Reopened Yom Kippur War archive reveals new docs from Arganot Commission

The material released includes correspondence between the committee and the head of Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Eli Zeira who admitted "I do not shirk from this responsibility" of error.

IDF Chief of Staff consult at Northern Command HQ. From left to right: Major Gadi Zohar, Brigadier-General Yekutiel Adam, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. David “Dado” Elazar and Maj.-Gen. Eli Zeira, October 1973 (photo credit: IDF ARCHIVES, DEFENSE MINISTRY)
IDF Chief of Staff consult at Northern Command HQ. From left to right: Major Gadi Zohar, Brigadier-General Yekutiel Adam, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. David “Dado” Elazar and Maj.-Gen. Eli Zeira, October 1973
(photo credit: IDF ARCHIVES, DEFENSE MINISTRY)
The Defense Ministry has made public for the first time, intelligence material from its archives from the deliberations of the Agranat Commission which investigated the IDF’s unpreparedness for the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
The material released includes correspondence between the committee and the head of Military Intelligence during the war, Maj.-Gen. Eli Zeira, as well as a letter from Zeira’s assistant, Brig.-Gen. Arie Shalev to the committee, which stated that Zeira had instructed to delay the publication of the dramatic intelligence that was gathered on Yom Kippur night, among other details.
Brig.-Gen. Arie Shalev, April 1974 (IDF ARCHIVES, DEFENSE MINISTRY)Brig.-Gen. Arie Shalev, April 1974 (IDF ARCHIVES, DEFENSE MINISTRY)
The war that began on October 6 and ended in ceasefires on October 26th caused a national trauma, with 2,688 Israeli soldiers killed, thousands more wounded and hundreds taken as prisoners of war. The surprise attack by Egyptian and Syrian forces on two fronts on Yom Kippur 1973 has been etched in Israel’s collective memory as one of the state’s biggest failures. More than 1,000 tanks and hundreds of aircraft were destroyed or damaged.
The letter by the chairman of the commission of inquiry, Supreme Court President, Shimon Agranat, told Zeira what the commission had attributed to him in its findings. It included his failure to act and set in motion the process to recruit reservists, and to fully disclose crucial intelligence concerning the evacuation of Russian families from Syria and Egypt prior to the outbreak of hostilities, despite knowing “about Egypt’s intention to open fire soon.”
In response to the letter, Zeira accepted responsibility for not having alerted the proper government officials regarding what Egypt and Syria were planning, saying: “I did not give advance notice of the knowledge of the enemy’s intentions.”
According to the material released on Thursday, Zeira, who is now 92 years old, said that already in June 1973, the military and political echelons knew of that the state of alert in Egypt had “significantly deteriorated” and “in the 10 days prior to the outbreak of the war, the IDF and the government were given a very serious warning, but it was not final and absolute.”
Maj.-Gen. Eli Zeira, February 1973 (IDF ARCHIVES, DEFENSE MINISTRY)Maj.-Gen. Eli Zeira, February 1973 (IDF ARCHIVES, DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Another piece of newly released archive material includes a “Special Intelligence Review - Syrian Plan for the Occupation of the Golan Heights - Assessment” by the IDF’s Intelligence Division, which was classified as top secret and distributed on October 2, 1973, four days before war broke out.
The assessment opens with the following warning: “We have information that from the end of September 1973, a major Syrian attack to occupy the Golan Heights is expected. The attack seems to us to reflect an operational master plan that the Syrians have been training for throughout the year.”
The intelligence report reviews in detail the preparations of the Syrian army, but it states that “they (the Syrians) are far from assessing that they can successfully carry out an attack on the Golan Heights alone, because of their overall weakness, especially in the air” and that “the Syrians are a condition for achieving significant military success on their part.“
One of the points of contention between the Agranat Commission and Zeira concerned another intelligence report received on the eve of the war, on October 5, at 4:45 PM which stated that the Syrians said Soviet diplomats and their families were being sent back to the Soviet Union.
A four-sentence “Golden” communique, parts of which remain classified, firmly indicated that an assault on Israel by Syria and Egypt was imminent.
“It is known to us [redacted] that Syria is expelling the Soviet experts and that the planes have begun taking them from Damascus to Moscow. Those same sources say that even the families of Soviet diplomats have started to arrive from Damascus. The sources add that the Syrians explained the expulsion as being because Egypt and Syria intend to go to war against Israel and that they are therefore being expelled. For your information,” it read.
The Intelligence Division subsequently compiled an urgent report but despite being defined as urgent, it was not seen by Prime Minister Golda Meir and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. David Elazar until the following day at 6.35 am, a few hours before the war began.
Although Zeira claimed that he did not remember whether he delayed the publication of the report, Shalev stated that Zeira had given instructions to do so.
“After Col. [Gideon] Gera [assistant chief of research] read it verbatim to the head of Military Intelligence, the head of Military Intelligence ordered the delay and in the meantime did not distribute it,” he wrote.
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Dr. Shimon Agranat, August 1976 (IDF ARCHIVES, DEFENSE MINISTRY)Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Dr. Shimon Agranat, August 1976 (IDF ARCHIVES, DEFENSE MINISTRY)
In another letter to the Commission, Zeira addressed the claim saying that “in retrospect...we did not evaluate the news as adding anything to the existing assessment, and we may have hoped to receive more significant news soon.”
In the correspondence with Arganat, Zeira said that in regard to the division of responsibility between the military and political echelons, that “the responsibility applies at least as much, if not more, to the political echelon, which was an active partner in the misjudgment.”
Nevertheless, Zeira took personal responsibility for the failures, writing that “indeed I consider myself a partner in the responsibility for erring in the assessment of the enemy’s intentions. I do not shirk this responsibility and the mistakes that I made will live with me all my life.”
Military Intelligence was faulted for failing to sound the alarm in time about the movements of enemy forces, leading to the resignation of Zeira and several other senior commanders, chief among them was Elazar, who resigned after the Agranat Commission published its interim findings in April 1974.