Reading the documents declassified this week about the days preceding the Yom Kippur War 39 years ago, the human memory skips to a 14th century children's song that has undergone many reincarnations, finally translated by Naomi Shemer into Hebrew as "All Because of a Nail." The song talks about a little nail that fell out of a horseshoe fitted on a galloping fighting horse during battle that eventually brought defeat in the war.
The little nail that was revealed this week was in the testimony of Alfred (Freddy) Eini before the commission headed by Chief Justice Shimon Agranat, which was appointed to examine the terrible failures of that terrible October in 1973. Eini was a top aide to then-Mossad chief Zvi Zamir. He received intelligence from the spy Ashraf Marwan indicating an urgent need for a meeting. That was a clue that a war was imminent.
Eini wakened Zamir in the middle of the night with this information, but the latter simply thanked him and went right back to sleep. Only in the morning did Eini realize that Zamir was too sleepy to have understood the significance of his message that night, and so precious hours were lost. "Weapons of war perished," in the words of David's Lament (2 Samuel 1:27).
This is just one shocking detail in a long list of mistakes that evoke even more sadness than anger at the negligent conduct of the Israeli elite at the time. Foreign Minister Abba Eban's declassified testimony is also extremely informative. It turns out that he had been completely compartmentalized and didn't have a clue about anything, but he picked up on a veiled message from Prime Minister Golda Meir, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and top adviser Yisrael Galili indicating that there was no threat of war, and that the main battle was being waged in Washington and at the U.N. over economic issues and foreign affairs.
The general sense of frustration that descended on Israel after the Yom Kippur War turned the country into an orphan. There were no responsible parental figures. Its leaders not only avoided taking responsibility but they deflected it onto their colleagues. The verbal duel between Zamir and Military Intelligence Director Eli Zeira was the most volatile clash, but certainly not the only one. The events still attract new research periodically, with the latest being Yigal Kipnis's book "1973, The Road to War."
There is no doubt that the government and the Israel Defense Forces behaved arrogantly. Hubris is the mother of all sins. But it wasn't a "little nail" like Zamir's beauty sleep that made the Yom Kippur War victory seem like defeat to the Israeli public.
The IDF promoted the view that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was not like a Shiite suicide bomber and would not go to war with Israel no matter what, even if he didn't get anything in return. Once Meir adopted this outlook, she rejected two proposals for an agreement with Egypt: one was Dayan's proposed 30-kilometer withdrawal to allow Sadat to open the Suez Canal, and the other was Gunnar Jarring's U.N. proposal to exchange a full Israeli withdrawal for peace.
That is where the failure began, and there is nothing in the declassified documents to contradict that. With hubris comes complacency, and the IDF was ill-prepared to block an Egyptian assault with its "Dovecote" plan, regardless of the fairy tale that Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Shmuel Gonen (Gorodish) told the Agranat Commission.
The Yom Kippur War is a wound that will not heal until the last person who took part in it and experienced it is gone. But the documents that continue to emerge only serve to add details to the general picture. Like the ones declassified this week.