1973 War |

I Couldn't Face Up to Army Chiefs, Golda Told Inquiry Panel

Groupthink prevented decision-makers from challenging security experts, former PM Golda Meir told the inquiry commission in newly-released transcripts.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

“I don’t think that anyone can stand up and say, ‘I made no mistakes,’" former Prime Minister Golda Meir told the Agranat Commission following the Yom Kippur War in 1973, it emerged on Thursday as segments of the protocols were made public by the Israel Defense Forces archive upon the 40th anniversary of the war.

In her testimony before the inquiry commission established to investigate the blunders leading up to one of Israel greatest military crises, Meir described the intelligence she received, her apprehensions when facing defense officials as someone who had no significant military record, and the mistakes she made in the days immediately preceding the war’s outbreak.

“I believe the title of the catastrophe that befell us on the eve Yom Kippur eve is ‘Blunders.’ Everyone in his own particular made some mistakes,” she told the members of the commission. “I don’t think that anyone can stand up and say, ‘I made no mistakes.’ If he made a mistake despite the information in his possession, that means that his assessment of that information was incorrect or that he erred because of – let us say, he didn’t dare, in the presence of experts, to state something that the experts had not stated. I take myself as an example. What would have happened to me? They would have thought me a fool. Well, to a certain extent, that is also true. But what would have happened to me had I expressed what I felt during that period? I felt terrible. I couldn't handle a confrontation with the head of Military Intelligence or the Chief of Staff.”

Responding to Meir, commission Chairman and Supreme Court President Shim on Agranat said, “That is precisely the point.” She then replied, “But I felt terrible. Why am I tormenting myself ? It is not as if I was smarter or that I had more information. But why didn’t I just say, ‘Gentlemen, perhaps there should be a mobilization (of reserve forces) anyway?’ Let us assume that they would not have accepted my position. I don’t know whether they would have accepted it or not. It is easier for me to use myself rather than anyone else as an example. But here hardly anyone could say this … There was not one person who did not say something that could have saved (the situation), had his opinion been accepted. That’s the truth. I think that this is an objective assessment that I have no problem making because I consider myself a member of this group.”

Agranat then said, “That is because all of these people had no instruments with which to make assessments. There is only one entity that can make assessments – Military Intelligence. MI has the instruments with which to make assessments and is in possession of all the information. And it has to make a selection from among the facts, to think about them and to assess them.”

Former Chief of Staff Yigael Yadin interjected: “And it (referring to Military Intelligence) doesn’t pass on all that information to the others.” Chairman Agranat responed, “What can the others do? MI is the expert. The only expert. All they can use is their common sense at the very most.”

At this point in Meir’s testimony, the commission members proposed creating creation a new body - a security council that could provide advice on intelligence matters. Meir concurs: “On this matter, I think that there is no disagreement between us. We all agree that something is needed, that what is needed is another link in the chain. What frightens me, with my knowledge of the size of the apparatus in Military Intelligence, is who could tackle this issue with a proper counterbalance of assessment. But we must find a way. It has become absolutely clear to me that we must not be in a situation where only one person is making the assessments. Then, as you have said, his views can be challenged on the basis of logic.”

The prime minister’s testimony focuses on several issues that came up in the final days before the war: the removal of the Russian advisers; the trip that Mossad head Zvi Zamir made to London for an urgent meeting with Ashraf Marwan, a Mossad agent; the employment of special means; and the mobilization of reserve forces prior to the war. Regarding the Russian move, Meir said that, one fine day, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat decided “to tell the Russians to pack up and leave Egypt.”

“It wasn’t such a logical move,” she noted. “Here he was relying on luck. One fine morning he just got up and, without consulting with anyone, told the Russian advisers to pack up and go home.” Meir said that MI did not know about this move: “No one knew. I think that nonetheless we were the first ones in the world – but not beforehand … But, when the Russians left, almost at the very moment of their departure, we were, I think, if not the first to know, we were among the first in the world to know that they were leaving.”

Commision member Moshe Landau tried to return to the subject of the early intelligence warning and said: “We had no early knowledge.” Meir replied, “No, not before they left” and, in an additional text, which has remained classified and in which she apparently describes in detail the information she received from an intelligence agent, she clarified and finally said, “It was his (Sadat’s) decision. One fine day he said it and that was that.”

Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir in the Golan Heights, during the Yom Kippur War.Credit: Reuters
The first meeting of the Agranat Commission, which was set up to probe the government's conduct leading up to and during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Credit: Yaakov Saar / GPO

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