How Israeli Leaders Ignored Warnings And Almost Lost A War

Before talking about Israel’s remarkable behavior, including censoring its own warnings, lets digress to about 30 years earlier:

Richard Sorge

"Zero hour was approaching. Five mechanized divisions of the Wehrmacht were deployed along the River Bug, on the Polish-Soviet frontier, in a state of high alert ready to jump off eastwards..Daily newspaper headlines in neutral countries, like Switzerland, announced the coming invasion of Russia… Richard Sorge – Soviet master spy in Tokyo – informed his Moscow superiors of the exact date weeks ahead: June 22, 1944. Moscow replied: "Doubts about the reliability of your sources." When Klausen, Sorge’s communication officer, decoded the radio message from Moscow, Sorge ranted: "I’m fed up! Why don’t they believe me? How can those degenerates ignore my warnings?" …Leopold Trepper, whose "Red Orchestra" was a Communist Soviet espionage network that covered the whole of Western Europe, informed Moscow of the coming invasion. Moscow didnt even acknowledge. "Leopold Trepper in Paris, like Rado in Geneva, like Sorge in Tokyo, was frantic. On June 21 – faced with the silence of his superiors in Moscow, who believed him even less than his colleagues in Switzerland and Japan – Trepper broke the most sacred rule of espionage. In panic, he rushed to Vichy, where the Soviet Embassy to Occupied France was located. That evening, he knocked on the door of General Sosloparov, the Soviet military attaché, and begged him: "I have news that the Germans will be attacking tonight. You must transfer it by urgent coded cable to the Kremlin." Sosloparov laughed: "Are you mad? It’s impossible! For your own sake, I refuse. Moscow will think you’re crazy…"

But Leopold Trepper pleaded and the cable was sent. It arrived in Moscow that evening. Since Trepper was usually considered reliable, the Head of Intelligence decided to take the telegram personally to his boss.

Leopold Trepper

.. Stalin glanced at the decoded text, thought for a moment, and muttered. "Otto (Trepper’s code name) usually has an acute political sense. How did he fall victim to crude British provocation?"

The next day the Germans invaded Russia.

How could the Russians have been so blind? Apparently Stalin "was convinced that Germany would not be free to move east until Hitler’s work of destruction was completed in the west…Stalin’s calculation assumed attrition of the Wehrmacht in the west, before it turned on the Soviet Union." Stalin’s calculations had no room for negative feedback from his competent agents.

The journalists who wrote the book “Kippur” (on the 1973 war between Israel and its neighbors) note that the Israelis should have been even more aware of the threat to their borders. Stalin and Hitler had a treaty of friendship, in fact Stalin’s Russia was shipping supplies to Germany. Israel’s neighbors, on the other hand, had repeatedly declared their intention of renewing the fire on all fronts, to compel Israeli withdrawal to the June 1967 borders. (In June 1967, Israel mounted its own surprise attack on its neighbors, who were about to make war on it. Its borders, as a result, expanded so that its border with Egypt was now the Suez canal, and its border with Syria was now beyond the Golan Heights.

They add: "the affinity with Stalin’s fatal mistake of 1941 becomes truly shocking. The Israeli "mishap" of 1973, like Stalin’s in 1941, primarily derives from a mistaken political and military evaluation that Egypt and Syria could not possibly wage full-scale war against Israel in the foreseeable future. …First signs of the Israeli mishap – non-digestion of repeated warnings, – were clearly to be seen from April-May 1973. In early April, Israel began to receive information on obvious war-like preparations in Egypt. such as forces advancing towards the Canal, confirmed intelligence reports from various sources that indicated a possibility of war with Egypt in the near future.

Accumulations of intelligence data were augmented by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s official statements. He declared his intention to go to war to anyone willing to listen…Official statements announced "The new government’s role is to prepare Egypt for the impending war." Thenceforward, not a day passed without the world press assessing an impending Egyptian war on Israel. On May 28, 1973, the Lebanese daily El Nahar reported: "An army is being transferred, by day and night, from Cairo District to the Canal zone. A high level alert has been declared in the Egyptian Army, against the possibility of a fateful decision at any minute."

Kippur’s authors explain Israel’s reaction: "The responsible Israeli agencies saw in this open and clandestine information an attempt to pressure Israel with the threat of war." In addition Sadat had made threats before, and even set dates of coming war, only later to explain to his nation why the timetable hadn’t been kept. So Israel stopped taking threats seriously. and, Kippur’s authors continue, "According to the prevailing political and military doctrine, Egypt could not possibly be seriously planning extensive war." For one thing, Israel was convinced that any invasion would easily be pushed back.

Anwar Sadat

The Egyptians held regular military exercises near the canal which by their regularity, helped sedate the guardians of Israel’s security.

The highest military and political echelons believed that the Arabs were not ready for war, and so did not accept the data coming in from various sources "which not only indicated impending war but gave the estimated timing." Information from forward observation points at the borders with Egypt and Syria both confirmed the thickening of enemy lines. Here and there, observers gave a more critical assessment. On the Canal, for example, they reported Egyptians driving stakes in the water, – apparently to build a bridge.

A senior officer in Sinai Division said: "We knew and reported what was happening on the Egyptian side a month and a half in advance. We knew that considerable Egyptian forces had entered the line. We saw amphibious equipment that had never before been seen on the Canal, brought forward to the line. We reported it. From the week before the war, we were on a high level alert." This alert had been declared on the initiative of the OC Armored Forces in Sinai.

The Israeli establishment even told newspaper correspondents to have ‘editorial moderation’ in reporting the news from Damascus and Cairo because "We have no interest in causing escalation." Israeli censorship also kicked in and deleted all news of tension that Israeli correspondents tried to publish based on private sources of information. This censorship made no sense, since it was not hiding any particular information from the Arabs. If there had been some mobilization of Israeli forces that the Israelis wanted to hide from the Arabs, it would have made sense, but there was no such mobilization. The authors of Kippur speculate that the government wanted to put on a positive spin on the situation due to oncoming elections. Whatever the explanation, it shows an intellectual dishonesty that we can see in some of the other examples in this book – not only do people delude themselves, they hide facts from others.

David Elazar

Information came to the small group of ministers and generals responsible for Israel’s security from an unidentified source predicting war. Other sources reported that Soviet aircraft were evacuating Russian advisors and their families from Damascus. Not much was done in the face of all these warnings. The Chief of Staff cancelled all leaves on both the Syrian and Egyptian front and proposed a C alert. The Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, convened her "War Cabinet" on Friday, October 5. Despite all the warnings, nobody at the meeting believed war would break out the following day. After the war broke out, an official statement was made about the Friday meeting. It said "Though the military concentrations clearly indicated an attack, it was decided not to mobilize reserves in order not to give world opinion cause to say that Israel intends to attack."

A few moments before 4:00 hours on Saturday, October 6, Moshe Dayan, the defense minister, was awoken by the phone. Somebody informed him there could be no doubt of the reliability of information received since the New Year. War was certain. Egypt and Syria intended to begin "at six in the evening." Dayan then phoned the Prime Minister to tell her his new information. Mrs. Meir agreed with Dayan’s opinion that Israel should not engage in pre-emptive strikes of any kind because it might look like Israel was starting the war. Chief of Staff David Elazar’s proposals for both pre-emptive strikes and immediate general mobilization were not accepted. Dayan assumed that the regular forces and their tactical reserve could hold off the enemy with the help of a smaller quiet mobilization of the armor reserve.

Golda Meir then met with U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Keating. She told him all she knew, and made a point of promising that Israel would not fully mobilize. The Ambassador already had an intelligence report from Washington about Egyptian and Syrian preparations to open fire. Golda told Keating that President Nixon should talk to the Egyptian and Soviet governments and persuade Cairo to cancel its operation order. Keating then reported to Dr. Henry Kissinger, who contacted the Egyptian Foreign Minister. As a result, Syria and Egypt were informed that Israel knew there would be war that same day. This may be why they decided to attack 4 hours earlier than they would have otherwise.

Though war had been forecast for six that evening, it started around 2 that afternoon. The Israeli army had not yet deployed for war, in the belief that a full four hours were still available.

Lt. General (Res.) Yitzhak Rabin explained the tragedy as he saw it to a small circle of Labor Party leaders: "Moshe Dayan, the Chief of Staff and Intelligence Branch had what you could call a ‘mental block.’ They were prisoners of their own fierce faith and proclamations that war is remote, that the Egyptians are incapable or unable, and if they will go to war – ‘we will break their bones’. This mental block is the cause of their disbelief, and rejection of the available data." Rabin may have been on to something.

(Source: Kippur was written by Yeshayaho ben Porat, Hezi Carmel, Uri Dan, Yehonatan Gefen, Eitan Haber, Eli Landau, and Eli Tabor – copyright special edition publishers, 12 Block Street, Tel Aviv, Israel. dec 73)

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