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Yom Kippur War:  Grand Deception Or Intelligence Blunder
AUTHOR Major Rodney C. Richardson, USMC
CSC 1991
                        EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
YOM KIPPUR WAR: Grand Deception or Intelligence Blunder
     The Israeli Intelligence community has historically
been one of the most aggressive and successful intelligence
networks in the world.  With the aforementioned having world
consensus, how were the Arabs able to launch a surprise
attack against Israel on 6 October 1973?
     Since 1967, the Arabs had been busy planning and
preparing for an attack on Israel.  Additionally, the Arabs
had incorporated the fine use of deception, denial, and
disinformation to disguise their deadly intent.  In
contrast, Israel had been lulled into a sense of security
and laxity.  Much of the Israeli hierarchy believed that the
Arabs were not prepared for war and if they did foolishly
attack, Israel could quickly defeat them as was the case in
the 1967, Six Day War.  Additionally, Israel's focus on
their future adversary was distracted due to internal
problems in the intelligence community, funding cutbacks,
and an immediate need to respond to terrorists activities.
     Although numerous indicators outlined the Arabs
intentions, it was only hours before the actual invasion
that Prime Minister Mier agreed to a partial mobilization of
the Israeli Defense Force.
     The surprise attack was a result of actions from both
sides.  The Arab's intense preparation and keen use of
deception, denial, and disinformation were certainly factors
in their initial success.  The Israelis were able to be
surprised because of widespread problems in the intelligence
community, the lack of perception in identifying the Arab's
intentions, the allowance for distractors to take them away
from their real enemy, and the high regard for their own
military ability.
                                YOM KIPPUR WAR:
                   Grand Deception or Intelligence Blunder?
Thesis Statement.  The blinding self-confidence that
permeated the Israeli Intelligence community and military
hierarchy ideally set the stage for the Arab invasion of 6
October, 1973.
I.     Israeli Intelligence Community
       A.  Mossad
       B.  Modin
       C.  Shabak
       D.  Shin Bet
       E.  Foreign Ministry Research Department
II.    The Concept
       A.  Arabs not prepared for war
       B.  Bar Lev Line
       C.  Arabs incapable
       D.  Quick defeat
III.   Internal problems in the Intelligence Community
       A.  Changes recommended in 1963
       B.  Appointment of General Zeira as DMI
       C.  Internal stagnation
IV.    Intelligence indicators
       A.  Annual maneuvers
       B.  Reserves activated and leaves canceled
       C.  Training courses canceled
       D.  Communications systems modified
       E.  Drills conducted
       F.  Stockpiling of military and civilian goods
V.     Israeli distractions
       A.  Funding cutbacks
       B.  Formation of new group
       C.  Focus on terrorism
VI.    Israeli mobilization
       A.  May mobilization
       B.  Leaders credibility
       C.  Election and holiday approaching
VII.   Final indicators
       A.  Mossad obtains Arab's battle plan
       B.  Dayan receives call from informant
       C.  Intelligence intercepts telephone calls
VIII.  The decision
YOM  KIPPUR WAR: Grand Deception or Intelligence Blunder
     In the complex world of the international
intelligence, it seems nearly impossible that one country
could be so deadly surprised by an attack and subsequent
invasion of a neighboring country.  The long term
preparation and deception by one country coupled with the
blinding self-confidence that permeated the intelligence
network and military hierarchy of the other, ideally set
the stage for the October 6, 1973, war between the Arabs
and the Israelis.  One question asked during the attack,
after the war, and is still being asked today.  How was
the Israeli Intelligence Community so keenly surprised by
the Arabs?
     The Israeli intelligence network historically has
been one of the most aggressive and successful networks
in the world.  The tradition, Israelis say, goes back to
the Bible when Moses sent twelve men to ". . . spy out
the land of Canaan . . . and see the land . . . and the
people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or
weak, few or many."  The intelligence network has been an
effective force from its conception to the remarkable
Jewish espionage service that operated in Palestine on
behalf of the British during World War I and through the
activities of the services today. (10:XX)
     The Israeli intelligence is divided into five main
branches.  The oldest agency is the Mossad, the Secret
Intelligence Service-as Israelis, following British
usage, sometimes call it.  The next agency, Military
Intelligence of Modin, is the only agency task with
analyzing and evaluating internationally collected
information.  The third agency, the Shabak, deals
primarily with counterespionage.  The fourth, Shin Bet,
is similar to the FBI and deals with internal security.
The fifth branch of Israeli intelligence is the Foreign
Ministry Research Department. (4:66)
     With the paralleling interest and pre-eminent world
wide performance by the different branches of the Israeli
intelligence community, one question remains.  How were
the Egyptians able to deceive the Israeli intelligence
network prior to the Yom Kippur War?
     The Egyptians' use of deception, denial and
disinformation were certainly a determining factor in
their success.  These elements combined with the
Israelis' attitudes, distractions, and internal
intelligence problems allowed the Arabs to conduct a
national level, surprise attack unequaled since Operation
Barbarossa in 1941, when German armies attacked the
Soviet Union. (10:295)
     The Israeli intelligence services developed a theory
called The Concept.  Although not an original product of
General Eli Zeira, the Chief of Military Intelligence, he
supported it and convinced others of its validity.  The
theory stated the Arabs were not ready for an all out war
with Israel and would not attack until they could
simultaneously attack all Israeli airfields.  Israeli
estimations indicated that this would not be possible
until at least 1975 when Egypt would have an adequate
number of pilots and aircraft.  Secondly, the Israelis
felt that their series of defensive positions along the
Suez Canal, called the Bar-Lev Line, would restrain any
attacker for the period it would take to mobilize their
forces.  This obsession drastically affected the
Israelis' political and military decision making.
Thirdly, the Israelis were convinced that as a result of
the decisive victory in the 1967 war, the Arabs would not
launch a conventional attack until enormous stockpiles of
weapons and equipment were on hand.  This belief was
reinforced by the idea that the Arabs were not capable of
planning and executing any type of military endeavor
other than guerrilla warfare.  Lastly, the entire Israeli
establishment felt that if the Arabs made the mistake of
launching an attack against Israel, they would be quickly
defeated as in 1967.
     The Israeli attitude toward the Arabs was clearly
reflected by Major General Zeira, Director of Military
Intelligence (DMI), during an interview in the spring of
1973.  General Zeira stated,
     . . . I discount the likelihood of a conventional
     Arab attack. The biggest problem Israeli
     intelligence faces is to underestimate what we're up
     against, but an equally big risk is that we would
     overestimate (and thus over-react).  They (Arab
     leadership) have their own logic.  Thus we have to
     look hard for evidence of their real intentions in
     the field -otherwise, with the Arabs, all you have
     is rhetoric.  Too many Arab leaders have intentions
     which far exceed their capabilities. (1:47)
     The complacency of the leaders coupled with the
internal structure of the intelligence community courted
failure.  The controversial appointment of General Ziera
as DMI was a major concern of many high-ranking Israeli
leaders, both political and military.  Ziera's unwavering
conviction to The Concept altered or totally squashed
many key indicators as to Egyptian intentions.  Since
military intelligence was the only agency that had the
capability to evaluate collected facts, it was easy for
Ziera to form and present only those items that supported
his thinking.  General Ziera had sole responsibility for
determining the reasons for the Arab build up.
     As far back as 1963, numerous recommendations had
been made to reorganize the dangerously inflexible
intelligence community.  As a result of bureaucratic
hostility within the agencies and funding cutbacks, these
modifications were never implemented.  Ten years later
the system was even more vulnerable to mistakes derived
from preconceptions or vested interest.  Organized along
strict military lines where no civilians were employed,
rank was meticulously observed.  A number of senior
officers had been assigned to the same job for six or
seven years.  This stagnation of personnel tended to
present the same line of thinking with no outside
opinions to check or contradict evaluations levied by the
hierarchy. (4:94)
     Such was the case involving Lieutenant Benjamin
Simon-Tov, a young intelligence officer at the Southern
Command Headquarters.  On October 3, he submitted his
second paper accurately outlining the activities,
preparations and ultimate intentions of the Egyptians.
His boss, Lieutenant Colonel David Gedaliah, who was
relieved of his job after the war, found the reports
heretical and subsequently, sat on them. (4:107)
     Even with the monetary and internal problems in the
intelligence community the indicators were too numerous
and pointed to ignore.  Both Israeli and American
intelligence had reported that each year Egyptian
maneuvers had gotten larger with the current exercises
involving division size units for the first time.  It was
known that reservists were recalled, leaves were canceled
as well as some training courses being canceled.  The
implementations of a more complex field communication
network and the change from radios to land lines for all
traffic to and from Cairo was more than a field exercise
could warrant.  Mossad agents had reported air raid and
blackout drills were being conducted by the Egyptians.
The extensive stockpiling of war materials was indicated.
Additionally, some of Egypt's elite commando units were
quietly moved to new locations.
     In defense of the Israeli intelligence community
there were a number of factors that distracted them from
the Arab attack.  The funding cutbacks seriously affected
their operational and personnel levels.  To complicate
the matter, in 1969 a group was formed solely to combat
Palestinian terrorism.  Manpower was scarce; therefore,
individuals were drawn from within the agencies.  Most of
the slots were filled by highly qualified personnel who
had been assigned to Egypt.  Consequentially, the quality
of work and information inside Egypt visibly declined.
     The majority of the Israeli espionage and human
intelligence assets were directed at terrorism.  This was
a result of the constant, guerrilla actions by the PLO
and the ever increasing terrorist activity.  Starting in
May 1972, the intelligence community's attention focused
on a number of major, world wide terrorist events.
     A major incident occurred on May 30, 1972, when
three, PLO hired, Japanese gunmen attacked Lod
International Airport.  This was followed by numerous
terrorists activities which lead to the September 5,
Munich Olympic Massacre by Black September.  On September
19, an Israeli official, Dr. Ami Shachori, was killed in
his London embassy office when he opened a letter bomb
sent by the Black September Organization.  Terrorism
struck again on July 1, in Chevy Chase, Maryland.  Col.
Yosef Alon, naval attache of the Israeli Embassy, was gun
down outside his home by members of the Black September
organization.  The last incident prior to the war
involved the September 28th, train hijacking of Soviet
Jews on their way to Israel via Austria.  Conducted by
two members of the Eagles of the Palestinian Revolution,
this incident occupied the political and military
leadership in Israel for over a week.  Whether
intentional or coincidental, the diversion of Israeli
decision makers was most effective for the Arabs.
     These few incidents cover only a small percentage of
the actual terrorists activities that consumed the
Israeli intelligence assets during this time.  It does
however, help explain how the Israeli's focus was
diverted from the real threat.
     A simple answer to any or all of the Arab indicators
would have been to mobilize the defense force.  An
unnecessary mobilization had been ordered in May at a
cost of nearly ten million dollars.  It was supported by
a number of high ranking officials including Chief of
Staff, Lieutenant General David Elazar.  When the Arab
attack never came, the Israeli Intelligence Corps'
creditability was greatly enhanced; they had originally
said no attack would occur.  This was the same
intelligence corps that was currently saying all the Arab
activity was related to annual maneuvers.  General Elazar
doubted the intelligence conclusions.  However, he had
recently been wrong in May and with election time and the
Jewish holiday rapidly approaching, he was reluctant to
press the issue.
     The final intelligence items came in at about 0400
on the sixth of October.  General Zeira notified Chief of
Staff Elazar that Mossad agents had obtained the Arab
attack plans.  According to information, the attack was
to commence at 1800. (4:101)
     At approximately the same time Defense Minister
Moshe Dayan received a call from ". . . an informant in
an unspecified country overseas." (4:128)  The content of
the message stated that Egypt and Syria would launch an
attack that same day.
     Later on the morning of the October 6, Israeli
intelligence intercepted telephone calls from junior
Syrian officers.  They were phoning relatives in Lebanon
and warning them not to come to Syria that weekend.
(4:123)  At 0600, October 6, Dayan, Elazar and Zeira met
to discuss the drastic situation.  They concluded that,
". . . it was clear that we had to act on the assumption
that this time Egypt and Syria really meant to start a
war." (3:459)  The trio met with Prime Minister Mier at
0800.  By 0930 she had agreed to a partial mobilization,
still believing the attack was to come at 1800.
     The Arabs were able to surprise the Israeli
Intelligence community as a result of actions from both
sides.  The Arabs' keen preparation and fine use of
deception, denial and disinformation were certainly major
factors in their success.  The surprise of the Israelis
was due to their obsession with The Concept, their
internal intelligence problems, their inability to key on
the numerous indicators as the Arab intention, their
allowance for distractors to take them away from their
real enemy and their high regard for their own military
     The intelligence story was well stated by United
States Secretary of Defense Henry Kissinger when he said,
"There was no lack of intelligence; it was the
interpretation to the reports that was faulty." (1:42)
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       Editorial. Armed Forces Journal, October 1973.
2.   Blumberg, Stanley A., and Gwinn Owens. The Survival
        Factor. New York: Putnam, 1981.
3.  Dayan, Moshe. Moshe Dayan: Story of My Life. New York:
        Morrow, 1976.
4.   Insight Team of the London Sunday Times. The Yom Kippur
       War. Garden City:  Doubleday, 1974.
5.   Mackinney, Katherine A. Egypt and Israel: The
        Intelligence Prelude to the October War of 1973.
        Intelligence Research Paper. DIS, 1978.
6.  O'Ballance, Edgar. No Victor No Vanquished. San Rafael:
        Presido Press, 1978.
7.   Quandt, William. "Soviet Policy in the October Middle
       East War." International Affairs, July 1977.
8.  Schulte, Henry, Jr., ed. Facts on File Yearbook 1974.
        New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1975.
9.  Sobel, Lester A. Israel and the Arabs: The October 1973
        War. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1974.
10.  Steven, Stewart. The Spymasters of Israel. New York:
       MacMillian, 1980.

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