A former IDF Military Intelligence chief cautioned on Sunday that lessons
learned from the 1973 Yom Kippur War were far from universal and could be used
to justify either aggressive military action against Iran or urgent
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, in remarks that coincided with
the Gregorian anniversary of the Egyptian and Syrian attacks, said that while
lessons about the intelligence failures were important, “everyone takes from
that war exactly what they believe in now” – that preemptive action could have
reduced Israel’s losses or that diplomatic action could have averted the
“The challenge is to see what’s relevant and to
retain that... and then correct it, just like you would with an airplane,”
Yadlin, director of the Institute for National Security Studies and a former
fighter pilot, said.
His speech came at the conclusion of several talks
about the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. The discussions at the Tel
Aviv think tank took place as Egypt marked the anniversary of the
Also at the conference, former chief of staff Lt.-Gen.
Gabi Ashkenazi said the intelligence failures leading up to Egypt’s invasion of
Sinai were a persistent reminder of the importance of accurate and timely
gathering of information.
Still, Ashkenazi – a young soldier during the
1973 conflict – said the war did not singularly impact his perception of
intelligence assessments and military preparedness.
In contrast to the
leadup, in which a buildup of Egyptian forces was visible to Israeli soldiers,
IDF officials today must focus on surprises that are more difficult to
“Where exactly are the front lines?” the former chief of staff
asked, adding that today, “if we put on our binoculars, there’s not even going
to be Hezbollah at the end of our lenses.”
A highlight of the conference
was an appearance by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Eli Zeira, director of Military
Intelligence in 1973 and the man most often blamed for the intelligence failure
leading up to the surprise attacks.
Zeira said he misunderstood the
mindset of the Egyptian people, which led him to underestimate the nation’s
motivation for war.
“The problem was their shame, their humiliation, that
two-and-a-half million Jews who arrived from Europe, within five-and-ahalf days,
had actually defeated their glorious army [in June 1967] and now they are
sitting on the sides of the Suez Canal with their toes in the water,” he said.
“They wanted some kind of victory over us, even if it was just a smaller
Zeira explained that this feeling of shame was present in
Egyptian literature but did not play into the Israeli military’s intelligence
The intelligence agencies today have “amazing” technological
capabilities but ought to still “study literature so that you can understand,
truly fathom, the souls, the mindsets of our enemy,” he said.
to failing to understand Egyptian national sentiment, Zeira said he “didn’t
fight for [his] opinion enough.” The IDF should have created defensive
installations on the hills near the Suez Canal, instead of on the canal itself,
Zeira’s main criticism of the IDF deployment in Sinai was the
position, and not the number, of troops. Drawing on the ancient Battle of
Thermopylae, he argued that it was possible for a small force to hold off a
large army. An ideal strategic position would “look down, as if in the palm of
our hand, on the Egyptian force,” instead of directly across the
The positioning of the IDF’s troops along the Suez gave the
military little warning space. Instead of a 300- km.-wide buffer between Egypt
and Israel as in 1967, the Suez gave only 300- meters of warning
Zeira said he wanted at least 50 km. of buffer, but the “people
around me said ‘Forget it, the politicians would tell you to forget it, because
they won’t allow you to move backwards’” from the Suez.
discussed the “failure” of the IDF’s sophisticated surveillance equipment aimed
at Egypt – which 40 years ago he famously referred to as Israel’s “insurance
“Special sources” had failed “three or four months before the
war,” the result of an Egyptian effort, he said.
“I want to give full
marks to the Egyptians for their deception operation....
security in Egypt went up by about 10 grades and the traffic in the special
sources went down considerably,” he said.
Zeira’s assessment has been
disputed, however, and critics of his actions argue that he never activated the
At one point during his talk, a former IDF intelligence senior
officer in charge of special data collection interrupted him and said he was
lying, according to Ynet.
“Three thousand soldiers were killed! I will
not be quiet! Where do you get this stuff from,” Col. (res.) Yossi Langotsky
said. He had to be calmed down by Yadlin and others.
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