the year with the result that Israel suffered very serious reversals during the first few days. It took Israeli Forces the best part of a fortnight and fairly heavy losses to restore the situation before going on to the offensive and defeating her enemies

Neither Egypt nor Syria released their casualty figures but best estimates reckon that "their side" lost 16,000 dead with half as many again wounded; nearly 8,000 captured; and some 2,300 tanks destroyed or captured.  Many of the captured tanks were fitted with night vision and the Israelis, not having this capability on their own tanks proceeded to repair those salvageable to add to their own stock.  In addition, 400 or more aircraft were destroyed and 19 naval vessels sunk.

Israel lost about 2,700 dead; 7,500 wounded; 293 captured; 400 tanks destroyed and 102 aircraft destroyed.  These figures would probably have been much worse but for the Government being shown reconnaissance photos on the morning of the attack which indicated very much greater numbers of troops and matériel near the Suez front than the military exercises the Egyptian Army had been carrying out for some months previous, warranted.  Alarmed, Golda Meir ordered the immediate call-up of 120,000 men. Ironically, because it was Yom Kippur these men were able to get to their front-line units all the quicker - no other traffic on the roads! 

Priority was given to the Golan Heights front because of the proximity of main population centres but the 3,000 Israeli defenders were no match for Syria's 28,000 initial strike force and they were pushed back.  It took four days of bitter fighting before Israel regained all the territory it had captured in the Six-Day War, "The Purple Line", after which the Israeli Government decided that their forces should move to the attack.  At the time of the cease-fire on 25 October, the Israeli Defense Forces were within 60 miles of Cairo and at 25 miles from Damascus their long-range howitzers were shelling its suburbs.

Golda Meir's Government felt strangely constrained in October 1973.  Before the Six-Day War in 1967, the Israeli Defense Forces got a great deal of their armaments from France but by 1968, France and Israel were not on the best of terms.  Fearing an oil embargo by the Arabs, most of Europe too, stopped selling arms to Israel and so Israel turned to the USA instead and remains today Israel's predominant supplier of arms.  

In 1973 however, the last thing America wanted was a war in the Middle East as it was talking to Russia - the Russians didn't want a war either - on nuclear arms limitation, not to mention President Nixon's Watergate issue which was coming to the boil by October of that year.

Another reason for Israel hoping that their fears of an attack were groundless was that Henry Kissinger and other American officials were shortly to resume (further) talks on peace proposals between the main combatants.  Eager to show that they could be trusted as the "honest broker", when Israel raised its anxiety about troop buildups by Syria and Egypt, America demanded that Israel would not use its past, favourite tactic - the pre-emptive strike. 

Israel was not to be seen in any way to have "started" a war, just in case these really were exercises. Against the wishes of her generals, Golda Meir gave the US Ambassador the assurance he wanted to hear because America had a monopoly of arms supply to Israel in the same way that Russia had a like monopoly to Israel's deadliest enemies. Maybe that too could be changed.

Egypt's President in 1973 was Anwar Sadat who had very different thinking to that of his predecessor, Gamal Abdul Nasser.  Nasser told the Egyptians that they were Arabs, it was official doctrine, and had imposed a form of anti-Western, Pan Arab socialism on the country, with the addition of being in a constant state of war with Israel which he vowed to destroy.  President Nasser aligned Egypt with the Soviet Union. On becoming President in October 1970, Sadat asked Russia for economic help, Egypt's economy still devastated from the effects of the Six-Day War, and for replenishment of its destroyed war matériel. Russia ignored the requests and the Soviets were expelled from Egypt.

Slowly removing Nasser's men from positions of power in both the military and government, Sadat also toned down the socialism.  Much more pragmatic than Nasser, his position was: "I am an Egyptian, not an Arab and I am responsible for Egypt and it alone."  Far more concerned with Egypt's development, Sadat saw it in his country's interests to repair bridges with the West in order to attract growth and investment and to end the constant necessity of Egypt remaining on a war footing had proposed a peace deal with Israel for the return of the Sinai, a proposal which was making very slow progress.  

President Sadat must have given long and hard thought as to how he was going to achieve his goal and decided that he needed a war against Israel which he did not have to necessarily win but accomplish enough to be a serious negotiator at the peace.

The Yom Kippur War gave President Sadat what he wanted but it took a number of years before a cease-fire brought about a peace treaty.  In March 1979, President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin, signed the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in Washington DC, the Treaty witnessed by United States President Jimmy Carter.

Egypt became the first "Arab" state to recognise Israel (a second Peace Treaty was signed between Israel and Jordan on 26 October 1994).  The Treaty allowed for the exchange of ambassadors, the complete withdrawal of all Israelis from the Sinai Peninsula and that area's demilitarization, and gave Israeli ships free passage through the Suez Canal.

President Sadat was assassinated on 06 October 1981 by a group of Muslim fundamentalist soldiers during a military review in celebration of the Egyptian Army's crossing of the Suez Canal on Yom Kippur, 1973.  He was succeeded by Vice President Hosni Mubarak.  

Between 1978 and 2000, Egypt received from the United States some $38 billion of (military) aid and since then about $1.3 billion every year thereafter.  The United States gained the confidence of many Arab countries in the region to oust Russia from its former role though there was always one exception.  Syria's Hafez al-Assad, although forced to sign a cease-fire after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, refused to attend all peace proposals - Syria has been at war with Israel since 1948 - and remained loyal to the Soviet Union as does his son, President Bashar al-Assad, today.

Regrettably, the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty has never achieved anything like its real potential.  Tourists, mostly Israelis into Egypt, the country rich in having many Jewish sites, suffered from several, periodic terrorist attacks which, obviously, made many Israelis have second thoughts.  Cross-border trade has always been a disappointment and decreased considerably after Egypt stopped exporting natural gas to Israel in the spring of 2011.

Following the downfall of Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011 and despite assurances from both sides that the Peace Treaty remains inviolate, it's hard not to see a deterioration in relations between Israel and Egypt following the election as Egyptian President of Mohammed Morsi of the Freedom and Justice Party, sworn in on 30 June 2012.  

Really the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr Morsi's victory with 51.7 per cent of the vote, is simply not what Egypt's liberals, women's groups and youth, fought for in Tahrir Square last year and would be a secular Muslim's worst nightmare.  Mr Morsi's main efforts should undoubtedly be focused on the economy.  About a third of Egyptians live on only $2-$3 per day with a third of the workforce still on the land.  

Until 2011, growth in Egypt averaged about five per cent but slumped to 1.8 per cent in 2011 and is expected to be about the same for 2012.  Considering that Egypt had a population of only 16.5 million in 1939 and now has over 82 million residents with millions more working abroad, the growth rate is insufficient to pull most of the population out of poverty. After the fall of Hosni Mubarak, social spending was greatly increased but Government revenues hardly moved so that the Budget Deficit for 2011 was over 10 per cent of GDP.  That should be sufficient to keep any politician busy no matter the party and no doubt this prompted the jibe by one Hamas politician in Gaza that Mr Morsi was "Just Mubarak with a beard".

On 05 October 2012, Associated Press in El-Arish (Northern Sinai) reported that President Morsi met with ultraconservative Salafi clerics promising to:

"not pursue hundreds of fugitives from the lawless region that has seen a surge in militancy and cross-border attacks on Israel."

A strange promise for a President when, in August 2012, 16 of his own soldiers were killed by a group of these same militants and when declaring to uphold the Peace Treaty with Israel whilst effectively giving the militants the green light to wage a war by proxy!

This Yom Kippur saw Israel's Defense Budget at seven per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product.  Looks like in Israel the tax payers will soon be asked to dig deeper.

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