Documents: Explicit warning of Yom Kippur War failed to reach Israeli leaders
Newly released testimony to Agranat Commission indicates agent's report didn't go directly to then-PM Golda Meir, and the Mossad head didn't understand it until hours after it was delivered.
Previously unreleased testimony from the Agranat Commission, which in late 1973 and early 1974 investigated the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, was made public on Thursday by the Defense Ministry’s Israel Defense Forces Archive, revealing that an explicit warning concerning the war's outbreak failed to reach the top tiers of Israel's leadership.
The new transcripts include the testimony of then-foreign minister Abba Eban, General Staff officers Maj. Gen. Shmuel Gonen (Gorodish), who headed the Southern Command, and Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Hofi, who headed the Northern Command, as well as the testimony of Brig. Gen. Yisrael Lior, who was the military secretary of then-prime minister Golda Meir, and that of Alfred Eini, an aide to then-Mossad head Zvi Zamir. Most of the testimony had been classified until now.
The most significant testimony describes the transmission of what was referred to as the “golden report,” delivered by the Egyptian agent Ashraf Marwan, code-named Babel, to his handlers in the Mossad.
Marwan, the son-in-law of former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and a member of that country's elite, supplied the Mossad with specific, decisive and trenchant warnings regarding the future war. He repeated and confirmed his warnings several times after the Mossad asked him for clarifications.
With that, the new testimony reveals that although the Mossad believed that the source and his information was credible, in accordance with the organization’s internal work procedures the agent’s information was not immediately passed on to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Some of the newly-released testimony's content remains classified. And although Marwan’s role was made public several years ago, the information security and censorship staffers who examined the transcripts before their release took pains to remove any sections that even link the “special agent” to the code name Babel.
On October 1, 1973, Marwan, referred to as “one of the important sources,” delivered his most significant report: In a week the Egyptians would launch a war with a military exercise – something which contradicted IDF Military Intelligence assessments that there was “a low probability of war.”
The Mossad people pressed Babel, asking, “Are you talking about an exercise or a war?” The agent replied: I’m talking about a war, not an exercise, though the war will break out under the cover of an exercise.” The agent was queried again, and he reiterated: The intention is to attack.
In December 1973 Lior, Meir’s military secretary, told the commission that had heard then, for the first time, that this important intelligence report was not passed on directly to Meir, because procedure was that Intelligence Branch was responsible for relaying such information in the daily intelligence digest submitted to the prime minister.
“The prime minister receives [the intelligence report] through me, [and] I must say, to her credit, that she goes over every paper from the material in the digest from the Mossad, from all these sources. And she already knows all the agents; she asks and is interested in knowing about them. A report like this in the digest got lost. Because if it was there, she didn’t know,” Lior said explicitly.
“If [the report] existed, it should have been given to her. If such a report had come to my hands, I would have taken a plane and flown to the deputy prime minister immediately with such a report. It looks different [than when] it appears in the digest – that it’s part of an exercise. Part of an exercise, of all the reports that were coming from the field, and there this just disappears.”
Commission chairman Dr. Shimon Agranat then asked him: “If there had been such a report in the digest, it would have gotten lost – why would it have gotten lost?”
And Lior replied, “Because it isn’t emphasized. I think there was not such a specific report as the source says. We asked, the source says, that it’s not an exercise, but a war. Now it appears in the digest – that they saw tanks and saw this and that.”
Two days after Marwan’s last response, he resolved to deliver an unequivocal warning to Israel about the impending attack and demanded a meeting with Mossad head Zvi Zamir. At half past midnight on October 5, a telegram marked “urgent” was sent from London, which was received in Israel by the Mossad at 2 A.M. The clerk on the night shift read the clear message that war was at hand to Zamir’s aide, Alfred Eini.
“To me this looked like a very important telegram at the time,” said Eini. “To me it looked like a warning about the start of a war. We had never gotten such a telegram. That is, one in which the source [the name is censored] verifies specifically that the Mossad head must come to see him, he inquires, asks, and states that he has very important things [to say] about the warning. [He] asks that the head of the Mossad come to see him personally, and should come see him immediately. About a very important matter, as he put it in the telegram.”
Dr. Yitzhak Nebenzahl, then state comptroller and a member of the commission, wanted to clarify the contents of the telegram and asked him, “Was it a warning or war? There’s a difference, because he didn’t also give the ***…My question is: Was it a warning that there was going to be a war, or was the subject the war?”
The Mossad aide replied: “I’ll tell you: I understood it to be a warning that there would be a war. But in general, the topic was the war, while there are details about the topic…it was clear that this was a warning about the start of war. That’s why I thought it was best to wake the Mossad head and not wait until morning, and I phoned him immediately.”
Eini described Zamir’s response: “He heard, said thank you, he said all right, I’ll go see him in the morning.”
Zamir’s office quicklyy began to prepare for Zamir’s trip to London for the urgent meeting with Marwan. Eini recalled to the commission the conversations that he had with Zamir in the ensuing hours.
“We set a time that it would be good to leave, when his personal driver would pick him and me up and we’d go to the airport,” recalled Eini. “At the same time, the Mossad head told me that the head of Military Intelligence had called him after I’d spoken to him. In my second conversation with the Mossad head, he told me that the head of MI had called him to tell him about the preparations the Soviets were making to leave Syria. I believe at the time we were talking only about Syria.
“I told the Mossad head that what the MI chief had told him dovetails well with what I’d told him, and then it emerged that the Mossad head hadn’t fully understood my first message,” Eini told the commission. “In other words, he had been half asleep, apparently, and didn’t catch that what I had told him had specifically referred to a warning about war.
“He said that if that was the case, he would go call the MI chief again to tell him this,” Eini said.
On the morning of October 5, when the two met before Zamir took off for London, the Mossad head admitted that he hadn’t paid full attention to what his aide had told him.
“He told me – we went over this point – and he told me that he hadn’t paid attention to this fact, and that he had spoken with the MI chief about the warning and told him that he was going to meet *** [Babel’s name].”
Eini also said that in an unusual move, Zamir told him to update Military Intelligence head maj. gen. Eli Zeira, with regard to any message that arrives “on the topic of starting a war. At any time.”
Agranat asked the aide if he thought the telegram essentially informed Israel of the start of the war.
“I thought that it was a warning of the start of a war, and when the Mossad head told me about the removal of the Russian families I had no doubt, which is why I told him [about the warning] again,” Eini said.
Justice Moshe Landau, another commission member, pressed Eini, saying, “But you’ve had lots of warnings that didn’t state a date.”
“Like this?” Eini replied. “Never. We’d never had a telegram of this type. Not from anyone else.”
“[Warnings that] within the coming month there will be a war – something like that you’d had,” said Landau.
“Yes,” replied Eini.
“So what’s the difference between a warning like that and this?” asked Landau.
Eini replied: “The difference is in that…a telegram can be marked urgent, that’s a decision by the sender of the telegram…[but] to say that you have an important message about a warning and that you want the Mossad head in person. I don’t [ever] remember such a thing.”
At this point the commission demanded to know why this urgent and exceptional warning that Eini described wasn’t immediately passed on to Prime Minister Meir. Why wasn’t she updated, when it was clear to the Mossad that at issue was a rare type of report?
Former chief of staff Yigael Yadin, a member of the commission, asked Eini: “Did it not occur to anyone during this discussion that given there was a warning, why not submit it simultaneously to the prime minister, as in other urgent cases?
Eini replied: “We never pass on [reports] to Lior [the military secretary] simultaneously. We only pass things to Lior after the fact, after a day, or half a day. What I mean is that I thought that what we give to Lior, or to the defense minister, to brig. gen. Raviv [Yehoshua Raviv, then-defense minister Moshe Dayan’s military secretary], is not something of the type we had here, a warning, we don’t do that and also warn them.”
He clarified: “I, in any case, never thought to wake up Yisrael Lior at night to pass him this type of message, since I know he isn’t the pipeline for dealing with such a report.”
Nebenzahl: “‘This type’ [of message] – in other words, there had never been this type of message before?”
Eini: “Right, and I also didn’t [see] any need to pass it on at night.”
Agranat then asked Eini directly: “Did you weigh whether to pass it on to the prime minister or not?” And Eini responded, “There was no dilemma. I didn’t think about passing it on. It never occurred to me to pass it on at night. The following morning, yes.”
The testimonies then describe the meeting between the Mossad’s Zamir and Egypt’s Marwan, and the sharp message that was delivered afterward: The war would start today.
Eini described how Zamir called him at about 2 A.M. on October 6 and told him, using codes they had set up in advance, all the details that Marwan had given him during their London meeting – the date, the estimated time, and an explicit warning that the war would start that day. Eini delivered this message to Lior, to MI chief Zeira and to Raviv, the defense minister’s military secretary.
A few hours afterward, at 5 A.M. on October 6, defense minister Dayan himself called Eini, and asked to hear the Mossad’s message again. Eini describes how Dayan wanted to check the exact wording of the attack warning – whether the Egyptian forces would finish landing after dark, as Zeira had understood, or before dark, as he told the defense minister.
“I don’t think there’s a difference; I don’t see that there’s any difference,” Eini said in his testimony. “The general meaning was clear.”