Valley of Tears HBOMax promo shot of a soldier in a helmet in the desert.

wa Valley of Tears on HBOMax illustrates the old saying, “War is Hell”. When surrounding Arab nations launch a massive surprise attack against Israel on Yom Kippur in 1973, utter chaos ensues. The military is on skeleton crew because of the holiday, ammunition is low, and worst of all, there is a complete lack of mental readiness, as Israel is riding high from the 1967 war victory, figuring they will never be attacked by their neighbors again. (See below for a brief history lesson.) The series follows 4 narrative lines: an embattled tank company, whose leader loses his mind; a bunker that hosts a staff of Intelligence workers who are untrained for battle; an overwhelmed command center that can’t keep up; and a pair of men trying to get to the front for reasons of their own. There are some other minor plot lines, but these are the big ones. It’s a teeth-gritting, edge-of-your-seat ride.

 But first, some history

Based on true events, Valley of Tears opens with newsreel footage that explains what I’m about to tell you, but it goes by VERY quickly. In 1967, Israel went to war against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israel crushed the Arab nations’ militaries, and was able to expand their footprint significantly. One of the areas they took was the Golan Heights, which is in the northeastern corner of Israel, on the border of Syria. Another was the Sinai Peninsula on the southwestern border with Egypt. Their victory was devastating to the Arab nations, and led to a dangerous overconfidence in Israel. In 1973, with the help of Russia, Syria launched a well-planned surprise attack on Israel to get the Golan Heights back. At the same time, Egypt attacked on the Sinai. This was the Yom Kippur War, and it almost destroyed Israel. I won’t tell you what happens because of spoilers, although you can easily research it.

The Bunker

The plot of Valley of Tears starts at a bunker in the desert with the anxious and persistent Intelligence wire-tapper Avinoam (Shahar Tavoch) intercepting information that the Syrians were telling farmers to stay away from the border with Israel, and that the Russians were recalling their citizens from Israel. He sounds the alarm, but because of his (well-deserved) reputation as a hysteric, his commanders brush him off. Avinoam leaves the Intelligence area to find the combat officer in charge of protecting the bunker, Yoav (Avraham Aviv Alush). Yoav isn’t sure what to think and decides to leave for Yom Kippur holiday anyway. But he misses his ride. He’s glowering in the yard outside the bunker when a Syrian plane flies over, dropping missiles onto the bunker. Avinoam wails, “I’m Intelligence. I know secrets. The Syrians will torture me and the secrets I tell will ruin everything for the whole army!” It’s up to Yoav to defend the bunker and protect the Intelligence crew from getting captured.

The Tank Company and HQ

In another location in the Golan Heights, a tank company, also on light duty because of the holiday, gets an alert for battle. They don’t take it very seriously until they see a line of Syrian tanks, like hundreds of ants, marching toward them across the valley below. I can’t say much more here because of spoilers, but their battle is hard to watch. Meanwhile, at an HQ code named “Tokyo”, confusion reigns. Since two borders are under attack, there is no backup for the troops. Dafna (Joy Rieger), is desperate to find out what happened to Yoav, her boyfriend, at the bunker. But instead she is shunted to a safe home base camp for women in the military.

Meni and Melachi

Meanwhile, Melachi (Maor Schwitzer) is a tank driver with the company that we are following, but he was arrested the night before for throwing a Molotov cocktail at the cops during a protest, so he missed the start of the war. Desperate to find his crew, he hooks up with writer, war veteran and celebrity Meni Ben-Dror (Lior Ashkenazi) and they attempt to drive to the front. Meni is looking for his son in a paratrooper unit. On their way, they stop at the women’s camp and Dafna hitches a ride outta there with them.

Our Take on Valley of Tears

Valley of Tears is enjoyable on 2 levels. First, as an action series, it’s top notch. They spared no expense on production, even rebuilding tanks from the 1970’s to make them functional again. Unlike old American war movies, this conflict is not glamorized at all. It’s gory and shocking, and there is no help coming, and in one case, the commander has gone crazy, but is still giving orders. Truly hellish.

Second, it’s a great (if one-sided) history lesson. An interesting sub-plot is the tension between the Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews. Sephardic Jews are from North Africa and the Middle East mainly, and Ashkenazi Jews are from Europe. As is typical in many societies, those with the brown skin are not given the advantages of those with the light skin. In 1973, some Sephardic Jews called themselves the Black Panthers, after the American group, and launched protests. This was why Melachi was in jail. As regular readers know, I love learning about this stuff. Valley of Tears is a wild ride that you will binge until you can’t take it anymore and need a break.

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