The Egyptian generals were amazed that the Israeli senior military and political leaders were caught flatfooted by the Egyptian/Syrian attack in 1973. If these Egyptian generals knew how many warning from the highest levels and the most impeccable sources that warned the Israelis they would have been even more flabbergasted.To be sure the Israeli troops were not the only ones surprised but most of the Egyptian army’s as well. In a survey of the 80000 Egyptians POWs in the Hands of the Israelis, indicated only one knew the date of 3 Oct was the planned beginning of the war.Egyptian combat engineers carrying pontoon boats to the edge of the Suez, only realized it was not an exercise when ordered to put the boats in the water.See Chaim Herzog The War of Atonement, October 1973. BTW Despite being being one of the older books on the war it has the best Military lessons learned of any the newer books.
We now know that the Israelis had prior warning from the son-in-law of Abdul Nasser, (Ashram Marwan) and Gold Meir was warned by King Hussein of Jordan that war was imminent. Most damming was the fact that Israeli commandos had installed super sophisticated listening devices on all the Egyptian communication nodes. Despite Egyptian super secret anti detection and deception measures there is no way they could have kept the Israelis unaware of the launch of the war. The problem was that they were considered so secret and vulnerable to detection that they were to be turned on only in case of a war imminent within hours or days .These taps were known as “special means.” The head of the AMAN ( Israeli Military Intelligence), Eli Zeira, was so convinced that there would be no war he refused to turn them on. There were many other sources and analyses from lower sources that indicated war was at the threshold. The other problems was the top Israeli commanders though they had been turned on ( or they claimed so), and since no urgent war warning was received they assumed there was nothing to worry about…at least not right away.
So why were all these sources the ignored? Two main reasons. Hubris and the ” e g conception.” The conception ran as follows. The Egyptians cannot start a war until they have air power parity …and they were a long way from that, secondly the Syrians would not go to war unless Egypt did so. The hubris centered around the conviction deeply embedded in the Israeli psyche that the Arabs were hopeless at war and were no match from the IDF.
A quote from Ariel Sharon ( An Autobiography:Warrior. by Ariel Sharon and David Charnoff tells the tale quite well. “I stood on the dunes there, the scene unfolding in front of me. As tanks and APCs withdrew past the observation post,I stopped some of them to talk to the officers and saw something strange on their faces– not fear but bewilderment. Suddenly something was happening to them that had never happened before. These soldiers had been brought up on victories–not easy victories maybe, but nevertheless victories . It was a generation that never lost. Now they were in a state of shock. How could it be that the Egyptians were crossing the canal right in our faces? How was it that they were moving forward and we were defeated.?”
General Gonen’s ( southern Front commander) had the typical Israeli view of the Egyptians, i.e. he failed to properly assess the situation but relied on his “intuition” based his earlier experience leading him to view the Egyptians with “deep contempt.”
Unfortunately the villain or scapegoat ( depending on who you read) was Eli Ze’eri head of military intelligence known as AMAN. He inherited the “concept” but then embraced it with all consuming faith. No evidence to the contrary was admitted. He often referred to contrary reports as “bull shit,”He refused to turn on the “special means” listening devices, even when the breathe of war was becoming a storm. Ze’eri was a capable combat commander and had little time for the endless debates on social theory or intelligence assessments. He was an action man. He was also apparently very persuasive and demanding, and no one, not even Gold Meier questioned his opinions.Backing him up were two other intelligence officers, the Egypt AMAN desk officer, Col. Yona Bandman and the head of the research section BG Arye Shalev. Asked his assessment of the Egyptian Armed Forces Shalev opined that they would “disintegrate” in battle. Of course after the Agranat Commission hearing on the 73 war, all three of the above were fired. One can say at least the Israelis did the right thing unlike the Americans who allow debacles like the Vietnam, Afghan, and Iraqi wars pass into history without any culpability laid on the the those most responsible. Of course even the Agranat commission went limp on Moshe Dayan who was absent during most of the war, having totally fallen apart, as did a number of other Israeli generals. He should have been named as one of the reasons for the “near thing” in the result of the war.
All this leads to my thesis that next to total destruction of an army the worse thing that can happen is an easy conquest….such as the Six Day war in 1967. It was the albatross around the Israelis neck. All the wrong lessons are learned and become imbedded. The Israelis, based everything on the tank and the airplane ,and forgotten was artillery and Air Defense, and most importantly well trained and well equipped infantrymen. See Herzog.
The best account of the day today war, militarily and politically, is The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter that Changed the Middle East, by Abraham Rabinovich, although I disagree with some of the conclusions. I’m not convinced that it “transformed the Middle East.” But it was a very good thing for the Israeli society ( except for those who lost lives or limbs). Why?
Because there are no more articles like after the 6 Day War , depicting Israelis as “super Jews,” and other supercilious nonsense. Their army lacked discipline, and combat training. Chasing Palestinian terrorists around the West Bank in “whack a mole,” operations was not sufficient to keep the combat edge among the troops -just as the same type American operations in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq has severely undermined the combat readiness of our army. The Israelis know they are mere mortals like the rest of us and have no unique qualities that allow them to shortchange military discipline, training., and most importantly realistic assessments of their enemy.
It should also be pointed out that if societies were without a certain hubris there would be a lot less wars. No quick, technic, bloodless wars as we tend to believe now. Has Putin Learned? The Arabs in 48 and 67 went to war imbued with the belief, that as Ibn Khaldun had written, the Jews were a servile race, and generations of Arab propaganda has embedded the belief that Jews were unable to stand against the Arab warriors. Unfortunately ( for the Arabs and Muslims in general) many still think that way.
Concise but thorough article. I would recommend my book (in Hebrew) Shmuel Bar, Milhemet Yom Hakipurim beEini Haaravim (The Yom Kippur war in the Eyes of the Arabs). Regarding the special means. The commander of Unit 8200 (Israel’s SIGINT Unit) Yoel Ben Porat tried to convince Eli Zeira (along with Zeira’s cousin – Yossi Zeira who was a senior officer in the unit) to activate the special means (“Special Operations” in 8200 slang) and Zeira refused. Porat felt guilty that he had not “Broken into Golda’s office and Dayan’s office and told them that the war was imminent”. He told me years later that he felt that the blood of 3000 soldiers was on his hands because of that sin of omission. Years later when Ben Porat was stationed as deputy Attache in Washington he came to Israel, went into his old office, started turning on the communications and giving the orders he thought he should have given in 1973. He had gone back in time trying to redeem himself. He had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized. Zeira however continued to claim that he had acted correctly, that the Mossad source was a double agent (pure nonsense) and even exposed the source in a book – which led to the death of the source. The lesson – we should prefer generals who take upon themselves the blame that they are not guilty of than those who shirk the blame they are guilty of
Thanks for the kind comment and especially for the poignant vignette on the IDF intelligence officer who felt personally responsible for the Israeli lives lost. I wish we had military leadership with the same sense of responsibility. I would like to read your book but unable to read Hebrew and not in an area where I can find someone who does. I agree 100% with your concluding sentence. A good officer is responsible for his organization does… good or bad… even if he had no direct hands on in the action . We seem to have gotten away from that with public relations officer providing cover. Again thanks for the comment
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