A Leak Worth Plugging

Trying Eli Zeira, former director of Military Intelligence, for exposing one of Israel's greatest sources of intelligence is a matter of justice not payback.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail

Proponents of conspiracy theories believe that Elvis lives. They are convinced that creatures from other planets occasionally land on earth and abduct people, that Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by leftists and that the September 11 attacks were perpetuated by none other than the Mossad.

It's possible that historian and commentator Uri Milstein believes in conspiracy theories, or that he simply didn't read the available material in his search to understand what really happened on the eve of the Yom Kippur War. The results can be seen in his opinion piece, "The concept is alive and kicking," (Haaretz, July 18th). Like every good conspiracy theorist, he ignores an abundance of existing knowledge and invents a series of baseless claims and turns them into facts – giving him people to disparage and "facts" to flaunt.

Therefore, it is appropriate to present him with the actual facts along with an invitation: Try to disprove them without relying on your gut feelings and wishful thinking.

The roots of "the concept" – an Israeli strategic assumption according to which Egypt would not go to war without first neutralizing the superior Israeli Air Force – date to just after the Six-Day War. The information provided by Ashraf Marwan – an Egyptian billionaire worked either as an Israeli spy or an Egyptian double-agent starting in 1971 – only reinforced the concept by providing information regarding Cairo's strategic thinking.

In Israel, during general staff discussions at the end of 1968, Air Force officials were asserting that the Egyptians would be defeated if they tried to cross the Suez canal without first neutralizing Israel's air force.

It turns out the Egyptians had made the same calculation.

This is reflected in the memoirs of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, his chief of staff Saad el-Shazly and others. So the information Marwan provided regarding the Egyptian viewpoint – which formed "the concept" relied on by Israeli intelligence – was correct at the time. The Agranat Commission’s report in 1975 reached this conclusion as well.

In October 1972, a change occurred in this perception.

Sadat decided he could wait no longer wait for ground-to ground missiles and bombers, which the Soviets had not yet supplied, and decided to go to war immediately. He announced this in a secret meeting with the Egyptian security elite on October 24.

After a week and a half, Marwan met with his Israeli handlers and informed them of the decision. He brought the minutes of the meeting with him.

Based on this intelligence, Moshe Dayan announced in a cabinet meeting on October 26 that new information suggested Egypt intended to resume fighting by the end of 1972. This did not actually happen. As we know today – and Marwan told Israel at the time – the Egyptian military persuaded Sadat that more serious preparations were needed for war.

These preparations were completed as May approached, and a date for the war was set – May 19, 1973. Marwan reported this development, and other sources – who nobody would accuse of being double agents – confirmed it. In a meeting with Prime Minister Golda Meir and Dayan on April 18, 1973, IDF Chief of Staff David "Dado" Elazar estimated that Egypt was indeed heading for war. Israeli leaders had already moved away from the "concept" and – based on the new information provided by Marwean – had determined that Egypt would not wait to receive missiles and planes.

Eli Zeira, the director of Military Intelligence at the time, was not willing to give up on "the concept." At the same meeting, he predicted that the Egyptians did not intend to fire first. As it turned out, the war did not break out in May because the Syrians told the Egyptians they were not yet ready. Both sides agreed together to start a war a few months later.

Information on Egyptian and Syrian war preparations reached Directorate of Military Intelligence Zeira, but he continued to adhere to “the concept” – although it had become obsolete a year earlier.

By refusing to accept the new information, and especially by lying to Dayan and Elazar in saying that his agency's intelligence methods in Egypt were working and would give Israel warning of an impending war, Zeira cost many young people their lives. In practice, he prohibited the use of the supposedly successful methods, apart from a "dry run" of a few hours, which produced no intelligence. Because Dadu and Dayan believed that these measures were working yet not producing any warnings, their assessment that Egypt would not open fire was strengthened.

Milstein builds an entire conspiracy theory around the motives of those who are pressing to prosecute Zeira because he told Israeli and foreign journalists that it was Marwan who gave Israel a last-minute warning about the Egyptian attack – without which the surprise and Israel's losses would have been much greater.

Milstein did not approach me, and to the best of my knowledge did not approach former Mossad chief Zvi Zamir, Col. Yossi Langotsky and Brig. Gen. Amos Gilboa to determine the reasons for our demand that Zeira be put on trial. This was not a personal vendetta, but a request to bring to justice a man who committed a serious breach of intelligence. It is not at all surprising that Milstein did not contact me. Those who believe in “the concept” don’t let things like facts get in the way of their ideas.

Dr. Bar-Yosef teaches in the Department of International Relations at Haifa University.

No, Elvis isn't alive.Credit: AP
Eli Zeira: He did the right thing.Credit: Moti Milrod