Night of the Ducks

Night of the Ducks

The "Night of the Ducks" (Hebrew: ליל הברווזים‎) is the term used to describe a civilian fiasco by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that occurred on April 1, 1959.

Traditionally, Israel conducted regular call-up exercises for its reserve troops by public radio. Units were given code words, which, if broadcast over the radio, meant that the troops were to assemble at predetermined meeting points. Though intended for emergency use, exercises were conducted to ensure that the troops arrived at their appointed places within a reasonable amount of time. Because of the tense situation along the country's borders, drills were announced publicly well in advance, and people expecting to be called up waited at home for the announcements to be made.

By the late 1950s, however, tensions had been increasing along Israel's frontiers, not least because of the perceived threat posed by the political unification of the country's two major adversaries, Egypt and Syria, as the United Arab Republic on January 31, 1958. As a result, it was decided by the IDF's General Staff to test the readiness of its reserve troops under actual emergency conditions. A call-up exercise would be conducted, but unlike previous exercises, there would be no prior announcement and no warning given.

Intended to simulate genuine emergency conditions, the call-up announcement, given on the night of April 1, threw the country into a panic. People believed that the call-up was in response to a genuine emergency, and that the country was under attack. Similarly, the neighboring Arab states, which monitored Israeli radio, believed that Israel was preparing to launch a surprise attack on them, and began to ready their own troops. It took considerable efforts by the government to calm the civilian population, and international efforts to molify the neighboring states and convince them that Israel was not preparing for war.

In the following days, the local press responded bitterly to the event, referring to it as the "Night of the Ducks", since one of the call-up codes repeated on the radio was "Waterfowl", which in Hebrew translates as "water ducks". An official Commission of Inquiry was organized to investigate the decisions leading up to the event. Although the Chief of Staff, Chaim Laskov, was absolved, two leading generals, Major General Meir Zorea, who served as Chief of Reserves, and Major General Yehoshafat Harkabi, who served as Chief of Military Intelligence, were forced to step down.

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