Declassified: Mossad Wanted to Publish Intel From Top Spy to Prevent Yom Kippur War

Israel State Archives publish a secret telegram documenting a pre-war warning Mossad chief Zvi Zamir received from a source of an Egyptian-Syrian plot to attack Israel 'toward evening'

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Zvi Zamir and Ashraf Marwan
Zvi Zamir and Ashraf MarwanCredit: Ofer Vaknin, AFP
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Zvi Zamir, the Mossad chief during the Yom Kippur War, had proposed having news media outlets publish a warning he received from a senior Egyptian source of Cairo’s plot to attack Israel, so say the contents of a secret cable published for the first time by the state archives on Monday in honor of the war’s 45th anniversary.

Zamir had sent the cable to Prime Minister Golda Meir on October 6, 1973, the day the war broke out. It included an explicit warning that Egypt and Syria were about to launch a joint attack on Israel “toward evening.”

The cable summarized Zamir’s meetings on the day beforehand in London with senior source Ashraf Marwan in which these warnings were conveyed. Marwan was close to Egypt’s then-president Anwar Sadat, and a son-in-law of Sadat’s predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

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The first page of Zamir's cableCredit: Israel State Archives

Zamir signs off on the cable by saying: “According to the source, we may be able to thwart the launch of a war by publishing an item about it on the radio and in the press, which would prove to Egypt, including the military command, that the Israelis are aware of the plan and ready for it…The head of the Mossad proposed to consider publication by news agencies in Israel…According to the source, this would have an influence in Egypt.”

Professor Uri Bar Joseph of the University of Haifa and author of the book “The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel” feels there was no significance to the theoretical discussion about whether to publish this warning or not. “My impression is that Zvika Zamir, for all sorts of reasons, was looking for a way out of a helpless, difficult situation in which we were caught off guard,” Bar Joseph says. “In effect I don’t think it held much water… perhaps it may have helped had Israel published something beforehand. But I find it hard to believe that a report by the BBC would have substantially changed an Egyptian-Syrian decision to go to war.”

The five-page cable completely altered intelligence assessment of the situation. Until then the IDF believed there was a “low possibility” of a war breaking out. Now they understood that there was great certainty of a war, which broke out later that day. Freddy Eini, the head of the Mossad bureau, moved this cable to Yisrael Leor, Meir’s military adviser, and showed it to her a few hours before the attacks started.

The first page of the cable contains a handwritten note in which Eini writes to Leor: “Yisrael, the material will be worked up and distributed to everyone in a few moments. Freddy.”

Golda Meir addressing the Israeli public after the Yom Kippur War, November 1973Credit: AFP

The second page contains another note from Meir’s adviser. “Please note that the material points clearly to the source, hence the caution.”

The Mossad chief writes in point 14 of the subsequent pages of the document: “The source assesses there are ‘99 percent chances’ the attack will begin on October 6, one percent he leaves for the chance that the president can have second thoughts even while ‘his finger is on the button.' According to the source, Sadat thinks he can surprise us. The source thinks the president has gone too far this time on the matter of war.”

On the eve of his departure for the meeting with the source in London, Zamir updated the head of military intelligence Eli Zeira that the fact they were holding a meeting meant a war alert, even before he knew what he would hear.

“I telephoned Zeira on Thursday at 2 A.M. and told him, ‘listen, I received information from Freedy by phone that the source wants to see me on the issue – that’s code for war,” the Agranat Commission which investigated the war’s failures quoted Zamir as saying.

“Freddy telephoned me, I spoke to him while I was still asleep. He reminded me – this is his warning.”

After the meeting in London, Zamir telephoned a war alert to his office using a predetermined code. He then also sent a cable which reached the nation’s leaders a few hours before the war broke out.

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