Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Missing Signal

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Missing Signal

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "The 'Special Means of Collection'" by Uri Bar-Joseph, in The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2013.

ON OCTOBER 6, 1973--YOM KIPPUR, THE Jewish "Day of Atonement"--Egyptian and Syrian forces launched surprise attacks on Israeli positions in the Sinai Peninsula and along the Golan Heights, on Israel's contested border with Syria. With many Israeli soldiers observing the holy day away from their posts, the invaders made quick gains. The vaunted Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were sent reeling. Though they eventually beat back the offensive, success came at the cost of more than 8,000 Israeli casualties, as well as the confident assumption that the still-young country was prepared for anything.

Since its victory in the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel had been waiting for such an attack, and military and political leaders, including Prime Minister Golda Meir, were sure they could anticipate such a strike at least 48 hours ahead of time. After the war, citizens and politicians alike were left wondering, what happened?

"Forty years after it was first asked, the question still haunts the Israeli public," says Uri Bar-Joseph, a professor of international relations at Haifa University, Israel. Writing in The Middle East Journal, he argues that Israel's leaders were betrayed by their faith in technology, in the form of a still-secret tool called the "special means of collection."

The Agranat Commission, convened after the war to investigate the failure, placed most of the blame at the feet of Aman, Israel's military intelligence department, which was then the nation's only source of intelligence analysis. According to the commission, Aman analysts and higher-ups clung with a "persistent adherence" to their assumption that Egypt wouldn't go to war until it gained long-range fighter planes capable of destroying the Israeli Air Force, and Scud missiles to deter an Israeli strike deep into Egypt. The Agranat Commission's conclusions led to the dismissal of the IDF's chief of staff, David Elazar, and the head of Aman, Major General Eli Zeira.

In 1993, Zeira published his own account, blaming the Mossad, the Israeli agency in charge of foreign espionage. He claimed the agency was duped by its top spy in Egypt--a close adviser to Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, Ashraf Marwan, who was actually a double agent.

But most intelligence officers dismiss this account, saying Marwan did warn the Mossad. Bar-Joseph writes that "the wealth of information that has become available in recent years" makes it plain that Prime Minister Meir and other top leaders had "ample warnings" of a strike, but chose to disregard evidence from the Mossad and other sources. …

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