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Was There a Warning?

By Ze'ev Schiff
Friday, June 12, 1998

Mordechai Gazit, adviser to Prime Minister Golda Meir and director-general of her office, has long claimed that there are two allegations that should not be made against Meir. One is the claim that if she had been more flexible with regard to Egyptian proposals before the Yom Kippur War, the war itself might have been prevented. The second allegation involves the warning which Golda Meir did or did not receive from King Hussein of Jordan shortly before the war. Clearly, Gazit is not only defending the late prime minister, but himself, too, as her adviser on international affairs.

With regard to the first allegation, Gazit appears to be right. No compromise could have been reached on the basis of what Sadat was then willing to offer in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from the Suez Canal. Neither side was ready at the time for the significant developments that would occur later, years after the war.

This is not, however, the case with regard to King Hussein's warning of the coming war. Hussein, according to certain reports, met with Meir on September 25, 1973. Gazit repeatedly claims (including in a recent article in Ha'aretz) that no such warning was conveyed. This time, however, he phrases it differently: "No warning of a coordinated joint Egyptian-Syrian attack was conveyed to Golda." His words suggest that something did take place. Gazit further claims that "the warning Golda received was limited, because it dealt exclusively with the Syrian front." According to Gazit, the message could have been considered a warning only if the prime minister had been cautioned that Syria and Egypt intended to strike together.

This kind of warning is a luxury rarely found in intelligence work. Hussein's warning, incidentally, was accompanied by advice: only a political move could prevent the war that Syria and Egypt were planning.

That is how Mordechai Gazit understood the situation at the time. However, the fact that others had a different understanding of the events makes it hard to accept his interpretation. Although "there was no warning," as Gazit claims, Golda Meir was quick to phone Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and brief him. Dayan apparently asked her to wait while he checked whether any new reports could corroborate what Hussein had said. Golda waited for about a quarter for an hour while Dayan apparently checked with Director of Military Intelligence Eli Zeira or with Chief of Staff David Elazar. His subsequent words to Meir must have allayed the prime minister's concerns, for she decided to leave the following day for a gathering of the Socialist International in Europe, which had been scheduled long in advance.

Dayan himself took two precautions. He called for a meeting of the General Staff and paid a visit to the Golan Heights. However, the more important response in this context was that of an intelligence officer who had been party to the situation as early as the night of Golda's meeting with Hussein. The officer had heard the same words as Mordechai Gazit, but reached a different conclusion. The message, he believed, was an unequivocal warning that war was imminent. The man was Lt. Col. Zusia Kniazer, head of the Jordanian desk at Military Intelligence. Kniazer, a veteran intelligence expert, took an unusual step .. one which, in fact, constituted a breach of orders, since he had been instructed to treat the meeting with Hussein and its contents as highly classified material. Late at night, he called the head of the Syrian section, Lt. Col. Avi Ya'ari, and advised him to put the Northern Command on alert. Ya'ari indeed called the head of intelligence at the Northern Command, who alerted Northern Command Head Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Hofi.

When news of this reached Brig. Gen. Aryeh Shalev, head of research at the Intelligence Branch, he summoned Kniazer and Ya'ari and reprimanded them, the former for disobeying orders and divulging information about Hussein's meeting with Golda, the latter for alerting the Northern Command without consulting with his supervisors.

War did not break out the next day, but only a few days later. And so, the question remains: Was there a warning? Mordechai Gazit does not think so. But if that was the case, why did the Jordan and Syria section heads understand differently? Was this because they were more highly attuned and had a better understanding of intelligence? Ya'ari was praised for his actions in the report issued by the Agranat Commission, which investigated the circumstances of Israel's lack of military preparedness for the 1973 war. For some reason, however, Kniazer was not summoned to testify before the commission.

(c) copyright 1998 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

Yom Kippur, May 1998

By Uzi Benziman
Sunday, May 17, 1998

A BBC production on the history of Israel will soon be screened here - the British answer, as it were, to the Israeli series "Tekuma" (Resurrection). In the chapter on the 1973 Yom Kippur War, King Hussein relates that he flew into Israel by helicopter on the eve of the war and disclosed to Prime Minister Golda Meir that Egypt and Syria intended to attack. The story is not new; what is astounding is the king's willingness to tell it on camera.No less astounding was the reaction of the prime minister 25 years ago. She passed on the warning to the army. The director of military intelligence and the chief of staff reassured her, explaining that Hussein was an instrument in Sadat's hands to disseminate a bluff about Egypt's deployment on a war footing.

"After the Egyptian ruler failed in his attempt to induce Israel to compromise on a small withdrawal from the banks of the Suez Canal, he is trying to frighten us with a full-scale war, but we won't fall for that trick", that was the reassuring response the prime minister received, a response that perfectly matched her diplomatic conception.

It was the mistaken conception that led to the Yom Kippur War, not the tactical ploy by which the Egyptian Army prepared for war but put out the false information that it was only getting ready for large-scale maneuvers. In October 1973 Israel's political and military leadership was overconfident of its strength, self-righteous in its attitudes and convinced of its ability to read the enemy's intentions correctly.

In May 1998 Israel is being led by a man whose political maturity is akin to that of a growing boy and whose conceptual approach to responsibility and integrity is that of a compulsive gambler. Those personal traits are tailor-made for a diplomatic conception as disastrous as the one that guided Golda Meir and the General Staff a quarter of a century ago.

The conception says the following: Yasser Arafat does not have a real military option; he is bluffing when he warns that he will not be able to cap indefinitely the volcano of the frustrated Palestinian masses; and the Arab rulers in the neighboring states, especially Egypt and Jordan, are only pretending when they warn about the consequences of a deadlock in the diplomatic process, in fact, they do not want the Palestinian Authority to get stronger and develop into an independent state.

Netanyahu is a bluffer of a kind previously unknown in the annals of Israeli leadership, and as such he projects his own behavior on the actions of others. He is incapable of trusting his interlocutors because he himself constantly behaves deceitfully.

His world-view derives overridingly from his moral code and from the progress of his life on the basis of that code. A person who has become accustomed to deceiving wives, friends, aides, politicians and international diplomats certainly has no intention, and is incapable, of trusting a bitter adversary like Arafat.

In the absence of basic trust between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships over readiness to resolve the conflict once and for all (trust that had developed between Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat and his aides), there is no prospect of advancing the Oslo process.

The bloody unrest over the past few days in the territories is a concrete manifestation of Netanyahu's mistaken conception and of his inability to believe in Arafat's warnings. The territories burned because masses of impassioned Palestinians went beyond the bounds of protest that the PA had marked out for them. The dead did not volunteer to be killed only to prove to Netanyahu that Arafat is fomenting the unrest and controlling it at his will. They were killed because of their authentic frustration and because they have a just complaint against Israel.

Because of his shortsightedness and his childish cockiness Netanyahu does not understand that he is creating conditions in which Palestinian violence speaks to the heart of the international community and may be accepted as legitimate by part of the Israeli public as well. Nor does he grasp that his approach is leading toward a dangerous situation in which some reservists might refuse to heed his call to arms to defend a policy they can no longer stomach.

(c) copyright 1998 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

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