66 years to the first warning failure of intelligence: On September 27, 1955, the first strategic warning failure of the Israeli intelligence community was recorded. Egyptian leader, Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasser, Announced a large-scale arms deal with Czechoslovakia. (In fact, the Soviet Union was the actual supplier, but did not want to be portrayed as intervening in the Middle East). The surprise and its implications aroused heavy concern among the top security officials. This occurrence led to an Israeli arms race and to a large extent even formed the roots of the Sinai system at the end of 1956.
The dramatic deal included advanced and varied equipment, and included hundreds of aircraft, hundreds of tanks, hundreds of cannons, anti-tank vehicles, vessels and more. Israeli intelligence has a relatively long period of time to receive and present accurate data about the deal, and to understand and point out its significance.
It was no longer a miss. It was the failure of the first significant strategic warning of military intelligence after the establishment of the state (first among many to come after it). The severity of the incident was mainly due to the dimensions of the deal and the imbalance with Israel, and being an opening for an Egyptian military move against Israel with a significant advantage in advanced weapons. Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, who took office two years earlier, feared This was one of his motives for initiating a military move against Egypt before the end of the process.
This deal was part of a move by the Egyptian army to move equipment, affiliation and Western – to the eastern one. It should also be noted that this was the first of many other arms deals between the USSR and the Soviet bloc and Arab countries signed over 20 years.
Nasser at the top of the Arab League (Photo: AFP)
What actually happened and why was no warning given?
Nasser, who only a year earlier had become Egypt’s leader after ousting Najib who was the “straw leader” at the head of the officers’ revolution. The arms deal was part of an overall change of his political line. At the heart of the concept of “Nazarism” and the “philosophy of the revolution” was the vision of Arab unity, which he even sought to lead and lead the hostile line to Israel.
The background to the arms deal was regional and international processes in East-West relations: facing the “Baghdad Alliance” led by the United States and Britain as a pro-Western bloc in the Middle East – which began to form from the early 1950s in a series of alliances and agreements with Iraq, Turkey, Iran and more. Approaching the Eastern Bloc. He led the process of Egypt’s disengagement from the British, and after an attempt to get closer to the US that did not match his expectations and failures to get weapons from the West – he chose the USSR as the main factor to help him. His participation in the Bandung Conference (April 1955) was a significant manifestation of this. Following the announcement of the arms deal, the US announced a halt to the positive approach to the Nasser regime. Britain has announced that it will not continue implementing arms deals with Egypt and the US.
Nasser declared on several occasions that the trigger for the deal was Operation Black Arrow (February 1955) in which 38 Egyptian soldiers were killed in a raid by paratroopers in the Gaza Strip. But as mentioned, in the background were processes that began even earlier. It should also be noted that until then, there have been secret contacts between Israel and Egypt at various levels, including the involvement of Nasser himself.
Why did I fail to warn?
Zvi Lanir wrote in his book: “The basic surprise – intelligence in crisis”: “The purpose of the warning is to draw the attention of decision makers, at a relevant time, to a development that may require them to take action or special organization.
“The main function of intelligence research is to increase the ‘warning space’ – the length of time measured from the time when the warning was given about the formation of a warning situation, until the occurrence of the event that is the subject of the warning.”
A warning is not just about a war or an attack. Even when the intelligence does not warn the state leadership of the formation of a major arms deal, or a new technological threat it fails in its function. Essentially, here the failure was combined.
The head of the Armed Forces at the time was Jehoshaphat Harkabi – but he was at the very beginning of his job, having only 5 months earlier replaced Benjamin Gibley who had to end his job due to the “bad business”. Chief of Staff Dayan took office in December 1953. Intelligence research for an independent division.
The French way
The prime minister and defense minister was David Ben-Gurion, who after the War of Independence instructed the IDF to prepare for another round of fighting against Arab countries that would lead Egypt. In this context, he instructed the IDF to prepare for a “case-by-case” scenario. At the end of 1955, following the deal, the IDF even prepared for a preliminary military operation – Operation Omar in the Sinai Peninsula – but this was canceled due to political considerations.
Ben-Gurion, who feared a preliminary Egyptian move in the face of a breach of the balance of power, instructed to look for sources for the purchase of weapons to reduce the gaps. After attempts to purchase jets in Britain, the US and other countries failed, the solution was found in France as a new source of procurement. Within this framework there were two orbits: aerial and land.
Lt. Col. Moti Habakkuk, former head of the Air Force’s history department, reveals that the Israeli IS did not wait for Nasser, and at least in the aviation field, the counter-acquisition had an early background. According to his testimony, as early as the early 1950s, the Air Force was looking for a high-quality multi-mission fighter aircraft in favor of ground attacks and air battles. The French “Mister 2” was found suitable, but was then only in development. In August 1954, about a year before the Czech-Egyptian deal, a supply contract was signed with France. About a year later, the plane was inspected in France by an Air Force delegation and after many deficiencies were found, it was decided to cancel the contract and wait for the development of the advanced version of the “Mister 4”. “Organ.” In view of the concerns and urgency, France agreed to remove “Organ” aircraft from the French air force and transfer them to Israel. The planes arrived and were picked up at the end of 1955. In April 1956, the Israeli IS received the new “Mister” planes.
The overall deal with France was signed during 1956, and included, among other things, Super Sherman tanks, AMX13 tanks and more. The equipment arrived in Israel in a covert naval operation, before the Sinai system.
The author is Lt. Col. Res., Former head of the history and heritage branch of the IDF’s Intelligence Division.