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The Yom Kippur War, Vanity Fair Edition,
This review is from: The Eve of Destruction: The Untold Story of the Yom Kippur War (Hardcover)Howard Blum's "The Eve of Destruction" is written in the unique narrative style that similar articles for Vanity Fair and like periodicals have utilized. These include looking at an historical period through the eyes of actual participants from different vantage points, using recently declassified intelligence, sprinkled in with some gossip, speculation, and innuendo. Nonetheless, Blum's book is an easy read that drills into the reader several concepts that he or she is sure to come away with.
Among those themes: (1) the complete aura of self-confidence bordering on conceit among certain Israeli military and political leaders following their smashing victory in the 1967 Six-Day War that the Arabs would not even dare to launch an attack; (2) "The Concept", the plan designed by Egyptian Saad el Shazly which was predicated on crossing the Suez Canal, breaching the Israeli forces on the other side, and then STOPPING rather than continuing to penetrate deep into the Sinai; (3) the reliance on "The Source", an Egyptian spy (double agent?) who assured his Israeli handlers that war would not come; (4) the sense of panic among some Israeli leaders (Moshe Dayan's "Third Temple" cry, Golda Meir's contemplating suicide rather than being the prime minister who oversees Israel being overrun); (5) the valiant, courageous, and indefatigable bravery of men such as Avigdor Kahalani, commander of a tank battalion in the Golan Heights region on the Syrian front.
The central characters continually revisited are Yossi Ben Hannan and his wife, Nati. Ben Hannan was an Israeli celebrity, featured on the cover of LIFE magazine right after the euphoric 1967 War. He and his wife were actually on their honeymoon in India when he made the trek back to Israel (using unconventional means!). Battlefield accounts as seen through various Israeli and Egyptian military men supplement the newlywed's storylines.
Blum is way too critical when he attempts to second-guess military strategy and generals. Military decision-making involves split-second decision-making made in real time, in the heat of battle. Much like a baseball player's batting average, your misses are compared not to a 100% success rate, but to historical norms and other battlefield commanders. A hitter who is successful 1/3rd of the time is going to bat .333 and be a star, not someone criticized because he fails 2/3rds of the time. That said, the criticism of Ariel Sharon reeks more of the Vanity Fair mindset to disparage strong military men and conservatives, in this case a career general and former Likud political leader, rather than pointing to specific flaws in his battle strategies. Indeed, the post-war Israeli commissions praised Sharon, even as they whitewashed the judgments of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan. Dado Elazar, the Chief of Staff, took the blame along with the intelligence services (brokenhearted, Elazar died of heart troubles and depression in 1975).
On the other hand, Blum does give you an in-depth look into the difficulty of the decision making that Israeli leaders had to make. When "The Source" had warned of a possible attack in May 1973, the entire country was put on alert. This is something that we in the United States never have to contend with. However, Israel is a small country (population in 1973: about 4 million) and mobilization and then de-mobilization for false alarms is not only nerve-wracking but also costly in economic terms (most able-bodied young men and women have to leave civilian jobs and report to their units). When you are convinced that you are superior to your enemy, and you have a border-line call about whether he is going to attack, and if a false mobilization will cost your economy a good chunk of yearly production growth, you may decide "eh, what the hell" and downplay it. This is what Israeli intelligence did (for a number of reasons, not just economic) and since the overconfidence was not justified, it had nearly disastrous results.
"The Eve of Destruction" is not a book that introduces any new historical insight. It's a narrative that weaves together articles from Israeli and Arab newspapers, first-person accounts and autobiographies from men involved in the conflict, and recollections from some of the major actors. If you want a behind-the-scenes look at some key individuals involved in the 1973 conflict, this book gives it. If you are looking for a comprehensive account of the 1973 conflict -- like Rabinovich's "The Yom Kippur War" -- you're looking in the wrong place.
My main quibbles with this book: if you are going to utilize narratives of various characters who tell you how they lived through and experienced the 1973 conflict, then you need a "Where Are They Now" section to complete it. What did Yossi and Nati Ben Hannan and all of the other characters do after the war the next 30 years? Blum's post-war summary is woefully short of telling us what happened between the 30 years since the end of the Yom Kippur War and the suicide-bombing war that Israel was confronting in 2003 which introduces the book.
There is also very little tactical or strategic military overview; most of the book focuses on localized battles (this is the nature of the narrative style he uses so it is not unexpected). The book itself fails to live up to the attention-grabbing title; there is not much coverage of the deliberations (serious or feigned) considering the use of nuclear weapons, as Israeli leaders (if not Dayan) never really considered Israel to be on "the eve of destruction." Finally, the detail drops off very quickly as we approach the end of the conflict; the war just seems to end very quickly relative to the in-depth accounts leading up to the war and during it's early stages.
All things considered, a good story that is easy to read and understand. If you don't want to read a longer, more difficult story of the 1973 conflict, this book will give you the basics and you can pursue more detailed analysis from any of the paths Blum's book just touches upon.