Declassified Yom Kippur War papers reveal new insights into '73 intel units

Protocols highlight debates, failures.

October 5, 2014 06:38
3 minute read.

IDF chief of staff Lt.- Gen. David Elazar . (photo credit: ARCHIVE)


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Declassified protocols of the Agranat Commission on the October 1973 Yom Kippur War unveil previously undisclosed information regarding the IDF intelligence community’s debates and failures.

The Sunday releases focus on testimony by six mostly high-up IDF intelligence officials, some of whom have not been publicly scrutinized before, while others have come up in prior releases, but are now the subject of some of these declassified documents.

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The six are: Lt.-Col. (res.) Yonah Bendman, head of the IDF’s Egypt intelligence desk; Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yoel Ben-Porat, head of IDF electronic signal intelligence unit 848; Lt.- Col. (res.) Yosef Zeira, head of the IDF’s double agents espionage unit and nephew of much criticized former IDF intelligence head Eliyahu Zeira; Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avraham Luntz, head of IDF Naval Intelligence; Maj. Gen. (res.) Shlomo Inbar, an IDF officer in electronic communications; and Maj.- Gen. (res.) Shmuel Gonen, former head of the Southern Command.

The Agranat Commission was the government inquiry commission that investigated the failures of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, generally focusing on who to blame for Israel being surprised and initially overrun by Egyptian and Syrian forces.

It held IDF chief of staff Lt.- Gen. David Elazar broadly responsible for the IDF’s lack of preparedness and recommended his removal.

The commission also called for the removal of IDF head of intelligence Eliyahu Zeira, and his deputy, Arye Shalev.

The IDF’s initial failures and the report’s findings were so explosive that it led to former prime minister Golda Meir’s resignation.

Former defense minister Moshe Dayan escaped official scrutiny, but his prestige was permanently tarnished and he was excluded from Yitzhak Rabin’s government, which replaced Meir’s administration.

The released protocols delve into a level of intelligence analysis not previously matched.

Prior releases have disclosed Zeira’s intransigence in ignoring some of the intelligence warnings regarding an Egyptian attack, and stubbornly sticking to his preconceived notion that the Egyptians would not attack without significant technological upgrades, especially to their air force.

The current protocols, while maintaining the theme of an intelligence failure, paint a more complex picture.

For example, Bendman said one reason they failed to take an Egyptian troop buildup on the border seriously was because a similar build-up had occurred in May 1973, only a few months beforehand.

In that instance, the intelligence community, against some higher IDF officials’ assessments, had correctly predicted that it was a mere exercise, giving them confidence in a similar judgment this time.

Bendman said this leaning was so strong that most analysts still held this view as late as October 5, the day before the war broke out.

Ben-Porat said his unit tended to look backward at prior wars, and was not prepared for newer military challenges, such as the 1973 war.

He complained that his intelligence unit lacked a balance of soldiers who were both intelligent and proficient enough in Arabic.

In a different slant on prior accusations against IDF intelligence head Zeira, Ben-Porat said when he became more concerned about the Egyptian border and asked Zeira to call up between 100 and 150 reserves to amplify intelligence capabilities to war-footing, he refused pointblank.

Ben-Porat said Zeira’s response was that intelligence was supposed to “calm the nerves of the country, not destabilize society and the market,” adding that he would not let Ben-Porat draft “even one-quarter part of a reserve soldier.”

Furthermore, Ben-Porat reported that Zeira repeatedly disagreed with Dayan’s assessment earlier in the year that Egypt was preparing to attack.

Yosef Zeira, Eliyahu Zeira’s nephew, also described an atmosphere in intelligence of intimidating dissenting opinions, which led to his dismissal from a meeting for his unwillingness to retract an opposing point of view.

Zeira added that he was suspicious about an Egyptian attack and did not buy others’ interpretation that Egyptian troop movements were a mere exercise because of the nature of the troop movements and the amounts of armaments the troops carried.

Luntz seconded this assessment based on his observation from the naval perspective, warning then-commander of the Israel Navy, Benjamin Telem, on September 30.

Inbar and Gonen both discussed a myriad of problems with regard to their troops’ readiness and communications.

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