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Agranat Commission  

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Agranat Commission - The Agranat Commission (Hebrew: ועדת אגרנט ) was an Israeli national investigation commission ( ועדת חקירה ממלכתית) founded to investigate the failures of the Yom Kippur War, in which Israel was surprised by an Egyptian and Syrian attack in October of 1973. The Agranat Commission was founded according to a decision of the government made on November 18, 1973, as soon as the separation of forces agreement with Egypt was signed.

The mandate of the commission was to investigate the intelligence gathering activities prior to the war as well as the war readiness of the IDF and military decisions made during the war.  The Committee was headed by Shimon Agranat, Chief Justice of the Israeli Supreme Court. Its other members were Justice Moshe Landau, State Comptroller Yitzchak Nebenzahl, and former Chiefs of Staff Yigal Yadin and Chaim Laskov. The commission in 156 meetings, heard ninety witnesses and got written testimony from 188 additional army personnel.

On April 1ת 1974 the commission presented an interim report that dealt mainly with the reasons for surprise at the start of the war, and the functioning of the Prime Minister, Defense Minister and army chiefs. On July 10, 1974, a second interim report was issued. The final report was issued on January 30, 1975, that also covered the the general preparedness of the  IDF and its actions in the braking battles that it fought in the Sinai, ostensibly to prevent the advance of the Egyptian army beyond the 12 Km line. Among other things, this phase of the report focused on disciple in the units and in the emergency warehouse. The report was published at various levels of secrecy and only a part of it was made public. In 1995 (see Pinkas, Alon, Agranat report made public - still leaves questions, Jerusalem Post, January 2, 1995), in 2006 ref  and in 2008 ref  most of the classified material was declassified, though almost none of the report has been put on the Web. The report consists of 2,200 pages in 6 volumes. 

The conclusions of the report inspired the creation of an advisor to the Prime Minister on intelligence matters, and of a special AMAN (military intelligence) unit tasked with the creation of a situation evaluation that is the opposite of the accepted one. Many years later, a National Security Council was created to implement one of the Commission's recommendations. It has not functioned properly however. Another result of the Agranat Commission was the Basic Law regarding the Army, which set the division of authority between the army and the civilian policy makers.

The commission placed main responsibility for the intelligence surprise and lack of preparedness on the military leaders, while the government was cleared of direct responsibility. The commission's lenient attitude to the failings of Prime Minister Golda Meir  and Defence Minister Moshe Dayan  was not accepted by the Israeli public, which initiated demonstrations and other protest activities. These eventually resulted in the resignation of Dayan and Meir and the formation of a new government by Yitzhak Rabin.

The Israeli public viewed the treatment of the political leaders as a whitewash, and that was probably an accurate assessment. The report had curious hiatuses evidently in dealing with issues such as the role of the Israel Air Force, and numerous aspects such as the testimony of General Ariel Sharon and his role in the war remain controversial. Sharon's testimony was only made public in 2008.

The Failure:

According to the report, IDF commanders in general and the AMAN staff in particular, were locked in to an incorrect "Conception" (in Hebrew: "Conceptziah) about the probability of war. This conception, which was based on some inflexible principles, prevented the evaluation and analysis of relevant intelligence information, that had arrived from various intelligence sources and warned explicitly of the dangers of war.

The official published version of the Agranat report lists three factors responsible for the "Mechdal" (failure). Quoting from the Agranat report in translation:  

"1. Stubborn adherence of the intelligence heads to what was called "the concept" according to which a) Egypt would not go to war against Israel, unless it could first ensure that it was able to penetrate Israeli air defenses in depth. b) Syria would not go to war with Israel except in coordination with Egypt. It became clear to us... that this concept which may have been correct originally, was not reexamined in its first and critical part as was proper in view of the pressure of changing policy reasons.  

2. The head of AMAN promised the IDF advance warning regarding the intention of the enemy to begin a general war. A warning that would allow time for the orderly call up of reserves. This promise was set down as the basis for defense plans of the IDF. We find that there was no basis for giving the IDF such a decisive report.

3. In the days that preceded the Yom Kippur war AMAN (research [division] ) had a plethora of warnings... AMAN (research) and the head of AMAN did not correctly evaluate the warnings in these data. From their adherence to the doctrine of the conceptions and their willingness to excuse the deployment of the enemy along the front lines, which was unprecedented in its size... thus the enemy was able to deceive and surprise the IDF, in the guise of an exercise supposedly conducted in Egypt."

The Agranat Commission also determined that there was an inexcusable delay in calling up reserves, and that no defense plan for the case where the regular forces would need to hold back a general attack on the Syrian and Egyptian fronts simultaneously. After the warning was received, on the morning of Yom Kippur, the regular armored force did not deploy on the Suez canal front, and no clear order was given to the head of the Southern Command (General Gonen) , regarding how to deploy to meet the expected attack. 

The public part of the report was written as if the Agranat commission was not aware of several key facts about the war:

1- AMAN (army intelligence) relied on a spy or double agent, Ashraf Marwan, who recently died in London in mysterious circumstances. ref   It was this agent who insisted for a long time that Egypt was not prepared to attack. It is not clear if he was duped by Egypt or acted as a double agent. Marwan has wrongly been cast as a Mossad agent in several sources, but he was not.

2 - The concept that Egypt would not attack without depth of air superiority was invalid not because of changed policy, but because of changed Egyptian strategy. Egypt had no intention of going beyond the 12 KM advance it had achieved and therefore the entire discussion of the braking action ("krav blima") of the IDF and the action itself were not relevant. The crucial factor in the military disaster did not occur in October 1973, but at the end of the war of attrition, when Israel allowed the Soviets to advance SAM 3 and SAM 6 missiles nearly to the line of the canal. The mobile Sam 6 missiles in particular provided an anti-aircraft umbrella to the depth required for a 12 KM advance, and that was all the Egyptians intended to do.

3- Israel's major defensive arm was the air force, and the air force failed to operate effectively. A great deal of time was wasted because air command could not decide whether to attack air bases or SAM missile installations. Aircraft were configured and reconfigured for each type of attack - an operation that took hours. The attack on air bases was modeled on Operation Focus of the Six day war. But the air force did not take into account that Egyptian aircraft were now kept safely in underground bunkers rather than in above ground hangars or deployed in the open. There was no chance of destroyed the Egyptian air force on the ground. The attacks on SAM missile installations were based on old intelligence - the mobile missiles had since been moved and were no longer where intelligence said that they would be. 

Lack of delineation of authority:

The Agranat Commission found that there was lack of clarity regarding the specific responsibilities for national security of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff, "From the constitutional standpoint, it was never defined if the Minister of Defense is a kind of super chief of staff who must provide guidance to the Chief of Staff in his responsibility in the operative area, or of he is actually the supreme commander of the IDF in his capacity as minister of defense. The lack of definition of responsibilities that is current in the area of defense, an area second to none in critical importance, makes effective action difficult, detracts from focusing legal authority and even causes lack of clarity and confusion in the public... there is a special need to define who has the authority to order the implementation of actions in the face of a sudden threat, or when speed of response is a vital need, such as activation of regular forces, call up of complementary reserves or any other call up. "

Defects in government action:

"It became clear to us that over time there was a failure in carrying out the function that the government must fulfill in policy discussions and in decision making at the highest level... We are further of the opinion that in war time it is proper for the government to give the Prime Minister authority to set up a team... that will be responsible for decisions in urgent matters pertaining to management of war. "

Changes in intelligence gathering apparatus:

The Agranat commission determined that evaluation of intelligence had been entrusted to a single body, and therefore recommended a number of changes in the Israeli intelligence apparetus: appointment of a special advisor to the Prime Minister on intelligence affairs, strengthening the research division of the foreign office, clear specification of the rules for distribution and feedback of raw intelligence data and creation of a unit for intelligence evaluation in the framework of the Mossad. Likewise the Agranat Commission determined that "It is essential that the Prime Minister have access to policy, military and other evaluations that are collated and based on different points of view and do not come from a singe pipeline." 

Conclusions of the Agranat Commission regarding personnel:

The Agranat Commission evaded a discussion of the ministerial authority (that is, their responsibilities as ministers in the government, rather than their responsibility to the particular portfolio they held, and put the entire blame for the failure on the military level. The Agranat Commission rationalized its decision as follows: "When we came to discuss the responsibility of ministers for errors of commission or omission... we regarded ourselves as free to draw conclusions on the basis of the our findings only as to their direct responsibility. We did not see it as part of our job to express an opinion about what may be implied about their [ministerial] authority."

Regarding the direct responsibility of the policy makers, the Agranat report praised the functioning of Prime Minister Golda Meir. The Agranat commission determined with regard to her that "The activity of the Prime Minister during the critical days preceding the war bears witness to an approach that is suitable to the heavy responsibility laid on her...[she] correctly used her powers of decision making that were granted her based on the circumstances in the emergency of the morning of the Sabbath day [Yom Kippur]." Nonetheless, a brief time after the publication of the interim report, Meir resigned from her post as Prime Minister because of the public protest aroused by her "exoneration" of responsibility for the failures of the war. Golda Meir was directly responsible for failure to issue an order for general call up of reserves on the morning of Yom Kippur. This was a critical error that was responsible for the loss of many lives. She made the mistake of  relying on a single set of intelligence estimates for most of the preceding period, and in the bigger picture, for refusing to consider a 1971 peace proposal by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Meir had no combat experience or understanding of military strategy. Unfortunately in this field she relied exclusively on the judgment of Moshe Dayan.  

Functioning of the Defense Minister

Regarding the functioning of the Defense Minister, the Agranat Commission found that he "passed the standards of reasonable behavior required by the Minister of Defense." Nonetheless, Dayan was not part of the new government formed by Meir. The findings of the Agranat Commission notwithstanding, Dayan panicked at a crucial moment and began babbling about "the fall of the Third Temple." Chief of Staff David Eleazar calmed the situation. Dayan bears direct responsibility for ordering the air force to turn back on its way to attacking on the Sinai front, in order to execute an ineffectual attack on the Syrian front. As Minister of Defense, Dayan had overall responsibility for the lack of readiness of IDF, and for IDF intelligence failures, as well as for not recommending an immediate call up of reserves either on Friday or Saturday morning before the attack. The Agranat Commission inexplicably overlooked every one of these failures.

Chief of Staff

The Agranat Commission found that the "The Chief of Staff, General David Elazar, has personal responsibility for events preceding the war, but regarding the evaluation of the situation and regarding the readiness of the IDF." Therefore the commission recommended the termination of his term of office as Chief of Staff. Accordingly, Elazar resigned in April of 1974.

Many Israelis thought that an injustice was done to Elazar, who took the blame for failures by Moshe Dayan and others. Evidently, he had asked for a general call up of reserves on the morning of Yom Kippur and was refused. He was also instrumental in maintaining morale during the war. There is no doubt that Elazar should have been more aware of the state of the warehouses and military equipment, as well as the problem of one-sided intelligence gathering. However, he was certainly not more guilty than Moshe Dayan.

Head of Military Intelligence  

The Agranat Commission determined that the head of AMAN (military intelligence) had the major, direct and personal responsibility for the intelligence failures. "The responsibility for these errors in evaluation must be placed first and foremost on the head of AMAN and on his chief assistant, the head of the research department of AMAN, which is the only organization in the state that is engaged in intelligence research. These failed in that they gave a completely inadequate warning to the IDF. Only at 4:30 AM approximately, on the morning of the Yom Kippur, the head of AMAN announced, on the basis of new information he had received, that the enemy was about to begin a war... this brief warning did not allow for orderly call up of reserves." Therefore, the Agranat commission recommended that Zeira could not continue as head of AMAN. Publication of the report led to the resignation of Zeira from the army.

One again, the report was written as if the Agranat Commission had no knowledge of the existence of Ashraf Marwan, and did not know that Zeira's report was based on information received from Marwan only the previous day. It is noteworthy that even after the information was transmitted to the government, the government failed to begin a general call up of reserves or even an adequate partial call up. Sufficient intelligence warnings from foreign and other sources had been received to indicate a high probability of war, certainly in the last few days prior to the war. Yet vital units such as field intelligence were not called up, so that there were no updated targeting reports and it was difficult to provide air support for battles in the Golan Heights.

Chief of Southern Command

The Agranat Commission determined that Shmuel Gonen (Gorodish) "Did not properly fulfill his duties and he is responsible in large part of the dangerous situation in which our forces were caught." The commission reversed its initial recommendation to suspend Gonen from all his command duties, but its conclusions caused his ultimate resignation from the IDF.

Additional resignations of senior officers due to Agranat Commission recommendations included the head of the AMAN research department , the head of the Egyptian branch in the research department and others.  

The idea of the fixation on an incorrect conception did not originate with the Agranat Commission. Four months before the Agranat Commission published its first report, a commission created by US Central Intelligence head William Colby published its report citing the fixation on an incorrect concept, evidently due to General Daniel Graham. ref It is almost certain that the Americans had no idea of the cause of the misconception - an Egyptian spy who was feeding Israel incorrect information, deliberately or not.

Many of the conclusions and hearings of the Agranat Commission were not fully declassified for many years, and perhaps some are still classified. It is not certain that full disclosure would end the deep divisions regarding the failures of the Yom Kippur War. Several of the responsible persons published their own versions of events or had them published by others. Add to this the various accounts that were published in Arab countries, and the constant reinterpretation that is demanded by the perspective of time, the confusion caused by the clouding of memories and deaths of some of the protagonists.   The contradictions are numerous and a full account would look like Rashomon - many different interpretations of the same action.

Ami Isseroff

October 8, 2009


ועדת אגרנט- The Agranat Commission (YNET Encyclopedia - in Hebrew)

טובר, החלטות גורליות: חיל האוויר בתחילת מלחמת יום כיפור, מעריב, ירושלים, 2008.

(Gordon, Samuel, 30 Hours in October: Fateful decisions: The Air Force at the start of the Yom Kippur War, Maariv, Jerusalem, 2008)

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: 

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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