Photo: GPO
Yom Kippur War. It's impossible to guarantee that similar mistakes won't happen again
Photo: GPO
Photo: Ofer Amram
Major-General (res.) Giora Eiland
Photo: Ofer Amram

The unforgivable failure of the Yom Kippur War

Op-ed: Alongside the intelligence mistake, which was a result of human error, the even greater failure in 1973 was the ignorance of the IDF’s top echelon, including the chief of staff.

Forty-three years later, the Yom Kippur War is still remembered in the public consciousness mainly for the intelligence failure which preceded it. The Israeli intelligence received sufficient reliable information about Egypt and Syria’s intentions to launch a war, but because of what was called “the conception” its leaders refused to read the writing on the wall. The result was that Israel was surprised and caught unprepared.



The claims against the intelligence are correct. It was a resonating failure, which stemmed both from the devotion to that conception and from too much self-confidence. But it is uncertain that the lesson of what happened in 1973 will prevent similar intelligence mistakes in the future. History, from the days of the story of Troy to the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, provides numerous examples of surprises and deceptions in the battlefield. The failure in identifying the deception is the result of human error, and it is impossible to guarantee that similar mistakes will not happen in the future.


It’s hard to understand why the regular army was not properly prepared for war (Photo: GPO)
It’s hard to understand why the regular army was not properly prepared for war (Photo: GPO)


Alongside the intelligence mistake, there was an even greater failure in the Yom Kippur War, which was more significant result-wise, and mainly unforgiveable. I am talking about the ignorance of the IDF’s top echelon. The leaders of the army, including the chief of staff, the command chiefs and others, simply did not know what they had to know by the power of their position: The military doctrine, the abilities of the IDF they commanded and how a command and control system should operate.


This was expressed, first of all, in the actual perception – both in the Golan Heights and in Sinai – that ignored the basic assumption in the defense that the contact line is expected to be broken, and that the army should therefore prepare with depth. In addition, in both fronts only one armored brigade was deployed up front, even when there were at least two available brigades – a deployment which contradicts any basic defense rule.


A lot of money was put into the erection of posts in the Golan Heights and along the Suez Canal, but the way they were built points to horrible ignorance. The way the Air Force was operated upon the start of the war exposed a complete misunderstanding of the force’s abilities and of the way they are affected when its missions are changed every few hours. In the planning of the counterattack in Sinai on October 8, there was a complete disconnection between the pretentious planning and the ability to meet the plan’s timetable, even if the enemy had disappeared.


In the last days before the war and in its first two days, the chief of staff acted like a company commander rather than like the head of the army. The operations division simply did not exist, and in any event did not do the required minimum – make sure that it had a representative near the chief of staff to issue a written order based on his instruction and another representative to confirm on the phone that the order was both comprehended and implemented.


It is possible to understand why, despite the concerning intelligence information, Israel did not call up reserve forces until the day the war broke out. It is difficult to understand, however, why the regular army was not properly prepared. Even if they had really estimated that Egypt was only planning an “exercise” (which in retrospect, served as the basis for the deception), there was no diplomatic, economic, moral price in keeping the regular army on high alert for several days.


Today it is safe to say that had the regular army prepared properly, had the Air Force (which is mostly a regular system) received orders on how to act and had the alertness ordered been issued as they should have – from the General Staff to the posts – even if the intelligence had remained as it was, the results of the war could have been entirely different, especially in terms of the number of casualties in the first days.


Unlike the intelligence’s mistake, which stemmed from natural human weakness, ignorance which stems from neglecting the study of the profession and the position is unforgivable.


Major-General (res.) Giora Eiland is a former head of Israel's National Security Council.


פרסום ראשון: 10.09.16, 22:03
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