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.