Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The return of "the concept"

I recently read Abraham Rabinovich's book on the Yom Kippur War and the most interesting thing about the book is how he explains why the war was such a surprise to Israel. It had to do with "the concept" that the Arab states did not have the military capability to attack Israel. This concept held even when Israel received a warning just before the war began from "the Source" - an Egyptian spy very close to the Egyptian president Nasser. Zvi Zamir, who was then the head of the Mossad, flew to Europe to meet with him the day before Yom Kippur. According to Rabinovich (p. 83), "The Source's message was blunt. Egypt would attack tomorrow before dawn."

Update - the spy's name was revealed to be Dr. Ashraf Marwan. Zvi Zamir accused Eli Zeira, who was head of Military Intelligence before and during the war, of revealing Marwan's name. Zeira then sued Zamir for libel, but the court decided that Zeira did indeed reveal the spy's name. What is truly peculiar is that Marwan just died in a fall from the balcony of his house in London. Zamir is now charging that "reports in Israel about Dr. Ashraf Marwan, Israel's Egyptian agent who warned of the pending outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, led to his death. 'I have no doubt that reports published about him in Israel caused his death,' Zamir told Haaretz yesterday, in response to Marwan's mysterious death in London on Wednesday. Zamir, who questioned Marwan during a secret meeting held in London on the Friday on the eve of the 1973 war, said he had no idea whether the Egyptian had committed suicide or had been assassinated."

In an article in today's Haaretz, Uri Bar-Yosef warns about The return of 'the concept'. He writes:
The possibility of initiating a diplomatic process with Syria passed before our eyes almost without notice. The president of the United States publicly declared his disinterest in participating in such a move, Israel's prime minister has more urgent matters, and Syrian President Bashar Assad, as we know full well, has no real military option against Israel. Therefore Syrian threats to pursue the military option if the path of negotiations is closed off evoke little fear on Israel's part.

This indifference is a mistake. History teaches that on at least three occasions we believed our adversary did not have a military option, and Israel could do what it pleased. On each occasion, we were proved wrong. For each mistake, we paid a high price. Those who are in charge of the country's security would be well-advised to take this into account and avoid the need to learn this lesson a fourth time.

The three examples he gives are the Six Day War, the War of Attrition, and the Yom Kippur War. In all three cases, the Israeli leadership was convinced that the Arabs had no military option, and it was wrong three times.

Bar-Yosef says, "The situation today is not very different. The IDF is stronger than the Syrian army, but that does not mean Syria does not have the ability to hurt Israel or that if it had no choice, Syria would not exercise this ability despite the risks. The military logic dominating Israel's strategic thinking tends to downplay the weight of political considerations pushing Syria into turning to the use of force. If it does turn in that direction, and if Israel pays a high price for it, in a few more years we can sit and cry once more over the error of neglecting the diplomatic route because of the adversary's lack of military options and over the heavy price we have paid."

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