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Herzog: 50 years after Yom Kippur War, Israel facing ‘state of emergency’

At a ceremony marking 50 years since the Yom Kippur War, President Isaac Herzog said the country is facing a national state of emergency of division and polarization.

“Half a century after the Yom Kippur War, Israeli society is divided and polarized, and the crisis that has accompanied us for nine months — is tearing us apart, directly harming society, the economy and security,” said Herzog at the event at the Latrun memorial outside Jerusalem.

“There is no denying that we are in a real internal state of emergency,” added Herzog. “There is no denying that this is a time for soul searching, for learning lessons, for taking responsibility. We must all internalize the fact that our national resilience and the security of the state are directly tied to the internal Israeli situation.”

Resolving the current crisis “and bridging our different divisions are the most important and urgent steps that we have to take as a society in order to maintain the security of the State of Israel, 50 years after the Yom Kippur War,” Herzog continued. “Particularly in these days, it is important to listen, to behave in moderation, respect and responsibility, to lower the flames, to reach out a hand and to come to wide agreements.”

Herzog’s comments came days after an unprecedented clash in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur between religious worshipers at a prayer service and secularist activists protesting the group for violating a municipal order against holding a gender-segregated event in a public square. The heated confrontation has been widely seen as an extension of the mass protests against and in favor of the government’s judicial overhaul which have roiled the country in recent months, and sparked concerns over the seemingly impossible task of reconciling two very different visions of Israel’s future.

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Speaking at the same ceremony, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi warned that people are mistaken if they think the army can operate as normal with Israeli society so deeply split.

From left: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, First Lady Michal Herzog and IDF chief Herzi Halevi at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, at Latrun, September 27, 2023. (Jonathan Shaul/Flash90)

“An argument that leaves behind it a polarizing divisive rift within Israeli society is dangerous,” Halevi said.

“Given the security challenges, it’s arrogant to allow this polarizing debate and to assume that the IDF is immune from the effects of destructive polarization is a dangerous concept,” he said, alluding to mistaken assumptions held sacrosanct by Israel’s defense brass which allowed it to be surprised by a joint Syrian and Egyptian offensive in October 1973.

Halevi also aimed fire at those who have called for recruits to refuse combat service or for reservists to freeze volunteer duty, but also reprised criticism of politicians and others who have slung insults at protesting reservists and service members.

“It’s forbidden to attack those in uniform, who have devoted years to Israel’s security, that’s irresponsible,” he said. “Calling for the younger generation to refuse to enlist in combat service — that’s a dangerous conception. Calls by reservists to refuse to show up for missions harm security and the IDF.”

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant used his own remarks at the ceremony to send a message to terror groups in Gaza, amid an uptick in cross-border violence in recent days.

“We don’t want an escalation [in fighting] and are not looking for a fight, but if we get to the point where we need to act, let Operation Shield and Arrow be a reminder for all terror groups about the capabilities of [Israel’s] security apparatus,” Gallant said at a memorial.

Palestinians set off explosions amid cross-border clashes with Israeli security forces near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on September 27, 2023. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Shield and Arrow was an Israeli offensive targeting the Islamic Jihad terror group in Gaza which lasted five days in May and saw a number of leaders of the group killed in a surprise opening salvo.

“If Israeli civilians or soldiers are harmed, we will not hesitate to use everything in our power to ensure the safety of civilians and bring quiet back to the border,” he said.

Israel has responded to nearly two weeks of rioting by shelling empty Hamas posts and shooting at protesters who gather near the border fence. Over the past several days, Gazans have revived the practice of launching incendiary balloons into Israel, starting two forest fires on Wednesday.