Yadlin: Lessons of 1973 war can be used by both hawks and doves on Iran nuclear issue

Former IDF Intel chief speaks on 40th anniversary of war.

Amos Yadlin 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Amos Yadlin 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 diplomacy.
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 conflict altogether.
“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 war.
Also at the conference, former chief of staff Lt.-Gen.
(res.) 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 spot.
“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 victory.”
Zeira explained that this feeling of shame was present in Egyptian literature but did not play into the Israeli military’s intelligence assessments.
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.
In addition 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, he said.
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 canal.
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 space.
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.
He briefly 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 policy.”
“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....
Transmission 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 equipment.
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.