AOL News Wednesday, October 6th
Matthew Kalman ContributorAOL News
Minutes of War Cabinet meetings published to coincide with today's 37th anniversary of the outbreak of the war show that Dayan and his Cabinet colleagues ignored vital intelligence warning them of an impending Egyptian attack and completely misread the Egyptian military capability and the war aims of President Anwar Sadat.
Max Nash, AP
Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan is shown during a press conference following the opening of Egypt-Israel peace talks in 1978. Newly declassified documents blame him for a series of strategic errors during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
Israel lost 2,569 soldiers during the three-week conflict, together with strategic outposts on the Suez Canal and one-sixth of the Sinai Peninsula that Israel had seized from Egypt in the lightning victory masterminded by Dayan in the 1967 Six-Day War. Egypt and Syria lost 10,000 and 4,000 troops, respectively. Dayan died in 1981.
Israeli leaders meeting at 8 a.m. on Oct. 6, 1973, just six hours before the Egyptian attack, dismissed a dramatic message relayed by Chief of Staff David Elazar from Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian billionaire who spied for Israel, that war was imminent.
Despite strong signs to the contrary, Dayan rejected Elazar's warning that war was about to break out and strongly opposed a vital call-up of 200,000 Israeli reserves, which Elazar said -- correctly -- would give Israel "a huge advantage and save many lives."
"I believe we can complete the call-up tomorrow," Dayan retorted. He was overruled by Prime Minister Golda Meir. The war broke out at 2 p.m. later that same day.
The minutes show the chief of military intelligence, Eli Zeira, foundering around in the dark.
"Despite the fact that they are prepared, I believe that they know they will lose. Sadat is not in a position whereby he has to go to war," Zeira advised the fateful gathering. Military intelligence had also failed to discover that Egypt and Syria had both been supplied with new, Soviet-made infrared sights for their tanks, giving them a substantial tactical advantage in the first two days of the war.
Meeting the following afternoon, 25 hours after the outbreak of fighting, the Cabinet heard that Israeli forces were being overrun in Sinai and advised them to flee, leaving the wounded to be captured by the Egyptians.
Dayan is quoted in the minutes as already acknowledging his mistakes.
"I didn't sufficiently appreciate the strength of the enemy and his fighting force," Dayan said. "I also exaggerated in assessing our forces and their ability to cope. The Arabs are much better fighters than before. They have many arms at their disposal. The missiles are a difficult umbrella that is hard for our air force to pierce."
He also said, "Our moral advantage cannot withstand this mass" and proposed bombing civilian targets in Damascus, Syria -- a suggestion rejected by the Cabinet.
The picture that emerges is of a defense minister in panic. But after the war, Dayan did not take responsibility for the strategic errors that almost led to Israel's defeat -- a scenario that was turned around by brilliant tactics from Elazar and his generals and an extraordinary counterattack into Egypt led by Brig. Gen. Ariel Sharon, the future prime minister.
The war was launched on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, with most reservists at home or in synagogue, and so easy to contact in the era before mobile phones. The introduction of the reserve units reversed the course of the battle, and the tide turned in Israel's favor. When a U.N.-sponsored cease-fire was declared on Oct. 25, Israel was back in control of the Golan Heights and within artillery range of Damascus. In the south, Sharon's division had crossed the Suez Canal, encircled the Egyptian army and was 100 miles from Cairo.
The Agranat Commission found that Elazar and Zeira were responsible for the intelligence and military failures, and they retired in disgrace. But the minutes of the War Cabinet show that Elazar's prophetic warnings were repeatedly shot down by Dayan.
Dayan also encouraged the prime minister to misinterpret Sadat's intentions, stoking her fears of a doomsday scenario in which Egypt was about "to conquer Israel, finish off the Jews." Ministers even considered using nuclear weapons.
But after the war, it became clear that Sadat, who actually wanted a peace deal with Israel, had despaired of ever retrieving the Sinai through diplomacy and decided he would have to fight a limited war first.
In the aftermath of the war, Meir's ruling Labor Party lost power for the first time in Israel's 30-year history to the right-wing Likud Party of Menachem Begin, who went on to make peace with Sadat and return Sinai to Egypt.
Dayan's shortcomings have been hinted at before. Chaim Herzog, the former general and president, wrote a book after 1973 that heaped criticism on the Agranat Commission and accused Dayan of ceasing to function while the fighting was still going on.
Moti Ashkenazi, commander of the northernmost Israeli outpost on the Suez Canal in 1967, opposite Port Said, began campaigning for the resignation of the Cabinet the day he arrived home from the war.
"Dayan's admission is new to me -- in public he hid and avoided any admission of these mistakes," said Ashkenazi. "At the head of the whole system we had a man who was an ignoramus about his own military forces and even more of an ignoramus in his assessment of the other side -- but he was regarded as Mr. Security."
Avigail Goldschmidt, who was a secretary in the prime minister's office, said she remembers the day that Elazar was forced to resign.
"He came into the secretariat and said Moshe Dayan had hung him out to dry. I was heartbroken for him. Then Dayan came out smiling from ear to ear. I said to Moshe Dayan, 'Comfort him. Say something,' but he treated him like a piece of trash and said nothing. At that moment, I didn't care if they fired me. I said to Dayan, 'Not only are you missing an eye, you're missing a heart.'"
The Haaretz Hebrew daily said the minutes laid bare the "shortsightedness, complacence and misguided intelligence that preceded the war," and hoped the soldiers in that confrontation, now members of today's Israeli Cabinet, had learned the appropriate lessons. "They bear responsibility for pursuing peace and compromise over stagnation and the threat of renewed war," the paper said.