“The Intelligence Legacy of the Yom Kippur War” – with Uri Bar-Joseph
Erin Dietrick: Welcome to "Spycast", the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. I'm Erin Dietrick, your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond's content partner. Each week we explore some aspect of the past, present, or future of intelligence and espionage. If you enjoy this show, please consider leaving us a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. Coming up next on "Spycast".
Uri Bar-Joseph: But since the Israeli intelligence chiefs believe that Egypt won't go to war, and Syria won't go to war without Egypt, Egypt simply threw away this information. They didn't use it at all, and of course this was a major, major mistake.
Erin Dietrick: This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, the most traumatic and memorable event in Israeli history. The war is known as one of Israel's most notable intelligence failures, and is remembered as a major turning point in the trajectory of Israeli intelligence. This week on "Spycast", Andrew is joined by Uri Bar-Joseph, author of what some consider to be the authoritative account on the Yom Kippur intelligence failure, The Watchman Fell Asleep. Uri is a professor at Haifa University, veteran of the Yom Kippur War, and also wrote the book that inspired Netflix's 2018 film, The Angel, based on the story of Egyptian spy Ashraf Marwan. This episode is third in our five-part series on Israeli intelligence. Begin the series with a crash course in Israeli intelligence with Erez David Mazel, then check out last week's episode with Uzi Arad. Stay tuned for an episode next week on Israel's top-secret special forces, Sayeret Matkal. The original podcast on intelligence and espionage since 2006, we are "Spycast". Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Andrew Hammond: Well thanks ever so much for taking the time to speak to me, Uri. I really appreciate it and I really feel like I'm speaking to the perfect person to understand intelligence and the Yom Kippur War. You wrote what's considered the book on it, The Watchman Fell Asleep. You wrote a book on Ashraf Marwan, one of the most important spies in the second half of the 20th century, and then you've written on intelligence success and failure, so I'm really excited to speak to you. I hope you'll forgive my excitement at times. I think the first thing to ask, if you don't mind, where were you when the Yom Kippur War happened, if you were old enough to remember it?
Uri Bar-Joseph: Well, thank you. I was old enough to remember actually, I was already a reserve soldier, I was called up to arms like everybody else when the war broke out at around half past one, and in the morning of the second day of the war I was already in the Suez front. We arrived there at ten o'clock in the morning, something like this. We didn't know what's going on. It was obviously a complete surprise to everyone, including the simple soldiers, and that's it. I spent the whole war in the Egyptian front, and later in what we called Africa, that is the western side of the Suez Canal, I was occupied by the IDF during that.
Andrew Hammond: And I think it would be quite interesting as well, just for our listeners who aren't Jewish, could you just tell our listeners why Yom Kippur is important? I'm just trying to get across the significance of the day.
Uri Bar-Joseph: Well, Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Unlike Sabbath, on Yom Kippur you don't do anything. There is no traffic, no radio, no TV, nothing. People are just going to the synagogues and spend most of the day in the synagogues. And in this sense, the mere fact that there was no media, no radio, no TV, nothing, during that day made it on the one hand quite complicated to tell people that war is coming. On the other, it made it easier for the reserve forces to get to the front, because there were no other vehicles on the road, and the mobilization of the reserve forces went very smoothly in part because it was Yom Kippur.
Andrew Hammond: And how did you find out that you were being called up if there was no media and so forth? Was it sirens?
Uri Bar-Joseph: Well, first of all, we saw some traffic on the road, which is -- again, it is very strange, on Yom Kippur. You could see some cars here, some cars there. Then there was an Israeli Air Force aircraft that flew in the sky, signaling that something happens. Also, people started calling to one another. Some of my friends were called to arms an hour or so before me, so they called me, the telephone did work, and it was obvious that something happened. And then at about five minutes after two o'clock in the afternoon the sirens went on and everyone opened the radio and it was obvious that we have a war.
Andrew Hammond: I just want to help our listeners understand it before we start digging into intelligence a bit more, a bit deeper, so correct me if I'm wrong in any of this. I just want to give them an initial understanding. It's a war that takes place 50 years ago. Israel was only 25 at the time, and this year is also the 75th anniversary of the Israeli declaration of independence. The war is between Israel on the one side and Egypt and Syria on the other. And as I understand it, we can get into Egyptian motivations later, Syria wants to destroy Israel. Egypt has more limited objectives. And then against the background of this, the United States and the Soviet Union superpower politics play out in the war as well. Is that a decent-ish summary of where we are and a good jump-in point to go forward?
Uri Bar-Joseph: In a way. I wouldn't say that Syria wanted to destroy Israel, though. Syria wanted to destroy Israel, but the Syrians realized that with the balance of forces they cannot achieve this goal. So what the Syrians wanted was to occupy the Golan Heights, which were occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967, that is six years before the Yom Kippur War. The Egyptians wanted to get ahold in the Sinai in order to start to advance a diplomatic process to get ahold of Sinai. On the Syrian side, Iraq sent its task forces, which arrived at the front on October 12th and changed the balance of forces between Syria and Israel. If they didn't arrive there, maybe Damascus would have been under a threat by the advancing Israeli forces. Other than that, more or less, yes, the Americans were on the Israeli side, the Soviets on the Arab side.
Andrew Hammond: And can you just give our listeners a brief summary of why the war broke out?
Uri Bar-Joseph: Well, briefly, it's difficult. It's a complicated question, and until today we don't have solid good enough answers. But as I said before, Israel occupied in the war of 1967, the Six-Day War, it occupied the whole of Sinai, Sinai Desert, which is about 60,000 square kilometers, and the Golan Heights, which was smaller, it is about 600 square kilometers. And it also occupied the West Bank from Jordan. And the goal of the Arab states since this war was to get the occupied territories back. The Egyptians combined political means with military means. They started what we call a war of attrition in 1969, and it lasted for a year, a little bit more than a year, with heavy casualties to both sides, but they didn't move the Israelis from the Sinai, from the Suez Canal. The Syrians conducted all sorts of activities against the Israelis, but again, they didn't threaten the Israeli hold in the Golan Heights. And between 1970, mid-1970 to the outbreak of the war, 1973, the border with Egypt was quiet. The Egyptians threatened to go to war. At the same time, they also gave signals that they are ready to negotiate with Israel on the basis of, we return the Sinai to the Egyptians, they give us peace or something sort of a peace, which is the same formula that is valid until today, territories for peace. And the Israelis realized that at a certain stage, war, a major war might break out. And this lays the background to the intelligence issues that we are going to discuss now.
Andrew Hammond: And just before we go on to them, it's quite interesting to me, when you look at the various wars, 1948, '67 and '73, in '48 we have five Arab armies, in '67 we have three, in 1973 we have two. What explains this falling off of the amount of Arab armies?
Uri Bar-Joseph: Well, it's a difficult question. In general, Israel proved its military power. In 1948, no one knew what's the military power of the Jewish state. Actually, when the Arab armies invaded the Jewish state, it was one day old. We had only fairly limited military power, but nevertheless, Israel won this war against three, four Arab armies. In '67, no one wanted the war, perhaps the Syrians, but Israel didn't want war, Egypt didn't want war, the Jordanians suddenly didn't want war. And nevertheless, it was an unintended crisis that escalated, and at the end there was no other choice to Israel but going to war and prove the Israeli military superiority over the Arab armies. It defeated three Arab armies in something like six days and occupied a lot of Arab territories. And after that war, it became obvious that it's very dangerous to go to war against Israel. And the motivation of the Arab states to do so was only to get back the territories that were occupied in 1967, since it was only territories of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. And since Jordan was very hesitant and had special relations with Israel, it was obvious that the only candidates to go to war against Israel were Syria and Egypt. They had a lot to gain, a lot to lose, but other Arab states could send some forces, but they didn't have any motivation to participate.
Andrew Hammond: And the 1967 war, because of Israel's stunning success, sets up the preconditions for the Yom Kippur War, because Israel had a false sense of security, had maybe too much confidence in itself, and this allowed the watchmen to fall asleep. How much did '67 lead up to '73?
Uri Bar-Joseph: It led up in the sense that it created the conditions for the war, the motivation of Egypt and Syria to go to war in order to gain a victory, not to defeat Israel, but to gain a victory, to gain some achievements in occupying a territory, mostly in order, especially from the Egyptian point of view, in order to initiate a political diplomatic process that would lead to the end of the Israeli occupation of the Sinai. With the Syrians, we don't know exactly what they wanted, but it seems like the Syrians were far more militant than the Egyptians then. In Israel, yes, the stunning victory of 1967 gave us confidence, but it was confidence that was built on genuine military superiority over the Arabs, not a false feeling that we are strong and no one will deal with us. The Israeli army proved to be superior to the Arab armies in many incidents and also during what we call the static war with Egypt along the Suez Canal. And in there, the Israelis almost did whatever they wanted. They shot down many, I think that the ratio between lost airplanes was something like 1 to 20, 25 during these six years of many clashes. The same is true with regard to armor. The Israeli tank teams proved to be far better than their colleagues on the other side. So the confidence of the Israelis with regard to the ability to win the next war was based on genuine power, on genuine results, except that no one expected a major surprise at the beginning of the war, which would lead to two or three days of major setbacks to the Israeli army. And that's about it.
Andrew Hammond: And that leads on to my next question. So intelligence, before the war breaks out, what are some of the intelligence that's coming in? Because it's not like there's no intelligence whatsoever and then it's a complete surprise. There are Ashraf Marwan and there's Jordans playing a role and there's other things going on. So can you just tell the listeners what's the background to this? What other intelligence is coming in?
Uri Bar-Joseph: Okay, let me start with what we may call the conception of the intelligence warning prior to the war. Until 1967, the Egyptian army could deploy next to the Israeli border, which meant that the Egyptian tanks could deploy something like 60 kilometers from Tel Aviv. After the Six-Day War, the whole of Sinai was occupied and the Israeli tanks now were 100 and something kilometers from Egypt and the Egyptian tanks were 150-200 miles from Tel Aviv. So in this sense, it gave us a sense of self-assurance that Tel Aviv is not under threat. Nevertheless, it was clear that, let me put it this way, before 1967, the Israeli army knew when the Egyptian army enters into the Sinai and deploys along the border. After 1967, the whole Egyptian army was deployed along the Suez Canal and this meant that for the Egyptians it was very easy to start a war without any prior preparations. So the main task of the Israeli intelligence, the Israeli military intelligence, which was in charge of national intelligence estimates in 1973, its main task, its main priority was to provide a warning if the Egyptians go to war, are going to launch a general attack on the Israeli forces along the Suez Canal. And, in order to do it, Israel deployed a lot in building up means of collections that would provide this warning, and the means of collection were mainly SIGINT means. We built some facilities in the Sinai, very close to the border. We could hear when the Egyptian -- the Israeli, what we call A200 today, the Israeli SIGINT, IDF SIGINT unit, listened to all the traffic in the Egyptian wireless communication, and we also could know when an Egyptian aircraft takes off in an Egyptian airbase, things like that. We monitored very closely the activity of the Egyptian army. And the assumption was that if Egypt wants to go to war, intends to go to war, we will know about it three, four, five days ahead because the Egyptians will have to make preparations, and we know what these preparations are, we know what are the warning signals and we can collect them and, of course, the warning will be given on the basis of these warning signals. In addition, Israel had also some excellent human sources in Egypt. These sources were operated by the Mossad, not by military intelligence. Most important among them was indeed Ashraf Marwan, who was the son-in-law of President Nasser, who until today is considered the most important, the biggest leader in the modern Arab history. He was married to his daughter, and after Nasser passed away in September 1970, Marwan became a very close aide to Sadat, who replaced Nasser. And in this sense, we had Israeli intelligence, the Mossad, the source that I don't think any other intelligence service had at the heart of the Egyptian decision-making center. And Marwan gave us everything, not only verbal estimates, but also all the documents that we needed.
Andrew Hammond: The only person that I can think of that's similar to Ashraf Marwan is the Soviet spy who was Willy Brandt's advisor in the West German government.
Uri Bar-Joseph: How should I put it? The main difference is that neither East Germany nor the Soviet Union intended to attack West Germany or the West and, in this sense, the information that Guillaume had given was mostly political, not military. Ashraf Marwan, on the other hand, gave Israel everything, and when I say everything, I mean, first of all, he gave us the detailed book of the order of battle of the Egyptian army, then all the Egyptian war plans, then the protocols of the discussions of the Egyptian high command, the Egyptian cabinet, the talks of Sadat with foreign leaders, letters exchanged between Sadat and Grishniev and Kosygin. Everything that you wanted, Marwan gave us. Of course, all the arms that Egypt received from the Soviet Union we knew ahead because he gave us the contracts before the arms even arrived in Egypt. Egypt was an open book, in this sense, for the Israelis and, yes, Marwan was really a sort of a once-in-a-lifetime spy.
Andrew Hammond: Let's just talk a little bit more about Marwan. Can you tell our listeners how he was recruited by Mossad?
Uri Bar-Joseph: Well, he was a walk-in. Until today, we don't know exactly what was his motivation. In part, it was greed. In part, there were some psychological frustrations. There were a lot of accounts about Marwan being -- Nasser didn't trust Marwan. He wanted his daughter to get divorced from Marwan, things like that. Marwan was very ambitious, and there is a speculation that he wanted to take revenge of Nasser, something like this, and the best way to take revenge is to work for his enemies, archenemies. Other than that, once Marwan offered his services and was recruited, it became a routine. I think that he identified with the Israeli side for one reason or another.
Andrew Hammond: I mean, you really cannot make this kind of story up, can you? This is one of the reasons why the history of intelligence and espionage is so fascinating. The son-in-law of Egypt's most revered leader in the modern era, an advisor to Sadat, his successor, just giving over everything, order of battle. I mean, it's really hitting the jackpot, isn't it, in that sense?
Uri Bar-Joseph: Yes. I mean, I saw the information that Marwan passed to Israel in the year before the war. I mean, I didn't see the whole account, but just the main bits and pieces, and it's amazing. We know what happened in Egypt during this year. We know who Sadat met, when did he make the decision, what decisions were made, et cetera, et cetera. And when you compare what we know about Egypt and the information that Marwan gave us, it is identical. He gave us everything.
Andrew Hammond: So some of our listeners may be thinking, so if Marwan gave us everything, we had this source at the heart of Egyptian government, and then if we had Sagan along the Bartlev line, how was Israel surprised then? Was this an intelligence failure? What's kind of going on here?
Uri Bar-Joseph: First of all, it was a major intelligence failure compared to Pearl Harbor and Barbarossa. It was a bigger intelligence failure. Let me add one more item to show how major was this failure. The Israelis were aware that the Egyptian army can deploy along the Suez Canal for three purposes. One was to attack Israel. The other was to make exercises. They did two major large-scale exercises of crossing the canal and occupying the Sinai. They made two large-scale exercises like this every year. The third possibility was that the Egyptians are afraid that the Israelis are going to attack, and therefore they deployed their army. The Israelis were aware of the fact that about 80 percent of the Israeli ground forces in 1973 were reserve forces, and you cannot call the reserve forces to arms whenever the Egyptians are making an exercise. So we needed to know when the Egyptians planned to go to war and when they planned to make a regular exercise or they are just afraid of an Israeli attack. This was a problem that was discussed in the intelligence echelons, and they found a solution to this problem. The solution was the use of special means, what we call special means of collection. Today we know a lot about them. I revealed their nature in my new book about the war.
Andrew Hammond: Can you give us a taste of it?
Uri Bar-Joseph: Yeah, well, these were mainly two listening devices that were planted on telephone lines, major telephone lines and all strategic telephone lines, and they were not the regular means of SIGINT collection that were listening to wireless traffic. And the assumption was that the Egyptians know that we listen to the wireless traffic, so they will use the telephone lines. After all, you cannot go to war without talking about it. And this means of collection, one of them was operated by a nuclear battery. It was heavy stuff. It was planted in February 1973, and it operated very well. And together with another similar means of collection that was operated by regular batteries, Israel was certain, the Israelis were certain that we will know when the Egyptians plan to go to war and when they do just a regular exercise or are just worried about an Israeli attack. And in the months before the war, the traffic that went through this means proved to be authentic, reliable, and so everyone counted on this means to provide the warning about the coming war. Ashraf Marwan wasn't supposed to give a war warning. He didn't have a radio set. He couldn't communicate with the Israelis from Cairo, so he had to get out to Europe and to meet his handlers in the Mossad. And all this took some time and it wasn't clear whether he can get out of Egypt or cannot get out of Egypt. We didn't count on Ashraf Marwan to provide a warning. The warning was supposed to come from this special means of collection, which were operated by military intelligence, and military intelligence was the one that was supposed to provide the war warning. The Israeli leaders, Prime Minister Golda Meir, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, of course, the Chief of Staff, and others, they knew about the special means of collection. They relied on them. They expected that the word of war will come from them. This is it for the time being. There is a surprise later.
Andrew Hammond: So it's not Ashraf Marwan's responsibility to let Israel know when Egypt's about to attack. We've got these special means of collection. Where were these special means of collection? Were these in Egypt?
Uri Bar-Joseph: Yes.
Andrew Hammond: In Egypt. So why didn't they provide the warning? Or did they?
Uri Bar-Joseph: Okay, here we come to the main question. With this excellent means of collection, how come Israel was surprised? This is, of course, the main question. The answer to this is complicated a little bit, but I'll try to simplify. In the year or so before the war, military intelligence in Israel, which, as I said, was in charge of national intelligence estimates, including providing a war warning, developed what we call the conception. The conception said that we know that the Egyptians don't perceive themselves as capable of going to war against Israel because they cannot neutralize the superiority of the Israeli Air Force. They know that they cannot cross the canal without neutralizing the Israeli Air Force, which was a major air force in 1973. Moreover, they need means to deter the Israeli Air Force from attacking, bombing Egyptian cities like Cairo in case of war. And we knew that the Egyptians will need two main weapons systems before they go to war. One was the MiG-23, the Soviet-made MiG-23, which was considered to be -- we didn't know, I mean, the Americans didn't know much about the MiG-23 also in 1973 -- but it was more or less close to the American F-4 Phantom jet, which was the best attack plan during that time. And Israel had over 100 Phantoms. The Egyptians had nothing like this. So the Egyptians waited to get the MiG-23. The Soviets couldn't provide it because it just entered service in the Soviet Union. And it was obvious that before 1975, the Egyptians won't be able to get the MiG-23. In order to deter Israel from attacking Egyptian cities, the Egyptians thought in terms of getting surface-to-surface missiles, they spoke about they wanted to get the Scud missile, Soviet-made Scud missile with a range of about 300 kilometers, 180 miles, which could reach Tel Aviv and north of Tel Aviv and thus deter Israel from attacking Cairo. And the intelligence conception was that as long as Egypt doesn't have these two means of war, these two weapon systems, Egypt won't go to war. This was a logical assumption. And we know, I mean, it wasn't only an assumption, it was, we also had this information from the documents that Marwan gave us. We saw the discussions of the Egyptian high command, Sadat and the Egyptian generals, and they told him, we cannot go to war against Israel because the Israeli air force is too strong and we cannot neutralize it, and Sadat accepted it. Except that in October 1972, that is a year before war started, Sadat decided to go to war even without these two weapons systems, without the MiG-23 and the Scud missiles. And he ordered the Egyptian army to prepare a general large-scale invasion of the Sinai, but with very limited territorial goals. And this was the answer of the Egyptian army to the Israeli superiority in the air, because if the Egyptian army advances only eight kilometers, that is about five miles, into the Sinai, it will still be protected by the Egyptian surface-to-air missile layout, a very large layout, west of the Suez Canal. If they advance another five miles, then they are out of the range of the surface-to-air missiles, and there will be prey for the Israeli Phantoms. So they decided to go to launch a war, but with very limited territorial goals. And to cut the story short, the Israeli senior analysts in the Israeli military intelligence, those who were in charge of providing the war warning, they believed until the very last moment that the Egyptians will be deterred. They don't have the aircraft, so they won't go to war. And therefore, despite the fact that we saw all the Egyptian army gather and deploy for war along the Suez Canal, the military intelligence didn't provide a war warning until the very last moment. Now comes the story of the special means of collection. Why didn't they provide any information about the coming war? And here it is very tricky. The director of military intelligence was a very strong man in the security establishment, a general by the name of Eli Zeira. He was an ardent believer in the conception that Egypt won't go to war without aircraft. And he was worried that if we use this special means of collection, the Egyptians will find out about it. So despite the fact that the Egyptian army deployed for war under the guise of a routine military exercise, and despite the fact that many elements in this exercise were very strange, they didn't exist in routine earlier exercises, he refused to operate this means of collection for fear that if operated, they'll fall to the Egyptian hands. In fact, until the morning of October 6, that is the day when war started, he didn't operate them. Even worse, since he was a general with a lot of, how should I call it, self-assuredness, when Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and the chief of staff asked him about what's going on in Egypt, what do we get from the special means of collection, he said nothing, all is quiet. He didn't tell them that he didn't operate this means. And they knew that war cannot break out without information coming from this means, and therefore they also underestimated the Egyptians' threat until the very last moment. At the end, the one who brought us the information that Egypt is going to launch war was Ashraf Marwan, who succeeded to get out of Egypt and met a day before the war. A few hours before war started, he met the head of the Mossad in London and told him war will start tomorrow, and this started gearing Israel to war.
Andrew Hammond: And just on the air force, is part of the reason that Israeli aerial superiority was so strong, is it because they destroyed a lot of Egypt and Syria's air force during the 1967 war?
Uri Bar-Joseph: Well, they destroyed in the first hour of the war most of the Egyptian air force on the ground, attacking the Egyptians with a surprise attack, a major surprise attack, destroying the Egyptian air force on the ground, then the Syrian air force. The point was that in every dogfight between Israeli and Arab fighters, the Israelis won. As I said, the shooting down ratio was about 20 to 1 -- for every Israeli airplane that was shot down, about 20 Arab airplanes were shot down. We had far better aircraft, we had American aircraft, the Phantom and Skyhawk and some other. The Egyptians used the MiG-21, which is a good fighter, but in general, the Egyptian and the Syrian pilots were not as good as the Israeli pilots. This was also one of the reasons for the self-assuredness of the Israelis before the war. They will not go to war because they are going to lose it. They see what happens all the time.
Andrew Hammond: Just going back to the special means of collection, help me understand this if I'm getting it wrong. There was a special means of collection. The chief of Amman, Israel's military intelligence, thought that if something's going to happen, it will happen on these lines and we'll know. But the Egyptians don't mention this on the lines. Help me understand this.
Uri Bar-Joseph: The story is this. In June 1973, another special, not such an important means of collection, that was a listening device to Egyptian telephone lines, fell accidentally to Egyptian hands. They found it accidentally. It was clear that now that the Egyptians understand what the Israelis are doing, they listen to our telephone lines, they will look for other similar means of collection. So it was decided that as long as there is no danger of war, we'll just turn off this special means of collection. Until June, when they operated, we listened to the Egyptian lines and we knew what happens. But then they were turned off. And it was obvious that if the tension will rise, then the means will be operated again, because the task was to provide a warning about war. You want to keep them safe, but not at the cost of not getting a warning to war. It's absurd. But since the director of military intelligence of Amman was so certain that the Egyptians will not go to war, he ordered not to operate the means. Now, a number of officers, high-ranking officers in military intelligence, including the one who was in charge of the SIGINT tuning, and the one who was in charge of collection in military intelligence, and the chief analyst, and they all told him, we have to use this means. There is a tension, but he was so certain that nothing will happen, so that he prohibited the use of this means. The first time that they were used, as I said, was on the morning, the early morning hours of October 6th, that is about 10 hours before war started. And I have in my new book, I published a report about how they were tested, because they were tested now and then for a couple of minutes. Just listen to see that they work. They were tested on the night of October 4th and October 5th. And I have the report, how they were tested. They were tested for a few seconds here, a few seconds there, and that's it. And I published this report in the new book. But everyone, including the chief of staff of the Israeli army, including the minister of defense, they were certain that this means are working. This is the most hideous crime you can do in a country like Israel. It's not that you don't operate this means because you're worried about the future. Okay, this is understandable. But that you tell your superiors that they work while they don't work and that they don't provide any warning because there is nothing going through these lines, and this way you make them certain that war is not coming, is a major crime.
Andrew Hammond: There's been lots of interpretations of how Israel was surprised during the Yom Kippur War. There's been various things, Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir. But historically, if you just look at the documents, all the evidence points towards Eli Zeira because his immediate subordinates were telling him to turn it on. He didn't turn it on. And then he effectively lied to his superiors, the chief of staff and the defense minister. And so from both angles, he's the person that all the evidence points to has been the crux of the intelligence failure. Is that correct?
Uri Bar-Joseph: It is correct, except that there were some others also in the analytical department of military intelligence. Most important among them was the chief analyst of Egyptian affairs, who was only a lieutenant colonel, but he was very influential because he was the expert on Egyptian affairs. And he categorically also believed that Egypt is not going to war. And he gave the, if you want, the professional support to Zeira with regard to the estimation that Egypt, what we see is not a war. But of course, this officer, this lieutenant colonel, he wasn't in charge of the special means of collection. He wasn't the one who made the decisions about them. And in this sense, most of the responsibility for the intelligence failure falls on the shoulders of Zeira, yes.
Andrew Hammond: And it sounds like the lieutenant colonel and head of the head of Egyptian analysis, I mean, he made the bad judgment call. In the futurology as intelligence, you don't get everything correct, but he made a professional call and he got it wrong. Eli Zeira, he made a bad judgment call and, you know, he's entitled to do that as the head of Aman. He can make a call one way or another. He listens to his subordinates and he makes a call. But where he's qualitatively different from the lieutenant colonel is that he lied to the chief of staff and the defense minister. So the chief of staff and the defense minister were given imperfect information to the prime minister, Golda Meir.
Uri Bar-Joseph: Yes, this is more or less a situation, except that I have to emphasize one more thing. We got a lot of information about the Egyptian and the Syrian intention to go to war and about the deployment to go to war. And measures were taken. The Israeli regular army deployed along the border in the 48 hours before the war, 24 hours before the war. As I said before, about 80 percent of the Israeli ground forces were reserve soldiers like myself. And as long as there was no war alert by the military intelligence, the Israeli policymakers and the chief of staff didn't think that there was a need to mobilize the reserve forces, because we knew for sure we'll get the warning from military intelligence through these special means of collection at least 48 hours before war comes out. And 48 hours is enough time to deploy the forces in the Golan and to make a major deployment in the Sinai. And the warning came only eight, ten hours before the war, before war started. And not from this means of collection, but from Ashraf Marwan.
Andrew Hammond: And although Israel knew about it 10 hours before, they didn't call up the reserves straight away. They wanted to wait until Egypt struck first. Is that correct? I remember reading somewhere that Moshe Dayan -- and you're the expert. He said, you know, we need to let them attack first. We can't be seen as the aggressor. Help our listeners understand that if they knew 10 hours before, why didn't they act immediately? Why did they wait for the Egyptians to attack?
Uri Bar-Joseph: Well, there are two issues. One was whether to launch a preemptive airstrike. And there was a planned airstrike, a preemptive airstrike that could destroy the Syrian surface-to-air missiles in the Golan sites, in the Golan. And on this issue, it was clear to the Israelis since 1967 that since we have new borders, we have now territorial debt, the Americans will not let us launch a preemptive strike or start a war. They hardly allowed us to do it in 1967 when we didn't have this territorial debt. Obviously, after '67, the preemptive strike was out of the question. And it was clear in all the Israeli, the idea of military plan that the Egyptians will start the war. The first shot will be Egyptian, not Israeli. On the morning of October 6th, the morning of when war broke out, it was a desperate situation. No one expected that war might break out when the Israeli forces are not deployed for war. We counted on the intelligence warning, and it didn't come on time. So the chief of staff tried to get permission for a preemptive strike, and the political echelon told him, no, you don't have it. The second issue was the mobilization of the reserve forces. And here there was no problem to mobilize them. The Americans never said a word about it. It was clear that if Israel feels that it needs to mobilize the forces in order to defend itself, Israel can do it. There was a delay of about three hours, three, four hours in the mobilization of the forces, not because of fear of American reaction, but mainly because Dayan, the minister of defense, didn't believe that the war will break out. And in addition, everyone expected the war to break out at six o'clock in the evening, not at two o'clock in the afternoon. And altogether, this led to the decision to mobilize the Israeli reserve army only at nine o'clock in the morning. The warning from Ashraf Marwan arrived in Israel at about four o'clock, 4 a.m. So it was something like four or five hours difference. It didn't make much difference.
Andrew Hammond: Tell me if I'm wrong in this, but I read somewhere that King Hussein of Jordan, he tipped off to the Israelis that the Egyptians and the Syrians were up to something. Is that correct?
Uri Bar-Joseph: Yes, there was a famous meeting between Israel's Prime Minister Golda Meir and King Hussein of Jordan on September 25th. That is about two weeks, less than two weeks before the war started. King Hussein met Golda Meir regularly on many issues. Of course, these were very secret meetings. But there was a sort of cooperation in security affairs between the Israelis and the Jordanians. We had Yasser Arafat as a common enemy. And Hussein didn't want a new war in the Middle East. He was worried. I mean, he lost the West Bank in the 1967 war. He was worried that another war would lead to the collapse of Jordan. So when he learned that the Syrians, he learned more about the Syrians because the Jordanian intelligence had very excellent sources in the Syrian army, he learned that the Syrians planned to go to war soon. He came to Tel Aviv, or near Tel Aviv, to meet Golda Meir. And they met, and he told her that the Syrian army deploys, and it is, in his words, in pre-jump positions. And Golda Meir asked him, will they attack without the Egyptians? And he said, no, they are going to attack together with the Egyptians. They are coordinating. This is something that we knew for 20, 30 years from now. Now, what we didn't know was that together with the king came his intelligence chief, and he met the head of the Mossad, the chief of the Mossad, and another senior intelligence officer from military intelligence. And he provided the Israelis something like two weeks before the war, the Syrian war plan. Three divisions, three infantry divisions will attack here, here, and here. Two armor divisions will attack here, here, and here. And he gave us all the details. But since the Israeli intelligence chiefs believed that Egypt won't go to war and Syria won't go to war without Egypt, they simply threw away this information. They didn't use it at all. And, of course, this was a major mistake, another example of excellent information that wasn't used before the war.
Andrew Hammond: That, to me, is a twist in the plot. Eli, that we spoke about earlier, the head of Aman, we spoke about him being on the hook to a considerable extent. But if Golda Meir has a meeting with King Hussein, and they have excellent sources inside Syria, and they say, listen, they're going to attack, if you're a leader, you can't just say, well, my subordinates said this. Ultimately, the buck stops with you. So you have to make a judgment call. So if I'm the prime minister, I'm just being hypothetical here. If I'm the prime minister and someone that I have a close relationship with, who has excellent intelligence sources in a country, and whose intelligence chief hands over the order of battle for an upcoming attack, surely she's culpable as well. If you're getting this kind of information coming in, and you just say, oh, well, there's the conception, and the head of Aman doesn't think it will happen, at some point, you've just got to say, something doesn't feel right here. Let's not mobilize everybody, but let's just escalate a little bit, just to make sure that if there is a surprise attack, we're going to be in a decent position to at least hold the line until we can mobilize everyone.
Uri Bar-Joseph: Yes, it makes sense. What you're saying makes sense. I tend to agree. But there are a few points that we should remember. First of all, on two prior occasions, at the end of 1972 and in April 1973, the Mossad brought excellent information that Egypt plans to go to war soon, and King Hussein of Jordan informed Israel that Syria will join the war, and nothing happened. So this was the third time, it was a cry wolf syndrome, typical cry wolf syndrome. Then, Golda Meir was worried, very worried, and during her meeting with Hussein, or immediately after her meeting with Hussein, she called Dayan, the Minister of Defense, and told him, King Hussein says this and this, what happens. And Dayan promised to check it. And indeed, he checked it with military intelligence, and military intelligence gave him a solid answer. We know the Jordanians are worried, they said this once, twice, this is the third time. We have our own estimates, we don't see Egypt going to war against Israel. The Syrians will not go without the Egyptians. Maybe the Syrians will do a small attack in the Golan Heights, but that's it. And this was the estimate that Golda received. And she was a civilian, and she had a lot of respect to the Israeli intelligence, which until then proved to be excellent, and one way or another, she accepted the judgment. We can blame Golda Meir for many things, but not for this mishap.
Andrew Hammond: And what happens to Eli Zeira after the war? What was his story?
Uri Bar-Joseph: Well, he was relieved from his position as Director of Military Intelligence, and became a private citizen. And he wrote his memoirs, and tried to prove that the blame for the failure was with the Mossad and not with him, and some journalists really believed him. But another twist in this story is that of course Eli Zeira knew who Ashraf Marwan was, who was the miraculous source of Israel in Egypt. And as a means to prove that Ashraf Marwan was a double agent who lied to the Israelis, to deceive the Israelis, he exposed to journalists' identity or details about the identity of Ashraf Marwan. And at the end, one of them published his name, and there was an official investigation on how come the identity of Ashraf Marwan was exposed. And the rule was that Eli Zeira leaked his name to journalists in order to put the blame on the Mossad for the failure in 1973. And shortly after the conclusions of these investigations became public, Ashraf Marwan was found dead in London, after falling from the terrace of his apartment in London.
Andrew Hammond: Were you involved in that operation? Did you encircle the Egyptians?
Uri Bar-Joseph: Well, I was a soldier. I was shelled. As far as I know I didn't kill anyone, and I wasn't killed in the war, that's what I remember from the war. Our problem as Israelis wasn't a lack of information. We had excellent information. The problem was in the interpretation of this excellent information, it was a failure.
Andrew Hammond: So it's not a failure of collection, it's a failure of synthesis and distribution?
Uri Bar-Joseph: It is a failure, first and foremost, of estimation. The main culprits in this case are the Israeli intelligence officers who adhered to the conception until the very last moment, the conception that said that Egypt will not go to war with Israel without getting the MiG-23, and they didn't believe what they see in their eyes. We had all the information about the Egyptian deployment for war, we had the information that they are going to war, and we still didn't believe it.
Andrew Hammond: What's the legacy of the Yom Kippur War? What actual changes did it make to Israeli intelligence? It could be the structure or processes or staffing or culture. How did it change Israeli intelligence?
Uri Bar-Joseph: There was some administration. They changed the structure of the Israeli intelligence community a little bit. Now the Mossad is also responsible for national intelligence estimates. In 1973, the military intelligence had a monopoly. Now it doesn't hold a monopoly anymore. There were some others, they established the devil's advocate department in military intelligence. The main difference is that until 1973, we suffered from what we call a Pollyanna syndrome. After 1973 we suffered from Cassandra syndrome, and each time that something seems to be changing in the Arab world, immediately military intelligence provided the war warning. And even when Sadat came to a historical visit in Jerusalem in 1977, military intelligence didn't believe that it is a genuine peace initiative. And he warned the policy makers that this is just a cover for an Egyptian intention to launch another war. So you can see how it moved from one extreme to the other after the war. This is the main change, and I think that it stayed with us until today.
Andrew Hammond: And what's the mood like in Israel surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war? What's your finger on the pulse of Israeli society with regards to the Yom Kippur war?
Uri Bar-Joseph: We had many wars. This is the only war that we remember. This is the most traumatic event in Israeli history, at least until recently, because as you may know, we now go through a major domestic crisis. No one knows yet how it's going to end. We hope that it won't end with another war. But if you ask an Israeli who knows a little bit about Israeli history, what's the most traumatic event in Israeli history, he would tell you the Yom Kippur war. It is remembered as such every year in Yom Kippur, the special editions of the papers, and they do something in the media, things like that. Obviously, now that it is the 50th anniversary, there is a lot of noise about it. And I think it will be remembered as such also in the future. I hope that we won't need to replace it with another traumatic event. I really hope so.
Andrew Hammond: Well, thanks ever so much for your time, I've really enjoyed speaking to you.
Uri Bar-Joseph: Thank you, it was a pleasure.
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