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Eve of Destruction: The Untold Story of the Yom Kippur War

Eve of Destruction: The Untold Story of the Yom Kippur War

by Howard Blum

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On October 6, 1973—Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar—the Arab world launched a bold and ingeniously conceived surprise attack against Israel. After three days of intense, bloody combat, an unprepared Israel was fighting for survival, while the Arabs, with massive forces closing in on the Jewish heartland, were poised to redeem the honor


On October 6, 1973—Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar—the Arab world launched a bold and ingeniously conceived surprise attack against Israel. After three days of intense, bloody combat, an unprepared Israel was fighting for survival, while the Arabs, with massive forces closing in on the Jewish heartland, were poised to redeem the honor lost in three previous wars.

Based on declassified Israeli government documents and revealing interviews with soldiers, generals, and intelligence operatives on both sides of the conflict, The Eve of Destruction weaves a suspenseful, eye-opening story of war, politics, and deception. It also tells the moving human tale of the men and women who fought to maintain love and honor as their lives and destinies were swept up in the Yom Kippur War.

Editorial Reviews

Washington Post
“One of the most moving accounts of the war to appear in many decades.”
New York Times
New York Times Book Review
“Remarkable....The Brigade [is] an illuminating addition to the annals of World War II.”
Publishers Weekly
Like Blum's The Brigade, this work is more reportage than history. While Blum takes advantage of both newly available Israeli documents and a growing number of memoirs from both sides, the core of this book, and its heart, is the more than 200 interviews he has done with participants, Arab and Israeli. He begins with a familiar question: how did Israel come to be not only caught by surprise, but so unprepared that after the first days of fighting many leaders believed the survival of the state was at risk? Part of his answer is a top-level spy, code-named "the In-Law" an Egyptian at the highest levels of government who for four years before the Yom Kippur War had provided Israel with a steady flow of valuable information. That data in turn convinced Israel's military and political establishment that war was impossible unless the Arab states were a unified coalition possessing missiles and long-range bombers. Meanwhile, another man, Egyptian chief-of-staff Saad el Shazly developed his own concept of a limited war in which Egypt would seize positions; Israel would then have to counteract, with Egypt then bleeding its enemy dry. Blum describes Shazly making his vision a reality against the opposition of virtually everyone else in Egypt. He describes the Israeli leadership that allowed the In-Law who, of course, was a double-agent to string them along, telling them what they wanted or needed to believe, until the last hours before the shooting started. Blum's approach seems an oversimplification, however. Kenneth Pollack's The Arabs at War (2002) demonstrates that Egypt's military reform was an institutional process and not a one-man show. The story of "the In-Law," until or unless Israeli intelligence records are produced, is perhaps best understood as the kind of explanation societies develop to explain complex catastrophes by reference to a single event. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A contributing editor to Vanity Fair, Blum shows just how close Israel came to collapse during October 6-24, 1973. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Failed intelligence, a surprise attack, the threat of weapons of mass destruction—and that’s just in the first few pages of this suspenseful account of the last unified Arab attempt to destroy Israel. The failed intelligence and WMD threat both fell on Israel’s shoulders, writes Blum (The Brigade, 2001, etc.), a journalist who bears comparison to the late Leon Uris as a spinner of historical tales. Uris was free to fill in the gaps with characters of his own invention, but Blum finds no shortage of compelling actors in the historical record: the spy dubbed "In-Law" who brought news, almost universally ignored, to the Israelis of a secret Egyptian plan to launch a coordinated attack, with Syria, during the high holy days and fulfill Anwar Sadat’s longstanding ambition to drive the Jews into the sea; the gallant Israeli armor commander who had served as a poster child, in 1967, for "a new generation of Jewish soldiers . . . who were brave, robust, and perhaps even invincible," called on that fateful October to fight against overwhelming odds; even the beleaguered Egyptian chief of staff, who warned Sadat that the mission was doomed to fail. The surprises that Blum turns up in this swift-moving history of the lightning-quick Yom Kippur War are many: a purloined document from the Egyptian leadership to the Soviet general staff pleading for Scud missiles; dissent among the leaders of supposedly allied Arab states that proved "Arab unity, despite all the resolute public pronouncements, was an illusion"; Israel’s willingness to use nuclear weapons in the event that Arab armies arrived at the pre-1967 borders ("If they push us into the sea, they will find out they have nothing to return to,"one Israeli scientist tells Moshe Dayan. "Cairo, Damascus—poof! Gone!"); and the role the Yom Kippur War played in bringing Egypt and Israel to Camp David four years later. A fine exercise in popular history, in time for the 30th anniversary of the conflict. Agents: Lynn Nesbit & Cullen Stanley/Janklow & Nesbit

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt

The Eve of Destruction
The Untold Story of the Yom Kippur War

Chapter One

Haifa/27 June 1967

Nati fell in love with Yossi before she ever met him. She was sixteen, still in high school, and all it took was just one look. But at that moment in Israel's history, the entire nation, or so she would grow to complain, was in love with Yossi -- the tousled-haired soldier with the coal dark eyes and the gleaming smile in the famous photograph.

The photograph first appeared on the June 27, 1967, cover of Life magazine. Newspapers and magazines across Israel, full of xenophobic pride for the local boy who had made good in the larger world, were quick to purchase reprint rights. Soon it was everywhere. It even had a second life as a poster; sales, especially to teenage girls, were impressively strong.

The image was clever in its directness. Twenty-two-year-old Yossi Ben Hanan, wearing tanker's overalls, a battle-scraped AK-47 assault rifle clutched in his hand, stared straight up into the camera. The soot-covered face, the strained brow beneath the fringe of haphazard curls, spoke of hard combat. Yet the grin bursting through all the weariness left no doubt: This soldier had fought and won.

But the picture's true power, and the source of its enduring fame, lie in the complex story it succinctly told. For as Yossi crooked his head up into the lens, he was cooling off from the heat of battle in the Suez Canal -- water that until that day had been as Egyptian as the Nile.

This soldier's spontaneous celebration, the editors of Life realized, captured in a single snapshot the totality of Israel's victory over the Arabsin the Six Day War. It effectively condensed all the "astounding" -- this was the unrestrained yet not inaccurate adjective on the magazine's cover -- battle reports from every front.

In the air, within two hours and fifty minutes after launching preemptive strikes on June 6, 1967, Israel had destroyed 300 Egyptian planes. The Egyptian air force, for all tactical purposes, simply ceased to exist. The Israeli bombers quickly moved on to maul airfields in Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. By noon on the first day of the war, 452 Arab planes were lost and Israel controlled the sky above the Middle East.

On the Syrian front, the fighting was brief, too. Protected by concrete bunkers and rocky mountainous terrain, the Syrian troops at first grappled with the Israelis in bloody hand-to-hand combat. But as the sun rose on a second day of battle, the Syrian officers began to flee. Israeli troops pushed rapidly up the Golan Heights, taking strategic towns and peaks. A rout followed. After only twenty-seven hours of fighting, the road to Damascus was wide open, the Syrian capital ready to be seized if the Israelis decided to advance.

Jordan, despite Israel's diplomatic attempts to convince King Hussein not to get involved in the conflict, also entered the war. Its artillery opened up on the Jewish section of Jerusalem and shelled Tel Aviv. In response, eight Israeli brigades poured into the West Bank. On the morning of the third day of the war, Israeli soldiers reached the Western Wall in the old city of Jerusalem, rejoicing as they reclaimed the sacred religious site that had been lost a quarter of a century ago in the War of Independence.

And in the battle against Egypt, Israeli armor swiftly penetrated on three axes through the heart of the Sinai Peninsula, only stopping when they reached the east bank of the Suez Canal. The Egyptian force, 100,000 strong and outfitted with modern weapons and tanks provided by the Russians, was left in shambles. They fled in disorganized droves, leaving more than 15,000 of their dead and almost all of their equipment behind in the sand. More than 12,000 soldiers -- including nine humiliated generals -- were taken prisoner. Israel had 275 casualties in the desert campaign.

In less than a week's fighting, Israel's soldiers had decisively changed the political -- and, no less significant, the strategic -- geography of the Middle East. On the seventh day the nation, even if it were too jubilant to rest, could for the first time since it came into existence breathe easily.

The old territorial boundaries, a relic of the 1949 armistice, were history. Now the Sinai, the West Bank, a united Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights belonged to Israel. And with this new land, Israel's leaders were convinced, came safety. Egyptian forces would now need to cross the Suez Canal and, as if that alone were not enough of an obstacle, then march across a 150-mile-wide desert before being able to threaten a major Israeli city. The unification of Jerusalem placed the holy city for the first time in more than two decades out of the range of Jordanian artillery. Similarly, the villages in the northern Galilee were no longer easy targets for Syrian shelling.

In fact, the potential for a devastating first strike was now reversed. From their outposts in the newly seized land, the Israeli forces loomed ominously closer to the Arab capitals: Cairo was sixty miles away, Damascus only thirty-five.

An impressed community of nations, both friends and foes, uniformly acknowledged the strength of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). "The Israelis are very patriotic, brave and skillful soldiers, brilliantly led," announced one widely reprinted, and quoted, editorial essay that seemed to sum up the international reaction to the incredibly one-sided war. And the editorial did not stop there. It bluntly went on to ask "an impolite but unavoidable question: What is the matter with the Arab armies? Was there ever a people so bellicose in politics, so reckless and raucous in hostility -- and then so unpugnacious in pitched combat -- as Nasser's Egyptians?"

But even this reaction was restrained when measured against the swaggering confidence many Israelis expressed. "Israel is now a military superpower," Gen. Ariel Sharon, a commander in the Sinai campaign, boasted ...

The Eve of Destruction
The Untold Story of the Yom Kippur War
. Copyright © by Howard Blum. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Howard Blum is the author of the New York Times bestseller and Edgar Award winner American Lightning, as well as Wanted!, The Gold of Exodus, Gangland, and The Floor of Heaven. Blum is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. While at the New York Times, he was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. He is the father of three children, and lives in Connecticut.

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