Why Did Israel Fail to Heed the Warning Signs of the Yom Kippur War?

In the months and weeks leading up to the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Israeli intelligence had ample evidence—from a highly placed source in Egypt, to visual data, to warnings from the king of Jordan himself—that Cairo and Damascus were planning to attack. Yet its leaders chose to ignore the warnings, thus finding themselves caught dangerously off guard. Bruce Riedel, whose work for the CIA brought him into close contact with key players in the story, seeks to understand what went wrong, and argues that Jerusalem made similar mistakes in the First Lebanon War.

Israeli intelligence failed to see war coming in 1973 because it was wedded to a concept . . . that the Arabs would not go to war because they would lose, therefore the danger of war was minimal. All indicators of war preparations and any warnings of war were fed into the concept and then explained away. But the concept was not just an intelligence concept, it was a policy concept that the Israeli political leadership at the top deeply believed.

But more than the concept was in error. The Israeli intelligence community and the Israeli policy community had created a small and intimate feedback loop in which their common assumptions about the enemy were never challenged. Moshe Dayan, a military hero of epic proportions, shared the fundamental assumption that the Arabs were incompetent with his intelligence advisers. Since then-Prime Minister Golda Meir relied on her generals entirely on military issues, she shared it as well. . . . The Americans proved to be no help, either. They too were mesmerized by the [Israeli] concept. . . .

The Agranat Commission, [formed by the Knesset to investigate the failures of the Yom Kippur War], recommended some organizational changes to prevent another disaster. This is always the default position of bureaucracies when intelligence fails: change the organizational flow chart, not the menu itself. . . . The theory was that having three organizations each independently study the data [produced by intelligence] and make estimates would diminish the chance of the concept going unchallenged. . . .

In Lebanon in 1982, the Israeli intelligence community relied heavily on its Christian ally, the Lebanese Forces [or Phalange], for intelligence about the complexities of Lebanese politics. For decades, Israel’s concern in Lebanon had been the Palestinian terrorist organizations and the Syrian occupation army, while Lebanese politics and society were not a priority. For understanding this arena, the Israelis turned to the Lebanese Forces.

Overreliance on the Christians led Israeli analysts and policymakers to create a new concept, Riedel argues, that proved equally flawed:

[T]he bureaucratic solution of the Agranat Commission—creating a rival analytic service to the [IDF’s intelligence wing]—failed in Lebanon because the [military-intelligence analysts] would not challenge the “concept” and warn that the Phalangist viewpoint was flawed. . . . [T]he “concept” of Christian primacy in Lebanon failed to recognize the nascent power of the Shiite community and its capacity to create a strong insurgency against the IDF occupation of half the country. In particular, the military intelligence and the Mossad were very slow to recognize the rise of Hizballah.

Read more at Brookings

More about: First Lebanon War, Golda Meir, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Mossad, Yom Kippur War

How Lebanon—and Hizballah—Conned and Humiliated Rex Tillerson

Feb. 21 2018

Last Thursday, the American secretary of state arrived in Beirut to express Washington’s continued support for the country’s government, which is now entirely aligned with Hizballah. His visit came shortly after Israel’s showdown with Hizballah’s Iranian protectors in Syria and amid repeated warnings from Jerusalem about the terrorist organization’s growing threat to Israeli security. To Tony Badran, Tillerson’s pronouncements regarding Lebanon have demonstrated the incoherence of the Trump administration’s policy:

[In Beirut], Tillerson was made to sit alone in a room with no American flag in sight and wait—as photographers took pictures and video—before Hizballah’s chief allies in Lebanon’s government, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law the foreign minister, finally came out to greet him. Images of the U.S. secretary of state fidgeting in front of an empty chair were then broadcast across the Middle East to symbolize American impotence at a fateful moment for the region. . . .

Prior to heading to Beirut, Tillerson gave an interview to the American Arabic-language station al-Hurra, in which he emphasized that Hizballah was a terrorist organization, and that the United States expected cooperation from the “Lebanon government to deal very clearly and firmly with those activities undertaken by Lebanese Hizballah that are unacceptable to the rest of the world.” . . . But then, while in Jordan, Tillerson undermined any potential hints of firmness by reading from an entirely different script—one that encapsulates the confused nonsense that is U.S. Lebanon policy. Hizballah is “influenced by Iran,” Tillerson said. But, he added, “We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon”—which apparently makes being “influenced by Iran” and being a terrorist group OK. . . .

The reality on the ground in Lebanon, [however], is [that] Hizballah is not only a part of the Lebanese government, it controls it—along with all of the country’s illustrious “institutions,” including the Lebanese Armed Forces. . . .

[Meanwhile], Israel’s tactical Syria-focused approach to the growing threat on its borders has kept the peace so far, but it has come at a cost. For one thing, it does not address the broader strategic factor of Iran’s growing position in Syria, and it leaves Iran’s other regional headquarters in Lebanon untouched. Also, it sets a pace that is more suitable to Iran’s interests. The Iranians can absorb tactical strikes so long as they are able to consolidate their strategic position in Syria and Lebanon. Not only have the Iranians been able to fly a drone into Israel but also their allies and assets have made gains on the ground near the northern Golan and in Mount Hermon. As Iran’s position strengthens, and as Israel’s military and political hand weakens, the Israelis will soon be left with little choice other than to launch a devastating war.

To avoid that outcome, the United States needs to adjust its policy—and fast. Rather than leaving Israel to navigate around the Russians and go after Iran’s assets in Syria and Lebanon on its own, it should endorse Israel’s red lines regarding Iran in Syria, and amplify its campaign against Iranian assets. In addition, it should revise its Lebanon policy and end its investment in the Hizballah-controlled order there.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, U.S. Foreign policy