Golda Meir almost committed suicide when she realized the gravity of the situation. They needed a miracle. On 6th October, 1973, a coalition of Arab armies pounced upon Israel in a surprise attack. Total annihilation of the world’s only Jewish state looked inevitable.
President Richard Nixon was not famous for his love of Jewish people, but remarkably, he had been prepared for this hour since his childhood. He agreed to help with an enthusiasm few could understand.
When recalling what happened, Nixon said “news of the imminent attack on Israel took us completely by surprise,” and that “as recently as the day before, the CIA had reported that war in the Middle East was unlikely.” Mistakes were made and the intelligence given to Golda Meir was sorely lacking. There were rumblings and rumors of war as it was evident that Egypt in particular wanted to take back ground lost in previous incursions, but still, they didn’t see it coming.
It was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the whole country had shut up shop, stopped to fast and pray, and were quietly gathering in synagogues. Strategically, Israel’s enemies (led by Egypt and Syria) could not have chosen a better moment for their attempt to recover land and dignity but also to upend the Jewish homeland, which had only just been reestablished after a 2000 year exile. But God was not about to allow His handiwork to be undone. On this 50th anniversary, we reflect on the jubilee deliverance of the Yom Kippur miracle, and how God saved the day.
Grave mistakes were made
Israel was still basking in the glory of the remarkable victory the Six Day War in 1967. Back then, multiple Arab armies had joined forces against Israel, and the survival of the Jewish state has been largely chalked up to miracles. Israel had decided to act quickly to take out the Egyptian air force, which proved a significant factor in getting the upper hand, but their preemptive strike was roundly criticized by the international community. Just six years later, Golda Meir was not willing to push Israel’s luck by trying preemptive action again. While the attacks of 1948 and 1967 had seen all the surrounding armies allied against Israel, this time Jordan had nothing to do with it. Jordan’s King Hussein even reportedly met with Prime Minister Golda Meir on September 25, 1973 to warn her of an imminent attack. Israel began to prepare for battle on October 5 but the truth is that there was a great deal of scepticism about the likelihood of war from both US and Israeli intelligence officials.
A measly 189 Israeli tanks faced more than seven times their number, with 1400 tanks supplied by the Soviets bearing down on them from Syria. They were ridiculously outnumbered in the south as well. The situation was catastrophic. With Soviet resources backing the Arab forces all hope was lost if Israel were unable to match the strength of the armies coming against them. Saudi Arabia was threatening an oil embargo on anyone who helped Israel, which is why cries for help to the European nations also fell on deaf ears. In desperation, she called the private line of the president of the United States of America, pleading for military aid and armaments.
It was the middle of the night that President Nixon received Golda’s call. His advisors were not in favor of providing the assistance Meir was asking for, fearing the inevitable energy crisis that would follow a Saudi embargo, but Nixon remembered what his mother had said to him when he was a child…
“I could almost hear my mother’s voice. She would tell me stories and read to me from the Old Testament, the heroes of the Bible. And one afternoon, she said,
‘Richard, someday you’re going to be in a position where you can help save the Jewish people. And when that day comes, you must do everything in your power.’”1
Nixon’s mother, Hannah Milhous Nixon, was a devout believer. Her Christian faith had a profound influence on her son, who called her a “saint” 2. Despite the great cost of helping Israel, and against the recommendation of his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, the CIA Director Vernon Walters, recalls Nixon acted with urgency saying, “You get the stuff to Israel. Now. Now!”
Saved by grace
Operation Nickel Grass was launched by the Nixon administration to replace Israel’s depleted munitions. According to the Richard Nixon foundation, “Planeload after planeload of supplies literally allowed munitions and materiel to seemingly re-spawn for the Israeli counter effort. 567 missions were flown throughout the airlift, dropping over 22,000 tons of supplies. An additional 90,000 tons of materiel were delivered by sea.”3
Mordechai Gazit, then director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office, marveled at the American decision: “The airlift was decided not because we asked for it. Our relations with the United States were not at a point where we could have asked for an airlift; this was beyond our imagination.”4
In other words, GRACE. Amazing grace.
Bewildered as to why Nixon would jeopardize the US economy for the sake of Israel, some wondered whether Golda Meir had some dirt on Nixon to move him to action against all apparent sense, but the rescue was the grace of God. Working through the life of Hannah Nixon who taught her son to stand with Israel, God had saved the day, even while Nixon was a young boy.
“For generations to come, all will be told of the miracle of the immense planes from the United States bringing in the materiel that meant life to our people.” ~ Golda Meir.
The US economy predictably suffered the consequences of the Saudi embargo and endured a crippling oil crisis as a result. It would be some time before it would be righted again, but Israel was saved.
Yom Kippur: A Festival of Grace
We all need grace. It is fitting that the military aid came as it did, as a matter of grace rather than expectation, to a powerless people at the time of Yom Kippur—a day of grace covering the sin we cannot remove ourselves. It is a festival of grace. Today on Yom Kippur we fast in response to the command to “afflict ourselves” (Leviticus 16:29), but the word translated as “afflict” can also mean to humble ourselves. The command to do nothing deals with our pride—we can’t do anything about our sin. The high priest had to do it all—the community could only stand and watch.
God graciously saved the day for Golda Meir and the people of Israel through Nixon’s obedience to his mother’s exhortation. After the dust settled in 1973, Israel was still standing, in awe and gratitude. Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.
- Documentary series by journalist Michael Greenspan: Against All Odds: Israel Survives
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Richard Nixon
- Richard Nixon Foundation, How Richard Nixon Saved Israel, Oct 8, 2010
- Gerald Strober and Deborah Hart Strober in Nixon: An Oral History of His Presidency, as cited by Commentary Magazine