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 planning 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. 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. This telegram 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.
On the 50th anniversary of the war, the ISA is reissuing its special publication of declassified documents, in an expanded version which reveals the record of the conduct of the war by Israel’s leaders, including transcripts of wartime government meetings, political-security consultations with the war cabinet held by the prime minister, and diary entries by Eli Mizrahi, the head of the Prime Minister’s bureau, which were transcribed and typed a year later.
The publication serves an introduction to an expanded collection of files, photographs and recordings, which can be seen on the ISA’s Hebrew website.
We are grateful to the staff of the Declassification Department of the ISA and to the staff of the Military Censorship for their help in making these documents available.
These documents from the ISA collections give a comprehensive picture and answer questions that could not be fully examined until now. They include discussions in the cabinet and the government on the warnings received about a possible outbreak of war in the months leading up to October 1973. The bulk of the collection presents the charged discussions during the war itself, up to the end of October 1973. At the heart of the drama are the diaries which describe moment by moment what happened in the bureau – the nerve center of the war. These diaries were never published or even presented to the Agranat Committee, which investigated the conduct of the war in 1973-1974. The discussions in the war cabinet show how the crucial decisions were made on conducting the political and military campaign. The meetings of the plenum of the Israeli government complete the picture and present the debates – sometimes tumultuous and emotional – on questions of principle, strategy and morality of the management of the war. They also present the beginning of the process of stocktaking which accelerated towards the end of the war.
The documents are in Hebrew and can be seen in a file on our Hebrew website here.
They are accompanied by a series of 14 English introductions which begin in 1972 and provide a summary of the new documents, together with other material previously published on the ISA website. These include a translation of the fateful telegram received on the morning of October 6, 1973
and a collection of telegrams, many of them in English, exchanged between the Prime Minister’s bureau and the Israeli diplomatic representatives in the US
Other materials which were previously published in Hebrew, such as the discussions in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, summaries written by the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office and more, can also be seen in the publication on our Hebrew website.
The ISA has also issued a biographical collection in Hebrew of documents and speeches by Golda Meir:
“Golda Meir: The Fourth Prime Minister, Selected documents (1898-1978)“, edited by Hagai Tsoref, Jerusalem, 2016. A scanned version (in Hebrew) is available on the ISA website:
Material on the website of the IDF and Defense Establishment Archives
Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Vol XXV, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, edited by Nina Howland and Craig Daigle
The National Security Archive: The October War and US Policy, edited by William BurrSee more