Israel's Surprise In 1973 (Should It Have Happened?) CSC 1984 SUBJECT AREA History ISRAEL'S SURPRISE IN 1973 (Should It Have Happened?) Submitted to The Marine Corps Command and Staff College Quantico, Virginia In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements for Written Communications Major A. H. Dank United States Marine Corps April 1, 1984 ISRAEL'S SURPRISE IN 1973 (Should It Have Happened?) Outline Thesis sentence: Although the military intelligence data (for the forthcoming surprise attack) was perceived, the political analysis of those facts was erroneous. I. Introduction: Israel's excellent military intelligence organization readily spotted the indica- tors of the Arab plan to attack. II. The indicators were clear and numerous A. Massing of Syrian armor, artillery and air defenses B. Unusual activity along the Suez Canal C. Stockpiling of supplies III. The Israeli intelligence analysis system was dominated by military intelligence A. The lack of political analysis B. Israel's reliance on "the concept" IV. A number of Arab distractions/deceptions hindered Israel's analysis of the developing situation A. The Schonau Raid by terrorists in Austria occupied the Israeli mind B. Subtle masking by Egypt and Syria of their intentions V. Conclusion: The surprise should not have occurred, as properly coordinated political and military analysis of the situation should have fore- cast the imminence of the attack. The commencement of hostilities by Egypt and Syria on Yom Kippur, 6 October 1973, at approximately 1400, took Israeli's Defense Forces by surprise. Until the early morning hours of the same day, the leadership of both the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israeli government did not conclude that a large-scale war was about to start. Further, on the morning of 6 October, when it was readily apparent to them that the war would break out, the Supreme Command mis- takenly assumed that the actual fighting would start at 1800. Why was Israel surprised to the shocking extent it was, and could this surprise have been avoided? With the assistance of hindsight, and noting that hindsight is almost always divine, it becomes clear that the surprise could have been obviated. The raw intelligence data was available, and it was indeed perceived by Israel, perhaps all too clearly. The great mistake made, the great failure, was in the gravely erroneous analysis of that intelligence data by Israeli Military Intelligence, as to the true intent of Egypt and Syria in the weeks preceding the start of the war. Strategic warning is of vital concern to all nations, and is an especial concern to Israel owing to both the hostility of her neighbors, and the geographic realities of her location. The initial successes of the Egyptians and the Syrians show that in spite of having generally excellent and timely vital warning intelligence, it is quite possible for a nation to ignore it due to preconceived and unrealistic attitudes. The preparations for a crossing of the Suez Canal by the Egyptians were massive, methodical, and relatively difficult to conceal. The huge amount of Soviet supply sup- port was equally massive and visible. The heaviest post- World War II rail movements in Eastern Europe moved Warsaw Pact equipment to Black Sea ports, for further shipment to Egyptian and Syrian ports. Nevertheless, the senior officials of the Israeli government simply would not believe that the Egyptians and Syrians were going to attack. (4:13) In September 1973, to most observers worldwide, it ap- peared that the Arabs, having been defeated by Israel in 1948, 1956, and 1967, and torn by both internal and external political instability, were incapable of uniting in order to direct their energies against Israel. Further, to most ob- servers, their sabre-rattling appeared to be more of the same old rhetoric, directed more for the satisfaction of their own populace, than towards their actual enemy. Israel was still firmly in control of the territories seized in 1967, and their grip on those territories was ap- parently being strengthened by the ongoing settlement policy. To the government in Jerusalem, the primary danger to Israel was most clearly the Palestinian Fedayeen extremist groups who hijacked aircraft, took hostages, and in general, con- ducted acts of terrorism. To Israel, the real threat was from the Fedayeen and not the regular armed forces of its Arab foes. In retrospect, the Israeli focus was not in the right direc- tion. They were thinking small and narrow, when they should have been thinking large and wide-based threat. (7:11) On 21 September Egypt began to recall some reservists, some leaves were cancelled, as were certain training courses. All of this was no real departure by Egypt from prior prepa- rations before large-scale training exercises. However, there were some subtle distinctions at this time from earlier exer- cises. Special commando units were deployed, without any fanfare, to new locations, and almost all communications, both into and out of military headquarters in Cairo, suddenly were shifted from radio to field telephone. Further, full division-sized units were maneuvering near the Canal for the first time, Also observed was the stockpiling of ammunition by the Egyptians to a far greater degree than ever before. Within the week before the war started, Israeli intel- ligence noted that a strange exodus had started in Syria and Egypt. Russian Aeroflot airliners began departing from their regular Middle East runs, and from some European routes as well, to suddenly land in Cairo and Damascus and begin on- loading Soviet military advisers and civilian experts, together with their families, and then depart for the Soviet Union. Until these flights began, nothing was known of any Arab decision to suddenly expel the advisers and civilian experts. Egypt and Syria, as part of their plans for war, decided to utilize a "cry wolf" strategy by deliberate action over the several months preceding the war. They would repeatedly move entire divisions, in battle formation, with appropriate air cover, to the borders with Israel. The Egyptians were particularly effective with the deception, as their pattern of movement suggested that while large for- mations were approaching the Canal in the daytime, they were turning westward into Egypt at the conclusion of each day's training. Further, a great deal of night training seemed to be taking place with a great show of flashing lights and flares to be seen by Israeli observers on the eastern bank of the Canal. Also, the Israelis easily monitored a great deal of radio traffic on a large number of nets, which revealed the status of the exercises from start to conclusion. The Israelis did not know that the Egyptians had a very compre- hensive network of buried telephone cable for use during the war without fear of message interception by the Israelis. The effect of this would be either to force Israel into the very expensive option of mobilizing her large reserve forces, or get Israel so used to such actions by the Egyptians, that no mobilization of her reserve forces would readily occur. Regardless of Israel's reaction, or lack of reaction, the eventual advantage went to the Arabs, as was clear on the early afternoon of 6 October 1973. The date selected for the attack itself was the holiest of Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur, which happened to coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which no Muslim country would be expected to start major hostilities. At almost the last minute, Israeli attention was dis- tracted by the actions of Palestinian terrorists, the Syrian- based Saiqua, in Vienna. On September 28, a train carrying Russian Jewish emigrants was hijacked, hostages were taken, and it was demanded that Schonau Castle be closed. The Castle was used by the Austrian government as a transit camp for Russian Jews who had just been permitted to leave Russia prior to emigrating to the west. Many of these emigrees were bound for Israel. The Austrian government's very quick and seemingly willing compliance with the terrorists' demands for closure of this transit camp, caused a great deal of concern in Israel during the first week in October. The terrorist action attracted an almost inordinate amount of attention from the Israeli government. There were numerous other deception measures conducted by the Egyptians: on October 2, it was announced in Al Ahram, a semi-official newspaper, that lists were open for Army of- ficers who wanted to make a pilgimage to Mecca; on October 6, a number of government ministers were out of the country on state business, to include the economic minister who was in London, the commerce minister who was in Spain, the minister of information who was in Libya, and the acting foreign mini- ster who was in Austria. Notable events planned for the future included the arrival of a Royal Air Force Comet trans- port, which was due to fly from Cyprus, in order to test the airfields at Abu Simbal and Luxor, for the upcoming visit by Princess Margaret, and on October 8, the defense minister of Rumania was scheduled to visit with Egyptian defense officials. Another area where the Israelis were deceived was the Arab interest in diplomacy. There were reports, on August 19, that Egypt planned to initiate a diplomatic drive against Israel within the next month. By the end of September, rep- resentatives of several Arab countries had met with the United States Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, in order to dis- cuss the procedures for negotiations. Further, it was agreed that the Secretary of State should meet with Israeli officials during November to discuss the same subject. (7:43) Israel had become so overconfident in its military abilities, relative to Egypt and Syria, that it was almost contemptuous of the Arabs and their military abilities. On 9 August 1973, in a lecture to the Israeli Army Staff College entitled "Transition from War to Peace", Defense Minister Moshe Dayan said, "The overall balance of forces is in our favour. Our military superiority is the dual outcome of Arab weakness and our strength. Their weakness stems from factors that will not change soon... low level of their soldiers educations, technology and integrity... division among the Arabs... and the decisive weight of extreme nationalism." (7:51) On October 1st and 3rd, Israeli Army Lieutenant Benjamin Siman-Tov, an intelligence officer with the forces near the Suez Canal, submitted a number of reports to his immediate superior, Lieutenant Colonel David Gedaliah, the senior intelligence officer of the Southern Command. These reports noted that Egyptian moves were not consistent with a mere exercise, and assessed the moves to be part of an elab- orate deception plan, such plan being a prelude to a major attack. At such a relatively low rank, he had no status or automatic credibility. Further, he did hedge his predic- tion somewhat, saying that the Egyptian exercise was only a possible cover for attack. Not surprisingly, Siman-Tov's reports were stopped from going higher than the Southern Command headquarters because they were contradictory to the view of IDF headquarters, that an attack was not forthcoming. While the Southern Command did go on partial alert on October 2, the General Staff ordered that the alert be relaxed two days later. On October 3, the large buildup and move- ment of Egyptian forces was explained to Prime Minister Golda Meir as probably being part of the usual annual maneuvers. Similar maneuvers, at least to most observers, had been held in September by the Egyptians for the previous ten years. The main aspect of Egypt's deception plan was actually directed against the Egyptian armed forces themselves. Not until the day of the actual attack across the Canal did the Egyptian soldier learn that this was not just another train- ing exercise. Some eighteen Egyptian colonels and lieu- tenant colonels were captured during the war and were in- terrogated by Israeli military intelligence. Four learned on October 4 that war was imminent, one was told on October 5, and the thirteen others were not told until the morning of October 6th itself. So not only had the Egyptians effect- tively misled the Israelis, they quite effectively deceived the vast majority of their own armed forces as well, as to their actual intentions relative to going to war. Syrian deception, in covering their troop concentrations on the Golan Heights, was unwittingly aided by the Israelis themselves. On September 13, a large air battle took place between Israeli and Syrian planes over the Mediterranean. Thirteen Syrian planes were shot down, and the Israelis anticipated that in order to save face, the Syrians would retaliate in one form or another. Accordingly, the large Syrain troop concentrations near the Golan Heights were in- terpreted as being part of a forthcoming Syrian reprisal, as well as being a defensive move against a possible counter- reprisal by Israel. The Syrians seemed to have made the most out of this situation, as they gave the Israelis the impres- sion that all troop concentrations on the border were merely defensive in nature. Although the story of the Israeli intelligence failure may never be fully known, the component parts of this failure were documented in the Interim Report of the Agranat Commis- sion of Inquiry which was published in April 1974. This five- man commission, which was headed by the President of Israel's Supreme Court, Dr. S. Agranat, and included two former Chiefs of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, was appointed by the government to fix responsibility, both civilian and military, for the obvious and tragic failure to anticipate the attack. The Commission indicates three reasons why the intelli- gence analysts failed, as indeed they did, to predict that the Arabs were about to launch a massive two-front attack. First was their adherence to "the concept". "The concept" rested on two basic assumptions: that Egypt would not go to war until she was able to stage effective deep air strikes into Israel, in order to neutralize the Israeli Air Force; and that Syria would not launch a full-scale war against Israel by itself (i.e. without Egypt). This "concept" may have been valid at the time of its formation immediately after the 1967 war. However, its first part, the most important, was never reevaluated in the light of the significant military and political changes in the region. In addition, Israeli Military Intelligence failed to correctly evaluate the extensive intelligence data that had been collected by various agencies. Owing to the rigid adherence to "the concept", and the readiness to easily and conveniently explain away the Egyptian and Syrian front-line deployments as being evidence of a mere defensive move by Syria, and a large-scale training exercise in Egypt, the IDF's Chief of Military Intelligence failed in his most basic task: to provide adequate strategic warning of an impending Arab attack. In this milieu, "adequate" means sufficient to either mobilize the reserves, or to preemptively attack. In spite of all the tactical indicator activity along the Suez Canal, and to a lesser extent along the Golan front with Syria, reliance upon "the concept" seemingly blinded Israel to the imminence of the dangers facing her. Even the CIA was influenced albeit indirectly, by the adherence of the Israeli government to "the concept". For years, the United States had relied rather heavily upon the Israelis to provide intelligence in the Middle East. Although the CIA was very likely to conduct its own analysis of the information received from the Israelis, this analysis would usually be heavily flavored by Israeli reporting. When, on October 4th, Henry Kissinger met Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban in Washington, the question of an imminent Arab attack was quickly dealt with. They both agreed that the latest intelligence each had seen was of a reassuring character. Neither realized that they were speaking to each other on the basis of the exact same information, prepared and submitted by the same people in Israeli intelligence. In essence, Kissinger and Eban were speaking from the very same (intelligence) script, although, in fairness, each was oblivious to the fact at the time. There most assuredly was an intelligence failure in the weeks preceding the outbreak of war on October 6, 1973. The Israeli intelligence community, whose responsibility it was to produce finished intelligence, did not perceive the growing possibility of an Arab attack and, accordingly, did not provide warning of its imminence. That the information provided by those parts of the intelligence community responsible for the collection of raw and unevaluated intelligence data was more than adequate to trigger such a warning, cannot be denied. Critical errors in the analysis of this data are what allowed a surprise of such magnitude to occur. Certain basic conceptions swayed the analysts' attentions toward political indications that the Araba were bent on finding non-violent means to achieve their objectives, and away from indications that military means would soon be employed. The failure by the Israelis to anticipate the Arab on- slaught on October 6,1973, owed less to Arab deception, although this did play an important role, than to unrealistic reliance on strategic preconceptions that weakened the per- ception of the ample number or tactical indicators. (1:7,8) In retrospect, the failure of General Zeira, the chief of Israeli Military Intelligence, was the ultimate failure of a military intelligence officer. He had promised, however foolishly that seems now, the general staff and the government, that he would always be able to deliver at least forty-eight hours notice of a large-scale Arab attack. As the Agranat Commission later determined, all he gave was ten hours notice, such an interval being far too short a warning period to al- low for effective mobilization. Not surprisingly, military intelligence, after the war and the resultant soul-searching that occurred, had to pay. Four officers lost their jobs. The verdict of the Agranat Commission on General Zeira was that "in view of his grave failure, he could not continue in his post as Chief of Mililitary Intelligence". Zeira's deputy, Brigadier General Aryeh Shalev, Lieutenant Colonel Yona Bendman, the officer in charge of the Egyptian desk, and Lieutenant Colonel David Gedaliah, chief intelligence officer of the Southern Command, were also dismissed. Lieutenant Benjamin Siman-Tov, was spot-promoted to Captain immediately after the war, and still serves in the Israeli Defense Forces as a senior officer. (3:236) In the final analysis, the Israelis really deceived themselves into believing that war simply could not occur at that time. Their rigid adherence to "the concept", their faith in their own military deterent power, their unwillingness to believe that the Arabs could take such a great risk, and most of all, perhaps, their wishful thinking, holding out hope against hope that no war would start, all contributed to the shattering surprise on 6 October 1973. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Agranat Commission, "Press Release Issued by the Commis- sion of Inquiry -- Yom Kippur War upon Submission of Its Third and Final Report to the Government and the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee of the Knesset on 30 January 1975" (Jerusalem: Government Press Office, January 1975), pp. 7-8,18. 2. Herzog, Chaim. The War of Atonement: October 1973. Little, Brown and Co. (1975). 3. Herzog, Chaim. The Arab-Israeli Wars. Random House (1982). 4. Hotz, Robert. "The Lessons of October." Aviation Week and Space Technology, December 3,1973, p.13. 5. Insight Team of the London Sunday Times. The Yom Kippur War. Doubleday and Co. (1974). 6. Monroe, Elizabeth and A.H. Farrar-Hockley. The Arab- Israeli War, October 1973, Background and Events. Adelphi Papers #III. (Winter 1974-75). 7. O'Ballance, Edgar. No Victor, No Vanquished. Presidio Press (1978), pp. 11, 43, 51. 8. Schiff, Zeev. October Earthquake: Yom Kippur 1973. University Press (1974).
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