Golda Meir's fears and uncertainty at outbreak of Yom Kippur War revealed in declassified documents

Forty years after the war, the Defense Ministry reveals Golda Meir's testimony to the Agranat Commission.

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September 12, 2013 22:50
2 minute read.
Former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir.

Golda Meir 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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Forty years after the Yom Kippur War, which traumatized a generation of Israelis and left more than 2,500 Israeli soldiers dead, the Defense Ministry released details of prime minister Golda Meir’s testimony to the Agranat Commission.

The commission investigated the decisions made by the Israeli military in the lead-up to the surprise invasions by Egypt and Syria.

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“I think the headline for what happened to us on the eve of Yom Kippur would be ‘mistakes,’” Meir is quoted as saying, before describing her restlessness and concern on the eve of the war, and her disagreement with the military brass about calling up reservists.

Meir asks, “It’s not that I knew better, but why didn’t I say anyway: ‘Gentlemen, let’s call up the reserves?’” She told the committee that she feared that a reserves call-up would cause the Arab armies to think the IDF was preparing an attack and then they would feel the need to strike Israel.

Asked about how she felt ahead of the war, Meir said that on the morning of Friday, October 5, a day before the Arab armies attacked, “I wasn’t calm. Of course, on the Friday morning I wasn’t calm.”

She said that she became restless on October 3, when she was told that the families of Russian advisers and embassy staff had been flown out of Egypt and Syria.

Throughout the testimony, Meir described herself as uncertain about military affairs, and finding herself for the first time responsible for making major military decisions.



She describes her decision to not order a preemptive strike when war seemed imminent, saying she was concerned it would jeopardize the support of the Americans, and that she feared that the military did not have sufficient supplies to carry out such an attack.

“I knew and know now too that it may have been, maybe possible to say certainly that some boys might have stayed alive, but I don’t know how many other boys would have died because of a lack of equipment,” she told the commission.

Meir expressed skepticism about then-Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s peace overtures, and said she did not take him seriously as a leader.

In her testimony, she described how she wasn’t kept informed by the head of the Mossad after he left for an urgent meeting with a major intelligence source ahead of the war, and that news from Military Intelligence on Friday at 5:30 a.m. that the Syrians were planning to attack only reached her later.

Established in November 1973, the Agranat Commission focused on the intelligence in the hands of the military in the days leading up the war and the decisions the civilian and military leadership made in regard to the intelligence, as well as the readiness of the IDF at the time.

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