What Golda Meir Understood That Her Generals Did Not

Oct. 12 2020

When Egypt and Syria launched their coordinated attacks on Yom Kippur of 1973, Israel found itself woefully unready, after two years of assurances from military intelligence that neither country would attack under current circumstances, supposedly deterred by the IDF’s apparent superiority. The high command and the storied military leaders of then-Prime Minister Golda Meir’s cabinet—among them Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon—had been convinced by this faulty assessment. Although Israeli soldiers eventually turned the situation around, the failures of the war’s early days have left an enduring scar on Israel’s collective memory. But Meir, the civilian, knew to be suspicious of complacency, writes Hanan Shai:

Meir apparently did not put her trust in the confidence of the intelligence branch regarding Arab fears of the IDF. During the cabinet discussions, she raised several questions about those ostensible fears. . . . Meir then inquired as to the possibility that “the Egyptians will keep us a little busy when the Syrians want to do something on the Golan,” [which is precisely what occurred]. The response of the intelligence branch to that question was that Hafez al-Assad “knows his limitations, because [his advisers] are aware of Israel’s strategic superiority.”

In answering Meir’s incisive questions, intelligence did not add any facts to substantiate its assessment that the Arabs were deterred. . . . Yet no alarm bells went off for the chief of staff and the many other experienced military men who took part in the discussion.

Meir’s bold questions during the prewar cabinet discussions did not change a thing, [however]. Golda Meir was known as a stubborn and authoritative leader, and apparently the only explanation for her acquiescence to the lack of preparedness that her questions exposed (particularly the lack of an early-warning margin that would enable mobilizing the reserves) was her expectation that spies Israel had recruited deep within the Egyptian government and military would provide such a warning. She was also relying on Dayan, who, until the outbreak of the 1973 war, was a defense minister of mythical stature.

Perhaps then there is some truth to the old adage that “war is too important to be left to the generals.”

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Golda Meir, IDF, Israeli history, Moshe Dayan, Yom Kippur War

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy