At 50th anniversary of Yom Kippur war, reflecting on how close we came to World War III

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By Charles Gardner —

yom kippur war soldiers
(photo credit: IDF Archives)



Amidst much internal conflict in Israel, we are fast approaching the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War in the autumn of 1973. And it will coincide, appropriately, with the launch in the UK of the movie Golda – about the legendary Israeli Prime Minister at the time.

I was a nearly-new Christian then, eagerly learning about what being a disciple of Jesus meant. Little did I realize that the fresh conflict raging in the Middle East could well have blown up into World War III or even Armageddon itself.

Only now, as I look back, can I appreciate more fully what was at stake. It happened just a few years after the Six-Day War that should have sent a clear message to Israel’s enemies that they were fighting God, not men, in view of the miraculous way such a quick victory was achieved against all odds.

Then another unprovoked attack against the Jewish state took them by complete surprise – coming as it did on their holiest day of the year when they were resting, fasting and praying. It was, of course, the Day of Atonement (known as Yom Kippur) when Jews seek forgiveness for their sins and put things right with neighbors they may have wronged.

But Egypt, from the south, and Syria, from the north, launched a massive co-ordinated onslaught which should have crushed the young nation then just 25 years old. In the early stages of the war, with the IDF still hurriedly getting into position, three out of every five Israeli jets were shot down.

According to the late Lance Lambert, a highly-esteemed Christian leader and friend of Israeli movers and shakers who was in Israel at the time hostilities broke out, “there were more tanks on the Syrian front than in the 1941 German offensive against Russia.”

Writing in 1975, he said Israel was up against 1,200 tanks on the Golan Heights, and that later at Sinai the greatest tank battles in world history were fought, greater even than the Battle of El Alamein in World War II.

Egypt attacked with 3,000 tanks, 2,000 heavy guns, 1,000 aircraft and 600,000 men. On the Syrian side, Israel could muster only 70 tanks and looked like it could be flattened. But just as it seemed her soldiers would be overrun, the invading forces inexplicably stopped their advance, allowing Israel time to regather; though not before suffering terrible carnage with thousands of young men – some no more than boys – killed or maimed for life.

Nevertheless, without God’s intervention, Israel was doomed. There is no other explanation. Not only that, but with the Soviet Union openly backing the invaders and America committed to supporting Israel, the spectre of World War III was very real.

Though Israel as a whole was irreligious, then as now (apart from their minority Orthodox groups), many began calling on God for help, and it was Christians with an understanding of God’s purposes for Israel who played a hugely significant role by interceding in prayer on their behalf.

This was especially the case at the Bible College of Wales in Swansea where Samuel Howells, son of legendary intercessor Rees Howells, led intense times of prayer. He felt such a strong burden that he asked God what it meant, to which the Lord replied: “My enemy is seeking to precipitate Armageddon.”

Leonid Brezhnev sent a large warship armed with ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads across the Mediterranean to Alexandria in Egypt in an apparent bid to solve the problem unilaterally.

President Richard Nixon responded by calling a worldwide U.S. military alert, putting 2.3 million men on standby – the first such alert since the Cuban crisis of 1962. The warship duly weighed anchor and sailed back to the Black Sea, bringing Israel – and the world – back from the brink.

Nixon’s intervention was much more than a useful diversion from his troubles over the Watergate scandal, which saw him authorize illegal activities in pursuit of being re-elected.
For when Golda Meir called Nixon for help, he remembered what his mother had told him – and disaster was thus averted.

Golda Meir and Richard Nixon

Years later Nixon recalled: “When she was talking (on the phone), I could hear my mother reading stories from the Old Testament to me when I was a boy…I could hear her tell me: ‘One day Richard, you will be in a situation where the Jewish people will need your help. When that day comes, do everything in your power to help them.’ It confirmed all my instincts, and I knew I had to act. I suddenly realized why I had become President of the United States. It was the moment I had to do what I had to do.”¹

For her part, Golda Meir was 76 at the time and went without sleep in order to visit wounded soldiers in the hospital.

Anyway, Israelis called on God to intervene – and he did. There was a run on Bibles, and prayer books were also in great demand. Indeed, based in interviews with soldiers, “a surprisingly high number of them went into the war as atheists and came out as ‘believers’,” Lambert reported in his book Battle for Israel, published by Kingsway in 1975.

Now a new generation of Israelis need to hear how God helped them in the recent past as well as in ancient days. It was a great deliverance, comparable with their rescue from Egypt through the Red Sea.

But the nation has largely forgotten the One who called them to be a light to the Gentiles. They have sadly settled for a hedonistic secularism that lives for today without hope for the future or gratitude for the past.

We in Britain are just the same. Most of us have forgotten how we were miraculously delivered from the darkness of Dunkirk and subsequent disasters in World War II after King George VI (our late Queen’s father) called the nation to prayer.

Queues lined up outside churches all over the country as people called out to God in prayer. But when the war was over and the nation began to be rebuilt, we turned away from the Lord and stopped going to church.

We must repent, as must Israel!

In Britain we are divided between left-wing wokery and those opposed to change. Neither will do, for both streams leave God out of the picture, and without his help we too are doomed.

Meanwhile Israelis need to stop pointing fingers at one another and start lifting their hands in prayer to Adonai, as they did during the Yom Kippur War.

According to Lambert, soldiers who knew their Bibles – especially ‘Jewish Christians’ – were in great demand as there was much talk of Armageddon with many faintly aware that the Jewish prophets had spoken about these things.

As we continue to experience many horrors and challenges today, it’s a great opportunity for Christians and Messianic Jews to answer the questions and allay the fears of the many who are so confused and afraid by the chaos all around us.

One of the biggest lessons to learn is that the conflict in the Middle East (and elsewhere) is largely spiritual. We are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).

Suggesting that outside political and spiritual forces are orchestrating the ongoing conflict, Lambert comments: “If it were not for these outside forces, Arab and Jew would probably live in peace.”

So we dare not trust in ‘horses and chariots’. The great King David wrote: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7) And the prophet Isaiah added: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or seek help from the Lord.” (Isaiah 31:1)

Israel survived in 1973 because God intervened, perhaps also to say that he, through Yeshua, is the one who offers ultimate atonement for his people through the sacrificial death on the cross of his beloved Son.

Though relatively weak 50 years ago, Israel is now a force to be reckoned with. But they cannot afford to be complacent. Above all, they need to trust in God alone, especially as they can no longer rely on America. But hopefully Yeshua’s words to his disciples will echo in their ears: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

I was not really aware of the upcoming anniversary when I was talking recently with our nephew about the apocalyptic events foretold in the Bible. He has a particular interest in tanks, and I’ve lost count of how often he’s visited the Tank Museum in the south of England.

So in a sudden flash of inspiration, I recalled reading an account of these terrible battles in Sinai and the Golan Heights, and felt sure I still had the book somewhere at home gathering dust on our shelves. I soon realized there was more to that prompting, and I was to write an article marking the milestone.

A highly significant point made in the book, when discussing the biblical prophecies of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38 & 39), was that Iran was the only nation mentioned among those who would attack Israel from the north “which has not set itself against Israel”.

This is a reminder that Israel and Iran were once friends. The Iranian revolution was shortly to follow and changed all that, with the Ayatollahs now determined to destroy the Jewish state. So the confederacy of nations set to attack Israel in the last days is now complete. It’s time to pray and seek the Lord.

As Lambert puts it, “The peace of the whole world is increasingly dependent upon the peace of Jerusalem.”

¹ The Miracle that is Israel, Phil Davies, Cornerstone Publishing