Academic journal article Jewish Political Studies Review

Intelligence Failure or Paralysis?

Academic journal article Jewish Political Studies Review

Intelligence Failure or Paralysis?

Article excerpt

There was no shortage of intelligence, nor was there a lack of intelligence alerts about the Yom Kippur War. The reasons for the famous mechdal (Israel's lack of preparedness for the war) should be judged in the context of the 1973 conditions and not according to "what if..." questions. The reasons are, first, the unhealthy mixture of the military top echelon with the political leadership, which prevented the chief of staff from carrying out the appropriate military preparations on October 6, 1973. The second reason for the mechdal was a successful disinformation operation conducted by the Russians and their Arab allies. The third and main reason was the Israeli fear of "losing" the Americans-an outcome, the Israelis anticipated, of the struggle for the freedom of Soviet Jewry. For the Israeli public the war was a surprise; not for the political leadership.

Was it a mistake, or paralysis ? And if the latter, what were the causes ? It seems that the great shock of the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, at about two in the afternoon on October 6, 1973, has framed our basic understanding of the subject. It came as a surprise, but who was to blame if not Military Intelligence and its chief, Major General Eli Zeira? Nearly forty years have elapsed since the fateful moment when the Yom Kippur War broke out. It is now fitting to reexamine some of the "conventional wisdom," which over the years many have accepted uncritically.

For the other more important figures in the elite circle of decision-makers this paradigm provided a simple solution. Indeed they were surprised. "We didn't believe Sadat was capable of surprising us," Chief of Staff David Elazar ("Dado") told the Agranat Commission.

But the historical evidence that has gradually emerged over the years suggests a much more complex story behind that particular October surprise. The Israeli leadership in 1973 had no lack of intelligence information. Nor were there problems of internal communication within the elite circle of decision-makers, although they did cause a loss of precious time under extreme pressure, a decisive cause of the fiasco.

Another way of sidestepping the main issue takes the form of the narrative that developed over the years, namely, that the Israeli leadership, mainly Prime Minister Golda Meir, did not seize the opportunity to make peace with Sadat's Egypt. One important achievement ofZaki Shalom and Boaz Wentick's book, The Yom Kippur War: The War lhat Could Have Been Avoided} is to shatter this myth once and for all. The authors repeatedly make clear that the initiatives of Secretary of State William Rogers and UN envoy Gunnar Jarring-those two mythological figures in the memory of the 1960s and 1970s generation-were based on the formula of "territories for nonbelligerency," but not including a formal peace agreement. That is, they were in sharp opposition to the Meir government s policy from the Six Day War to the Yom Kippur War, whereby, in return for withdrawal from territories conquered in 1967, Israel would receive a peace treaty achieved through direct negotiations.

In some ways this small book is almost a political history of the pre-Yom Kippur War years. It reminds us that a full history of that war has yet to be written. Two professional researchers who participated in the investigations of the war, back in 1973 and 1974, told this writer about the void in the war's historiography. One of them said there is still material that, once exposed, will change how the Israeli public views the war. The other said simply that the book about the Yom Kippur War has yet to be written, without endorsing the stance that new revelations will alter our perspective.

The author of the present article, while carrying out research for a book on the Yom Kippur War, uncovered and rediscovered new historical information, particularly in the correspondence of ambassador Simcha Dinitz with Prime Minister Golda Meir, which was effectively the main channel of communication between Washington and Jerusalem. …

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