Declassified Records of the October 1973 War: Insights into Pre-War Intelligence Failures and Israel’s Decision-Making

Declassified Records Reveal Historical Details of the 1973 War

Israel has declassified all records of the October 1973 war, which revealed many historical details of what preceded the war, records of pre-war intelligence failures, and discussions about a pre-emptive strike.

Confusion Among Decision Makers

The Israeli archives of the 1973 war revealed intense confusion among decision makers in the days before the Egyptian attack began.

Thousands of Documents and Photographs Released

Israel has released thousands of documents and photographs of the last moments before the war, including a photo of Israeli soldiers carrying a boat with their colleague and girlfriend to celebrate their wedding, moments before the Egyptian attack began.

The Times of Israel reported that the Israel Archives has published a vast collection of thousands of documents, photographs, recordings and videos that provide in-depth insights into how the war was fought and the great intelligence failure that preceded it.

The website, currently devoted only to Hebrew, now displays about 3,500 archive files containing hundreds of thousands of pages, 1,400 original paper documents, 1,000 photographs, 750 recordings, 150 minutes of government discussions, and eight video clips, except for a few that still remain confidential, uploading the materials took two and a half years of work.

Disagreements and Confusion

In the closed corridors of Israel, the situation has not changed much after the archive revealed disagreements and confusion between Israeli intelligence and political leaders regarding the scale and nature of a possible attack by Egypt and Syria.

Israel admitted that it miscalculated the damage that Egypt and Syria could have inflicted as a result of the attack on October 6, 1973.

“This is a comprehensive look at the history of the war, which affected all areas of life in Israel,” said the archive employee Ruti Abramovich. “This is the largest disclosure of information ever made by the state archives.”

Pre-War Discussions and Assessments

Some of the documents contain records of discussions that took place between then Prime Minister Golda Meir and security officials in the days and hours before Syria and Egypt launched a coordinated war on October 6, 1973, when Israel celebrated Yom Kippur.

Israel did not expect to be attacked, despite clear signs that the two armies were preparing to attack, believing that after the defeat of Egypt six years ago in the “Six-Day” War, Cairo would not attack if it first acquired the ability to paralyze the Israeli air force.

The day before the start of the war, the head of military intelligence, Eli Zeira, told Meir that the prevailing assessment is that Israel’s preparedness stems mainly from fear of us. I don’t think they’re going to attack, we don’t have proof. … Technically they are able to move… I guess if they are going to attack, we will get more precise instructions.”

Hours later, in another assessment, Zeira and IDF Chief of Staff David Eliezer reaffirmed their position that Syria and Egypt are likely planning limited aggression or even simply deploying defensive forces.

Eliezer added: “I must say we don’t have enough evidence that they are not going to attack. We don’t have strong indications that they want to attack, but I can’t say based on the information that they aren’t preparing.”

Contemplating a Preemptive Strike

And the next morning at 7:30 am, 6.5 hours before the start of the war, Meir’s military secretary read a late-night telegram to the prime minister from the head of the Mossad, Zvi Zamir, which indicated that the war was a matter of a few hours.

The discussion then focused on whether a preemptive strike, as Israel did during the 1967 war, should be launched before the Arab armies could carry out their plan of attack.

But Defense Minister Moshe Dayan said: “This time we cannot afford to launch a preemptive strike from a diplomatic point of view… In the current situation, even five minutes ago is impossible.”

Meir agreed and said: “A preemptive strike is very tempting, but we are not in 1968. This time the world is showing its ugly face.. They won’t believe us.”

Another question that was raised was whether Israel’s knowledge of an impending attack should have been released in order to prevent it.

Minister Yisrael Galili, whose next proposal is still classified, said: “Zvika’s (Zmir’s) source says the war can be prevented by leaking information… Zvika proposes to do so.”

Minister Yigal Allon expressed support for Israel’s disclosure of the attack plot to the media ahead of a cabinet meeting scheduled for the same day, but Meir only supported passing the information to foreign diplomats and ended up sharing the information with US Ambassador Kenneth Keating after as Dayan said, “We must proceed carefully so that there is no panic.”

During their meeting, Meir asked Keating to deliver a message to Egypt that “we have no doubt that we will win, but we want to announce that we are not planning attacks, but are certainly ready to repel their attack.”

When Keating asked if Israel would launch a pre-emptive strike, Meir replied that they would not, “although it would make our task much easier.”

Assessments Proven Wrong

The day after the attack, which surprised Israel because it happened earlier than expected, Dayan confessed to Meir and Alon that his assessments were wrong.

“We had an estimate based on the previous war, and it was wrong,” he said. “We and others had wrong estimates of what would happen when trying to cross the Suez Canal.”

The minutes were documented in the handwritten personal diaries of Eli Mizrachi, then Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, parts of which have been previously published.

Insights into Decision-Making Process

According to the archive, recently published materials document events in real time in all spheres: political, military, international, public and civil.

These materials include government discussions, military-political consultations, meetings of Knesset committees, correspondence from the Foreign Ministry and assessments of the situation with the conduct of the war, civil defense and logistics during it.

The archive says the material provides a startling insight into the decision-making process of leaders in the face of uncertainty, fighting on various fronts, and political contacts that took place under the US brokerage at the end of the war and after it.


The declassification of the records from the 1973 war offers a comprehensive look into the events and decisions that shaped the conflict. It sheds light on the intelligence failures and the confusion among Israeli leaders leading up to the war. This release of information is the largest ever made by the state archives and provides valuable historical insights into a significant moment in Israel’s history.

Source: Times of Israel.

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