Large-Scale War, Narrow Perspective

Brigadier General (Res.) Dr. Dani Asher reviews a new book on the Yom Kippur War
Deputy Corps Cdr., Ehud Barak at Beirut’s captured airport (Photo: Yossi Ben Hanan) Deputy Corps Cdr., Ehud Barak at Beirut’s captured airport (Photo: Yossi Ben Hanan)

The book “At the Center of Gravity,” discusses the Yom Kippur War on the Sinai front, describing the fighting and drawing conclusions on the way the war was managed on the battlefield.

One of the authors was deputy commander of the force that crossed the Suez Canal – Major General Arik Sharon’s 143rd Division – and the other was the deputy’s assistant. Their participation in the war is the source of their authority in writing the book – one of many on the shelf of scholarly and theoretical works dealing with the war.

The description of the facts, intentionally without authorized references, are based on various publications, including the war diaries that the authors kept.

In their version of events, nothing new is said. The authors lack the experience to analyze and clarify Egypt’s moves and initiatives that played such a decisive role in the planning and use of forces, especially at the military leadership level during the fighting. An understanding of these events requires an analysis of military intelligence. However, according to the authors, military intelligence is nothing but “opinion that is intelligent at best, generally to be doubted, and always open to deep suspicion.”

In their attempt to analyze the moves in the war, the authors employ tools from systems analysis and performance research, which they pack with meaningless mathematical formulae. Concepts that demand clarification, such as the war’s aims of both sides, or their ability to achieve victory, are often left dangling in the air and frequently incorrect. In addition, the war diagrams are far from accurate (better ones can be found, for example, on the Fourteenth Brigade website).

The book focuses on the 143rd Division. It accurately describes the division’s mobilization and movement to the front, the 162nd Division’s unsuccessful counterattack on October 8, and the march of the 143rd Division (the covering division) to the south. The book also discusses the failure of the 143rd’s belated October 9 counterattack and its successes against the Egyptian armor attack on October 14.

The book naturally concentrates on the canal crossing, with an emphasis on the deputy division commander’s superb efforts in organizing and supporting the concentration of forces and deployment of equipment. The book’s last chapters describe the development of the attack on both banks of the Suez Canal in the final stages of the war.

In order to give credit to the brilliant decisions and fighting spirit of their commander, Major General Sharon, the authors downplay everyone else who was active in the General Staff, in the front headquarters, and in the neighboring divisions. Their attempt to bequeath “instruction” and inspiration to the next generation of commanders – an attempt that the present commander of the military colleges supported by having the book published by Ma’arachot (the IDF’s official publishing house) – was mostly done by stressing the negative aspects of the war. With regards to this, Major General Eli Zeira once said, “We have none better than those who made the mistakes. Do not look for guilty parties, look for what to correct” (as per the transcript of a conversation in the IDF Archives, published by Amir Oren in the Hebrew daily “Ha’aretz,” April 12, 2012).

The best part of the book seems to be the forward written by Major General Gershon Hacohen, the previous commander of the Military Colleges and a division commander that undoubtedly understands the generalship doctrine.

Hacohen explains the special task that a commander must carry out in the interface between the tactical dimension of war and its operational and strategic dimensions. With his professional insight and authoritative leadership, he hovers between his understanding of war as a collection of events and his understanding of its broader perspective.