Yomkippur

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Egypt crossed the Suez Canal on October 6, 1973 while Israel was basically shut down for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Egypt’s attack consisted of 240 warplanes and two thousand pieces of artillery, followed by eight thousand troops crossing over the Suez Canal. At the same time, six hundred Syrian tanks advanced across the uplands known as the Golan Heights.

Mobilization orders went out to the reservists and regulars of the Israel Defense Force while the soldiers were at home, or attending synagogue, or even living overseas. Lilith Gervasi, now an adjunct professor stateside, was notified by telegram and arrived in Israel Oct. 8, in uniform as a sgan aluf or Lieutenant Colonel.

Lilith reported for duty once more at General David Elazar’s Northern Command. At forty-five years of age she was a little long in the tooth as combatants went, but Lilith, who spent much of her time between Arab-Israeli wars conditioning herself for the next Arab-Israeli war, was actually in excellent physical shape.

By Oct. 10 the Israeli counterattack in the Golan reached the line from which Syria launched their attack on the first day of the war. Moshe Dayan wanted to halt right there, thirty miles from Damascus, to avoid drawing the Soviet Union into the war. General Elazar, by contrast, wanted to advance another twenty miles into Syria to set up a strong defensive line and stabilize the northern front. Prime Minister Golda Meir, who had been assured by the US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that Nixon had her back, sided with Elazar.

The Israeli thrust east from the Golan Heights into Syria began on the 11th and pushed the Syrians back after fierce fighting. Early that evening, Lilith’s brigade was already six miles over the border into Syria. A few days later, the Christian commander of Syria’s forces in the Golan was executed before a firing squad in Damascus for ordering the withdrawal.

Moshe Dayan went on television at 2200 hours and reminded the Syrians that the road from Damascus to Israel was also the road from Israel to Damascus. But the next day Iraq entered the war, with fifteen thousand Iraqi troops shoring up the Syrian front. King Hussein of Jordan resisted Arab pressure, however, and refused to move against Israel in yet another war.

In Syria, all eighty tanks of one Iraqi brigade were destroyed by Israeli tanks and planes with absolutely no losses to the Israelis. Another Iraqi tank brigade was blocked by Lilith and a demolition crew who arrived at two bridges the tanks needed to cross and sliced partway through their support structures with blow torches, letting the weight of the tanks do most of the work. There were no tell-tale explosions. When the bridges collapsed, fifty of the eighty tanks were stranded on a dirt “island” with fewer than ten tanks able to advance, which the IDF Air Force quickly took off the board.

On October 16, sixty Iraqi tanks were hit on the Golan Heights and they withdrew. The Israelis held their position just eight miles outside of Damascus and Lilith’s brigade of infantry was an important part of this strong offensive line. The IDF also halted five miles west of the road from Damascus to Amman, Jordan, ready to block any late-minute entry of Jordan into the war with a flank attack. The Soviet Union finally grew alarmed at the setbacks experienced by their Arab client states.

At that point the Israelis began to breathe a sigh of relief, particularly when equally spectacular results were starting to come in from the southern theater of war. But the religious extreme right in Israel, with none of their own boots on the ground (as usual) prevailed upon Prime Minister Golda Meir to withdraw all female combatants from the front lines of the conflict. In the event she refused they threatened to take Likud out of the temporary power-sharing arrangement of her Alignment party, which would in turn drive her from office. Meir quickly caved in, and Lilith Gervasi was relieved of duty.

When she made formal protest, General Elazar, demonstrating an extraordinarily short memory of Lilith’s legendary accomplishments for Israel over the years, barked at her, “Give me one reason why I should not carry out these orders rotating you back home?”

She bared her arm with the six tattooed numerals. But it was not enough.

As the 1973 Yom Kippur war raged on, President Nixon ordered an airlift of military supplies to allow Israel to keep fighting. The Soviets supplied their Arab client states continuously throughout the war. To keep Lilith away from the temptation to wage war against the Arabs by “unofficial” means, she was placed on an empty C-130 Hercules cargo plane on it’s way back the United States.

In the Sinai, Israel lost two hundred tanks right away, but a pair of extra tank divisions were rushed forward to halt the Egyptian advance. Eighty percent of Israel’s entire inventory of armor that was still operational was sent into the battle, but Egyptian troops using Soviet-supplied anti-tank weaponry held the Israelis to a line five miles east of the Suez Canal. Meanwhile more Egyptian tanks and infantry massing on their side of the canal were protected from Israeli air attack by a tough shield of anti-aircraft missiles guided by radar, again courtesy of the Soviet Union.

On October 13 the Egyptians tried to break through two mountain passes in the Sinai. What followed was the largest tank battle on Earth since the 1943 battle of Kursk between Germany and Russia and the second largest tank battle anywhere, ever, involving nearly two thousand tanks. During the battle a total of 264 Egyptian tanks were knocked out, to Israel’s ten. On the 14th another Egyptian attack on the Suez Canal was stopped with the destruction of 200 tanks and a thousand Egyptian soldiers killed.

The following day a third battle was fought at the meeting point between the Egyptian Second and Third Armies that served as an administration area for both armies and headquarters for the 16th Infantry Division. Tanks fired at practically point blank range. Egypt lost 150 tanks to Israel’s eighty. Overnight an IDF parachute brigade established a toehold on the other side of the Canal. Two forward-deployed Egyptian anti-aircraft missile bases were taken out, allowing Israel to establish air superiority over the western bank of the Suez Canal.

A veritable conveyor belt of Soviet war supplies moved by air to Egypt and Syria, while the Americans supplied Israel from their own endless abundance. But when the Soviet Union saw the Arabs checked in the Golan and now in the Suez, and Nixon refused to pressure Israel to allow the trapped Third Army to escape, Leonid Brezhnev began airlifting Soviet troops to Cairo to supplement the Egyptians.

Passing through the Dardenelles, Soviet naval forces in the Mediterranean reached 97 ships, including 23 submarines, while the US added a third carrier battle group from Spain for a total of 60 ships. Three carriers in theater always heralded war.

Nixon took the US to DEFCON 3 and sent the 101st Airborne into the Sinai to counterbalance the Soviet troops, but events were moving fast and there was insufficient time to match the Soviets troop-for-troop. Nixon told Brezhnev that sending any more troop transport planes would be crossing a red line, but Brezhnev called his bluff.

Fighters from the USS Independence shot down the next cargo plane hauling Soviet troops. Brezhnev replied with a nuclear-tipped torpedo round fired at the Independence. The United States didn’t even know the Soviets had nuclear torpedoes. It didn’t have to be close. The blast took out the carrier, several support ships steaming alongside, and even damaged the Soviet submarine that fired it. The Cold War had just gone hot.

Nixon ordered weapons red and free on all Soviet forces in the Mediterranean, and the two sides slugged it out. Both remaining US carriers were taken out, but the Soviet naval forces definitely came off much the worse.

But this hardly mattered. An exchange of ICBMs took out the American and the Soviet capital cities, killing ten million people instantly and many more after the fact. Then the two superpowers went back into their own corners to assess what was happening and see if the other side would escalate.

A few more items on each side’s laundry list were nuked, such as the Hanford site in the US, and the Sevastopol navy base, but Brezhnev and Nixon were both dead, and cooler heads didn’t think losing more millions of lives would be worth what either side had gained by the war, which was precisely nothing.

By any stretch of the imagination, the things Mike Morrich saw in Washington, D.C. on October 19, 1973 far surpassed anything Lilith witnessed or endured in the camps, but somehow they affected him far less. Perhaps he was wired differently. That didn’t make him inhuman.

At seventeen, Mike was a pretty good kid. Sure, he dropped out school just before his senior year, to the great consternation of his father, but Mike figured he kind of work he could obtain after one more year of school wasn’t much different from the work he could obtain now, so what was the point? Sure he was a skinny young man with a wild afro, but nobody who lived through the Seventies could look back and say they were proud of their hair.

His father had a civil service job, his parents were still together, and Mike loved both of them. If he had been born ten or twenty years later, he would have been the exception rather than the rule.

So that Friday he was on the job site in a cavern dug under the city, a space intended to become an ornate Metro station when the system was slated to open just three years later, although it never would. Mike didn’t have any construction skills per se, and lacked the upper body strength in any event, but his job was simply to keep the area as clean as possible while the other men worked. He did so with a great deal of youthful energy.

The lights went out and there was something like a long earthquake. There was an eerie white light reflected down one of the connecting tunnels and hot dust filled the cavern even as the light faded to red. But the light never disappeared entirely, for the city above was burning. Mike Morrich and his co-workers were lucky, there were very few survivors so close to ground zero directly under the fireball of the Soviet fusion warhead.

The yield and the corresponding destruction was many times greater than the Hiroshima bomb. On Pennsylvania Avenue between the places where the White House and the Capitol building once sat was now a huge crater so hot the Potomac continually turned to steam before it could fill the hole. Surrounding this was a ring of total destruction where the Supreme Court, the Treasury building, and all the famous monuments used to be. When Mike stepped out of the subway tunnel and looked to where his home used to be he saw the view was largely unobstructed, yet there was no way for him to locate exactly where it was. All the landmarks were gone.

Mike knew in that instant that he was an orphan, there was no point in even trying to look for his parents. They were as gone as anyone could possibly be. So he turned and began to walk in what he guessed was the next best direction, which was away from the pillar of steam that was ground zero. As he walked, he passed through a ring of human bodies that were almost recognizable, for they were charred black, and even the beer bottles at their feet were melted.

He passed through a ring of half-standing blackened buildings with white “shadows” along their base that had been people blocking the burning radiation of the initial flash. And it was there that Mike had to pick his way through the rubble of structures that had already been burned out just to exit to the next ring.

Mike passed through a ring of people who were still alive, but burned so badly they had no hope of recovery, and they were in such shock they felt nothing, made no sound, and would soon die. They were actually the lucky ones.

He passed through a ring of people who did make a sound, for each of them were immersed in a sea of absolutely unendurable agony that never stopped. They had stripped themselves naked because their clothes only made the pain worse, and their arms were held at a forty-five degree angle at their side, for if their arms touched their bodies the pain of the contact was too great.

Mike’s chances of making out of the city were good. He hadn’t been injured, but even as he walked the residual radiation of the blast did its invisible dirty work, tearing at the DNA in his body, so that in the end, fifteen years later, he would in fact become a victim of the attack in the form of an unbelievably painful bone cancer that would ravage him for two years, were not the B’nei Elohim to intervene.

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