Middle East Studies

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Israel’s Intelligence Assessment before the Yom Kippur War

Disentangling Deception and Distraction

Brigadier General (ret.) Aryeh Shalev served in the Israel Defense Forces from the War of Independence until 1976, filling many senior command positions. For much of his service he worked in intelligence, and for seven years served as the head of the Research Department within Military Intelligence. His final posting in the IDF was commander of the Judea and Samaria area. In 1978 he joined the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, later incorporated as the Institute for National Strategic Studies. This is his sixth book.

Israel's flawed intelligence assessment in October 1973 has been studied intensively and been the subject of much public and professional debate. Israel’s Intelligence Assessment before the Yom Kippur War adds a unique dimension to previously disclosed material, as its author served as head of the Research Branch of Israeli Military Intelligence on the eve of and during the Yom Kippur War and as such was responsible for the national intelligence assessment at the time. Drawing on his personal records, and on interviews and extensive research conducted in the intervening decades, Aryeh Shalev examines the preconceptions and common beliefs that prevailed among Israeli intelligence officials and ultimately contributed to their flawed assessment: the excessive self-confidence in Israel's prowess, particularly in the aftermath of the Six Day War; the confidence that any surprise attack could be repelled with the regular army until the reserves were mobilized; the accepted profile of Sadat as a weak leader with limited powers and initiative; and the belief in Israel's correct understanding of Egyptian and Syrian operational plans.

Beyond explaining where Israeli intelligence erred, the book probes expectations of military intelligence in general and the relationship between military and political assessments. It considers what kind of assessment an intelligence branch is capable of producing with a great degree of certainty, and conversely, what kind of assessment it should not be asked to produce. Based on the intelligence failure of the Yom Kippur War, this book also reviews possible organizational changes and methodological improvements to guard as much as possible against surprise attacks in the future, relevant not only to Israel's circumstances but to all countries with enemies capable of launching an attack.

Published in association with the Institute for National Strategic Studies

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-370-6
Hardback Price: £75.00 / $115.00
Release Date: May 2010
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-636-3
Paperback Price: £27.50 / $42.50
Release Date: May 2014
Page Extent / Format: 304 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No




Part I Israel's Security Concept and the Intelligence Concept
1 Israel's Security Concept and its Limitations
2 The Intelligence Concept

Part II Arab Military Preparations for War through the Intelligence Prism
3 Basic Intelligence
4 Formulating the Intelligence Picture
5 The Essence of Warning

Part III Intelligence Assessments and the Decision Makers
6 Is Egypt Starting a War?
7 Warning from a Particular High Placed Source
8 Assessment of Readiness and Assessment of Intentions
9 Meetings with the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister, and the Chief of the General Staff

Part IV The Mistakes and the Failures
10 Intelligence's Mistaken Assessment
11 The Reasons for the Intelligence Failure

Part V The Difficulties of Intelligence Work
12 Basic Issues in the Intelligence Branch
13 Problems with the Intelligence Assessment before the Yom Kippur War

Part VI Proposed Lessons
14 Responsibility for Assessment of Intentions: The Role of the Leadership
15 Organizational Lessons
16 Lessons on Working Methods


Appendix A: Israel and the Arab States: Important Dates between the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War
Appendix B: Intelligence Products in the Period before 238 the Yom Kippur War
Appendix C: Emerging Lessons in a Meeting with the 244 Intelligence Branch Director one Month after the Outbreak of the War
Appendix D: Personal Letter from Intelligence Branch Director Major General Aharon Yariv to the Author, 27 September 1972
Appendix E: Letter in Praise of this Book by Lieutenant General (ret.) Moshe Yaalon, while Serving as Chief of General Staff

Select Bibliography

There was no lack of intelligence; it was the interpretation to the reports that was faulty.
U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger, commenting on Israel’s Yom Kippur débâcle

The following review excerpt from the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs includes comments on The Egyptian Strategy for the Yom Kippur War: An Analysis by Dani Asher
(Jefferson: McFarland Press, 2009)

Shalev, who refreshingly takes responsibility for his own and Aman’s shortcomings with respect to the benign assessment of Egyptian–Syrian political intentions on the eve of the war, is on firm ground when he speculates that it might well have made no difference if the intelligence branch had come to the opposite conclusion, because both the IDF high command and the civilian government were so deeply invested in the concept and because they believed so strongly in the standing army’s capability to defend the Sinai and Golan without the reserves. And he is certainly being reasonable when he claims that the civilian government, which bears the final responsibility for all decisions concerning war, is at least as culpable as Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence) and the IDF high command for the Yom Kippur War debacle. Asher, on the other hand, perhaps because he was not personally involved in prewar intelligence assessments about Egyptian–Syrian political intentions, takes no particular position on the issue of personal accountability.
... These two volumes, in sum, nicely complement each other. One demonstrates how Egypt’s massive military defeat in 1967 resulted in meticulous self-examination and innovation, while the other demonstrates how Israel’s tremendous military victory bred smug self-satisfaction and stasis. Asher and Shalev are to be commended for their efforts to cast new light on the contrasting mindsets that animated Egypt, Syria, and Israel before the Yom Kippur War.
Reviewed by David Rodman, Analyst of Israeli defense and diplomatic policy

The author of this study was director of the Israeli Defense Force’s Intelligence Research Department in 1973, when Israel failed to see that Egypt and Syria were preparing for war. He has written this book – another version of which was published in Hebrew in 2006 – in order to refute the decision of the Agranat Commission, set up in the wake of the war, to blame him for this expensive intelligence failure and call for his dismissal. He shows that preparations by Egyptian and Syrian forces were closely followed on the days leading up to the war, but the intentions of enemy leaders were not known until the morning before the attack, and Israeli political leadership’s commitment to certain security concepts caused it to misread what was about to occur. Shalev identifies errors, including a misunderstanding of the Egyptian president’s personality, which contributed to the failure, and he suggests ways of avoiding similar mistakes. This solid though repetitive study, based on written assessments coming from the Research Department before war, will be useful to students of the Arab–Israeli conflict and of intelligence assessment in general. Recommended.

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