by Rick Bretz
I came across an interesting book with an even more captivating title. The book, by Walter J. Boyne, and published in 2002 is titled “The Two O’Clock War.” The first thought that enters the mind is: Why Two O’clock?
The Two O’clock question is answered in the book but the subtitle made me want to read it the minute I picked it up from my father-in-law’s bookshelf, “The 1973 Yom Kippur Conflict and the Airlift That Saved Israel.” What Airlift and by whom?
The Yom Kippur War or as some call it, The October War, began on the holiest of Jewish Holidays on October 6th of 1973 and the Arab forces chose “Two O’clock” for a reason.
The author, a retired Air Force Colonel, explains the Two O’clock time hack in the title is derived from a couple of factors. One is that Israeli commanders and the government leadership never thought the Arab forces would begin a war at two o’clock in the afternoon. President Anwar Sadat and Air Chief Marshal Hasni Mubarak elected to change strategy to achieve the element of surprise. Also, they knew the Israeli leadership’s guard would be the most lax at that time on Yom Kippur.
Israel thought the Suez Canal provided a natural defensive barrier and would give them enough time to call up their reserve forces if they tried to cross the canal for an attack on Israel. However, in the case of October 6th, soon after the explosives started hitting the concrete bunkers, 600 tanks started rolling towards the Israeli front on pontoon bridges crossing the Suez Canal. At the same time, Syrian MiG jet fighters and Sukhoi bombers attacked the Golan Heights in the North.
Arab Forces led primarily by Anwar Sadat’s bold decision making wanted some revenge for the six day war and also wanted to reclaim some prestige and the land Israel won after soundly defeating the Arab coalition in June of 1967. This War, lasting until October 26th, almost completely redrew the map in that region.
The book describes how the Israeli military and its government became overconfident in the years leading up to the Yom Kippur War. Due to the Six Day War outcome, the Israeli leadership never gave Arab Forces from any of the surrounding countries any credit. That overconfidence almost resulted in disaster during the first couple of days of the Arab surge once they crossed the Suez. Arab forces caught Israel by surprise and with supplies and support from the Soviet Union, the Arab coalition almost succeeded in overrunning the Israeli Defense Force if not for the heroism and bravery of soldiers and airmen of the Israeli Defense Force who lost their lives defending their young country.
Boyne’s account of how American and Soviet leadership faced-off in a proxy war with the Soviet’s supplying the Arab Forces and the American Military airlifting supplies, weaponry and ammunition to the Israeli government is a lesson in diplomacy and decision-making. What’s eye-opening is the fact that, 10 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, hands were ready to send nuclear warheads down range in a last, desperate act to save their country. Henry Kissinger working with the Soviets stepped in and clearer heads prevailed.
All of the key players have a primary role in this event in history: Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Leonid Brezhnev, Golda Meir, Anwar Sadat and Ariel Sharon. After many meetings, and diplomatic trips back and forth from one country to another, Nixon ordered the US Military and specifically the US Air Force to airlift weapons, ammunition and other logistics to Israel as they were running out of vital supplies, arriving just in time to resupply the Israeli Defense Forces. The Israeli and United States military’s coordinated efforts resulted in supplies moving from the planes just after landing on the airfield in Tel Aviv to supply trucks and then forward to the battle fronts.
The United States Air Force’s leadership saved the day because, while the politicians were talking, they were developing a plan and putting their airmen on notice to be ready for an airlift to Israel. An Airlift of Yom Kippur’s magnitude just doesn’t happen overnight and it occurred while Vietnam required air support simultaneously. Working 24 hours a day for several days straight, the Air Force contributed to saving Israel and were thanked by Golda Meir through a special visit. This book is worth the read to get a little history that forms Middle East politics as it is today.