The Medal of Valor hangs framed in his home office, the highest military decoration in the Israel Defense Forces. Avigdor Kahalani received it for service during the Yom Kippur War.
On the Yom Kippur of October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a coordinated surprise attack on Israel. The Yom Kippur War was launched on the holiest day on the Jewish calendar: The Day of Atonement.
I think we should tell the truth [about war] to soldiers. Truth creates unity, camaraderie, willingness, preparedness…Information is power…Going to war is not child’s play.
Caught by a surprise attack
Kahalani commanded the 77th Armored Battalion in the Golan Heights, which ultimately succeeded in repelling a superior Syrian force.
The first part of the battle lasted from the Saturday night of Yom Kippur until the following Tuesday afternoon.
It was a very difficult battle of defense. It was one Israeli tank against ten of theirs. Their planes slaughtered us. On the first day, we lost 25 planes in the Golan.
Their artillery fired thousands and thousands of shells; their tanks were lower, better than ours. I lost many combat soldiers, many of the wounded and many tanks. The most critical hours of the battle were Tuesday at 10:00 AM, when most of the Golan Heights was no longer in our hands, and the only place left for them to finish the job was the Valley of Tears.
The Valley of Tears Battle
The surprise of the combined Arab attack left the IDF forces in disarray. Kahalani was forced to command a group of tanks and servicemen from different armored battalions.
As a part of the 7th Brigade, I was responsible for concentrating all of the leftover tanks at the Valley of Tears Battle. Two days later, we broke into Syria. It was a very difficult war–we stopped 35 miles from Damascus.
A cease-fire agreement
On May 31, 1974, Israel and Syria signed a disengagement agreement. This included the establishment of UN observers in the demilitarized zone and IDF evacuation of territory captured in the Yom Kippur War.
Receiving the Medal of Valor
The military decoration was a very exciting moment in 1975. My parents and I lost my brother Emanuel in the war; he was married for ten days. Prior to attending my ceremony, we went to the Tel Aviv Opera House to collect the Medal of Distinguished Service awarded to my deceased brother, who died in the war.
Standing in the Israeli Presidential home, Kahalani was the last of eight to receive the award.
I do not think I had internalized the intensity of the moment. I think that in the course of time this issue had bigger dimensions than what I felt at that moment. I felt like I represent my battalion, as if I’m representing my combat soldiers.
Returning to serving the IDF
After completing my military career, I left feeling that I want to serve the public and not my home.
Always searching for a way to contribute, Avigdor Kahalani returned to serving the IDF. This time, he became chairman of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers (AWIS).
Kahalani holds a B.A. degree in History from Tel-Aviv University and an M.A. in Political Science from Haifa University. He also attended the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and graduated form the National Defense College.
Elected to the Knesset for the Labor Party in 1992, he served on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense and the Education and Culture Committees.
Kahalani is married and has three children.