Yom Kippur Mossad Chief: Our Generation Still Owes Explanation

Maj. Gen. (res.) Zvi Zamir says he was not surprised by public furor this week over the release of the minutes of cabinet meetings during the Yom Kippur war.

Few of the cabinet ministers and military leaders who are mentioned in the meeting minutes during the Yom Kippur are still alive. But one man who played a major role is still with us, former Mossad chief and Maj. Gen. (res.) Zvi Zamir.

Zamir says members of his generation, who were national leaders at that time, still owe Israelis an explanation regarding the circumstances of the outbreak of the war, he told Haaretz. Zamir was not surprised this week by the public furor over the release of the minutes of cabinet meetings during the war, although much of the information was already known, he said.

Zvi Zamir Moti Kimche
Moti Kimche

Zamir did not take part in the first meetings, on the eve of the war, and on its first day. But the other participants mentioned him, particularly "Zvika's friend." During those fateful moments, Zamir was in London meeting with that "friend" - the Mossad's star intelligence source, Ashraf Marwan, Gamal Abdel Nasser's son-in-law and a close associate of President Anwar Sadat.

The week before the war, Marwan asked for an urgent meeting with Zamir. When the two met in London before dawn on Yom Kippur, Marwan told Zamir the exact time war would break out later that day.

Although at that time Zamir was convinced that war would indeed break out, he was unable to completely persuade the cabinet. Prime Minister Golda Meir complained: "All these years we have been told, including by 'Zvika's friend,' that Sadat has to know that he's going to lose."

Zamir seems unperturbed by the release of the minutes of the meetings. "All they do is describe what happened," he says. For some people, they are the surprise of their lives. Some people who were more in the know are less fired up about it." Neither does Zamir want to join the chorus of attacks on then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. "Dayan was a man with quite a few internal contradictions," he says. "The question is from what angle you present him. On Yom Kippur he really did experience a great disaster - but so did we all," Zamir says.

The former Mossad head prefers not to criticize anyone personally, but says he feels his generation still has not provided proper explanations. "The Yom Kippur War has been a burden on us from that day to this, and I don't know how long it will continue to be a burden. There were commanders in the Israel Defense Forces serving then that to this day don't understand and don't know what happened, because they were in the thick of the fighting, not close to where it was being managed. I lecture today in the army and hear quite a few questions from officers that show that the IDF, even today, doesn't understand. This issue has to be dealt with so it won't happen again," Zamir says.

Zamir also says he believes answers have not been forthcoming because the central figures from that time deflected blame from themselves. "The whole history of the war is personal; people are writing what is important for them to write because of themselves. The argument is between the actors," Zamir says, referring to the main figures involved in the war.

During the past year, Zamir, 85, has been writing a book that for the first time will present his version of the events of the Yom Kippur War. It is unclear whether it will contain new information to stoke the ongoing debate as to whether Marwan was a double agent who had misled Israel. "I will not be dealing in gossip," Zamir says. With regard to the senior intelligence source, who mysteriously fell to his death from a window of his London apartment three years ago, he is prepared only to say: "It's a pity that he died that way. Not enough has been done to investigate it."

The war still has a hold over him. "I personally can't shake it. I think I know why it happened and I'm writing about it. I owe this to my friends and each of us has to tell the bare, direct truth to those who come after us, even if it is extremely painful. We owe it to our children and grandchildren."