One of the most heroic stories of the Yom Kippur war of October 1973 is now being challenged:
In the past 43 years, Zvika Greengold was known as the lone tank commander of the Israeli tank brigade 188, who together with his crew saved the State of Israel.
On the first night of the war, when the unprepared Israeli army was caught by surprise on the Golan Heights, twenty-one-year-old Lieutenant Zvika Greengold rushed back from home to join his tank unit. He was given a tank that was hit earlier that day and was reconditioned. Zvika was ordered to move toward the enemy line and join other Israeli tanks who were fighting desperately to stop the massive Syrian army from overrunning the Israeli defense line.
It was night. The Zvika force had two reconditioned tanks. They didn’t have night vision capabilities, so they moved slowly on the road leading toward the enemy. Suddenly Zvika saw a Syrian tank in front of him. Zvika’s tank was able to fire first. His tank was damaged as it rolled back to escape the inferno of the burning Syrian tank. Zvika changed tanks and sent the damaged tank back for a repair. His tank remained all alone.
As Zvika advanced, he found himself facing an entire Syrian brigade of Russian made T-62 tanks. He began shooting at them. Under the cover of the night he misled the advancing enemy to think that it is being attacked by a large Israeli tank unit, when in fact it was a single tank, far away from the nearest Israeli unit. According to articles published after the war, Zvika’s tank destroyed 60 Syrian tanks before disengaging.
Later that night few more Israeli tanks joined the battle. The small Israeli unit was hit and suffered heavy casualties. Zvika’s tank was hit by a friendly fire. His tank was mistakenly identified by another Israeli tank who was located behind his position. Zvika and two of his crew survived. The tank driver was killed.
Zvika, although injured, climbed on another tank and continued the battle. He was separated again from the rest of the Israeli unit. He continued on his own. The next morning, when hundreds of Syrian tanks joined the battle, the few Israeli tanks who faced them stopped the Syrian advancement in a bitter battle where the entire senior command of brigade 188 was killed. Only two Israeli tanks (Zvika commanding one of them) were left standing when the Syrian tanks finally turned around and retreated back to Syria.
After a long twenty hours of a non-stop battle, Zvika was evacuated to an Israeli hospital.
Zvika received a medal for his courage. Generations of young Israelis were raised on Zvika’s legend.
On October 30th, 2016, the Israeli TV- channel 2, broke a story that questioned the truth of the legend. The sensational story did not get much coverage outside of Israel, because Trump and the upcoming American presidential election dominated the airwaves. However, it caused a strong ripple throughout Israel.
According to Channel 2, during the battle that night, Zvika’s tank was joined by other Israeli tanks. In the battle where Zvika was hit by friendly fire, the company commander of that unit (who was later captured by the Syrians and spent time in a Syrian POW camp), in an interview with the Israeli Channel 2, said that Zvika’s story of fighting all alone a brigade of Syrian tanks is not true. The company commander’s story was collaborated by Brig. Gen. (res.) Yair Nafshi, who was in charge of rebuilding the 188th brigade, which was decimated in the war. Brig. Gen. (res.) Yair Nafshi, who was the commander of brigade 188 after the war, stated that the story of Zvika’s heroic battle that night was fabricated in order to create a motivational story that the young recruits of the new unit could relate to. Nafshi said that he made up the most famous tale of Israeli heroism in that war, in an effort to boost morale.
Zvika Greengold and the Israeli army are standing by Zvika’s story.
The facts of the night battle cannot be confirmed. The situation was chaotic; makeshift units were created and disintegrated quickly as the Syrian army cut through the Israeli defense lines. Most of the people who fought with Zvika that night were killed. Others either support his story, or cannot recall many details about him. They themselves were fighting for their lives that night and did not pay close attention to the movements of other Israeli tanks in the area, accept for covering for each other as they moved in and out of battle positions.
However, one thing is beyond challenge: Zvika did fight the Syrian army for twenty hours in a battle of few against many. His tank was hit by friendly fire and he was injured, and he was the commander of one of only two tanks that remained standing when the Syrian army in that sector turned around and retreated.
Below are interviews with Zvika, who describes the night battle in details, and the interview with his challengers – All interviews are in Hebrew.