9 October 2014

Israel Declassified Today Agranat Commission Testimony of 6 Senior Intelligence Officers About 1973 October War Intelligence Failure

Yonah Jeremy Bob 
Jerusalem Post 
October 5, 2014 
Declassified Yom Kippur war papers reveal new insights into ‘73 intel units 

IDF chief of staff Lt.- Gen. David Elazar . (photo credit:ARCHIVE) 

Declassified protocols of the Agranat Commission on the October 1973 Yom Kippur War unveil previously undisclosed information regarding the IDF intelligence community’s debates and failures.

The Sunday releases focus on testimony by six mostly high-up IDF intelligence officials, some of whom have not been publicly scrutinized before, while others have come up in prior releases, but are now the subject of some of these declassified documents.

The six are: Lt.-Col. (res.) Yonah Bendman, head of the IDF’s Egypt intelligence desk; Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yoel Ben-Porat, head of IDF electronic signal intelligence unit 848; Lt.- Col. (res.) Yosef Zeira, head of the IDF’s double agents espionage unit and nephew of much criticized former IDF intelligence head Eliyahu Zeira; Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avraham Luntz, head of IDF Naval Intelligence; Maj. Gen. (res.) Shlomo Inbar, an IDF officer in electronic communications; and Maj.- Gen. (res.) Shmuel Gonen, former head of the Southern Command.

The Agranat Commission was the government inquiry commission that investigated the failures of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, generally focusing on who to blame for Israel being surprised and initially overrun by Egyptian and Syrian forces.

It held IDF chief of staff Lt.- Gen. David Elazar broadly responsible for the IDF’s lack of preparedness and recommended his removal.

The commission also called for the removal of IDF head of intelligence Eliyahu Zeira, and his deputy, Arye Shalev.

The IDF’s initial failures and the report’s findings were so explosive that it led to former prime minister Golda Meir’s resignation.

Former defense minister Moshe Dayan escaped official scrutiny, but his prestige was permanently tarnished and he was excluded from Yitzhak Rabin’s government, which replaced Meir’s administration.

The released protocols delve into a level of intelligence analysis not previously matched.

Prior releases have disclosed Zeira’s intransigence in ignoring some of the intelligence warnings regarding an Egyptian attack, and stubbornly sticking to his preconceived notion that the Egyptians would not attack without significant technological upgrades, especially to their air force.

The current protocols, while maintaining the theme of an intelligence failure, paint a more complex picture.

For example, Bendman said that one reason they failed to take an Egyptian troop buildup on the border seriously was because a similar build-up had occurred in May 1973, only a few months beforehand.

In that instance, the intelligence community, against some higher IDF officials’ assessments, had correctly predicted that it was a mere exercise, giving them confidence in a similar judgment this time.

Bendman said this leaning was so strong that most analysts still held this view as late as October 5, the day before the war broke out.

Ben-Porat said that his unit tended to look backward at prior wars, and was not prepared for newer military challenges, such as the 1973 war.

He complained that his intelligence unit lacked a balance of soldiers who were both intelligent and proficient enough in Arabic.

In a different slant on prior accusations against IDF intelligence head Zeira, Ben-Porat said that when he became more concerned about the Egyptian border and asked Zeira to call up between 100 and 150 reserves to amplify intelligence capabilities to war-footing, he refused pointblank.

Ben-Porat said Zeira’s response was that intelligence was supposed to “calm the nerves of the country, not destabilize society and the market,” adding that he would not let Ben-Porat draft “even one-quarter part of a reserve soldier.”

Furthermore, Ben-Porat reported that Zeira repeatedly disagreed with Dayan’s assessment earlier in the year that Egypt was preparing to attack.

Yosef Zeira, Eliyahu Zeira’s nephew, also described an atmosphere in intelligence of intimidating dissenting opinions, which led to his dismissal from a meeting for his unwillingness to retract an opposing point of view.

Zeira added that he was suspicious about an Egyptian attack and did not buy others’ interpretation that Egyptian troop movements were a mere exercise because of the nature of the troop movements and the amounts of armaments the troops carried.

Luntz seconded this assessment based on his observation from the naval perspective, warning then-commander of the Israel Navy, Benjamin Telem, on September 30.

Inbar and Gonen both discussed a myriad of problems with regard to their troops’ readiness and communications. 

Haim Bar-Lev and Sharon, 1973 Photo by GPO

The Israeli army was “almost completely surprised” by the Egyptian and Syrian attacks on Yom Kippur 1973, according to a newly declassified Israel Defense Forces Archive document.

The document, among those declassified to mark the 41st anniversary of the October 1973 war, contains the testimony of Col. Yoel Ben-Porat, head of Military Intelligence’s Signals Intelligence, to the official Agranat Commission that investigated the war.

Ben-Porat told the commission of inquiry that although there was information available, it “did not manifest itself, did not achieve its effect.” He added he believed there had been enough information, in quality and quantity, to give the IDF a warning in enough time. “In my opinion [there was] no justification for us to have been surprised,” he said.

Ben-Porat testified to the committee that reports of unusual military activity in Sinai – for example, a great deal of equipment on the Suez Canal – had raised his suspicions. “Did that raise doubts?” Agranat asked Ben-Porat. “Yes, the events in the Suez Bay in Egypt did not [seem to me] to be an exercise, because they had exceeded geographically the area in which it was held,” he answered.

Ben-Porat told the commission about a conversation he’d had with MI chief Eli Zeira, who told him MI research had concluded that the activities in the Suez Bay were an exercise. Ben-Porat said he told Zeira, “I accept the research evaluation regarding Egypt that this is an exercise, but as to the possibility that this is a mistake – since I feel all the responsibility is on me with regard to a warning – I ask you to draft 100 to 150 reservists, to improve deterrent cover” and to prove or disprove the idea that the activities were an exercise.

However, Zeira refused, telling him the task of intelligence was to “protect the nerves of the country, not shock society and the economy … I do not permit you to draft even a quarter of a reservist.”

Ben-Porat said the differences between him and Zeira at this point were “polar.”

Some of Ben-Porat’s testimony to the committee regarding actions taken is still classified.

Another testimony was by Lt. Col. Yosef Zeira – Eli Zeira’s nephew – who was head of the unit responsible for filtering and processing intelligence. He said that on October 4, he called his uncle and reported, “‘Here and there a few signs that are very worrisome,’ and I asked him for authorization to put into operation another very, very classified measure.” (The identity of that measure is still classified.)

According to Zeira’s testimony – part of which is still censored – his uncle responded, “For our security we will not open it at the moment.” Eli Zeira then reiterated his belief that the Egyptians could not move an army and prepare it secretly for war.

Responding to accusations that the MI unit in charge of wiretapping did not present enough information mentioning a war, Ben-Porat presented information received on October 3, which was brought directly to him and that he translated himself. “It was clear to me, this [meant] war. I claimed with regard to this information that, to the best of my understanding, the IDF could be drafted an hour after this report.”

When asked what was so significant about the information, Ben-Porat said the explicit use of the term “war,” and the connection of the evacuation of the Russian advisers during the war.

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