Israel more vulnerable now than 50 years ago, Yom Kippur War expert says

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Israeli soldiers during the Yom Kippur War | Photo: Archives

By:  ILH Staff  | Published On: September 09 2023, 09:35 am

Reflecting on the fateful war’s 50th anniversary, Uri Bar-Joseph, professor emeritus in the Department for International Relations of the School for Political Science at University of Haifa, warns that the country is facing unprecedented security challenges.

Israel was unprepared for the Yom Kippur War and blinded by hubris after emerging victorious in 1967. This is the dominant narrative surrounding the discourse of the war and one that was even evident in “Golda” – the recent Guy Nativ film starring Helen Mirren as Golda Meir.

Uri Bar-Joseph, a professor of Political Science at the University of Haifa, is a scholar who pushes back against that conventional narrative and actually has great respect for the administration in charge at the time.

Video: Footage of the 1973 Yom Kippur War / IDF and Defense Ministry archives

“I look at the political leadership of ’73. I wasn’t a great admirer of [then-Prime Minister Golda] Meir, but it’s obvious that she cared more than everything else about the fate of Israel,” he said.

While Israel certainly paid a heavy price then, its casualties and losses will pale in comparison to Israel’s next major confrontation, he predicts.

Bar-Joseph, who has written several books on the topic including two available in English called “The Watchman Fell Asleep: The Surprise of Yom Kippur and Its Sources” and “The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel,” elaborated on an often bandied-about scenario of a multi-front war with Hezbollah being a main threat that may include Iran, Syria, Iraq and, of course, Hamas in Gaza and perhaps even the West Bank if there is an uprising there.

“Back in ’73, the Arabs could launch a few rockets,” he said. “Now, we’re talking about an arsenal of 150,000 from Lebanon alone.”

“Israel, despite its military superiority, currently faces a threat of war that might be the most expensive and biggest challenge to Israel since its establishment in ’48,” he said. “Because today there’s a combination of enemies who have a huge arsenal of rockets aimed at the Israeli rear. The Israeli rear was never exposed to such threats as it is today. Israel may have some military answers to this challenge, but that’s only a partial solution. Israel will pay dearly for the next war.”

The solution, he says, lies in diplomacy. “We must diffuse a potential confrontation with the Palestinians and make steps toward a two-state solution and also begin talking to the Iranians. Israel keeps denying these options.”

As for the potential normalization deal with Saudi Arabia, Bar-Joseph is skeptical of how it will benefit Israel. “It’s an important deal. But if the cost is letting the Saudis build up the nuclear infrastructure here, then I prefer the present situation and state of affairs. A nuclear Saudi Arabia means a nuclear Iran and we could face a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. This is an existential threat to Israel.”

Uri Bar-Joseph, who fought in a reconnaissance unit in the war, studied political science and sociology at the University of Haifa before studying international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and doing a doctorate at Stanford.