The king has a crown: 40 years of the masterpiece album “Sitting on the fence”

From a distance of almost fifty years, the surprise episode of the Yom Kippur War looks like something that belongs to the distant past and is mainly attributed to the negligence and opacity of the political echelon, the army commanders and the specific intelligence personnel who held the senior positions at the time.

Other approaches question the very occurrence of an authentic surprise and link the manner in which the war began to political and diplomatic considerations of the Israeli leadership and especially of Golda and Dayan. The thought that a surprise of this magnitude could happen even in the current information-rich age is seen as illogical.

The Yom Kippur War surprise did happen and is a classic case of strategic surprise. Until the fighting broke out, on October 6, 1973 at 1:50 p.m., the most senior decision makers in Israel, at the political and military levels, estimated that the likelihood of war between Israel and the Arabs was low.

The Yom Kippur War surprise did happen and is a classic case of strategic surprise. Until the fighting broke out, the most senior decision makers estimated that the likelihood of war between Israel and the Arabs was low

This assessment of the situation was based, to a large extent, on the intelligence assessment of the head of the Aman Eli Zaira and the head of the research department (today the division) at the Aman Aryeh Shalu. Both of them stuck, even very close to Yom Kippur, to their previous assessment that Egypt and Syria were not ready for war. This, despite information I had received in the days and hours before the war.

The intelligence failure is not the only reason that led to the start of the war under such bad conditions for Israel. In recent decades, it became clear that the intelligence failure was part of a much broader failure, which also included a failure of the political echelon in shaping Israeli policy before the war and a failure of the senior military echelon in the field of military thinking and army preparation.

These failures were influenced by the intelligence failure, but also influenced it. This does not diminish the intelligence failure, but it does place it in a more correct context, as part of a broad framework of factors and processes that without a deep understanding of them and the connections between them it is difficult to understand what actually happened.

The political echelon missed opportunities to prevent the war by peaceful means and perhaps also preferred, due to a mistake in assessing the balance of forces, to “accept the Egyptian fire” and not “the Egyptian political dictate to withdraw” as Dayan said in a speech before the war.

The senior military echelon did not know how to adapt the military strategy to the deep change that took place in reality after the occupation of the territories in the Six Day War and the formation of “strategic depth”, mainly in the Sinai but also in the Golan Heights. The IDF did not develop a “defensive” concept, and this state of affairs greatly influenced the events in the first days of the war. A more general atmosphere of arrogance (“euphoria”) in Israeli society and its leadership also contributed to these failures.

The war thus marked the collapse of political, military and social concepts. And yet, alongside all these, The Yom Kippur War is, first and foremost, an intelligence failure centered on an extreme gap in understanding reality. This is the biggest intelligence failure of the Israeli intelligence community which, unfortunately, is on par with the most famous intelligence failures in modern history.

The UN of 1973 failed, despite the information it had, to understand the intentions of the Egyptians and Syrians and also made a significant mistake in understanding some of their capabilities. Contrary to popular attitudes, the failure is deeper and broader than the performance of the specific officials in the period preceding the war. Focusing on their personal failure misses the important aspects and the more general of the intelligence failure.

The focus here is on the role of the intelligence and especially Amn, but the political leadership, headed by Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, was a full accomplice in this failure as well.

Today it is already clear that she was exposed to at least some of the raw information and had additional unique information that came through the channel of conversations with the Egyptian elite through American mediation. It should have formed an independent assessment of the likelihood of war and at the very least challenged the intelligence assessment. The Agrant Committee erred when it preferred to ignore this and the joint responsibility of the decision makers and the intelligence to clarify the reality and understand it.

The Yom Kippur War has its roots in the Israeli victory in the Six Day War. After the war, the issue of the return of Sinai became a top Egyptian goal. The war of attrition in 1969 and 1970 did not bring Egypt any closer to achieving this goal.

Aman understood the goal of “returning Sinai”, and at least since 1971 estimated that it was possible for Egypt to choose a military move to achieve it. However, his superiors estimated that the likelihood of this move occurring in 1973 was low.

The Agrant Committee had many shortcomings and it is very doubtful if its members were able to understand the deep causes of the intelligence failure. But they understood the main points and even understood them as a “concept”, probably due to the use of this term by the head of AMN Zaira in his testimony. This, even though some of the other AMN members denied that the concept was in use before the war.

Whether the concept was used or not, there is no doubt that the conceptual framework established in the AMAN in the years before the war did include two components: one, that Egypt would not go to war without being equipped with fighter-bomber aircraft that could attack deep within Israel and deter it; and the second, that Syria would not go to war without Egypt (an element not hidden in the war).

This intelligence assessment, which may have been correct for the time of Egyptian ruler Gamal Abdel Nasser, completely missed the fundamental change that took place in Egyptian strategy after the rise to power of his successor, Anwar Sadat.

This intelligence assessment, which may have been correct for the time of Egyptian ruler Gamal Abdel Nasser, completely missed the fundamental change that took place in Egyptian strategy after the rise to power of his successor, Anwar Sadat

In the book of Saad al-Shazali, the Egyptian Chief of Staff during the preparations for the war and the war itself (until his resignation), a discussion is described with Sadat on June 6, 1972. In this discussion, in which he received a detailed overview of the state of the Egyptian army, Sadat began to lead the process The detachment from the previous Egyptian logic.

The sentences Sadat said in this discussion are chilling, as they reflect how correct the Israeli intelligence concept was until that day. It was not an intellectual creation of elements in Israel but a correct analysis of authentic information about the moods of the Egyptian elite.

“I understand very well,” Sadat summarized what was presented to him, “he asked us to go into battle as long as we are unable to deter Israel from attacking our civilian rear” – that is, as long as our air force is unable to carry out attacks on the enemy’s rear. But, then Sadat made his leap of thought, which Aman so tragically missed.

“The problem facing us,” he told those present at the debate, “is what we should do if the political situation forces us to go to war before we have achieved this deterrence.” Posing the question in this way created a new context and allowed Sadat to move the Egyptian war machine towards the Yom Kippur War.

This is where the growing gap between the reality on the Egyptian side and the way they saw it in Israel was created. The intelligence personnel in Israel failed to understand that Sadat had in fact formulated a new strategic concept, at the center of which was the idea of ​​starting a war to achieve limited territorial objectives, compatible with the ability of the Egyptian army, which would drive the political process.

The intelligence personnel in Israel failed to understand that Sadat had in fact formulated a new strategic concept, at the center of which was the idea of ​​starting a war to achieve limited territorial objectives that would drive the political process

The very act of going to war was, in Sadat’s view, of enormous importance, far beyond the military achievements in it. It was supposed to undermine the Israeli perception of security, clarify to the Israelis the limitations of their power and shake the political status quo.

This concept was translated by the Egyptian generals into an operative idea, which emphasized the need to cross the Suez Canal and hold a relatively limited area (with a depth of about 12 to 20 km on the eastern side of the canal), as a bargaining chip for negotiations. The cooperation with Syria was intended to split the the limited Israeli resources and make it difficult to manage the war.

At the beginning of the war, the Egyptian and Syrian forces breached the border line in a wide area. The IDF, whose forces were only partially deployed before the war, was surprised and found it difficult to implement its traditional offensive concept which turned out to be irrelevant in the unique circumstances of the war. Although in the end, the IDF managed to end the war 101 kilometers from Cairo and about 40 kilometers from Damascus. But these significant military achievements did not dim the consciousness of failure and the sense of surprise.

The strongest evidence of the depth of the concept’s impact on intelligence assessment is found in the intelligence document written a day before the war, on October 5, 1973.

After dozens of articles, which described an extremely unusual deployment in the armies of Egypt and Syria, Aman stated that the Egyptian deployment was related to the exercise and that the Syrian deployment was related to the alert that resulted from the downing of Syrian planes two weeks before.

Section 40 of this compilation adheres to the concept and stated that “to the best of our assessment, there has been no change in the Egyptians’ assessment of the relationship of forces between them and the IDF forces. Therefore, the likelihood that the Egyptians intend to resume fighting is low.”

So what actually happened there? Why did Amn stick to the concept and not examine it in the face of contradictory information that arrived in 1972 and 1973? And even more, why was the concept not undermined in the days before the war?

In recent years, two relatively new explanations for this failure have prevailed. One is related to the failure to activate the intelligence “special measures” defined as Israel’s insurance certificate and the other is related to “Angel”, one of the nicknames of Mossad agent Ashraf Marwan, Nasser’s son-in-law and Sadat’s associate.

The “special measures” were eavesdropping measures that could, allegedly, intercept information that was supposed to indicate the expected war. The decision makers at the political and military level were aware of the capabilities of the measures and they constituted a significant element in their assessment of the situation.

Today, it is accepted that the measures were not used because of a decision by the head of Amn Zaira, despite the requests of his subordinates, and that he hid this decision from the decision makers (and from the Agrant Committee as well).

Today, it is accepted that the measures were not used because of a decision by the head of Amn Zaira, despite the requests of his subordinates, and that he hid this decision from the decision makers

However, it is not possible to give an unequivocal answer to the question of whether their activation would have provided the “golden knowledge” that would have led to an unequivocal warning of war. Another debate is going on about the credibility of Ashraf Marwan, who, according to Eli Zaira, was actually a double agent designed to fool Israeli intelligence and succeeded in his mission.

Without diminishing the importance of the discussion about the special measures and the possibility of the existence of a double agent, the deeper reasons for the intelligence failure are different. Both of these debates mainly teach about the problem of “blind access” that results from relying on specific sources of information for warning purposes. It refers to the very thought that a single, specific source will provide a strategic warning. A real warning, one that enables action, does not come from a specific source, but from a deep understanding of reality.

There was no such understanding. The extensive documentation that has already been published about the war makes it possible to determine that the reasons for the intelligence failure lie in a series of classic biases and distortions of perception, which caused intelligence personnel to continue to stick to the concept that served them successfully (until it collapsed).

These distortions of perception were joined by a problematic research methodology, which did not allow breaking through the boundaries of the concept, as well as deficiencies in the structure and organization of the AMN and the intelligence community. To some extent, the failure is indeed also related to problematic personality elements of the senior officials in the AMN and contempt for the enemy.

AMAN’s “success” in May 1973 also contributed to the failure, which estimated at the time that despite warning signs in Syria and Egypt, there would be no war.

Almost 50 years later, the current challenges of intelligence are fundamentally different from those faced by intelligence in 1973. The enemies are different, the characteristics of war are different, and intelligence capabilities have changed fundamentally.

But the problem that the Agrant Committee conceived as a “conception” continues to accompany the complex space between the intelligence personnel and the decision makers.

There is no real way to analyze information without a perceptual framework, that is – a conception. The dire results of the Yom Kippur War surprise are permanent evidence of the possibility that the glasses through which we observe reality can be completely wrong. The conception can be right up to a certain moment and completely wrong after that.

To avoid a failure like that of Yom Kippur, one needs to cast real doubt on the concept, examine it in a continuous process and systematically confront it with “competing options”. This is easy to say, especially in retrospect, but very difficult to do.

In order to avoid a failure like that of Yom Kippur, one must cast real doubt on the concept, examine it in a continuous process and systematically confront it with “competing options”

The reality indeed sends signs of inconsistencies between it and the conception, but people have a wonderful ability to reconcile these contradictions and adhere to the conception. The alarms at dawn on Yom Kippur 2014 made this clear to an entire generation of decision makers and intelligence personnel.

They learned that in many fields, even those about which there is a lot of information, the knowledge they have is nothing more than a set of hypotheses that need to stand up to a daily test. The days before Yom Kippur are a good time to remember this.

Posts published on Zeman Israel blogs represent their authors only. The opinions, facts and all content presented in this post are the responsibility of the blogger and Zeman Israel bears no responsibility for them. In case of a complaint, please contact us.
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