Tel Saki and the Yom Kippur War
Two wars, the Six-Day War and the more recent Yom Kippur War, shaped the modern history of the Golan Heights. During the Six-Day War, Israel conquered the Golan Heights after being subjected to years of indiscriminate Syrian firing on the settlements below. During the Yom Kippur War, the Syrians attempted to recapture it and almost succeeded. That they failed is due entirely to Israeli heroism. The bunkers at Tel Saki in the center of the Golan commemorate the sacrifices made by the Israeli soldiers manning these positions in the face of incredible odds.
VISITING TEL SAKI:
Directions: Enter “Tel Saki” into Waze.
Time: The bunkers, memorial and surrounding countryside can be viewed in about 30 minutes.
Admission: There is no admission charge and no brochure. The site is always open. For proceeding beyond the entrance of the bunkers a flashlight is needed as the bunkers are not illuminated.
Public transport: There is no close bus stop. The closest is at Ramat Magshimim, from where it is a 3.8-Km, 48-minute walk. Enter "Ramat Magshamim" into Moovit. Buses leave from Tiberias and Katzrin.
Close defeat to victory during the Six-Day War
The hill and bunkers of Tel Saki are a fitting memorial to the courage and heroism of the regular and reserve soldiers who turned a close defeat in the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War into a resounding victory.
On October 6 1973, on Yom Kippur day at 2.00 pm, Syria and Egypt attacked simultaneously on the Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula. Israel was unprepared. This was not because it did not know about Egyptian and Syrian war preparations, but because it chose to ignore them. There was hubris among the leadership of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and a belief, particularly in the Intelligence branch, that Egypt and Syria were not ready for war. The Chief of Military Intelligence even refused to activate sophisticated listening devices planted in the communication system of the Egyptian command lest they be exposed. This hubris prevented a preemptive air attack that could have destroyed the Egyptian army as it was waiting to cross the Suez Canal and neutralized the deadly SAMS missiles on the Egyptian border.
Israeli military strategy has always relied upon having sufficient warning to mobilize its reserves, and in this instance the reserves were unable to reach the Golan Heights and Sinai before Syrian and Egyptian forces had already advanced beyond their borders. When the reserves did reach the front, they sometimes found their tanks not fully ready for battle and at other times loaned out to other units. Fortunately, the civilian population of the Golan had been evacuated prior to the war.
The Syrians attempted to break across the border in two places in the Golan. The northern-most attempt was at the Quneitra Gap, a pass south of Mount Hermon and overlooked by Mount Betal and Mount Avital. The second was in the central Golan close to Tel Saki.
The Israelis had 3,000 troops, 180 tanks and 60 artillery pieces in the Golan facing off against 28,000 Syrian troops, 800 tanks and 600 artillery pieces. The Syrians also deployed two armored divisions from the second day onwards. In both locations, the Israelis elected to stay put and fight despite overwhelming odds.
At the Quneitra Gap, Israeli tanks were able to hold off the Syrian advance and the Syrians withdrew after 3 days of battle. During this time, the Syrians lost over 500 tanks and armored personnel carriers, while Israel lost 60 to 80 armored vehicles. One source describes what the Prime Minister Golda Meir saw through her binoculars when she viewed what would later be called the Valley of Tears: “. . . . the distant valley strewn with the hideous debris of war: pulverized howitzers, blown-out trucks, banged up armored personnel carriers, burned-out tanks punched through with bull’s eyes, some still smoldering – and the dead. The stench of death, cordite, diesel and exhaust was overwhelming.”
In the area of Tel Saki, however, the Syrians did manage to overcome the tank ditches and dense minefields and advance into the southern Golan.
Tel Saki is one of a chain of extinct volcanic hills on the Syrian border. At first, the local commanders failed to appreciate that this was a full-scale war, and assuming it was a border skirmish they sent out a small party of soldiers to the observation post on Tel Saki on a reconnaissance mission. The soldiers soon found themselves in the middle of an artillery and air bombardment on settlements, roads and army bases over the entire Golan Heights, followed by a Syrian advance of two-thirds of their attacking army. Nevertheless, these and other soldiers who had made their way to Tel Saki, as well as nearby bases, elected to confront the Syrian army. Two rescue parties were sent out to Tel Saki from a base at El Al, but both were destroyed. The paratroopers and infantry at Tel Saki soon ran out of ammunition, food and water. Holed up in the bunkers, many of the soldiers were either dead or injured.
The story ends well for Israel. With the arrival of the reserves in full force to the battlefront, the Syrians were pushed back to the pre-war ceasefire lines by October 8, and those in the bunkers at Tel Saki were rescued. On October 11, Israeli forces pushed into Syria, broke through Syrian defenses and were able to occupy positions deep in in the country, up to 30 Km from Damascus. A ceasefire was accepted by the Syrians on October 23.
This victory can be considered even more miraculous than the Six-Day War, in that Israel managed to turn around a reverse on one front and advance into enemy territory in the north. Unlike the Six-Day War, however, this was not a joyous victory. There had been many casualties. Israel had to rely on a huge American airlift when it ran out of supplies and equipment. There was anger throughout the country about the army’s lack of preparedness, to the extent that Golda Meir's government was forced to resign.
Overlooking Syrian territory from the bunkers.
Memorial to the soldiers who lost their lives on the hill of Tel Saki.
You can wander through the bunkers, although they are not illuminated.
A reconstruction of the fighting here.