On October 6, 1973 massive Syrian and Egyptian forces launched a surprise attack on the State of Israel. It was the holiest day of the Jewish year, the Day of Atonement, and Jews all over the country had been fasting and praying since dawn. No one in Israel on that fateful day will ever forget the piercing shriek of sirens which shattered the Yom Kippur silence and called men and women out of their homes and synagogues into uniform.
Syrian tanks penetrated Israel’s front lines on the first day of the Yom Kippur War and raced across the Golan Heights. Syria’s task force comprised of 700 tanks, against Israel’s 175; their infantry carried state-of-the-art anti-tank missiles which Israel hadn’t known were part of the Arab arsenal. Syria’s superior weaponry had a devastating effect on Israel’s tanks and, following a rapid advance into Israel, the Arabs stopped near Mitzpe Gadot, only five minutes from the Jordan river.
Israeli reservists who had been rushed into battle succeeded in blocking the Syrian advance on the second and third days of the war. Syria then intensified its efforts to break through Israeli lines.
On the fourth day of battle the Syrians launched a new and formidable attack from a valley north of Kuneitra. In a major assault hundreds of modern Arab tanks began moving up from the bottom of the valley hoping to take higher ground. Had they gained access to the plateau — located along today’s Route 98 — they would have been able to spread out their forces and control the central Golan Heights. From here it would have been easy to penetrate even deeper into Israel.
Battalion commander Avigdor Kahalani was sent to the valley in a last-ditch effort to stem the Syrian advance. Calling his men to join him in a rush towards the enemy he was shocked to find that a commander’s worst nightmare had come true and he was moving forward alone. Physically and emotionally at the end of their rope, the men had simply not responded.
When Kahalani’s tank reached the crest of the hill he found himself face to face with three Syrian tanks. Yet his crew managed to destroy first one tank and then another, a mere 50 meters away.
As a third tank aimed a cannon in his direction, Kahalani’s guns jammed. Nevertheless the Syrian tank burst into flames, hit by Israeli troops who had finally rallied to his support.
The battle raged all day long until the Syrians, who had suffered their own heavy losses, retreated down the hill. Over 500 destroyed tanks and armored personnel carriers were left behind from the battle and following their defeat the Syrian offensive was effectively stopped.
After the war the battleground became known as the Valley of Tears (in Hebrew, Emek Habaha). Today it hosts a Jewish National Fund memorial site for fallen members of the armored corps from the 77th Brigade. The memorial is called Oz 77, from the Hebrew word for “strength.”
Part of the monument consists of a T62 Syrian tank, one of those which spearheaded the Syrian attack. Look for a gaping hole in the front where it was hit in the crucial battle.
Trees at the site were planted in memory of fallen Israeli soldiers who fought here: their names are written in Hebrew on plaques below the trees and in one central memorial.
For directions to the Valley of Tears and Oz77 write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is adapted from chapters in Aviva Bar-Am’s book Israel’s Northern Landscapes: Guide to the Golan Heights, Eastern Galilee and Lake Kinneret.
Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed tour guide who provides private, customized tours in Israel for individuals, families and small groups.
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