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. How close was the Mideast to nuclear war?
TEL AVIV, (UPI) Israel, Sept. 23 , 2004 -

The day Egypt and Syria stunned Israel by launching the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel's then Defense Minister Moshe Dayan ordered the preparation of a weapon said to be a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

In a lengthy account published in Friday's edition of the Yediot Aharonot newspaper that reached the stands Thursday after passing through Israel's censors, the newspaper's Ronen Bergman and Gil Meltzer said the Israeli defense establishment was initially optimistic about the fighting, believing it would easily repel the onslaught.

Nevertheless, Dayan ordered preparation of very extreme means of retaliation -- the Ivri, which according to foreign press reports is another name for the ground-to-ground missile, Jericho, capable of carrying also a nuclear warhead.

The Yediot Aharonot reported that shortly before the fighting began Dayan asked at a meeting: Is the Ivri ready?

The then chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. David Elazar, answered: Not ready to fire.

Dayan's adjutant, Arieh Bar-On, said It would be ready within 12 hours.

The Ivri should be moved at night and be ready, Dayan ordered.

Three days later, an Israeli counter-strike in the Sinai desert failed. Grief gripped the officers at the supreme command headquarters. Some people cried, the newspaper said.

Elazar advocated, A dramatic effect, that Syria will be torn, that someone will scream ... 'Syria is being destroyed!' Elazar talked of bombing power stations and other targets that would burn as well as ruthless air attacks on two armored divisions even if we lose planes.

The apocalyptic atmosphere affected everybody ... and in The Pit (the fortified underground army headquarters) there were thoughts of recommending to the Cabinet the most extreme measures against Arab states, the newspaper said.

It quoted a former Deputy Chief of General Staff, Maj. Gen. Israel Tal, as having said in a top secret forum that on that day, Oct. 9, There was a feeling that the national existence is in danger. ... The goal was to stop the war quickly.

Eventually the tide turned, the United States airlifted arms to Israel, and the war ended with the Israelis reaching 101 kilometers (63 miles) from Cairo and closer than ever to Damascus.

The Israelis violated a cease-fire and encircled the Egyptian Third Army. The Soviet Union demanded Israel pull back, threatened to intervene unilaterally, and the United States reacted by declaring a DefconIII nuclear alert.

Yediot Aharonot said Washington took the Soviet threat very seriously because sensors the United States had buried in the Mediterranean Sea detected nuclear radiation emanating from a Soviet vessel that sailed over them.

Three days later, U.S. satellite pictures showed the Russians had deployed two Scud missile brigades in northern Egypt with nuclear warheads that were not concealed.

In the showdown with the United States, the Russians blinked first.

The newspaper said that after the war, then Prime Minister Golda Meir asked then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to negotiate a deal with Syria.

Israel would withdraw from the strategically important Mount Hermon in exchange for the repatriation of 28 Israeli pilots the Syrians had caught.

Yediot Aharonot said Israel's main concern was to return Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Avraham Lanir in order to protect the dramatic secret he had.

The newspaper could not say what that secret was.

Only Lanir and several Air Force reservists knew, and were authorized to operate, certain types of armament, Yediot Aharonot said.

The secrets Lanir knew, Could have influenced the fate of the entire campaign, Yediot Aharonot said.

Lanir was captured on Oct. 13, 1973, when he flew into a missile trap while on patrol deep inside Syrian territory. He turned his damaged plane towards Israel and bailed out, but the wind carried him back to the Syrian side. A Syrian jeep got to him before the Israelis did.

Lanir did not break down under Syrian pressure. In a hospital, he told another wounded Israeli pilot his hands and legs were broken.

Another pilot quoted a very senior Syrian officer who had visited him in jail as having said that an Israeli squadron commander was kept there. The Syrian officer said the Israeli pilot was a man who did not talk.

Lanir's body was returned to Israel in June 1974 and his widow received a Medal of Courage that he earned. Only one other prisoner of war received such a medal.

The citation said Lanir parachuted and reached the ground alive, was caught and taken prisoner. Lt. Col. Avraham Lair was tortured to death by his interrogators and did not reveal any information.

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