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June 6, 2021 5:16 pm

Israel Knew of Imminent Attack Before Yom Kippur War, Did Not Strike for Fear of International Reaction: Documents

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avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

IDF soldiers at the Suez Canal during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Photo: Israeli Ministry of Defense.

Newly released documents reveal that the Israeli government knew that Syria and Egypt were set to attack Israel on Yom Kippur 1973, but chose not to make a preemptive strike, fearing international condemnation.

The Egyptian and Syrian surprise attack on Israel’s southern and northern borders set off the Yom Kippur War, which proved to be one of Israel’s most traumatic conflicts — with over 3,000 dead, thousands wounded, and enormous economic damage to the Jewish state.

Israeli news site Walla reported Sunday that the newly revealed documents include protocols of the Israeli security cabinet, which met on Yom Kippur just before the Egyptian-Syrian surprise attack to discuss newly arrived intelligence that war was about to break out.

Defense Minister Moshe Dayan told the assembled ministers, “The assumption is that this evening, at dusk, or shortly before dark, a full-scale attack will begin on both fronts.”

This information, he said, had come from American intelligence, which had “credible information” that an attack was imminent and had informed the Israelis a few days before.

Israel had at first dismissed the information, but now believed it to be true, particularly because Egypt’s Russian advisors were leaving the country. This, said Dayan, was a “red light.”

Several ministers and IDF commanders said Israel should undertake a preemptive attack on the enemy’s air bases and missile sites.

Prime Minister Golda Meir said that the idea was appealing, but “I know what kind of world we live in. … It’s a pity, but it’s not going to work.”

Dayan said, “We have to make sure it’s a clear-cut case” were Israel to attack.

Justice Minister Yaakov Shapira disagreed, noting that Israel had struck first in the 1967 Six Day War, and while it was seen as the aggressor by many, “it is very good that we were like that, because otherwise who knows if we would exist at all?”

Ultimately, however, the idea of a preemptive attack was abandoned, and the war began shortly after.

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