Golda's Bodyguard Reveals Her Reaction to the Nuclear Option During Yom Kippur War

Golda Meir’s former bodyguard and confidant tells Haaretz about the first hours of the Yom Kippur War – and how the prime minister was left out of the picture

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Adam Snir accompanies Golda Meir, in 1972.
Adam Snir accompanies Golda Meir, in 1972.Credit: Eldan David / GPO
Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman
Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

“That’s the last thing I need,” was Prime Minister Golda Meir’s response to the suggestion allegedly offered by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan – to resort to the nuclear option on the second day of the Yom Kippur War. It was a man named Adam Snir who heard this reaction. Most of the public will not recognize his name, but in those days, he was the prime minister’s personal security guard, with whom she became friendly. As time went on, he became her confidant as well.

This conversation, says Snir, took place in the two-story building in the Prime Minister’s Office at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv. It was the afternoon of October 7, 1973, at a point when it seemed that Israel was on the brink of defeat in the war.

“I was sitting on a bench in the second-floor hallway that led to Golda’s room,” Snir recalls. “On the bench opposite me sat Shalhevet Freier” – the director general of the Atomic Energy Committee. “Dayan had brought Freier. I don’t know what exactly Dayan proposed or said in the room, because I didn’t hear it.”

Among those present in the room were Meir, her military secretary Brig. Gen. Yisrael Lior, her deputy Yigal Alon, Moshe Dayan and Minister Yisrael Galili. To this day, none of the participants in that discussion have revealed what happened there. There were testimonies from secondary sources, the most important of them that of Arnan (“Sini”) Azaryahu, who was Galili’s assistant and right-hand man.

In a 2008 interview, shortly before his death, Azaryahu talked about the discussion, in which Dayan proposed “that we should prepare to demonstrate a nuclear option as well.” It’s not clear what Dayan meant. Did he mean deploying the nuclear weapons that Israel, according to foreign reports, already had in its possession on the eve of the Six-Day War? Or to threaten to use nuclear weapons, or carry out a nuclear test? The person who made Azaryahu’s testimony public is nuclear researcher Dr. Avner Cohen. But Azaryahu was not present during the discussion, and was only informed about it by Galili after the meeting.

Prime Minister Golda Meir and Southern Command Chief Gen. Shmuel Gonen in an IDF outpost in the Sinai during the Yom Kippur War, in 1973.Credit: Yitzhak Segev / GPO

Snir himself was not in the room either, but he was outside it – a fly on the other side of the wall. He later told what he had heard to a researcher of the Yom Kippur War, Moshe Shaverdi, in recorded testimony. In a conversation with Haaretz in which Shaverdi was also present, Snir confirmed what was said in his recordings. For example, when asked whether the meeting’s participants discussed a need for a nuclear demonstration, as claimed, he said: “There was such a situation.” Snir clarified, “I can say that I was in a situation that spoke about such things, and I remember it to this day.”

When asked to describe the situation, he said that “It was a hallway conversation, Shalhevet Freier sat right across from me. There’s a room for cabinet meetings, which is before the prime minister’s room, and opposite that door there’s a kind of small foyer and an exit to a balcony. So I was sitting, and Shalhevet Freier was sitting opposite me, and we spoke between ourselves.

“I remember that Golda said ‘No!’ Her response was negative and I heard it well! I sat like that with Shalhevet for several hours. It was right next to the door. When the door is open you hear everything taking place inside the room, whether you want to or not. And the door was open all the time because they smoked in there, too.”

Does he remember Golda’s exact words? “Golda said ‘That’s the last thing I need.’ It was unequivocal.”

Prime Minister Golda Meir and General Moshe Dayan, in 1969.Credit: AFP

The special relationship

Snir was born Adam Schweitzer in Haifa in 1942. He studied in the Bosmat Technical High School, and upon graduation was drafted into the naval commandos. During his reserve duty, he reached the rank of captain. When he was discharged from the army, he dreamt of being a marine engineer, but instead he studied mechanical engineering at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

But he didn’t leave the sea for good. During the Six Day War he fought in the Syrian maritime arena. “I was on a boat doing guard duty near the Latakia Port, but we didn’t enter the port,” he says. After the war, he started several businesses, including a restaurant, a car rental company and a parking lot.

One day he met with Gideon Ezra, at the time a young case officer in the northern region’s Arabic department in the Shin Bet security service. He would later go on to become the deputy head of the organization, a Likud MK and a minister. Ezra was no stranger to him; the two had already known each other. “Doesn’t that bore you?” Ezra asked him, referring to his businesses. Snir replied in the affirmative. “Gideon said to me, ‘Come, I have an interesting proposal. There’s something called the Shin Bet. I got called in for the selection process at Defense Ministry Headquarters. The head of my committee was Avraham Ahituv’” – who would become the head of the Shin Bet.

About a year passed and then, with no advance warning, he received a notice to come to the Jaffa Clock Tower, where someone would pick him up. “I waited with a suitcase for three hours and then someone came and said to me: ‘I’m Berele. Follow me.’ I went.”

Snir was taken to Shin Bet headquarters on Boustrus Street – now Raziel, not far from the clock. From there, he was sent to Abu Kabir. It was there, in a place called “the camp” – a Shin Bet site with warehouses and interrogation rooms – that he received some of his training. At the end of his training period, he was assigned to a security department that was part of the organization’s operations division – it was not until the late 1960s that the service would set up a separate VIP security unit.

Golda Meir and her bodyguard, Adam Snir, in Ramat Aviv, in 1975. Credit: Sa'ar Ya'acov / GPO

At first he was placed as a rank-and-file security guard for Prime Minister Levi Eshkol. After Eshkol’s death in 1969, he began to guard Eshkol’s successor Golda Meir. He went on to become the commander of her security team. “We had a special relationship,” he notes. “We got along well. There was chemistry between us and we were very close. It was also because Golda was already an older woman, with physical limitations, and she was quite alone. Her children were far away or very busy, and in effect she considered her secretary Lou Kedar and me to be a sort of close family. For Golda, friendship was a supreme value and if you were a friend of hers, it was a friendship without bounds.”

He said that didn’t contradict the fact that she was very demanding and gave him assignments, even some that were not related to his job, like passing messages to ministers. “She was used to us knowing everything. After all, we know the most intimate details about the people we protect, but we’re taught that we’re like a fly on the wall, we keep quiet and that’s that.” Snir, who also acted as Meir’s driver, also recalls her unique sense of humor. “Once she asked me: Tell me, do you know how to drive?”

Snir’s special connection with Golda Meir was reflected on the eve of the Yom Kippur War. That day, he recalls, “She was very concerned.” In the evening, he drove her to her home on 8 Baron Hirsch Street in Ramat Aviv, where she had lived since 1959. From there, he continued to the nearby Ramat Aviv Hotel. “A policeman remained in the guard booth and my connection was by phone from my hotel room, in addition to our two-way radio.”

Snir went to sleep, but it was a short slumber. At some point in the early morning, he woke up to the sound of the telephone ringing. On the line was the military secretary, Brig. Gen. Yisrael Lior. “Get up, take Golda and come to the office immediately,” he says, recalling what he was told. “I contacted the members of my security team, who were at home, and I drove to Golda immediately. I remember that it was still dark out. I got her in the car and drove to the Kirya” – Defense Ministry Headquarters. “Until the other members of the team and her secretary, Ahuva Nahum, arrived, there were just three of us in her office in the Kirya: Lior, Golda and I.”

Lior had woken up the prime minister earlier in the night, as well as Col. Yehoshua Raviv, Dayan’s military secretary. Lior later told journalist Eitan Haber that “Golda picked up the phone immediately, as though she were waiting for the bitter news. She listened to my report in silence.”

Southern Command Chief Gen. Shmuel Gonen explains a map to Prime Minister Golda Meir, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and IDF officers, 1973.Credit: Yehuda Tzion / GPO

During her testimony at the Agranat Commission, a state commission of inquiry established to investigate the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, Meir testified that Lior contacted her at 4 A.M. The timetable is very important. Mossad Chief Zvi Zamir, who made a special trip to London, was at a meeting in a safe house there with Egyptian Mossad agent Ashraf Marwan until 2 A.M. Israel time. Zamir and Marwan’s handler, Mossad operative Dubi, heard from the Ashraf that “Tomorrow at twilight” there would be a war. At 2:30, Zamir called his bureau chief Freddy Eini on an ordinary, unencrypted phone line, and gave him the information.

For some reason, over an hour passed until the information was passed along to Meir and Dayan at 3:50 A.M. Yigal Alon, who was home at Kibbutz Ginosar in the Galilee, testified that they woke him only at 6 A.M. and that he arrived very late. He had not been informed on the matter at all.

Despite the series of phone calls, Dayan didn’t speak to Meir until the emergency meeting was convened at 8 A.M. In other words, from the moment the news of an upcoming war came to light, Israel’s prime minister was cut off from the decision-making axis for almost four hours. During part of that time, she was already in her office, alone with her military secretary, her secretary, Adam Snir and the security guards.

Mossad agent Ashraf Marwan, son-in-law of the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, in Cairo. Credit: AFP

The time may have been put to better use to accelerate the mobilization of reservists and to prepare the air force for the possibility of a preliminary strike. In his book “The Watchman Fell Asleep,” Prof. Uri Bar Yosef wrote that from the moment that the news was received until it reached the office, “There is an unexplained gap in the timetable of events of Yom Kippur itself.”

Moshe Shaverdi theorizes that despite the crucial intelligence provided by Zamir (namely Marwan’s warning), Dayan, like Military Intelligence chief Eli Zeira, held onto the mistaken illusion that in spite of everything, a war would not break out. “The entire saga of the delay, the compartmentalization, the lack of communication etc. between Golda, Dayan and Alon, reinforces the sense of the injustice caused to Dado [IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar],” say Shaverdi, who manages the Facebook page “The Yom Kippur War, memories, scars, pains and all the rest,” together with Idit Shechori.

“The Agranat Commission blamed Dado for delaying the mobilization of reservists that same day, because he was waiting for the prime minister’s decision,” the researcher says. “The new material I have indicates that the major delay was caused by Dayan, who didn't didn't initiate for four whole hours a direct connection with Golda.”

A concerned patriot

What happened after that night – the crossing of the Suez Canal by the Egyptian army and its capture of the Bar-Lev Line outposts, along with the capture of parts of the Golan by the Syrian army – led to the aforementioned special meeting in the Kirya on the second day of the war. The discussion following that meeting later became fertile ground for a variety of half-truths, rumors and urban legends, which relied on information from secondary and tertiary sources. For example, Hannah Semer, editor of the daily Davar, claimed that Dayan, who was in a pessimistic, borderline depressive mood, spoke in terms of “the destruction of the Third Temple.”

Snir himself continued to accompany Meir during the entire period of the war and even after she resigned, and maintained a profound connection with her. Snir later acted as the head of security for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In 1980, when he was not appointed to head the VIP Security Unit, he was loaned to another organization in the defense establishment. The “loan” continued for 30 years, until his retirement. There he was the head of the security department, and trained generations of combatants in the trade of security and surveillance. He does not look back in anger. “If I had to repeat my life again, I would repeat it. I was born a patriot and I continue to be a patriot. But I’m a patriot who is disturbed by what’s happening.”

Prime Minister Golda Meir and Gen. Ariel Sharon visit the Southern Command in the Sinai during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.Credit: Yehuda Tzion / GPO

What disturbs you in particular? “The relations between people in Israeli society. The polarization, the aggressiveness, the inability of the rule of law to rule. I’m not naïve. There was a lack of integrity in my time, too. But it was different. It was mainly a lack of political integrity, and not personal integrity. Eshkol, Golda, Alon, Rabin, Begin – they didn’t think of themselves, but of the good of the country.” One name from that period was absent from his list: Moshe Dayan.

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