Although 40 years have passed, the intelligence lapse before the Yom Kippur War is still a source of mutual recrimination between those who were supposed to sound the alarm at the time.
On Sunday, at a conference on the lessons of the war hosted by the Institute for National Security Studies, the then-Director of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. (res.) Eli Zeira, and the then-Mossad chief, Zvika Zamir, faced tough questions, from each other and from the audience, over their actions in 1973.
Several minutes into Zeira's comments, he was heckled by Col. (res.) Yossi Langotsky, who was in charge of running the Military Intelligence Directorate's "special means" -- electronic devices planted inside enemy territory to provide early warning of the outbreak of war. Langotsky attacked Zeira for not having ordered the activation of those devices. Zeira said he and Langotsky had seen a report that showed the devices could not be rendered serviceable on time, but Langotsky insisted he had not received any such document, even after the war.
"You are telling us fairy tales, but no one knows what you are talking about. You are lying," Langotsky said.
Langotsky also attacked Zeira over the issue of intercepted chatter showing that Soviet personnel and their family members were leaving Syria and Egypt because of the approaching war. That much-talked about intelligence was obtained by Israel's signal intelligence unit, Unit 848 (later renamed 8200).
"You [Zeira] prevented the dissemination of this piece of intelligence, and 3,000 children died. He [Zeira] prohibited its distribution," Langotsky said.
Zeira said that despite the Military Intelligence Directorate's initial assessment that war was highly unlikely, this assessment was reversed when the senior leadership convened to discuss the possible outbreak of the war a day before it started. Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan led the discussion.
"What then takes place clearly defies all military doctrines. No troops are mobilized. That remains a mystery to me," Zeira said. He also said he had erred in the run-up to the war, and faulted himself for not challenging the governing paradigm that Egypt would not launch a large-scale attack unless its air force could match Israel's. He said he should have asked: "But what if we are wrong?"
Zamir, who as the head of the Mossad had his own intelligence apparatus, said that the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence Directorate and, by implication, Zeira were to blame for the lack of early warning, although he stopped short of referring to Zeira by name. Zamir said that at the time it was against protocol to hand the political echelon raw intelligence, and everything was to be filtered through the IDF, preventing him from properly informing the government of the looming threat.
"If you gave something directly to the prime minister, you were a spy," Zamir lamented. He stressed that the Mossad had found intelligence on the emerging war as early as February and March 1973.
"Intelligence that was of paramount importance was relayed to Military Intelligence, but never made it to the decision makers," he said.
Speaking about the controversy surrounding the alleged double agent Ashraf Marwan, the now-deceased son-in-law of former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Zamir said: "He was one of our intelligence assets, but Military Intelligence wouldn't take him seriously. He was the one who informed me that war was going to break out."
Zamir also issued a somber warning that the lessons of the past may not have been learned.
"Some of the problems that later manifested themselves in the Second Lebanon War were evident during the Yom Kippur War. They had not been addressed," Zamir said. "The IDF can't draw the right lessons."