Gantz compares virus to ’73 war: Israel again unprepared, will pay the price

At memorial ceremony for Yom Kippur War fallen, Rivlin urges unity for ‘day after virus’; Netanyahu suggests Israel should have preempted war, says strength has yielded peace deals

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at the annual ceremony commemorating the soldiers who were killed in the 1973 Yom Kippur War on Jerusalem's Mount Herzl on September 29, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at the annual ceremony commemorating the soldiers who were killed in the 1973 Yom Kippur War on Jerusalem's Mount Herzl on September 29, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday compared the coronavirus pandemic to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, saying that once again people would die because the country’s leadership was caught by surprise.

“These days we are at war on a completely different battlefield,” Gantz said at a national memorial ceremony for the fallen in the war. “We must honestly admit that this time, too, we were caught unprepared. We have starved our excellent health system for years. We have not responded properly. This time, too, we will pay the price and the price will be the heavy cost of life.”

“But this time also we will win, with everyone joining together,” Gantz said.

The government is facing severe criticism for its handling of the pandemic, after initially being seen as a global success story in suppressing the virus.

Israel’s coronavirus death toll passed 1,500 on Monday night, Health Ministry data showed, with over 500 new deaths recorded in some three weeks. On September 18  Israel went into its second full national lockdown.

Israeli military vehicles take positions on the Sinai Peninsula during the start of the Yom Kippur War on October 6, 1973. (Avi Simhoni/Bamahane/Defense Ministry Archives)

The 1973 Yom Kippur War and the intelligence failures that prevented the military from seeing what was obvious in retrospect remain sore subjects in Israeli public discourse.

Though the Israel Defense Forces was able to repel the invading armies, the campaign cost over 2,500 Israeli lives and left an enduring scar on the national psyche, prompting Israelis to lose trust in its army and government, and forced the IDF to undergo dramatic changes in its structure and protocols to prevent it from being caught unawares again.

At Tuesday’s ceremony, President Reuven Rivlin talked of the need for national unity amid the pandemic, saying that the war had been won by soldiers from different parts of society working together.

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at ceremony for the fallen in 1973 Yom Kippur War, September 29, 2020 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

“I fought in the killing fields of that dreadful war, and I am here with you today. Almost 50 years later, and I remember well how we won that war. In the foxholes, we fought side by side and nobody checked if you had sidelocks tucked under your helmet, or if you had your red party membership card tucked into your pouch,” Rivlin said. “We attacked together in the knowledge that if we did not advance, there might not be anything to return to.

“One day, we will wake up to the day after the virus. I do not know when that day will come, but come it will. And when it comes, we must ensure that we greet it as brothers and sisters to each other, responsible for and dependent on each other,” the president said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a video address in which he only lightly touched on the deadly pandemic, instead opting to focus on peace agreements in the wake of the 1973 conflict, as well as the recent normalization deals with Bahrain and the UAE.

“The Yom Kippur War is also a constant reminder of the importance of strength. Strength led the opposing side to seek a ceasefire. Strength allows us today to defend ourselves on our own,” Netanyahu said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces a new coronavirus lockdown, on September 13, 2020. (Yoav Dudkevitch/Pool/AFP)

“Strength paved the way for peace with Egypt, and later with Jordan, and strength established the historic agreements we had forged with the United Arab Emirates and with Bahrain,” said the prime minister. “Strength will bring more peace agreements with more Arab and Muslim countries. Strength will allow us, with God’s help, to successfully overcome the coronavirus crisis as well.”

The premier indicated again that Israel should have taken preemptive action in 1973, and that Jerusalem’s actions against Iran today were a result of learning from the past.

“Had we taken a preemptive strike, the face of the battle would have been completely different. A preventive blow is a very difficult thing to do. But I know, for example, following the Yom Kippur War, that if Iran wants to establish itself on our northern border and has not yet attacked us, we must not let it establish itself there, so we prevent the concentrations of forces, fight them. A direct lesson of the Yom Kippur War,” Netanyahu said.

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