Steven Pressfield On The Lion’s Gate
HH: I asked, very rarely do I ask people to come into the studio for three hours, and you know I did it last week with Brian Lamb of C-SPAN. And I did it again with Steven Pressfield, who’s got out a brand new book called The Lion’s Gate: On The Front Lines Of The Six Day War. And Steven, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, it’s great to have you in studio again.
SP: Hugh, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
HH: Now I don’t do this. I think the last time you had a book out, we talked for an hour And the first time you came in, we did a three hour show on The Gates of Fire. And I wasn’t really a big fan of the Alexander books. Then I read them, and I was. But here’s what I wrote, I’m going to embarrass you at the start.
SP: All right.
HH: Over at Hughhewitt.com, I don’t have enough superlatives for this book. It is among the top five I have ever read. I think I know why. I was eleven when the Six Day War began and ended, and I can barely recall even a mention of it. The 1973 War I know well, because Richard Nixon played a central role, and I know RN’s story well. I of course knew Israel won a lightning-like decisive victory in ’67. I knew the outlines of the air campaign, the tank campaign and the battle for Jerusalem. And of course, I know why the ground is so sacred, so central to history. And I go on to talk about the fact that three years ago, I went to Israel for three days. But I really had no idea. And Steven Pressfield, did you when you started the book know what you were getting into?
SP: No, I had no idea. I was as clueless as you were, Hugh. I mean, I had a general, I’m older than you, so I was 24, I think, during the Six Day War. I was in the Marine Corps Reserve. I was a lance corporal infantryman waiting to get sent to Vietnam, which I didn’t get sent to, but…so when that happened, and as a Jew myself, I remember, I mean, it was electrifying. Moshe Dayan, the black eye patch, the victory, it just really, it blew my mind at the time. And I don’t know, years and years passed, and as you know, you know, I’ve written about the Spartans, the Ancient Spartans, I’ve written about the Macedonians, the British, the Athenians, so on and so forth, even into the future, future mercenaries when we talked last. But I thought, this was about three years ago, I said but I’ve never written about my own people. And this is an incredible story. Forget about anything I might have written. Just the history of it, I think it ranks with Gettysburg or Thermopylae, the Six Day War, in pure military terms. But beyond that, it’s a story of a return from exile. It’s a story of 2,000 years of pogroms and persecutions, et cetera, et cetera, and a reclaiming, with the capture of the Western Wall, of the kind of central soul center of the Jewish people and wrapping up 2,500 years coming full circle. So…
HH: And the art, and there’s a lot of art in this book, is that you tell the entire story of Israel in the course of telling a first-person collection of accounts of the Six Day War such that if anyone walks into the Lion’s Gate and starts, and they don’t know anything about Israel, they will learn the history of Israel’s reconstitution, its return from exile, in the course of reading about the moment by moment, minute by minute, hour by hour front line of the war. And that was genius. Did that take some figuring out how to do?
SP: No, it sort of evolved as natural storytelling in the sense that you can’t tell the story of the war in ’67 without telling the backstory of the war in ’56, the Sanai campaign, the war of independence in ’48, and then going back to the Romans, back to the Babylonians, back to the Holocaust, back to the Dreyfus case and all of the things that need to kind of fall into place for this to make sense, for the stakes of the story to make sense.
HH: Now there are two things I want to mention in the first segment. The first is a quote from Page, very, very late in the book, Page, oh, I don’t know, I lost it again, there it is, Page 372, from Bat Sheva Hofert. Sister of Shlomo Kenigsbuch. “I lost both my brothers in the Six Day War, and thirty-six years later I lost both my sons.” So there’s a lot of suffering in this book, and you do not in any way paint that over, avoid it. You look it right in the eye and you talk about it’s a small country and they took enormous losses to save it many times.
SP: And I think that’s really part of the story, because I don’t, this story is not, I mean, it’s painted sometimes in history books, Hugh, like with triumphalism in a sense, because it was such a great lightning victory. But the price was really high, and the price has always been high in Israel just for survival. And that, to me, was a very important part of the story. I didn’t want it to end on a note of triumphalism or anything like that, but on a sobering note of what this is all about over the centuries and the millennia.
HH: It can bring tears to your eyes. The Cheetah, and I can’t say his last name.
SP: Cheetah Cohen.
HH: Yeah, and he lost his brother.
HH: Now you help me with the pronunciation. He lost his brother on the first day of the war, and they did not tell him.
SP: Right. Cheetah Cohen is a really fascinating guy I spent a lot of time with, a helicopter pilot, and his younger brother, Nechemia, was the most decorated soldier in the Israeli army at the time, tied with Ehud Barak, the former…
HH: Prime minister.
SP: …prime minister and defense minister as well.
HH: Is he current defense minister? I think he is.
SP: I guess he is, yeah.
HH: Yeah, he’s the current defense minister.
SP: So yeah, Nechemia, his younger brother, got killed on the first day of the war, but Cheetah was so important as a helicopter squadron commander, that somebody made the decision not to tell him about his brother’s death, and he didn’t learn it until the last day of the war when everyone else was celebrating. And then his world sort of came crashing down with that.
HH: And you wrote it so well, because you told us about the silence decree in Chapter 2 or 3.
SP: Yeah, Chapter 1, actually, yeah.
HH: And then, Chapter 1, and then you follow Cheetah through the whole book, because he goes everywhere. It’s not a big country. There are four fronts on the war. And we’ll go through this, America, and you’re welcome to call, by the way, at 1-800-520-1234. I asked Steven to be here live, because I thought people might want to react to the book, The Lion’s Gate, and to the telling of the story, and to talk to Steven Pressfield, who’s, I don’t know how many millions of books he’s sold, but he’s among the most-read authors in America and around the world. 1-800-520-1234. So whenever you run into Cheetah, you know his brother’s dead and they’re not telling him. So Dan Matta, or…
SP: Danny Matt.
HH: Danny Matt is going and doing these extraordinary heroics with him. Does Danny Matt know his brother’s dead?
SP: I don’t know. I can’t imagine he did.
HH: Yeah, they probably just kept it at headquarters.
HH: But you know. You’re the audience, and you’re watching, and you’re knowing that at the end, no matter what he accomplishes, it will be a horrific, you know, he’ll always be able to tell I did this, I did that, and it’s extraordinary. How is he as a human being to sit down with now?
SP: Cheetah is just an amazing, colorful guy. I’ll tell you just one little story about him, but there are many, many, many stories. He became, after the war, he was a captain on El Al for like 25 years. He was a member of the Knesset three times. And one of the things I didn’t know about Israel, I didn’t know anything, really, when I started, there’s no constitution in Israel. They’ve never kind of stopped and got it together, partly because of the fact that they’re sort of basically a state religion, and they’ve never kind of gotten around that. And so one of Cheetah’s, you know, goals was to get a constitution written. But here’s a story about Cheetah. Cheetah was famous for having a pony tail, and also for riding motorcycles and for being kind of, he was a very extreme right party member. And he was very close, as you know from the book, with Arik Sharon…
SP: Ariel Sharon, and Sharon was prime minister when Cheetah was in the Knesset, was a Knesset member. So they happen to pass in the Knesset one day, and Sharon stopped Cheetah and said you know, Cheetah, now that you’re in the Knesset, you have to get rid of this pony tail. And so Cheetah said Mr. Prime Minister, I will get rid of this pony tail when you bring the peace.
HH: And Sharon started laughing, and said Cheetah, you’re going to have that pony tail for a long time.
HH: Long time. Did you ever get a chance to meet Sharon before his stroke?
SP: No, no. Too bad, because…
HH: But…and when he died, I had a number of Jews on, American Jews, to try and convey to the American people what he meant. And I still didn’t get it. I didn’t get it until I read Lion’s Gate. Now I get it. It’s pretty hard not to. Now you understand why Sharon was such a, now I understand why Sharon was such a larger than life figure. When we come back, America, I’m going to continue my conversation. Your phone calls are welcome. I’ve got my eye on the news to see what the fires are doing in Southern California. I have linked The Lion’s Gate at Hughhewitt.com. Rarely do I go and buy my own books, right? Normally, they send them to me. I went and bought two extra copies to have Steven sign them. And you ought to go, are they available at your website, by the way?
SP: I’m sorry?
HH: Are the books available from your website as well?
SP: No, they’re Amazon or bookstores or wherever.
HH: Amazon and Barnes and Noble and bookstores.
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HH: And it’s very different from anything you’ve read before, and it’s different, actually, in its beginning, too, how it came to pass. And you’ve heard, if you’ve listened to my show for any number of years, David Mamet come on the program before. And a few months back, David was on talking about one of his stories in Three War Stories about getting weapons to the young Israeli state. And there’s a guy mentioned in Steven’s new book, The Lion’s Gate, Lou Lenart, who is also at the back of the book brought in, in connection with David Mamet. So Steven Pressfield, tell people the story about how Mamet fits into The Lion’s Gate.
SP: Well, I am, when I started this, I’m so unconnected to things Israeli, and really was coming from, you know, a baseline of zero, but I’m friends with David Mamet. So I called him up and took him to lunch, and I asked him, you know, David, because I know David knows everybody, I said do you know somebody in Israel that’s connected to the military that can get me in and open doors for me? So he said come to my house for Shabbat dinner this week, and I’ll introduce you to somebody. And the guy he introduced me to was Lou Lenart, who was then like 91 or 92, former U.S. Marine captain, fighter pilot on Okinawa, flew F4U Corsairs against the Home Islands of Japan, and in the ’48 war of independence, when Israel was declaring its independence, and they had no fighter pilots, no pilots of any kind, Lou volunteered and went over there, basically saved Tel Aviv among other things. And so he kind of adopted me, Lou did. And he’s in Israel now, just got married and moved over there at 93 or whatever he is, and so he said you know, Steve, you’re part of my family, and I’m going to do everything I can for you. I’ll introduce you to everybody. And he kind of opened the doors for me initially that you know, got this book started.
HH: Now give the overview of the process. Why…it’s an oral history, but it’s not. And it’s a dramatic novel, but it’s all true. It’s just an interesting, different book.
SP: Well, it’s not a novel.
HH: No, it’s not.
SP: I mean, it’s actually, when I first had the idea to do this, I thought should I do this as a novel? And my editor, my partner, Shawn Coyne, kind of sat me down and said no, no, no, no, no, you can’t do that, this has got to be narrative non-fiction like The Perfect Storm, or like Blackhawk Down.
HH: That’s it. That’s what it is. Perfect.
SP: And so…
HH: You have to fill in a couple of blanks.
HH: You have to fill in, okay, that’s what, narrative non-fiction, got it.
SP: Right, and I didn’t even know what narrative non-fiction was, you know?
SP: So Shawn explained to me well, it’s like a novel in that it’s a story, it’s a narrative, but all the events actually happened, and the real people actually did them. And you can’t invent anything. So, and the reason why that needed to be done, I think, in this case, is because everybody’s still alive. You know, the war only happened 45 years ago.
HH: Except Moshe Dayan.
SP: Yeah, except Moshe Dayan and a few others. Arik Sharon is not still alive, but basically, everybody’s alive, and they’re still, so it’s got to be true, not to mention that’s the most powerful, you know, for instance, as we were talking, Hugh, off camera here, it was obvious to me that the liberation of the Western Wall was the emotional climax of the book.
SP: So the question is, if you were going to novelize that or do it as a novel, you’d invent something, right? But I just knew the real story, if I can talk to the real paratroopers, and the title, Lion’s Gate, of course, comes from a gate in the walls of the old city of Jerusalem through which the paratroopers, the Israeli paratroopers, entered the old city and got to the Western Wall. So I know that if I could just talk to the real guys who were really there, they were going to tell me stories that would be better than anybody could ever invent, I don’t care, Shakespeare, you know?
HH: There is a story, the flag story, which no one would dare invent for a novel.
SP: Right, you couldn’t invent it, yeah.
HH: So tell people that. You could not make that up.
SP: This is a true story of a captain named Yoram Zamosh…
HH: A Company, right?
SP: A Company captain. Very good. Hugh, you are a great reader. And I’m trying to think of how I can tell this without making it too long, but the way the paratroopers went to Jerusalem was like a three day, you know, it took three days. A night fight, another night fight, and then the next morning, they got there. And the first night that they got to Jerusalem, shells were falling, the Jordanians were shelling the old city. It was in a blackout, it was dark. When they’d come out on the street, the cars, every tire was flat from shrapnel. And every window had been blown out of every car from the shells. And the paratroopers met in an apartment of just a family, the Cohen family, of this one battalion, Battalion 71. And they were, as they were, tea was being served for them, and they were making their plans. What were they going to do? How were they going to attack? What was going to happen? And there was a grandmother in her 80s who had lived in the old city before the Jordanians took it over in ’48. And she left the room at one point, and when she came back, Yoram Zamosh, this captain who’s sitting down, and the grandmother, Mrs. Cohen, comes in right behind him, was standing over him, and just said to him, take this. And he turned, and it was a flag of Israel. And she said this flag last flew in the old city when my husband and I, who had since passed on. And as Yoram Zamosh is telling me that story, he’s sitting, and Mrs. Cohen was standing over him, he said to this day, I feel her tears on my back. So he tucked that flag away in his web gear and kept it for the next two days. And that was the famous photo of hanging the flag on the grillwork over the Western Wall.
HH: I’m not embarrassed to say, because I just don’t, I will admit my ignorance, I was unaware of the famous photo. I was unaware that this had happened. And so when I saw the photo, because so it’s all new to me, and I’m saying that’s amazing. Moreover, and we have a minute and a half to the break, throughout, and they weren’t going to go into the old city.
HH: In the next segment, we’re going to tell why. But his buddies keep saying where’s the flag, where’s the flag.
HH: And they keep checking, and he has to bring the flag out, because they kind of know in the back of their head that this flag could be the most important…
HH: It could be the symbol of the reclaiming of Jerusalem by the Jews after 2,500 years, after 2,000 years.
SP: Right. And it was even…
HH: I got a shudder thinking about it.
SP: It was even kind of a screwed up flag. It was sort of only had color on one side of it. You know, it was like one of these things, I don’t even know where they got it, you know? It was not like some great, you know, beautiful flag.
HH: You’ve got beautiful photos in The Lion’s Gate. How many of those are public archive, and how many of those are appearing for the first time in print?
SP: Probably about 50/50.
HH: About 50/50.
SP: And the story of getting those photos was like a saga unto itself. But they were very important to the book, I think, because when you read these stories, they’re so kind of novelistic in the way, Cheetah Cohen’s story with his brother, et cetera, et cetera, that I think the reader is kind of partly saying ah, this is B.S. You know, this can’t be for real. It’s too good, you know? And then, so it’s very important, I think, you come and suddenly see a photo. You see a photo of Cheetah. You see a photo of Nechemia, and you go wow, this really happened.
HH: And again and again, they’re kids. Not Sharon, not some of the senior guys. He looks, you know, he’s in his middle age. And the young Rommel, Shmul, is 35.
HH: Okay, 37.
SP: Yeah, yeah.
HH: And so, but most of them are like 16 year olds. They might not be shaving for all I know.
HH: They’re 18 to 22.
SP: Yeah, they’re 18, 19, 20 years old, yeah.
HH: And they’re taking back the Jewish land for the Jews, and it’s incredible.
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HH: Steven Pressfield, who lives up on the west side of Los Angeles, has been threatened by fire. We always take it seriously out here, because you never know when you’re going to come home and there’s going to be ashes next door, right?
SP: Damn right.
HH: You can say that. Don’t worry, it’s not 1964.
HH: The new book is The Lion’s Gate, Steven’s narrative non-fiction account of the Six Day War in Israel that is fascinating. Jack in Los Angeles, 1-800-520-1234, Jack, I’ll let you have the first call before I go back to my agenda.
Jack: Great. I just wanted to firstly thanks so much for taking my call. I wanted to tell you about my mom who passed away a little over a year ago. She had gone back to, she was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has three generations ahead of her buried at the Mount of Olives. Having heard about the way the Jordanians desecrated the cemetery, she went back there to restore the graves. And she did so. She found her maps, went back, and got everything in order. And the rabbis who are now in charge had no records, because the Jordanians had ransacked the office and thrown everything into the fire. And she had her maps from New York. And what she did was gave them a copy. They fell to their knees and begged her for a copy so that they could restore the entire cemetery, all the portions of it that had been desecrated. Headstones had been strewn about, used in the flooring in the urinals and unbelievable stuff. At any rate…
HH: Well Jack, what you bring up, and I appreciate the call, and I want to make sure I get to this, because I hadn’t had it in my outline, but now you make me think about it. The old city was not under the control of the Jews from 1948 forward, although lots of Jews had live in the old city under the British mandate. So I’m going to let you, Steven Pressfield, take three minutes to kind of set up what happened to the old city. How come they had to liberate it in ’67?
SP: Okay, I’ll try to do this really, really quick here. 587 BC, the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, besiege Jerusalem, capture it, and take Solomon’s Temple, son of David, burn it to the ground, take the Jews into captivity into Babylon. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remember Zion. Cut to, this happened on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, Tisha B’av. 655 years later to the day, same day, the Romans capture Jerusalem and burn the second Temple to the ground. And so this is a great day of lamentation in the Jewish history. That Roman thing was what started the diaspora. At that point, the Jews were expelled from the Holy Land, and lived as exiles and strangers in the lands of others for the next 1,900 years. Finally, 1948, flash forward, the Jewish people finally have a state. They come home. But there’s a war immediately. Five Arab armies, the day Israel declares its statehood, five Arab armies invade. The short version is there’s a big fight for Jerusalem, for the old city of Jerusalem, and the Arabs win. The Jews keep sort of, I guess it’s West Jerusalem, but the old city, the one square kilometer that contained the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Armenian Quarter and the Christian Quarter, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the…
HH: The Mount of Olives…
HH: Yeah, everything of…
SP: …is in Jordanian hands, including the Western Wall. And there’s a, the green line separated divided Jerusalem. And there are Israeli military posts on one side, Jordanian on the other. So that’s how in ’67, the old city of Jerusalem is in the hands of the Jordanians under King Hussein, the Arab regent.
HH: And not just any fighters, their very best Arab fighters, the Arab Legion.
SP: The Arab Legion – British trained, crack troops.
HH: And so the idea of going in, and at one point you write in the book, we were not trained for house to house combat. We were people of maneuver. We were tankers. We have never done anything like this.
HH: So the idea of punching through is, Moshe Dayan, when we come back from break, we’re going to talk about how he plays himself into the ministry of defense, and how he agonizes over this decision. It’s all told in great detail, narrative non-fiction. That’s what I’ve got to remember, is how to describe this book. The Lion’s Gate: On The Front Lines Of The Six Day War, it is absolutely riveting. You won’t be able to put it down. I read it on two airplane flights, and I have linked it at Hughhewitt.com. You can go get it there. It’s at Amazon, Barnes and Noble. There are e-books. My Twitter people are telling me I’ve got to remind you, you can get it from e-book. It might be, did you do the audio version? Did you read it?
SP: No, I didn’t.
HH: Someone else read it.
SP: And I’m not even sure how they did it, because as you know, Hugh, it’s the voices of about 40-50 people.
HH: It must be very hard. Well, I’ll have to listen to it…
SP: Including women.
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HH: I was telling my guest, Steven Pressfield during the break, that China surfaced a submarine in the South China Sea next to a Vietnamese oil platform, and ships are surging into the South China Sea from both Vietnam and China. And they fought a war before. And it’s one of those things that nobody knows about, Steven Pressfield, but by the time the show could be over, we might have a shooting contest, and we won’t know anything about it. And ’67, the Israeli war of ’67, the Six Day War, occurs in the course of the Vietnam War. Do you think one of the reasons why Americans don’t know much about it is because Vietnam consumed all attention at the time?
SP: That’s true, absolutely. In fact, that’s why when Israel appealed to the United States for help prior, in the days building up to the war, President Johnson was so distracted, and was so, you know, worried about that outcome of that kind of thing, of the Vietnam War, that he really couldn’t give them his full attention. And also, the war was over so fast, right? It kind of came and went, and we were back, we in America, were back to the quagmire of Vietnam.
HH: We are going to talk about the seventh day of the Six Day War in a bit, and yes, I’m taking calls throughout the show, 1-800-520-1234. Marlon is sort of at work, and I know, I see the lines ringing, so he’s actually working out there today. That’s good. Steven Pressfield, before we went to the break, we talked about 1948. Israel is founded, they divide Jerusalem, the old city in the hands of the Jordanians. They put their best troops there. In 1956, people won’t know this, but the American President, Eisenhower, becomes very upset when the British, the French and the Israelis conspire to just destroy the Egyptian military and take the Suez Canal. And so there’s at one point in the book, if you don’t understand ’56, you can’t understand ’67, the Mikva Pass. Did I say that right?
SP: Mitla Pass, yeah.
HH: Mitla Pass. Give us the quick summary of the Mitla Pass in 1956 so that we can then move on to what they’ve got to do in ’67.
SP: Well, in ’56, it was called the Sanai Campaign. It was the hundred, sort of a precursor to the Six Day War. It was a hundred hours in which the Israeli paratroopers took the Mitla Pass, which is deep in Sanai, just about 20 miles from the Suez Canal, an incredibly complicated sort of scam war where the British and the French wanted to take back the Suez Canal that Nasser, the Egyptian president, had nationalized. And as a pretext, they kind of went in secret cahoots with the Israelis, that the Israelis would kind of take a provocative capturing this Mitla Pass that threatened war, and then the British and the French would come in like schoolmasters disciplining naughty boys in the schoolyard. You know, these crazy Jews and crazy Arabs are at it again, we’re going to have to go in, and they were going to take back the Suez Canal. And that was when Ike, who they didn’t tell, Yanks, you know?
HH: And we were not happy.
SP: Ike got a little P.O’d about that, and kind of rapped their knuckles. And that, in many ways, was sort of the end of the British Empire, wouldn’t you say, in terms of…
HH: Yeah, they withdrew east of Suez after that, yeah.
SP: …prestige. The next big thing was the Beatles, you know?
SP: And that was…
HH: So 1956, but they won, and they showed that they could take on Egyptian forces.
SP: Right, right.
HH: But thereafter, Nasser was humiliated. And indeed, there’s a lot in The Lion’s Gate about the shame of the Arabs in ’56, and how their refusal to accept Israeli military superiority led to the fact that this war crushed them, because they kept broadcasting propaganda for the world to believe that they were crushing the Jews, right?
SP: Right, this was part of the mindset of a certain kind of bureaucratic chain of command in the army. I hate to say it, but as we in Vietnam, we Americans in Vietnam, had the same sort of principle where the junior officers were demanded, had to come up with a body count, right?
SP: They had to have numbers to put on paper. And nobody wanted to admit a reverse or a defeat. And the same thing happened with Nasser and the Egyptian army, and the Syrian army and the Jordanian army, where they started propaganda, we won, we won, we won, and they were losing.
HH: And because of that, the U.N. did not impose a ceasefire.
HH: And from the beginning, the Israelis knew we’ve got to take it all before they shut us down, so we’ve got very limited time in which to operate.
SP: Right. The externally imposed ceasefire is a common phenomenon of any war in the Middle East, right
SP: That’s why it doesn’t go on for eight years. It goes on for just a certain number of days, because the powers are afraid this is going to be World War III, right?
SP: We’ll come in, so it’s like the U.N., the Russians, the Americans, are always kind of hovering over saying that’s enough, boys, stop right there.
HH: You know, as you read about The Lion’s Gate, there aren’t a lot of civilian casualties. The Jews are not bombing Cairo, they are not destroying the Jordanian capital. Have you seen the pictures out of Syria, Steven Pressfield?
SP: I have, of course, yeah.
HH: It’s an awful ghost town. There’s nobody left in places of Damascus.
SP: Yeah, and it’s just a mindblower, isn’t it?
HH: Arab on Arab war.
HH: And so not Jews, the only calm oasis right now in the Middle East is in fact in Israel. And so I think it’s fascinating in the course of this, and they go to great, great lengths. I want to talk a little bit about King Hussein, because everyone in America now thinks young Hussein is a good guy, and he is. He’s on our side. And King Hussein was a good guy, and he was on our side. But in ’67, he does an unprecedented thing. He throws in with Nasser. And not many Americans remember Nasser. Do you think, we’ve got a minute to the break, do you think Sisi, the new Egyptian guy, is Nasseresque? Or is he Sadatlike?
SP: Wow, you know, that’s above my pay grade, Hugh. I really don’t know. But I think, I’m certainly, what I know about Nasser was clearly, pan-Arabism was his concept, and he was not an Islamist at all.
HH: No, opposite.
SP: He was the opposite. He was a socialist that allied himself with the Soviet Union. He wanted a modern state with the most modern weapons and the most modern education. He would really, was a modernizer. He wanted a one unified Arab state from the Atlantic to, you know, all the way east as far as you could go.
HH: Yeah, there’s a big story today at Commentary Magazine about whether or not Sisi is the best we can do in taking over Egypt and eradicating the Muslim Brotherhood. And I am reading it through the prospect, the lens of having just read The Lion’s Gate and thinking to myself well, if he becomes Sadat, great, but if he becomes Nasser, not so great. And that’s why The Lion’s Gate matters right this very moment, America.
— – – –
HH: And there are two people at the heart of this book – Yael and Moshe Dayan. And I’ve got to admit, I only knew Moshe Dayan from the eye patch. I didn’t know anything about him, didn’t know how he played the government. And so this is a three minute segment. We’ll talk about Yael when we come back, and we’ll talk about the fighter pilots when we come back. But tell people about how Moshe Dayan, who he was and how he played the government at the start of the war in ’67.
SP: Well, I’m not so sure that he played the government. I mean, he was the hero of the ’56 Sanai Campaign, and kind of the paragon of the Israeli fighting commander. But he’d been out of the army for ten years. And he was a member of the Knesset from an out of power party. But in the build up to the Six Day War, the government became paralyzed with indecision. And it was every day, Nasser would move more tanks into Sanai, more airplanes, and the threat was building up, building up, building, and they couldn’t make a decision. And finally, the people just sort of, there was a demonstration of women outside the Labor Party headquarters shouting, you know, we want Dayan, we want Dayan. And there was quite a bit of machinations going on that got him appointed him minster of defense, kind of plucked out of nowhere.
HH: He turned down an advisory role. That’s why he say he kind of played the government.
HH: He wanted no part of, I’m not going to be your window dressing.
SP: Well, his famous quote was they have my phone number. And that was kind of his style. He was not going to lobby for anything. He made himself available, and let his other kind of people push for him.
HH: Next hour, we’ll talk about what he did. Walt in Louisville, Kentucky, you’re on with Steven Pressfield. The book is The Lion’s Gate. Go ahead, Walt.
Walt: Did you know that we had aircraft in the air headed toward the Middle East from the 82nd Airborne Division? We were on alert for three days, and I missed out on my West Point reunion, because we were told we were going to go to war.
HH: ’67 got very close to going big.
SP: I did not know that.
Walt: Now this was, I’m sorry, this was ’73.
HH: Oh, well, that’s true. But you see, that is absolutely true, when Golda Meir said, they put up the Temple weapons, right? They never launched the nuclear weapons at any time in the course of the Lion’s Gate.
SP: No, no, no.
HH: ’73, we were on the brink of that. So where were you stationed, Walt?
Walt: I was in the 82nd.
HH: Do you know much, then you’re a paratrooper.
Walt: Yes, and I’m one of the unusual ones. I was in armor. We had a Sheridan battalion that was in the 82nd.
HH: Did you know that as a result of, I think it’s Weizman, everyone in the Israeli army who’s an officer has to have done a parachute drop?
SP: Moshe Dayan.
HH: Moshe Dayan?
SP: It was all of the officers in combat units, whether they were in paratroop units or not, had to get paratroop training.
HH: I find that amazing. We’re going to talk about why that is. Walt, thanks for the call.
— – – – – –
HH: For six days, this massive armored movements in the Sanai Desert, the battle for Jerusalem, the battle for the Golan Heights, and the most extraordinary battle of all occurs in the sky. And it is the, I live in Southern California where Navy jets fly out of Lemoore, and Marine Corps jets fly out of Miramar, and they often fly over our houses. And if you fly anywhere, if you drive anywhere, you hear them. Often, there are stories about their sonic booms, and you wonder about them. And you know that when we started the Iraq War in 1991, and when we invaded Iraq in 2003, our fighter pilots completely destroyed every Iraqi air installation. But really, the greatest aerial combat that has occurred since World War II occurred in the opening hour and a half of the Six Day War. Is that a fair statement, Steven Pressfield?
SP: I think so. The opening three hours, or the opening five hours, yeah.
HH: Now there is a chapter, it’s your second part of the book, on…
SP: Operation Moked.
HH: Which means…
SP: Focus, yeah.
HH: Tell people about this, because I was, that’s the part that I couldn’t put down. I was riveted, and especially the story of Lt. Giora Romm and the death burst.
SP: Ah, well, Giora Romm was the fighter pilot, the first Israeli ace who shot down, at 22 years old, shot down five MiGs, and…
HH: MiGs are good airplanes.
SP: Oh, yeah, particularly MiG 21s, which were, you know, Mach Two capable. And of course, the Israelis had a great plane in the French-built Mirage as well. But I’m not sure, what story did you, were you particularly interested in here? There are so many of them.
HH: He sat, when they all went off to execute, and we’ll describe what the operation is, the head of the, each squadron, has to leave behind four guys. He has to leave behind his four best pilots.
SP: Right, his four best dogfight pilots. When the Israeli Air Force was only like 202 combat aircraft against, you know, 480 in Egypt, plus Syria, plus Jordan, and it was a preemptive strike, Operation Moked, so you know, a sneak attack so to speak, where the planes were coming in at wavetop level over the Mediterranean, and at 100 feet, you know, at 550 knots over the desert, and to strike between 12 and 15 Egyptian bases at exactly the same moment. And one of the most amazing parts of this story to me was the planning of Operation Moked by a gentleman named Rafi Sivron, who was just a captain at the time. And they kind of tossed a hot potato at him and said here, plan this thing. And he figured out all of the incredible logistics of how the planes could do that. But I’ll give you just one little kind of how it happened. The Israeli Air Force had no bombers, because they couldn’t afford bombers. So the bombing had to be done by fighter planes. And that meant, you know, you couldn’t go in at high altitude like over Germany or anything like that. They had to kind of dive bomb to destroy the runways. But to get to an altitude to dive bomb 6,000 feet, you’d be picked up by radar. So they had to come in on the deck, at 100 feet, pick a, as you know from reading this, Hugh, pick a point on the ground, a way point like a gas station, or a grove of trees that they knew, and when they hit that point, they would pull, climb to 6,000 feet, invert, roll onto their back, look up through the canopy down at the ground, and then attack the airfield that they were attacking. So it was just an…and, plus no GPS. This was all your wristwatch, headings and speed.
HH: They had to memorize everything and radio silence.
SP: In radio silence the whole way.
HH: No one could say a word. In fact, I told someone this story two days ago of, I think it might have been Romm, watching another pilot preparing to take off with his flaps down. That’s how I’ll describe it as a layman.
SP: Right. Air brakes.
HH: And they knew they were going to crash and die. Air brakes, yeah.
HH: And they couldn’t say anything.
HH: Everybody on the airfield saw this guy taking off, and he was going to crash and die. And no one could say anything, and no one broke.
SP: And no one did say anything, yeah.
HH: And he didn’t. He realized it at the last minute.
SP: At the last minute, he realized he had his air brakes on.
HH: And he didn’t die. But Romm had to stay behind. And so the quote that I grabbed from his is that he, his shoulder, I’ve got it here, “My shoulders sagged beneath the rescue harness. Here is the momentous hour in the history of my country for which I have trained every waking moment of my life, and I am nailed to the dirt contributing nothing.” So they’re sitting there, because the 12 best pilots in Israel have to stay behind to defend Tel Aviv.
SP: To defend the cities, right.
HH: …in the event anything gets through.
SP: Right. But he got…
HH: But he gets his five MiGs anyway.
SP: He got into the war immediately after that, and he covered himself with glory.
HH: How did that happen? Tell, where did those Egyptians come from?
SP: Say again, Hugh? What?
HH: Where did the pilots that he shot down come from? What survived?
SP: Well, he was, they sent him to the airbases in Egypt after that, and there were still a few planes in the air. And when he got there, the first wave had already done its damage. So there were like columns of black smoke rising from all over the delta, and they didn’t have to come in on the deck anymore. He could come in at 20,000 feet, so he could see it all. And he went down to one particular, Beni Suef, I think, one particular airfield, Egyptian airfield, and there were a couple of MiGs in the air. And he just kind of got behind them, first time he’d ever seen a MiG, first time in real life, first time he’d ever been out of Israeli airspace, and just, you know, they were trained very well. They had learned the death burst, which was get behind a guy for one second with your gunsight right on the guy, and he shot down two right away, and then shot down three…
HH: And he wrote, theory works.
SP: Yeah, theory works.
HH: The death burst works.
SP: The death burst works, yeah.
HH: Don’t fire anything off.
HH: Marshall in California, Marshall, you’re on the Hugh Hewitt Show with Steven Pressfield, author of the Lion’s Gate.
Marshall: Hey, how are you doing, Steven and Hugh?
SP: Hi, Marshall.
Marshall: Hey, got a question for you. I’m looking at Abba Eban’s book, My Country, and in one of his chapters, he talks about, and this not taking anything away from the ground forces, but would you agree with his contention that the Six Day War was effectively won the first six hours because of the massive air strikes of the Israeli Air Force?
SP: Well, that’s, I mean, you have to kind of say that the corner was turned there. Of course at the same time, there were a thousand Egyptian tanks in Sanai, so they could have crossed the border and done a hell of a lot of damage, even though air superiority had been achieved, and the Israeli jets could really make mincemeat of those tanks. But I wouldn’t say that, that the war was won to any of the paratroopers of Jerusalem, or to any of the tankers in the Sanai Desert who had to fight it out. But yes, it was. Now…
HH: No, you know, and I would have to add, Golan Heights, if they had left it in the Syrian hands…
HH: …would have been merciless on Israel for the last 47 years.
SP: Yeah, but here’s an interesting thing, Marshall, that one of the, the planner of Operation Moked, Rafi Sivron, said that some people had said that the war was over, it was a three hour war, meaning that the first three hours when the Israeli preemptive strike destroyed the Egyptian Air Force, that was everything. Other people said it was a seven minute war, because it was the first seven minutes when they made their initial attack. And Rafi said for me, it was a minus one minute war, because he said I knew if the planes could get to their initial points, that when they first went into their climb to attack and they were undetected, that nothing could save the Egyptian Air Force after that.
HH: And that raises the question, Steven Pressfield. People wonder about Iran going nuclear, and they worry that Israel can’t pull it off, that they don’t have the weaponry, they don’t have the number of abilities to target. Anyone who reads the Lion’s Gate realizes they’ve been planning for years for every contingency, and they’re really smart.
SP: Yes, that’s true. Now to take the other side of it, you also have to remember in the Yom Kippur War, 1973, that the tables were completely turned, and the Egyptians completely got the drop on the Israelis and managed to cross the Suez Canal and really threaten Israel’s existence more so than even in the Six Day War. So we’ve got to give credit to everybody around here. These guys are thinking hard, every one of them.
HH: And this, the other amazing thing in the era of Edward Snowden, this plan of attack, Moked, was finished by ’65, and no one breathed a word of it through ’67.
SP: Right, that is amazing.
HH: It’s just, nowadays, and when we come back from break, the day of, when everyone’s waiting for the war, but the war’s not coming, and they have to send all their pilots home, they can’t tell their pilots they’re going to go off in the morning. They can’t tell them. So they send everybody home. It’s an amazing story. The Lion’s Gate is full of them.
— – – – –
HH: We were talking about Lt. Romm on Page 17. “What had motivated to become a fighter pilot? To seek single combat in the sky, to test myself at what was, to my mind, the pinnacle of skill, resourcefulness and daring.” Steven, you quote the three great rules of the Israeli Air Force. Number one, complete the mission, number two, whatever you do, do it to your utmost, number three, no alternative. And would you explain, that concept kept up again and again and again, and I thought to myself, only the Jews of Israel really get this. There is no alternative to winning.
SP: That’s exactly true. And En brera is the phrase.
HH: Say it again.
SP: En brera is the phrase in Hebrew. And of course, it comes from the geography of Israel, that at that point, the pre-’67 borders, the waist of Israel was nine miles wide. So a fighter plane coming across that border, an enemy fighter plane, could be at Tel Aviv in the central part of Israel in under a minute, and even from Egypt, having to cross Sanai, was 25 minutes to Israel. And so the strategy of a defense in depth like, say, the Russians could use against the invading Nazis, where you just kind of fall back and fall back and fall back, you can’t do in a little, tiny country the size of New Jersey. So, and the other thing, of course, is that you know, when America goes to war, we send our troops 13,000 miles around the world, and even if no matter what happens to them, they come home and America is just the same as it was. Their hometown is fine. But in Israel, the wars are wars of survival, where you know, there is no alternative. And that phrase comes up again and again in the book, because the commanders have to say that to their guys as they’re kicking off, whether it’s fighter pilots or tankers or paratroopers, that the survival of the country depends on you. There’s no alternative to victory here. As Israel Tal, one of the tank brigade commanders, or division commanders said, other nations can afford to lose the first battle and then recover. But we can’t, because if we lose the first battle, the enemy’s in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and it’s over.
HH: It’s over.
SP: So that sort of is the underlying principle of the Israeli fighting doctrine.
HH: It also produces incredible, and I’m going to get to a couple of calls here, and then we’ll come back and talk about this. The first nighttime drop of paratroopers behind enemy lines in history occurs on the second day of the war.
SP: Right, insertion by helicopter.
HH: Insertion by helicopter.
HH: Cheetah and the other…
SP: Danny Matt.
HH: And Danny Matt…
SP: …who just died recently, unfortunately.
HH: Oh, did he?
HH: And he describes this four hour slog up the dunes.
HH: It’s only two and a half miles. It takes four and a half hours to get to their artillery. The Egyptian artillery’s kicking the living daylights out of the Israeli tanks. And it’s like you walked it. How much time did you spend with these guys?
SP: Well, I spent a lot of time with Cheetah. I spent a few days with him. So yeah, maybe the process of interviewing these gentlemen was really fascinating. I don’t know how much you want to talk about that…
HH: Oh, I know. I’ve love to know.
SP: I mean, I had to, my kind of mentor and rabbi, a retired lieutenant colonel named Danny Grossman, an American who emigrated to Israel and raised his family there, et cetera, et cetera, is really an Israeli now. And he like knows everyone. And he kind of got me in, made the phone calls to these various people. And I talked to about 70 people, and some I spent four or five days with. Yosi Ben-Hanan, who was the guy on the cover of Life Magazine…
HH: Oh, in the water.
SP: In the waters of the Suez Canal, is now a two-star general. I spent five days with him in Paris. He was the head of the Israeli Defense Mission in Europe. And so it got really very intense, and people wanted to tell their stories. You know, they really, and in me, they found somebody that was, just that understood and that was really interested. So…
HH: I compare it to Stephen Ambrose. I’ve got a full board here, so I’ve got to talk to some of these people. Stephen Ambrose wrote Citizen Soldier where he went back at the end of the greatest generation when they were still around, but a little bit older than your group. This has only been 47 years since this war…
HH: …fought by teenagers. So they’re all kicking around and doing great.
SP: Right, they are doing great, yeah.
HH: They’re just fine. They’re going to probably call you up tonight and say why didn’t you mention me?
SP: Right, right.
HH: They’re going to be mad at you. But they’re all, how many of them are, you know, the American greatest generation did not want to tell their story. They were the silent company men. All these Jews in Israel, are they willing to say oh, here comes this American screenwriter, author of Gates Of Fire, he’s not going to get it right? Or did they sit down and work with you to make sure you got it right?
SP: It was really an interesting process, Hugh, because it sort of took, there was a little time to establish trust, you know? And I think that people had not heard of me over there, you know? So I was kind of just a guy coming in, a dumb American. But after two or three hours, when you know what it’s like, when you ask…
HH: I know what you’ve written.
SP: When you ask the right questions, like you’re doing here…
SP: People realize that you care and you really want to know. And they did want to tell their stories, because I think there, you know, people are 70 years old, 69 years old, 68 years old, you know, maybe it’s time to get these stories really down right for the record. So I was lucky to be there. I really, the whole experience to me, I wish people could have it. I wish I’d had a camera over my shoulder the whole time, because it was such an education.
HH: I can’t wait until Prager and Medved read your book. You know, these are my Jewish buddies who are also Salem Radio Network hosts, and they know and love Israel. They go every year. And I cannot wait to have them tell me what they think about this book, because I’m just a goy, right? I’ve been there for three days, and I know a little bit of military history, but it’s so…enough about me. Let’s go back to the phones. Denver, Dick, you’re on the show with Steven Pressfield. We’ve got lots of people waiting. Go ahead, Denver Dick.
Dick: I’ll make it quick. I just ordered the book from Amazon, so you can take your cut from your guest.
HH: All right.
Dick: As I recall, and maybe you can confirm this, when the Israeli’s Air Force hit the Egyptian Air Force, basically on the ground, did they not, meaning the Egyptians, continue to tell the other like the Jordanians that everything was in control, they were wiping out the Israelis?
SP: Yes, yes.
Dick: To keep them actually in the war longer than it…
SP: Yeah, in fact, I’ll tell you a really interesting thing that I never knew before, Dick. When the Egyptians were telling the Jordanians, and remember that Egypt is to the west of Jordan, right?
SP: They were telling them that they, the Egyptians, were attacking Israel. Their planes were attacking Israel. And the Jordanians on their radar could see these waves of planes coming from Egypt toward Israel. But what they didn’t realize was these were the Israeli planes…
HH: Coming back.
SP: …coming home. So that’s how the Jordanians believed it.
HH: Oh, you’ll love this book, Dick. You’ll absolutely love this book. Thanks for the call. Let’s go to Houston and talk with Bill. Bill, you’re on the Hugh Hewitt Show with Steven Pressfield, you’ve got less than a minute, go.
Bill: Okay, this is fantastic conversation. Does Israel see God’s hand in this whole thing?
HH: What a great question.
Bill: Is the ultimate end of war that when Jesus does come back, and all nations attack you, do they see God’s hand on their whole history?
HH: Great question.
SP: I think that actually in those days, Israel was much more secular than it is today in the sense of today, at least you have the very big ultra-Orthodox community. But you have to remember that Israel was founded as a socialist Zionist experiment, you know, or crusade, or whatever you want to call it.
HH: That’s why the Lion’s Gate finds the ultra-Orthodox commander of Company A, Battalion 71, and the completely secular commander of Company B, who doesn’t care if he goes into the old city first. I mean, you found all the right guys.
— – – —
HH: Back to the phones with Steven Pressfield. Joseph Timothy Cook, himself a fighter pilot, joins me. Welcome, Joseph Timothy Cook, you’re on with Steven Pressfield, author of the Lion’s Gate:
JTC: Hey, Hugh, hey, Mr. Pressfield, pleasure to have the opportunity. I called in because I wanted to, I read a couple of pages of your book that Hugh let me share, or shared with me before he grabbed it back, because he was having so much fun with it. And I wanted to call in, because I had the unique privilege and pleasure of getting to know a handful of Israeli fighter pilots back in the spring and early summer of ’67 when they were in the United States going through training at Cecil Field in Jacksonville in the A-4 Skyhawk, which was an attack plane. The United States had agreed to sell them some, hadn’t gotten, hadn’t taken delivery on any of them, but they were getting their pilots trained up. And they all disappeared one day. And the next day, the headlines were right there. It was just absolutely amazing. So I know a little bit about, I wasn’t there, obviously, but I had a little connection with some of those guys, and six weeks later, after it was all over, they came back and resumed their training.
SP: Ah, amazing.
HH: That is, there is a story, and thank you, Tim, in the Lion’s Gate, that the car comes, your car goes with you when you mobilize, and people start disappearing when they mobilize. But still, secrecy, the Egyptians just expected to roll in, and Nasser was going to attack, right? You have no doubt in your mind that Nasser was going to attack.
SP: Well, I’m not so sure, because I think what really happened was it got out of control for Nasser, I think. He sort of started rattling sabers, you know, and I think he hoped to have kind of a bloodless thing where he could regain the Sanai Peninsula and all that stuff, kick the U.N. out. But then what happened, as he started, you know, threatening Israel, the Arab Street sort of erupted. The emotion, the lid came off the emotion, and it became kill the Jews, death to the Zionists, you know, and Nasser found himself in a situation where he had to keep the bluff going, going, going.
HH: Damascus radio, you report, their number one song was Cut Their Throats.
SP: Cut Their Throats. How about that? Yeah.
HH: And they would listen to this every single day. They would go in, and they were coming. Mike in Los Angeles, 1-800-520-1234, you’re on with Steven Pressfield, author of The Lion’s Gate.
Mike: It’s a pleasure. I was in the Six Day War. I was a young soldier. And I want to tell you about Giora Romm. There was a celebration at the Diplomat Hotel in Jerusalem. The Air Force celebrated a victory party. And I was there with Danny Kaye. He had come to entertain the troops. And at that party, everybody was celebrating, and Motti Hod, who was the head of the Air Force, and Ezer Weizman, who was the head of one of the Israeli divisions, they were giving out ranks to all the pilots who had shot down planes during the war. Giora Romm came on stage, and he was sitting there, and he was waiting to get his rank. He was a junior lieutenant, which is in Hebrew, is a segen mishne. And he was supposed to get lieutenant. And because Ezer and Motti Hod had been drinking and celebrating, they were a bit tipsy. And instead of saying congratulations Segen Romm, Ezer said congratulations Seren Romm. Seren is captain in Hebrew. And they had the rank to put on his shoulders, the two bars, for a full lieutenant. But nobody had the three bars for captain. So one of the other pilots who was sitting there said hold on a minute. You said it, you said it, and you’ve got to do it. So he took his rank off his shoulders, they put it on Giora Romm, and he went from junior lieutenant to captain within two minutes. And as a result, many years later, I know Giora, he’s a wonderful guy, and he was the youngest general in the Israeli Defense Forces, because he went in that night, he went from junior lieutenant to captain.
HH: Oh, when we come back, we’re going to talk, we’re going to tell another Giora Romm story. But Mike, tell me one thing. Have you read The Lion’s Gate, yet?
Mike: Not, yet. I’m going out to get it right now.
HH: All right, my friend. You will thank me.
— – – –
HH: Let me go back to the phones. Jordan is a Marine. He’s an active duty Marine. He’s with the 3-1, and of course, Marlon is a veteran of the 2-1, so he told me this is really talking down in grade a little bit, Jordan, but I should put you on anyway.
Jordan: Well, Mr. Hewitt, thank you so much for having me on.
HH: My pleasure, and thank you for your service.
Jordan: Thank you, sir. I wanted to be able to say something on the radio. About two years ago, Mr. Pressfield sent my entire company 250 copies of his book, The Warrior Ethos. And we all read it on the way to Afghanistan. The men loved it, and I just wanted to thank you over the radio, Mr. Pressfield, for being so generous about it.
SP: Hey, my pleasure. Semper Fi. I hope it helped a little bit, anyway.
Jordan: Absolutely. It was great. Thank you, sir.
SP: All right. Thank you.
HH: Where did you guys, where did you serve in Afghanistan?
Jordan: I was in Helmand Province, and then we also did a MEU deployment to the Horn of Africa.
HH: Oh, there’s a terrific book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran on the work you guys did in Helmand, and I hope it holds. You guys secured the place. You brought peace to a region that didn’t have peace, and hats off to you, Jordan, great work. Thank you.
Jordan: Thank you, sir.
HH: And by the way, you will love The Lion’s Gate, because there is a lot of grunt work in here. And in fact, I want to go to that chapter before I forget. When the Jews take the decision to enter the old city, and you have Moshe Dayan agonizes over this, right?
HH: Tell people why he agonized. I know, most people would think get it back, get it back. You’ve waited 2,500 years. Get it back. Why does he agonize?
SP: The…of course, the old, if you think about the old city of Jerusalem, and you think about the holy places that are there, I mean, there is a the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is supposedly built on the hill of Golgotha. There’s a slab, a stone slab where Jesus’ body supposedly was laid there. The Villa Dolorosa runs right outside where the stations of the cross, where Jesus carried the cross. The Garden of Gethsemane is there. The Dome of the Rock, the second or third holiest site in Islam is there, the al-Aqsa Mosque, not to mention all the sites that are holy to the Jewish people.
HH: Not to mention the Wailing Wall, right.
SP: Right. But of course, what Dayan was worried about was like the reaction of the Vatican. And you know, he thought what if Israeli mortar shells so sailing through the roof of the Dormition Abbey, which is where the Last Supper took place? And of course, he knew that this was going to be house to house fighting, dirty fighting with booby traps, machine gun fire. His troops would be taking machine gun fires from mosques, you know, just like our guys have now. And so he was desperately afraid that if the Israeli forces began damaging the holy sites, and there’s nothing but holy sites in the old city of Jerusalem, that there would be some incredible backlash from the West. And also, prior to that, in the ’56 Sanai campaign, Israel forces took the whole Sanai Peninsula, and then they were forced to give it back by the U.N., by the Russians, and by the United States. And Dayan thought if we take the old city of Jerusalem, and the powers force us to give it back, that will destroy the Israeli society emotionally. So he was, he thought I just can’t let our troops take it that way. Now what he wanted to do was kind of put a ring of steel around the old city, which he successfully did, the hills of the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus, and Augusta Victoria Ridge, and let the old city kind of fall by itself. But it didn’t work out like that.
HH: But events took their course.
SP: The troopers took it.
HH: And some of this house to house fighting, there are a couple of houses, a house of death, a couple became very, very famous, and there’s one line which I’m looking for where he says a smart soldier, this is Zeev Barkai…
HH: He’s on Page 200…a smart soldier. If he has not been ordered to go inside a house, won’t go. He’ll get ready. He will clean his rifle. He will take cover until an officer comes along and tells him to do it. And that’s, they were huddled. The firefight, the combat in the old city is just amazingly intense, and lots of Egyptians, lots of Jordanians get killed, and lots of Israelis get killed.
SP: Right. And that story, that Zeev Barkai story, was he was alone. He was the operations officer of Battalion 71, and he came up on a few Israeli soldiers outside this one house that had been like killing people. And he said follow me, charged into the house, and nobody followed him. And so he just fought it kind of out, you know, like a western gunfight, and he kind of took over the house all by himself. And when he went outside, the guys were still outside saying hey, Zeev, how did it go? Everything go okay? So, but he had a very wise attitude. He kind of understands how soldiers are. Another thing that he said is that, which is so true, is that soldiers when they’re under pressure will go to sleep. Like if it’s nighttime and they’re kind of cuddled up and they’re cold, they’re supposed to, because they want to wake up and find that everything is okay.
HH: And someone else has won the war.
SP: Someone else, so they’ve, as an officer, you’ve got to keep people alert.
HH: It’s amazing. First, Jeff in New York listening on AM970 The Answer, go ahead, Jeff.
Jeff: Hugh, and I’ve got to tell you, the best thing I ever hear, and I listen to it every year on Yom Yerushalayim, is there’s a tape of the army entering the Temple Mount, and a rabbi blowing the shofar, and everyone crying. I mean, that’s how important that moment was for us. The interesting thing is, and I’m sure, I can’t wait to read your book, because I’m sure you cover it, is that while Moshe Dayan was thinking, was one of the heroes of the Six Day War, he was the villain of the Temple Mount. And one of the reasons why they’re still fighting over it is because the first thing he did was, without asking anybody, he tossed the keys over back to the Islamic waqf.
HH: Actually, in fact, the controversy about raising the Jewish flag on the Temple Mount is very detailed in the Six Day, in the Lion’s Gate. And Dayan was going to do this on his terms, right, Steven Pressfield?
HH: I mean, this was how he was going to roll.
Jeff: Oh, absolutely.
HH: Jeff, you’re going to love this. I can’t wait to read your review of it. Send it to me.
Jeff: I can’t wait. I can’t wait to read it, and I’m going to the site and buying it tonight.
HH: All right, you’re going to, when you post a review of it, let me know.
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HH: It may be the most heavily annotated book I’ve ever brought to the studio, and it’s got its spine broke already, I spent so much time with it in the last week. But you do not let us ever forget, Steven Pressfield, the cost of this. And you talk about Yosi Ben-Hanan, who’s a 7th Brigade ops officer, as they’re driving through the Sanai, he’s a recon battalion guy. His Jeep driver is killed, and his first thought is what will I tell Joshua’s mother? And there are these incredible accounts of tanks and half-tracks on fire. And for people to go into a tank and get somebody out, you describe, it’s madness to try and rescue someone out of a tank.
SP: Yeah, I mean, I had never thought about this myself, Hugh, because I don’t know anything about tanks myself. But there’s ordinance inside, there are shells, you know, inside the turret. There are 30, 40 shells, high explosive shells, white phosphorous shells. If the tanks is on fire on the inside, and in order to get somebody out, to help somebody out, you’ve got to think about it. You’ve got to go in face first, hands first. And a lot of these tankers had Nomex gloves, or fireproof suits on. But of course, those burned up in a second, you know? But the, anybody that was going to rescue somebody has to go in bare hands, and you know, what guts it takes to do that.
HH: And Ori Orr is one of these guys who keeps coming back. He’s a first-person account at many places. Tell people who he is.
SP: Ori Orr was the commander of the Reconnaissance Company of an armored brigade in Sanai. And what that meant was they had American Jeeps, CJ-5 Jeeps, and they had to lead the tanks into action, because in those days, right, no laser-guiding, no any of that sort of stuff, no navigation aids for the tanks. A tank on its own, would just the first ditch it would come to, it would crash into the ditch, you know? So these guys were out front of the troops. And what happened was when they would run into resistance, a lot of times they couldn’t wait to have the tanks come up, because that would waste a half hour, 45 minutes. So these guys in their unarmored Jeeps, and you know, half-tracks…
HH: It’s just Jeeps.
SP: …would, you know, have to lead the assault. And of course, this one particular outfit had, was the first to reach the Suez Canal, but they had the most men lost and the most decorations of valor for any unit of their size in the IDF.
HH: That’s an incredible story. Now let me get one quick on in. Victor in Highlands, you have 30 seconds, Victor, with Steven Pressfield, author of the Lion’s Gate. That’s what happens when you put the phone down. You’re going to miss your shot at stardom, Victor.
Victor: I’m here.
HH: You’ve got 20 seconds.
Victor: I’m here. I wanted to ask about the slogan that was popular in Egypt, today is Saturday, tomorrow is Sunday. Did you get that in the book?
HH: We’ll ask him after the break. Don’t go anywhere, and I’ll bring it up to him.
— – – –
HH: It is a narrative non-fiction account of the Six Day War written from Steven’s adventures in Israel with the survivors, the people who were the veterans of the Six Day War, fought in 1967 over six days, Israel surrounded by the Arab countries, facing annihilation from Nasser, from Jordan’s King Hussein, from Syria, from Assad, from the Iraqi Army. The Iraqis got into this, right? They send troops.
SP: They threatened to get in, but they never actually crossed the border or fired a shot.
HH: Okay, and the Syrians, did they start shelling?
SP: Yes. Oh, they were shelling, you know, the kibbutzim along the border all the way through.
HH: And the Jordanians got in.
SP: And there was a big, big fight on the Golan Heights, I mean, lots of horror shows up there.
HH: We’re going to cover that this hour, because that was, that was the seventh day of the Six Day War, as you call it in your book.
SP: Right, right.
HH: But I’ve got to start this hour, because I want to make sure we do not miss this story. Chapter 47, Fougas, and this is unbelievable. I told me friends about this this morning, and I said no one would believe this, it’s made up, no one could possibly think this happened. So you tell the story of this squadron.
SP: Well, this was the training squadron from the flight school, flew an old, clunky plane, a French plane called a Fouga Magister. And the situation was so desperate that the Israeli Air Force had to sort of cobble together a squadron of 24 of these planes, bringing in El Al captains to fly some of them. And the one gentleman who tells this story, Zvi “Kantor” Kanor, was the youngest pilot. He was not operational, yet. He had not yet joined his squadron. And they put him, they put him in these training, these trainers. There was no gunsight on it. It was just an X on the front of the windshield there. There was no weapons panel. They had to put the weapons panel together. They had, they fired rockets. That was all they had. And they would come in, their job was to defend against Jordanian tanks that were coming up from the Jordan Valley towards Jerusalem. And so they would go in against the columns that were climbing the hill out of the Jordan Valley, and they had, they would attack a tank with a salvo of four rockets and they would hit it from 200 meters. And according to Kantor, who was telling the story, if you tell pilots that today, they will say you’re either crazy or you’re lying, that there’s no way that anybody gets that close to a tank to release their ordinance, but that’s what they did. And these guys, these kids and these El Al pilots basically saved Jerusalem from the east, from attack from the east.
HH: And the pictures, people remember the Highway of Death from the 1991 Iraq War when Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard got trapped trying to retreat.
SP: Right, right, right.
HH: And as you detail in the book, you blow up the front of a tank column, you blow up the back of a tank column, everyone is trapped and you destroy them all. If you blow up the front of a runway and the back of a runway, no one can take off. So this is kind of basic stuff. But these kids, these 18 years old, and then these old guys who are my age, 58, you know, and they’re back in the, and they’re flying these non-combat planes. It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. No one would believe it. And were they, are they honored? Do they have reunions and stuff?
SP: Ah, that’s a really good question. The weird thing about this one squadron, of course, was that it was just put together for this one time action, and it was disbanded after that. The pilots went back to El Al. The young pilots joined their regular squadrons and continued, so that the squadron sort of ceased to exist. And there’s no records kept, you know, no reunions, none of that kind of thing. So it’s kind of a little bit of a phantom squadron that did great, great service, and then was forgotten, kind of a footnote to the war.
HH: Now I want to go back to the title of the book, The Lion’s Gate, and I’ll get back to your phone calls at 1-800-520-1234, Steve in Charlotte, Tom in Denver and the rest of you, don’t go anywhere. I’m going to get back to your phone calls. But the Lion’s Gate, I’ve been to Jerusalem, and I spent one day there. And so I know that there are different gates into the city. But I didn’t realize, and I want to go back to the Yoram Zamosh…
HH: Zamosh. Only twice in 3,000 years has Jerusalem been conquered from a different direction – once by King David, and once by us. This is a paratrooper in Battalion 71. Jerusalem has been conquered a lot, but it’s always been from the north.
HH: People have always come down from the north and crushed it.
SP: Out of the north, an evil comes, right?
HH: Yeah, and you have lots of Old Testament in here. The Proverbs are interesting. But they, would you describe leading up to the retaking of the old city by the Jews how they came to enter the Lion’s Gate, and then the geography of the Lion’s Gate, because I had no idea the physical terrain that they had to go through.
SP: Well, here’s one interesting trivia moment here, is that the code name for the Lion’s Gate was Vietnam. In other words, in every site in Jerusalem, on every site in the war, had a code name, so that over the radio, when the Israeli forces were saying you know, proceed to point X, the enemy didn’t know what that was. And so technically speaking, when the order was given to enter the old city, and they were to enter by the Lion’s Gate, the proper way to articulate that over the radio was enter Vietnam. But the brigade commander, Motta Gur, recognized the historical moment. This was the culmination of 2,000 years where the Jews had not possessed the old city of Jerusalem. And so he knew this was a historical moment. So he came out in the clear and said you know, enter the Lion’s Gate.
HH: And in the clear, meaning over the radio…
SP: Over the radio, yeah.
HH: …so that the world could hear it and it could be recorded.
HH: But it also tells the enemy they’re coming to the Lion’s Gate.
SP: Right, right. And then getting back to Yoram Zamosh for a minute, he was, in his battalion, he was like the religious guy. Everybody else was saying he was the religious guy, and so he had asked his battalion commander, Uzi Eilam, if we get the order to enter the Lion’s Gate, can my company go first? And they had said yes, so he’s down there sort of waiting. It’s, the old city is surrounded by giant walls. It looks, if you’ve never been there, you know, 40 feet high, looks like they come out of the Bible. Actually, they came from Suleiman the Magnificent about 1500 or so. But the Lion’s Gate has a long alley, and then there’s a gate that you have to enter. And to enter in this long alley was very dangerous, because there were Jordanian soldiers at the top of the wall. So it was like a kill zone. So Zamosh, Yoram Zamosh, was kind of hesitating at the mouth of the alley about 200 feet from the gate. And suddently, Motta Gur, the brigade commander, came barreling past him in a half-track wanting to be the first guy in, to make history, which was completely crazy, because he was the brigade commander. He was risking his life. But he zoomed through the gate, and then…
HH: Put a round into a steel gate, right?
SP: Yeah, the tank opened the gate with a few rounds in it. So Motta Gur became the first person to enter the Lion’s Gate, and history will record that.
HH: Then there’s a famous photograph which I, is famous, but not to me, not to an American non-Jew, that a half dozen of them get up on the Western Wall, which is, they couldn’t even see, you communicated this very well, that a religious Jew prior to 1967 couldn’t even see the Western Wall.
SP: Right. Of course, you couldn’t enter the old city, because the Jordanians, you know, controlled it. But you could only see, you could go to two places – Mount Zion, which is not really a mountain. It’s just a rise just outside the walls. And Yoram Zamosh tells a story. You climb to kind of an observation post, and standing on tiptoe, you could just see a poplar grove above the Western Wall. And you were instructed not to point with your finger, because the Jordanians might take that for a rifle, and sniper fire might be coming your way. And so from outside the old wall, the old city, you could not see the Western Wall at all. So when these guys entered the old city and went up on the Temple Mount, and I’m talking about the Israeli paratroopers after they entered the Lion’s Gate, particularly Yoram Zamosh and his people who were the first guys to get there, they were looking for the poplar grove. And once they found the poplar grove, they still didn’t know where the Western Wall was from there. Shall I tell that story, Hugh?
HH: Yeah, when we come back from break.
HH: Because it’s amazing what GPS, the world has changed so much in 45, 47 years since the Six Day War. But you will get chills when you read this story of Jews reentering the old city. Many of my audience have been to Israel. Many will go again or go for the first time in the future, and they will read the Lion’s Gate before they go. I guarantee you of that.
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HH: Before I go back to the phones, Steven, though, we left the trooper headed towards the Wailing Wall and he couldn’t find it. They could not find the Western Wall.
SP: Yeah, they didn’t know where it was, so there was, this is another true sort of crazy thing. Suddenly, first, they were in a firefight, you know, on the Temple Mount, alongside the Dome of the Rock. And then this ancient Arab kind of appeared out of nowhere with a long robe and a key around his neck. It’s like if you wrote this in a Hollywood movie, and so they went over to him and said, you know, where is the Wailing Wall? How do we get to the Wailing Wall? They were looking for a particular gate. Now it turns out that he was the gatekeeper to this gate, but he was too terrified to help them. So they dragged him kind of over to the gate, and they were talking to him first in Arabic, then in English. And finally, he answered at the gate, he said I knew you were coming. I’ve been waiting 19 years for you to come.
SP: …which was from the time that the Jordanians took over.
SP: So he gave him the key, they went through the gate, and there was the wall.
HH: Oh, it’s an extraordinary story. It will give you chills when you read it. And because my friend, Kurt Schlichter just tweeted, he’s listening, and he’s a tanker, and because my friend, Fritz Mertens is a tanker, I just have to talk a little bit about Arik Sharon and the young Rommel. Now, though different people, Sharon is the commander of the whole offensive, and the photos of him, people of my age think of him as this big guy. But he’s very kind of intense looking, and you’ve got a couple of photos from ’56, and then one from ’67. But Shmuel and his…
HH: Gorodish…is the young Rommel. And why do they call him that? And why would they let a brother be the number two to a brother? That just doesn’t make any sense at all.
SP: Well, this Shmuel Gorodish was the colonel in charge of the 7th Armored Brigade, which was sort of like the hot shot regular army great armed brigade. And he was a very mercurial character, and people used to get in fights with him, and he’d fire them. And finally, he had to put his own brother in as his operations officer, because nobody else could work with him. And they got in a fight, too, and his brother quit. Yoel Gorodish quit. And Shmuel said well, let’s go to mediation over this, and Yoel said, well, who should we, who will be the mediator? And he said how about our mother? And so he kind of got him back into the thing.
HH: Got him back. Now and also before I go to the calls, Golan Heights, the seventh day of the Six Day War, the Israelis know the U.N. is going to impose a settlement, and they get a call. We can’t let this go. But they’ve got to get troops up there. And this Cheetah, who begins the book and ends the book, how do they win that war? It’s wild. It’s completely improvisational military stuff.
SP: Right, it was kind of insanity up there on the last day, in which there were two helicopter squadrons up there that could ferry paratroopers in. And the paratroopers were all there, but they couldn’t get any orders from anybody, so it was just kind of these three guys – Danny Matt, Cheetah Cohen and Rafi Sivron on the ground kind of making up the rules as they went along. And they would fly paratroopers into certain crossroads and kind of claim them for Israel. And so they’d put troops on the ground. And meanwhile, the Syrians were kind of fleeing back towards Damascus. So it became how much, you know, eat and bite what is on your plate. How much can you get before the U.N. shuts you down?
HH: And one memorable story, I can’t remember the name, a fellow was wounded.
HH: And his commander hears about it and orders Cheetah to go get him. So tell that story.
SP: Okay, this is, it actually wasn’t Cheetah, but it was a guy named Rafi Sivron, who was the planner of Moked, but also was a helicopter copilot and navigator. And this was the last day of the war, and the helicopter pilots had been flying for six days, and they were like all, it was the middle of the night, they were dead asleep, nobody could wake him up. And one of the generals, Dado Elazar, said I’ve got one of my colonels up there on the Golan Heights. He’s been wounded. I want you to evacuate him. So anyway, the short version is…
HH: Oh, but he also says, and he won’t go.
SP: And he won’t go, so here’s a pistol. I want you to bring him back by force. So the short version is Rafi flies up, finds the general, and says I’m going to take you back by force. And the general is kind of a colorful character, and he says listen, Rafi. Sit down, have a cup of coffee, think about this. He says I’m really not wounded that badly. Stick with me today. We’re just going to go around the northern part of the Golan Heights, and we’re going to take every bit of real estate that we can. And I promise you at the end of the day, I’ll go into the hospital with you. So that was what they did. I’m kind of, at the very end, a U.N. team arrived with a Syrian colonel, and the Syrian said okay, okay, okay. He said stop, you’ve got what you’ve got, but stop here. And so that was kind of how the final border was drawn on the last day.
HH: And then he flew him to the hospital. So he complied with the order.
SP: And he flew him to the hospital. And here’s one final tidbit that’s not in the book. Like ten years later, Rafi Sivron, the helicopter pilot, ran into this general, since retired, you know, at some event, and the general said Rafi, thank you so much. You made my life. What I did on that day was the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Thank you so much for not taking me into the hospital.
HH: How much did you hear about that from these guys, because they were also sacred to death, and you communicate quite clearly the paratrooper, the thing he wants to do the most is do a combat jump, and the thing he’s afraid of the most is to do a combat jump. And so this is the most significant day of their lives, and they’re telling you about it 47 years later. How many of them recognized that?
SP: Oh, they all recognize it. It was very emotional and very touching. And every year, all of these units get together and they really take care of anybody that has died, the families of anybody, and even people like who die of cancer or something, you know, since the war are treated as kind of casualties of that, and they really, the bond is amazing. They’re very aware of what they did, because this is 2,000 years of history. They just happened to be the ones that history chose to be there, right? It could have been anybody else, but they were the ones. And it’s not as though they see it in an egomaniacal way. They just, they recognize the import for the Jewish people.
HH: The obvious question is that six years later, as you said earlier in the show…
HH: The Egyptians get the jump on them.
HH: You could write another book.
HH: …about that war. It won’t be as significant, because they don’t retake the old city of Jerusalem. They don’t reclaim the holy places of Judaism and Christianity and Islam for international control and the control of the Israelis. But you could do that. Has that crossed your mind?
SP: It crossed my mind, but you hit the nail right on the head, Hugh. What made, to me, speaking as a novelist and as a writer, you always look for what’s the metaphor in the story, you know? What’s the deeper meaning? Why, is this only a Jewish story? Is it only an Israeli story? And I don’t think it is at all. I think it’s a universal story, just like the Spartans at Thermopylae are a universal story, or Gettysburg is a universal story. But what’s universal here as we’re talking about it is that the recapture, the liberation of the Western Wall after 2,000 years, where, that that symbolized the Jewish people’s return from exile finally. Their holiest place, as Moshe Dayan said, we have returned to our holiest places never to part from them again. So that’s, to me, what made this not just a military story. It made it a story that’s universal.
HH: Oh, and so deeply compelling even for non-Jews, especially, perhaps, for non-Jews.
— – – –
HH: It’s going to be just hugely selling for years and years and years, because like Blackhawk Down, like every great story of war, it will engage you in the lives of these young people at moments of life and death, combat situations which are made on the spur of the moment, and the fighter pilots are all going to read this book and pass it around, because it just loves the fighter pilots. It quotes one of them as saying it’s a great feeling to be the cavalry. “Agassi and I are over the same area by the Canal when ground troops call for help over the radio. Egyptian planes are attacking them. It’s a great feeling to be the cavalry and be able to rush to the aid of our warriors under fire. I catch an Ilyushin-28, a light bomber, above Bardawall Lagoon, and I don’t even drop the tanks, do a hindquarter attack. He has a 23 millimeter gun aft so I can’t come from directly behind. I get him from six hundred meters; he blows right on top of our troops.” He got four MiG’s. I mean, these guys, this was the last great air battle, right?
SP: Yeah, it really is sort of like the Battle of Britain in a sense of where you really had dogfights that were not missile dogfights, but cannons, you know, where you have to, the fighter pilot has to get right behind another plane to shoot it down.
HH: And that, you tell the story very well. Let’s go to the phones. Steve in Charlotte, hello, Steve, you’re on with Steven Pressfield, author of The Lion’s Gate.
Steve: Hi, Hugh, just picked up the book, looking forward to reading it. Semper Fi, Mr. Pressfield, it’s an honor.
SP: All right, Steve.
Steve: Two books I’ve read of yours I couldn’t put down, were Killing Rommel and Gates Of Fire. And my question kind of segues from what you said a few moments ago, is regarding what you think these stand out as classics. Is it that you have a burning desire for encyclopedic knowledge in these areas, and writing the book is just the aftermath and a lot of fun to put them all together?
HH: Great question.
SP: Could you rephrase that question? I’m not exactly sure what you mean by it.
Steve: I’m wondering if you yourself, if you would write this book even if no one read it, because you just feel that you want to have that knowledge.
SP: Yes, I would. Yeah, but I think that anybody that writes a book, or let’s say, directs a movie, you have to kind of, because it’s going to be a two year, three year project, you have to fall in love with it on its own merits. You know, you can’t do it because I think I’m going to make money on this, or I think this is going to be a hit. At least this is for me. I have to, I get kind of consumed with these things, just geeked out over them, you know, and I just want to find out everything I possibly can.
HH: No more and no more. And these guys took you, who took the Lion’s Gate, thank you, Steve, they took you on the path they followed, so you actually physically walked the road they walked.
SP: Right, right going up onto the Temple Mount, Yoram Zamosh and Uzi Eilam and Moshe Milo, they walked me right through it, which was absolutely fascinating.
HH: That’s amazing. Lily in Tucson, you’re on with Steven Pressfield, author of The Lion’s Gate. Go ahead, Lily.
Lily: Thank you so much for taking my call. Steven and Hugh, your conversation has been riveting, so the book has got to be. But as I’m listening to you speak, I’m thinking back oh, I didn’t pay much attention to history as a youngster. You know, I just sort of glazed over. And when I started studying the Bible, I started as well reading some novels that were historical novels by Brock and Bodie Thoene. I was wondering if you were familiar with them, because they have chronicled the history of the Jews before, during, after the Holocaust, and then of course at ’48 and ’67.
SP: No, I’m not, Lily. I’m not.
Lily: Yeah, a fascinating series, but you know, what you’re bringing up is the real life events that they have wrapped up in a novel. And you keep saying you know, it could have been written in a novel, or it could have been a movie, so…
HH: But in a movie and a novel, when they say based on actual events, you always want, like the Monuments Men just came out, and that took a lot of liberties, and it was a fine film. I enjoyed it. But you never, you want to know what’s real.
SP: Yeah, yeah.
HH: And everything here is real, and thank you, Lily. You borrowed from both Dayan’s, and we haven’t mentioned Yael Dayan, yet. She went up to Ugda Sharon, which is the, they name their task force over their generals, right?
SP: Yeah, this is, an ugda is like a division-sized force. It’s kind of unique to the Israeli Army. But it’s a one-time force that’s put together for a specific operation or to fight to specific enemy. And it’s named after its general. So like the division that Arik Sharon was in charge of was called Ugda Sharon. And then Israel Tal had Ugda Tal. And Avraham Yoffe had Ugda Yoffe. And that’s…
HH: Do they argue over how they did relative to each other? I mean, do the veterans and…
SP: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
HH: So what did they say, like 3-1, 2-1, Marlon was talking about the Marine Corps divisions earlier?
SP: Yeah, of course, you know, that’s the way soldiers are in any army, yeah.
HH: But Yael is Dayan’s daughter? She’s in Greece, and she says at the very beginning of your book Israelis go home when war threatens.
SP: Yeah. Now Yael Dayan wrote what, you asked me before, Hugh, what I thought was the best book about the Six Day War, and I named her book along with Michael Oren’s book. She wrote a book called Israel Journal 1967 that I relied on very heavily for this one, and she was with Ugda Sharon as a war correspondent. Actually, she was a second, a mission second lieutenant in the reserves, and it was, she had a novelist’s eye, and just put incredible details and stuff in there. Great stuff.
— – – – –
HH: Someone sent me an email last night after I posted about it, is it as good as The Looming Tower? They’re different books, but it’s been ten years since I’ve been this complimentary of a book. Steven Pressfield, you talk about two guys in here – Ben-Gurion and Charles Wingate, who are not really there, but they matter a great deal. So just a word or two about both of them and why you pause in the middle of a book about 1967 to talk about a Jew and an Englishman who aren’t part of the ’67 story.
SP: Well, particularly, Orde Wingate was an English officer that came to Israel in the 30s, I think. I’m forgetting exactly when that was, but he was a guy who has founded many of the doctrines that the Israeli Army fights by. Night fighting is a big part of the Israeli doctrine, of unconventional tactics, of trying to strike the enemy where they least expect it from a different thing. And he used to fight, he fought with Moshe Dayan as a young man against the Arab gangs that used to sabotage the Iraq pipeline. And one of the things he used to do, he would mount the taillights on his Jeeps on the front on the front of the Jeep so that the enemy couldn’t tell which direction he was going in. And another thing is when they would make a raid against a certain Arab position, he would insist that his guys buy their sandals at the local Arab markets so that the footprints they left in the sand could not be distinguished from the local shepherds.
HH: There’s a word I’m looking for from the Old Testament, a trick that Sharon says complexity at the top, simplicity at the bottom. But there’s this one word, I wrote it down, that you say, what is it?
SP: Oh, tachboulah.
HH: Tachboulah. Explain what that is.
SP: That’s just a word for a stratagem or a ruse. And in, I’m not sure what the verse is in the Bible, but it says by a tachboulah shalt thou wage war. And this was Arik Sharon, who was like a great strategist of, and battle planner. He would always try to have tachboulah following tachboulah following tachboulah – a trick, a misdirection, a ruse, something, always a twist in a plan so that the enemy, what he was trying to do was make the enemy respond under conditions of chaos to some emergency that they had not prepared for, being struck from an angle that they didn’t think they were going to be struck from, by a different composition of forces, or by sealing off the area in a different way. So tachboulah.
SP: Tachboulah is a ruse.
HH: It sounds like getting inside their OODA loop, the Observe, Orient, Decide, Act, and then you want to get inside your enemy’s OODA loop.
SP: Yeah, exactly.
HH: But Ben-Gurion, of course, the founder of modern Israel, and he’s on the sidelines for this thing.
SP: Yeah, it was kind of a little bit of a sad story in the sense that at this point, he was getting a little old. And he really didn’t believe, I mean, Moshe Dayan had been his protégé and his right hand man, his army man all the way through. They loved each other. They absolutely respected each other, you know, to the max. But Dayan understood as the build-up of this war was coming, that Israel could win on its own. Didn’t need the Americans, didn’t need the British, didn’t need anybody else. But Ben-Gurion was from, say, a half generation older, or a generation older, and he felt that Israel could not win the war by itself, that they needed the Americans to go in. And that was a fight that he couldn’t, you know, there was no…
HH: It’s a fascinating backstory. Let’s talk with Joe in Los Angeles. Joe on AM870 The Answer, you’re on with Steven Pressfield. How are you, Joe?
Joe: Great. Mr. Pressfield, I really love your books. Two questions – the atomic bomb, there’s some controversy about whether or not Israel had an active atomic bomb at the time and whether or not, how, because they felt vulnerable, maybe because they didn’t have it. The second question is about the prime minister, Levi Eshkol, I may be mispronouncing it.
SP: Yeah, Levi Eshkol.
Joe: Well, what do you think his impact was, because a lot of people see him as being very heroic, especially being elderly at the time.
HH: Great questions.
HH: Steven Pressfield?
SP: I’m going to recuse myself on the atomic bomb thing. I just don’t really know the answer to that. And on the Levi Eshkol subject, I think Eshkol was unfortunately for him, he wound up on the opposite side of Moshe Dayan’s great charisma. And Eshkol, I think, was a very good administrator, and did many things for the economy and for agriculture. But he was overmatched in this case, because he was not a military man.
HH: Oh, the eye patch deal…
HH: No one…
SP: You can’t compete with the eye patch.
HH: You can’t compete with a pirate. and Yitzhak Rabin walking in with Dayan to the Western Wall, and I don’t remember who the third one was…
SP: Uzi Narkiss…
HH: Okay, that’s an amazing…and the prime minister’s not with them.
SP: Right, which was Dayan’s doing there, because he wanted this moment to be a military moment. He wanted the world, he recognized the power of TV cameras and Life Magazine, and this moment was going to be historic. It was historic.
HH: Don’t screw with us.
HH: We’re the Israeli Defense Forces, don’t screw with us. In Glendale, Gary, you’re on with Steven Pressfield. Go ahead, Steven, have you bought the Lion’s Gate, yet?
Gary: Not yet, but I’m going to.
Gary: Now I’ve got a question for you all, and you know, in studying military history, it was amazing that the Israelis just completely destroyed the Arab forces in ’67. It was the most complete rout of an enemy since the German conquest of France. Did you feel the Israelis themselves were a little surprised on how, I hate to use the word easy, but it’s the best word I can come up, but how they were able to overcome the Arabs with such great overwhelming…
HH: Finality. Steven Pressfield, a minute, we’ve got to go to the question. What do you think?
SP: Well, I’ll answer really quickly. I asked the same question of Giora Romm, the fighter pilot who was the first Israeli ace, and he said that he likened the Six Day War to a hail Mary pass, and he thought that it was one of those, you know, once in a lifetime things when everything worked, even though it was, things were hanging in the balance in many, many areas. But he said…
HH: I wonder if it’s dangerous that I have confidence that if they have to confront Iran, which is the existential question of the day, that I’m overconfident because of this. Do you think there’s that danger now?
SP: Yes, I do.
HH: Interesting. We’ll come back and finish the conversation by talking about the…
SP: Just because nothing is sure. There’s no such thing as a sure thing. I don’t care how smar you are.
HH: Absolutely well said.
— – – –
HH: Steven Pressfield, the Lion’s Gate is terrific. How did it change you?
SP: Ah, that’s a great question. It certainly, it did change me, and I’m still sort of absorbing it and processing it. It made me much more patriotic towards Israel, and much more identified with them. One thing, when you’re over there, and I had never been there, I spent nine weeks there this time.
HH: How old are you? You’d never been to Israel?
SP: I’d never been to Israel, no. And I’m like the most secular possible Jew, you know.
SP: I’ve never been bar mitzvahed, I don’t know how to spell shalom, you know? But it really, the feeling over there, even though it’s not pounded into you at all, is that if you’re a Jew, you should be there, you know, and you should be defending the holy land. And they refer to our, where we live here in Southern California, as the land of milk and honey where life is easier. And life, it is hard over there, even today. I mean, it’s not scary in the sense of, at least not to me, in the sense of oh, you’re going to get blown up, but it’s hard. Like the way you check the news here, I’d be driving in with a friend of mine over there, Eli Rikovitz, and at the head of the hour, he turns on the radio just for 20 seconds, just to see has a war started. And I asked him, you know, I said why do you do that, Eli? And he said, you know, this is Israel. You have to know what’s happening. So it’s, it’s another world over there, and I’ve become much more patriotic and feel much more bound to the people over there, and that makes sense, because I got to know them.
HH: And you know so many of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and as one of the people who called you, you support them in a lot of different ways. Are they different from the IDF? Are the IDF different from other soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines?
SP: Yes, they are. I mean, all armies are the same in that, in all those obvious senses. But like we said before, that concept of En Brera, no alternative, just the geographic makeup of Israel, it’s so small, the size of New Jersey surrounded by enemies that don’t, that want its extinction, that want its elimination. So everybody over there is, women, too, are ready. You have to be.
HH: Wow. Well, congratulations. It’s a terrific read. Again, America, the Lion’s Gate is linked at Hughhewitt.com. Poor Marlon went down and tried to find a bookstore to get a copy out of it. It’s already sold out in a lot of places. I really do suggest you go to Amazon or Barnesandnoble.com, or go get the e-book. But the e-book won’t let you make notes in the margin, so I’m going to urge you. Sometimes, novels can be read in e-book form. Go get the hardcopy, and hopefully, Steven Pressfield will do a signing. Check his website. What’s your website, Steven?
SP: Just my name. www.stevenpressfield.com with a v. Steven with a v.
HH: With a v. www.stevenpressfield.com, and find out when and if he’s going to give a speech or a book signing. Thank you, Steven.
SP: Thanks, Hugh.
End of interview.