Declassified Yom Kippur war papers reveal failures

Shortcomings include failure to pass on warning of imminent war from a Mossad handler, erroneous IDF intelligence assessments.

Golda Meir, Ariel Sharon walk in Sinai in 1973 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout )
Golda Meir, Ariel Sharon walk in Sinai in 1973 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout )
Newly declassified documents released by the IDF archives have revealed serious shortcomings leading up to the surprise attack by Egypt and Syria on Israel at the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
The shortcomings include a failure to pass on a warning of imminent war from the Mossad handler of Ashraf Marwan – the son-in-law of then- Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser – who allegedly spied on behalf of Israel.
According to the documents, the Mossad handler sent an urgent telegram from London to Alfred Eini, an aide to then-Mossad chief Zvi Zamir, a day and a half before the outbreak of the war, with an urgent demand to meet with Zamir.
Eini later told the Agranat Commission (set up after the war to investigate what went wrong) that he had understood the telegram to be “a warning over the start of war,” and decided to wake up Zamir in the middle of the night.
Zamir, in turn, said he would travel to London the following morning.
During a subsequent call between the two men, Zamir informed Eini that Military Intelligence had reported that Soviet scientists were making preparations to flee Syria, a fact Eini felt further confirmed the telegram warning. Eini went on to tell the Agranat Commission that he felt Zamir hadn’t fully understood the significance of his warning during their first conversation.
“I told the head of the Mossad that what Military Intelligence told him fit well with what I had told him, and then it became clear to me that the head of the Mossad had not understood my first message to him sufficiently,” Eini told the commission. “In other words, he was half asleep, it seems, and he didn’t understand that what I told him really speaks of a warning of war.”
When members of the commission asked Eini why the warning had not been passed on to the government immediately, he said that was the task of Military Intelligence. He did eventually reach then-prime minister Golda Meir’s military secretary by phone, the day after receiving the warning, and hours before the attack.
But the message failed to get the government to go on full alert in time.
Other documents from the commission reveal that that the IDF had assumed – just before the attack – that no war was likely for the next two years.
Testimony given by former OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen.
(res.) Shmuel Gonen mentioned a secret document – a guide for Israeli soldiers on the southern front – instructing them to be on the lookout for 14 signs as indicators that an attack was imminent.
One of the signs was the deployment of Egyptian special forces on the front lines.
Gonen told the commission that none of the signs were apparent prior to Egypt’s attack.
That testimony led one of the commission members, former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Yigal Yadin, to raise concerns that the classified document had fallen into Egyptian hands.
Further testimony from former OC Northern Command Maj.- Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Hofi revealed that he had received a phone warning passing on intelligence of a possible Syrian attack on October 2, four days before the outbreak of war.
“We tried to verify this with [IDF] General Staff... and they didn’t know anything about this issue there. Afterward, there was an evaluation that this was nothing,” Hofi told the commission.
Hofi added that “there was some sort of error in massing on the information inside Military Intelligence, and as a result, Military Intelligence did not know, and slept soundly.”
The testimony showed that IDF lookouts had also noticed unusual Syrian deployments on the Golan Heights throughout the summer and fall of 1973, but the observations failed to raise alarm.
Hofi was, however, praised by the committee for taking a broad range of steps to prepare for a surprise attack, including a sped-up means to call reserves to the front lines, and the fortification of the border with Syria.
Alleged Egyptian spy Marwan was found dead in London in 2008 after falling from his hotel balcony, in what many believe to have been an Egyptian-ordered assassination.