On the morning of 6 October 1973, at 03:50 a.m on the fast day of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, the ringing of the telephone woke Israel’s prime minister, Golda Meir, after sleep had eluded her for most of the night. The caller was her military secretary, Israel Lior, who told her about an urgent message from Zvi Zamir, the head of the Mossad, who had gone to London to meet with a highly placed source (we now know that this was Ashraf Marwan). Zamir reported that Egypt and Syria were about to launch a combined attack on Israel. A few hours later a telegram reached the Prime Minister’s bureau with the full report from Zamir from London. It opened with the chilling sentence: “The Egyptian army and the Syrian army are about to launch an attack on Israel on Saturday 6.10.73 in the early evening.” Highly detailed information followed about the war plans of the two armies. On our Hebrew website you can see a typed version of this telegram, which upset all the accepted intelligence estimates from “low probability” of war to near certainty. As a result the IDF began to call up the reserves and to make feverish preparations for an enemy attack.
This was the beginning of one of the most important dramas in Israel’s history, the Yom Kippur War. At the height of the fighting, Prime Minister Meir declared “I say this with full awareness of its significance – we never faced so grave a danger in 1948″, in the war for the establishment of the state. Up to this day the war remains a national trauma, which is almost unparalleled in Israeli history.
The documentation about the war held in the Israel State Archives reflects the actions of the civilian decision-makers in four main centres of power: the prime minister and her bureau, the unofficial war cabinet, the government plenum and Israel’s representatives abroad, especially the embassy in Washington and the mission at the UN. Another important body was the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence committee, which received almost daily reports about the war.
Newly declassified material
To mark the 45th anniversary of the outbreak of the war we present on our Hebrew website a special publication, including four parts, the fateful telegram itself, which is now declassified for the first time; all the telegrams exchanged between the prime minister’s bureau and the embassy in Washington (many of them are in English), the minutes of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence committee and the summaries by the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Mordecai Gazit, which have also been declassified for the first time.
See also the minutes of the government meetings during the first three days of the war, published in 2010