On the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, two of the war’s key figures made a rare appearance at a discussion held at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv: Eli Zeira, who was head of Military Intelligence during the war, and then-Mossad chief Zvi Zamir. The discussion was moderated by Haaretz correspondent Amir Oren.
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Zeira spoke about the mistakes made by himself and others: “The first mistake was that we did not understand that the Egyptians’ main problem was shame. They had been humiliated by 2.5 million Jews who had come from Europe and who defeated their exalted air force [in the Six Day War of June 1967]. If I had understood this point, I would have understood that they desperately wanted a victory, even a small one.”
Another mistake was adhering to the ingrained belief that the Egyptians would never attack Israel. Zeira said he regretted not having fought hard enough for his professional standpoint. “We should have abandoned all the territory from the [Suez] Canal eastward; we should not have allowed a situation in which there were 100,000 Egyptian troops on one side and only 1,000 Israeli troops on the other,” he said. ”One thing did not happen, contrary to all combat theories: The reserves were not called up. To this very day, that point has remained a riddle: Why were the reserves not called up?”
Zeira’s contention that the reserves were not called up was disputed by many in the audience, several of whom called out, “That’s not true! The reserves were called up!”
Zeira added that he was not happy with the IDF fortifications along the Suez Canal and that he spoke about this matter with then-Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Israel Tal: “I told him I was not the least bit happy with the defense line in Sinai. I said to him that only 300 meters separated us from them [the Egyptians]. He replied that we had information that they [the Egyptians] had no intention of crossing the Suez Canal but that, if they were to cross it, we would turn it into a valley of death. The low likelihood [of an Egyptian crossing of the canal] stemmed from the overall conception of the situation.”
Referring to the errors he made, Zeira said, “My first mistake was that I did not ask [Israeli poet] Haim Gouri to review my assessment of the situation. We did not have enough information. We did not have a mechanism for probing the soul of the Egyptian people...”
The second mistake, admitted Zeira, was going against his own better judgement. “I usually had a note in my pocket with two Hebrew words: ‘V’im lo [And if not]’ followed by hundreds of question marks. The research people hated me because I always asked the same question. My mistake was that I did not make more use of that question.”
Zeira recalled that he had received a special report from a certain intelligence asset named “Dubi,” who said that he had ‘not heard anything particularly important’ during the hours hours prior to the outbreak of the war. At that point, Colonel (res.) Yosef Langutzky, who had been responsible for special operations during the war, interjected: “That’s a lie, a lie,” Langutzky said. “What you are doing here is spreading disinformation and pure fabrication. After your speech, people will say, ‘Wow, Eli Zeira has told us some very interesting things.’ There are people sitting here and listening to what you are saying who think that everything Zeira is saying is correct.”
Zamir, who spoke after Zeira, said that signs of impending war began appearing months before it actually broke out. “Around February or March , we began to receive information about the first signs of war. These signs indicated gradual changes. In addition to the information that was conveyed orally, there was also information from reliable sources and from documents. Military Intelligence knew about [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat’s plan as early as March or April  and it specifically talked about deployment along the line of the [Suez] Canal. That was also the Soviet doctrine.” Zamir mentioned the fact that he was not asked to participate in the weekly sessions that Defense Minister Moshe Dayan held with his top officials.
Regarding Mossad agent (Dr.) Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian who died in London in June 2007 under mysterious circumstances, Zamir said that he did not know what Marwan was thinking: “Sadly, I cannot ask him today. I wrote a book in which I described the relationship between the two of us. This is a very personal matter. I wrote the book in total frankness. Although he was an Egyptian and I was an Israeli, I was loyal to my country, although there were doubts as to whether he was loyal to his.”
Zamir defined Marwan as an “invaluable asset,” noting that “he [Marwan] emphatically said that this was war.” Zamir recalled how Marwan asked him, “How can you people not see that this is war?”
When Zeira said that the reserves were not called up people in the audience cried out, “That’s not true! The reserves were called up!”