Mossad, Military Intel briefed king during Yom Kippur War

 Mossad, Military Intel briefed king during Yom Kippur War

Tuesday September 10, 2013

Sticking to Agent Babel (Nasser's son-in-law Ashraf Marwan) is the most appropriate explanation I can come up with for the failure of Israeli deterrence before the Yom Kippur War.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Aharon Levran

King Hussein of Jordan | Photo credit: AP

The surprise that shocked Israel and which started the Yom Kippur War is widely believed among Israelis to have been the result of an intelligence failure.

Well, it certainly was an intelligence fiasco, but I wish to stress the following: The intelligence assessment [that war was not imminent] was a failure, but the bodies that collected intelligence, namely Military Intelligence and the Mossad, were not -- they provided their findings dutifully. Still, it is important to understand that alongside the intelligence blunders, there we also achievements of the highest order. These achievements have not received enough credit and it is time to do them historical justice.

One of the most important achievements was the assessment that Jordan would not enter the war. The other achievement was the exceptional information detailing the crossing of two Egyptian armored divisions east of the Suez Canal.

Following the trauma that ensued with the outbreak of war, Israeli intelligence assumed Jordan would join the war. But this was neither predicted nor said outright, allowing then-IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar to call up the reserves division (under Moshe Peled) to the Golan Heights, instead of sending troops to protect the road to Jerusalem. General Israel "Talik" Tal warned that the road to Jerusalem had been breached, but, because of the intelligence assessment, Israel rightly sent troops to the Golan Heights instead.

What the public didn't know was that what helped predict the Jordanian position correctly were daily reports brought by Mossad chief Zvi Zamir and myself to King Hussein throughout the course of the war -- he would not be tempted to commit the same mistake he committed in the 1967 Six-Day War (when he was tempted to believe false reports by Nasser, which said that Egypt and Syria had overwhelmed the IDF). So Hussein chose a more balanced option in 1973. He sent the 40th Armored Brigade to help the Syrians, on Oct. 12, and the 60th Armored Division just before the end of the war.

Sticking with Agent Babel (Nasser's son-in-law Ashraf Marwan) is the most appropriate explanation I can come up with for the failure of Israeli deterrence. I don't think Marwan was a double agent (whoever was privy to his wealth of written information -- notes, protocol or first-person accounts -- would be hard-pressed to call him a double agent). He was an elite source at the top of a long list of sources, remembered in the intelligence community as truly one of the best of his time. He gathered information directly from "the horse's mouth," that is to say from Egyptian President Anwar Sadat himself.

And so Marwan managed to build confidence among Israeli agents when they developed their assessments. It was as if they knew for sure, or more importantly, as if they knew they could predict the timing of events, which certainly would not help build deterrence in a war. As long as he spoke, the rest of our intelligence (some 8,200 documents from the field and elsewhere) was considered inferior. His information, mainly what was documented, kept us blind from different intelligence and, actually, all other information. The confidence with which he would report on Sadat's decision to go to war was what would end up ruining the top echelons of the intelligence community.

The situation was paradoxical, perhaps even a little ironic. The "intelligence gathering bonanza," coupled with our dependence and enslavement to it, led us down a path far from the correct intelligence and our diligent work, which we did according to the "rules of the book." At the time, I called this mistake "the curse of abundance," where the wealth of intelligence became our worst hindrance.

As for Hussein's warning to Golda Meir during their clandestine Sept. 25 meeting, which many have claimed I ignored, I don't include it in the list of our bigger mistakes, the reason being that the king himself held back warnings against the Syrian army. These were his words: "The Syrian army is indeed fully prepared and in a position to launch an attack (pre-jump position). But if this means anything, no one knows. I have my doubts, and no one can be sure." I heard the same sort of doubts and objections from members of the king's entourage when Mossad chief Zamir and I sat with them in the room next door.

Brigadier General (Res.) Aharon Levran completed 29 years of service in the Israel Defense Forces in 1984. His last posting in the IDF included deputy chief of military intelligence in charge of operational intelligence, and deputy commandant of the National Defense College.