The Search for the Missing: Israel’s Quest to Unearth Yom Kippur War Soldiers
In the Shadows of the Yom Kippur War
The Yom Kippur War of 1973 remains etched in the annals of history as a conflict that left many Israeli families with questions and uncertainties surrounding the fate of their loved ones. In the midst of the war, the Israeli army faced an immense challenge in keeping track of the vast number of soldiers, prisoners, and those missing in action. The limited communication with the frontlines further exacerbated the situation, leaving an air of mystery around the whereabouts of many soldiers.
Once the dust of war settled, over a thousand soldiers were declared missing. This dire circumstance necessitated an innovative approach to locate the missing persons. The Israeli military had to leverage foreign media, aerial photographs, and information from varied sources including local shepherds and passersby. It was a race against time as the military worked tirelessly to provide answers to the anxious families.
The Inception of the Identification Center for the Missing
Chanan Goral was among the first to identify the urgent need for a dedicated unit to locate missing soldiers. He spearheaded efforts to compile as much information as possible about the missing soldiers and set up a central operation room. This ambitious initiative was no simple task. Goral enlisted the help of two foreign TV crew members and two photographers to establish an Identification Center for the Missing. The center’s primary task was to collate footage from all foreign networks showing prisoners. Through this method, some soldiers could be identified and their status updated via the Red Cross.
The center, however, was not without its heart-wrenching moments. It eventually earned the somber title of the “Basement of Tears,” serving as a refuge for the team after emotionally challenging encounters with families. It was in this basement that they gathered their strength and prepared for the next family meeting.
The Search Missions in the Sinai
After the war, the army commenced search missions to locate the hundreds of missing soldiers from the battles against Egypt in the Sinai. The initiative for these search missions was inspired by a grieving father, Abraham Ilan, whose son had been killed in the Hermon and was found under a pile of rocks after the war. He was adamant that the army should organize a search for all missing soldiers.
The initial number of missing soldiers, known as the “tankists,” was over a thousand. These were soldiers who moved from one damaged tank to another, with their original units being oblivious to their situation. Furthermore, in the southern sector, there were areas occupied by Egypt that were not reclaimed, leaving tanks with Israeli soldiers inside. In a collaborative effort, the Israeli search teams and Egypt created a joint map indicating places where missing soldiers were believed to be. The teams meticulously studied the battles, used aerial photographs to locate stuck tanks, and prepared records for the Egyptian committee.
The aftermath of the Yom Kippur War saw a remarkable shift in the Israeli army’s approach to handling missing soldiers’ cases. The establishment of the Identification Center for the Missing and the concerted search missions in the Sinai became pivotal strategies in the quest to locate the missing. While the endeavor was fraught with challenges and heartbreaking moments, it highlighted the military’s unwavering commitment to accounting for every soldier, underscoring the value of every life and the power of a nation’s resilience in the face of adversity.
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