Opinion |

Israel's Military Intelligence’s Amnesia

The body that should be soberly assessing the large picture is forgetting the bitter lessons of the 1973 Yom Kippur War

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Prime Minister Golda Meir and Chief of Staff David Elazar in Jerusalem, June 17, 1973
Prime Minister Golda Meir and Chief of Staff David Elazar in Jerusalem, June 17, 1973Credit: Moshe Milner / Government Press Office
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

Forty-four years after the Yom Kippur War, Military Intelligence is clearly suffering from amnesia. A crucial portion of its failure in that terrible autumn of 1973 has been erased from its memory. Its tongue has cloven to its palate; it isn’t raising an outcry and sounding a warning.

On the small and medium scales, whose cumulative price in human life and unnecessary wars shouldn’t be made light of, MI is a skilled, proficient, professional organization, an effective producer of well-researched data and sober assessments. But on the large scale, without which the smaller, derivative scales have no significance, its deliberate omissions are a disappointment. Those who head it and those above them have decided not to cry out or even to whisper, but merely to remain silent.

MI doesn’t just err by beginning the story from the second chapter, whether it’s the Palestinian or the Iranian one, while conveniently ignoring the chapter about Israel’s refusal to make progress toward peace. It also mortgages its credibility when it allows itself to be recruited for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s compulsive campaign to find a pretext for bombing Iran. This isn’t done through crude lies or distorted intelligence, but by strengthening emphases by demand, and by lobbying other countries and organizations to buy Netanyahu’s claims.

The pretext is that this is what democracy mandates. But in reality, this is the corruption of intelligence in the service of government propaganda and the whims of the ruler. It’s MI-style manipulation.

In the run-up to the Yom Kippur War, the big mistake was the undervaluation of the reciprocal relationship between Israeli policy and that of both its neighbors and the great powers. In other words, what Egyptian President Anwar Sadat would do in response to moves by Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. Reality isn’t a laboratory, and there’s no way to isolate an individual’s decisions. The voices emanating from both enemy capitals and Jerusalem are mutually reinforcing echoes.

MI didn’t warn of the disastrous results of the Meir government’s policy, ostensibly because it wasn’t the job of the men in uniform to do so. But it quickly became clear that even though it didn’t have the authority, it paid the price of responsibility.

Neither the bolstering of rival research establishments in the Mossad and the Foreign Ministry nor the creation of the General Staff’s planning directorate to be the body responsible for net assessments of the Israeli blue team versus the Arab red team relieved MI of the burden of its role as the national assessor. The same goes for the establishment of the National Security Council.

Moreover, neither of the agencies that today are directly subordinate to Netanyahu, the miserable NSC and the crushed Foreign Ministry, have any input into or make any contribution to national policy. They are organizational collaborators headed by directors general who are being compensated for past services or for a past in the service (either the Mossad or the Shin Bet security service).

MI is too preoccupied with internal issues, operational challenges, thwarting terror attacks, producing intelligence for secret operations and preparing for wars. It’s also self-satisfied, and with partial justification. The brain drain problem exists primarily in its technology unit, not in unit 8200, MI’s premier signals intelligence unit.

But MI doesn’t raise any outcry over the biggest issue of all, the price of the ongoing diplomatic freeze, which, in addition to its impact on the policies of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, is still the key to eradicating the enmity – and the threat – from Iran. After all, MI knows very well that the Iranian public, to which Prime Minister Hassan Rouhani’s government is attentive, is apathetic to the Israeli-Arab conflict. It knows, but it keeps silent, so as not to upset Netanyahu.

The IDF General Staff and MI, two units that are almost one, have a historic responsibility to inform both the government and the Israeli people, who are the ones who will fight and pay the price, of the meaning of a suicidal policy. But Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, who was frightened by the praises heaped upon him and decided to prove that he isn’t perfect – see his decision to shorten the sentence imposed on soldier Elor Azaria, with the result that manslaughter verging on murder will cost the criminal a mere 10 months in jail – is in love with his multiyear Gideon Plan. Enamored of it to the point of being willing to stay mum about the lunacy that will lead to unnecessary use of the army he is building.

Though both Eisenkot and MI director Herzl Halevi possess experience and expertise, they are acting like technocrats of force deployment. And they are forgetting what their respective predecessors, David Elazar and Eli Zeira, learned through bitter experience in 1973.

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