The first and only female prime minister of Israel.
Meir subscribed to the konseptzia (conception), the strategic assumption that following the Six Day War's demonstration of Israel's military superiority the Arabs had abandoned any hope of military offensives against the Jewish State. In this political atmosphere, and in light of her belief that Palestinian nationalism was no more than a ruse designed to delegitimize and ultimately destroy Israel, Meir preferred concrete territorial assets over uncertain diplomacy.
The konseptzia collapsed on Yom Kippur, October 6, 1973, when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack. The assault was unforeseen by Israeli intelligence, despite clear signs that Egypt and Syria were making military preparations and had made unambiguous declarations of hostile intent. In the hours before the war, faced with the assurances of her intelligence chiefs that no attack was imminent, Meir deliberated whether to order a full-scale mobilization; her failure to do so was a cause of regret for the rest of her life.
During the war--at the height of the enemy onslaught and in the shadow of defeat--Meir resisted pressure from the army and Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan to deploy Israel's secret nuclear arsenal against Egypt. Chaim Herzog, Israel’s sixth President, recalls that Golda had no trouble making decisions: "once the war began she showed great strength of character and enormous composure…her inflexibility proved to be an enormous asset in the war. She used common sense to make military decisions, often opposing the choices made by lifelong military men--and her choices were usually correct."
She negotiated assertively with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, convincing the U.S. government to airlift crucial military supplies to Israel's strapped forces.
The war ended with 2,656 Israeli soldiers killed and 7,250 wounded. Despite the ultimate victory over the Arab forces, the war brought about the collapse of Israel's post-1967 self-confidence and was perceived by many Israelis as an existential breaking point. Although the Agranat Commission of Inquiry pinned the blame for the war on the army and military intelligence, clearing the political echelon of any direct responsibility for the failure, in April 1974 Meir resigned from the premiership and from the Knesset.
After presiding over the separation of forces agreements between Israel, Syria, and Egypt--thereby setting a precedent for future territorial compromise--Meir retired into private life and wrote her memoirs.
Golda Meir died on December 8, 1978, having requested no eulogy and that no institutions be named after her. "Many leaders," noted Richard Nixon, "drive to the top by the force of personal ambition. They seek power because they want power. Not Golda Meir. All her life she simply set out to do a job, whatever that might be, and poured into it every ounce of energy and dedication she could summon."
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.