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1973 War Surprised Israel because Mossad Chief was Sleepy?

Newly published minutes from the Agranat Committee show Mossad received warning but did not tell Prime Minister.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 9/20/2012, 6:24 PM

Yom Kippur War
Yom Kippur War
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Almost two days before the 1973 Yom Kippur War broke out, the Mossad received a warning that an Arab attack on Israel is planned. However, the warning never reached the prime minister, and the Mossad chief's sleepiness may be partially to blame.

The security establishment declassified on Wednesday previously secret minutes from the deliberations of the Agranat Committee that looked into the 1973 Yom Kippur War. One such testimony was that of Alfred Eini ("Freddy"), who was Assistant to Mossad head Tzvi Zamir when the war broke out.

Eini said that Ashraf Marwan, who was bureau chief for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and an Israeli agent, reported in the night between October 4 and 5 that war was about to break out and that it would be disguised as a military drill. Marwan asked to meet the head of Mossad urgently and inform him of this personally.

Marwan had warned of impending attacks on previous occasions but they had failed to materialize. However, the request to meet the Mossad chief made the message appear particularly important. "We had never received a telegram like this," Eini told the Agranat Committee. He immediately called Mossad Head Tzvi Zamir and informed him of the telegram.

"I called him immediately, I informed him in general, he listened, said 'thank you, I will come to see him in the morning'," Eini said. Eini made arrangements for a flight for Zamir and called him to update him. Zamir, he said, informed him that he had received a call from the head of military Intelligence, who said that the Soviet advisors in Syria were preparing to leave the country.

"I told the head of Mossad that what the MI Head told him fit in nicely with what I had told him, and then I realized that the Mossad chief had insufficiently understood my first message, that is, he had apparently been half asleep and did not realize that what I told him was an actual war alert. He said that in that case, he will call the MI chief again and tell him about it. To explain that this was really a serious matter."

Brig. Gen. Yisrael Lior, who was Prime Minister Golda Meir's Military Secretary, told the committee that he would have taken a plane to meet Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Alon and immediately reported the matter to him, had he been informed of it. Alon was the acting prime minister on that day instead of Meir.

Asked why Mossad did not inform Meir's military secretary directly, Eini said that these matters were usually first passed on to MI, and only passed on to the Prime Minister a few hours later.

Lior added in his testimony that two weeks before the war broke out, Mossad told Golda Meir that it had received intelligence according to which the Soviet Union had equipped Egypt with Scud missiles armed with nuclear and chemical warheads. Zamir told Meir that the information was "very surprising," because it is unlikely that the Soviets would create a steep escalation vis-à-vis the United States by taking such a step.

War broke out at 2:00 p.m. on October 6.