At the same time the PLO began to establish “state within a state” within Jordan.
In September 1970, the PFLP hijacked four international airliners, landed three of them on an airstrip inside Jordan, and blew them up. In the context of the ceasefire with Israel, Egypt closed the PLO offices in Cairo. King Hussein decided to move against the PLO threat to the Hashemite regime, and Jordan erupted into civil war. With Russian encouragement Syrian tanks crossed the Jordanian border and an Iraqi division which had remained in Jordan since 1967, also supported the PLO forces. Eventually an Israel mobilization and US naval deployment persuaded the Syrians and Iraqis to withdraw, and Hussein overwhelmingly defeated the PLO forces. By 1971 their new centre of operations had moved to south Lebanon.
The new international campaign against civilian targets now accelerated. On 10 May 1972, gunmen of the “Japanese Red Army” opened fire in Lod airport, killing 27 passengers, including 21 Christian pilgrims. In September 1972, eleven Israel athletes were murdered at the Olympic Games in Munich, by a group calling themselves “Black September” in recollection of Hussein’s defeat of the PLO. The perpetrators who had been arrested by the German authorities were later released following a PLO plane hijack, and most were later tracked down and killed by the Mossad.
Meanwhile many of the Jews of the Soviet Union had reacted to the events of the Six-Day War with a campaign for the right to emigrate to Israel. The leaders were arrested and exiled to Siberia, but the campaign gathered force and received international support, and by 1972, 32,000 Jews were allowed to leave. One of Golda’s many trials during this period was an unsuccessful mission to Vienna to persuade the Austrian Premier Bruno Kreisky not to close the transit station for the Soviet emigrants after the PLO bombed an Austrian train.
Then, on 6 November 1973, the Soviet-Egyptian-Syrian alliance put into effect their plans to avenge the defeat of 1967. The proposed invasion had been well camouflaged, indeed kept absolutely secret from all but the Presidents and Chiefs of Staff of Egypt and Syria until the day before the attack, with even the military command instructed that they were merely engaged in exercises. Russian advisers were ceremoniously expelled from Egypt in 1972, cordial peace negotiations with the US continued until the last moment, unarmed men strolled along the front lines, and Egyptian officers announced a proposed pilgrimage to Mecca. It was also the time when US President Nixon was deeply enmeshed in the Watergate scandal and threatened with impeachment for his role in the telephone bugging of the Democrat headquarters during the previous election.
The invasion began at 2 pm on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, a day of fasting and prayer on which all but the most essential activity totally ceases in Israel. Following an intense bombardment by missiles and artillery, tens of thousands of Egyptian infantrymen crossed the Canal in boats, bridges were laid, and hundreds of Egyptian tanks raced north through the Sinai desert. As the Israel tanks moved forward to meet them from the mountain passes, they faced a new Soviet secret weapon, the “Sagger” anti-tank missiles, infantry-operated tracer-guided rockets capable of totally destroying their targets and incinerating their crews. At the same time the new Soviet surface-to-air SAM missiles brought down large numbers of Israeli planes.
Simultaneously with the Egyptian crossing, Syrian helicopter-borne troops seized the strategic observation point at the summit of Mount Hermon. An artillery bombardment was then followed by the advance of some eight hundred tanks into the Golan Heights, almost entirely overcoming the first Israeli resistance. It appeared that a full-scale invasion of northern Israel was imminent.
Israel was caught unprepared for the onslaught. The intelligence assessment had been that the confrontation states were definitely not ready for war, that the observed troop concentrations did not present a threat, and that Israel could rely on the strategic depth created by possession of the Sinai. When knowledge of the impending attack became more definite on the day before the invasion, Golda called an emergency meeting, and it was decided to order a partial mobilization. At Golda’s insistence a pre-emptive strike was ruled out.
By the second day of the war the Israeli cabinet decided that the most urgent threat to Israel’s survival came from the north and that the newly mobilized reserves should be concentrated on the Syrian front. After desperate battles in which the few remaining Israeli tanks held the line, reinforcements arrived and a counter-attack eventually drove deep into Syrian territory, and within artillery range of Damascus.
Meanwhile a Soviet airlift, commencing on 8 October, delivered immense quantities of armaments to Egypt. At first the American policy was not to intervene. According to Sachar (see Note 2 below):
“Joseph Sisco and the other professionals at the Near East desk favoured a stand-off in the Sinai; Egypt was the key to peace and should not be humiliated once it had reclaimed its honour.”
However given the extent of Israeli losses and the scope of the Soviet arms deliveries, it soon became apparent that US interests demanded the prevention of a Soviet-backed military success against an American ally. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger decided that the maintenance of American influence in the Middle East required urgent action, and President Nixon finally authorized the delivery of the desperately needed planes and tanks. The first delivery arrived on 14 October, some eight days after the war began. As Golda was later to claim, her decision not to launch a pre-emptive strike had proved to be a crucial factor in enabling the Americans to come to the rescue at the moment of crisis.