Forty years have passed. Dozens of books have been written. Testimony has been released in large bundles, particularly over the past few years. And yet prime minister Golda Meir’s testimony before the commission of inquiry that investigated the lead-up to and the early days of the Yom Kippur War, released on Thursday, contained at least one glaring omission: There is no mention of the crucial September 25, 1973 meeting between Meir and King Hussein of Jordan, in which the king, fresh from meetings with Arab leaders, warned of war on two fronts.
Asked whether the Agranat Commission of inquiry had skipped over this meeting back in 1973 or whether it had been deleted from Meir’s testimony as a security precaution in 2013, a Defense Ministry spokesperson said that, “In 2005, Ariel Sharon created a commission responsible for the publication of the Agranat testimonies. The Committee is made up of representatives of the Shin Bet, the Mossad, the IDF and the Censorship unit, and is headed by Justice Yitshak Englehard. On the basis of the harm that may be caused to the security of the State of Israel, the committee decides what to publish.”
The meeting on the eve of Rosh Hashanah 1973, then, despite the books and the fact that it is detailed on the Golda Meir Memorial Site, is apparently still too dangerous to be spoken of, as far as Israel’s censors are concerned. This is likely related to the current upheaval in the region and the Hashemite dynasty’s ever imperiled hold over Jordan, a country they are not native to.
This may be prudent, as King Hussein’s son Abdullah now sits on the throne, or it may be overly cautious, but it certainly robs Israelis of crucial insight into a fascinating meeting 40 years ago between two ostensibly warring heads of state with a common interest: avoiding war.
King Hussein, who feared that a Syrian offensive could draw Israeli troops into Jordan, was helicoptered to a Mossad building outside Tel Aviv along with his prime minister, Ziad Rifai, and met with Meir and the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Mordechai Gazit. They spoke for over an hour and, after some idle chatter, the king essentially warned Meir of imminent war on two fronts. Lt. Col. Zussiya Keniezer, the military intelligence officer in charge of the Jordan desk, listened in on the conversation from another room. When the conversation was over, he promptly called his superior officer, Brig. Gen. Aryeh Shalev, and told him, according to historian Abraham Rabinovich’s account, that “the bottom line of what Hussein had to say was that there’s going to be war with Egypt and Syria.”
The Golda Meir memorial website details the conversation. In its telling, the meeting was three-hours long. In a nearby room, Mossad director Zvi Zamir and Col. Aharon Levron of military intelligence met with two Jordanian intelligence officials. Immediately after the meeting, Meir asked to be put through to defense minister Moshe Dayan. She told him that Syria was on a war footing, that the King had recently met with the rulers of Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and that there was a chance that Syria would strike in tandem with Egypt.
Ten minutes later, Dayan called back. After speaking with military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Eli Zeira and chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. David Elazar, he reported, there was no information about collaboration or specific operational plans shared by Syria and Egypt.
Nonetheless, he set up meetings for the following day. Dayan and Elazar each consulted with senior intelligence officials. According to the memorial website account, they met with Chief Operations Officer in the General Staff, Brig. Gen. Yaakov Stern, and Col. Levron, Deputy Head of Research and Analysis at Military Intelligence, among others.
Levron said that the warning from King Hussein was “not unequivocal” and that even the Jordanians didn’t fully believe it. Stern seconded this opinion.
The author of the account on-line, who signed the article “a senior officer in military intelligence,” noted that Levron had been in a different meeting at the time “and had no idea what came up between Golda Meir and the King.” Moreover, the head of research and analysis, Shalev, knew he had sent Keniezer to listen in on the conversation and knew his reading was altogether different. And though Shalev was present in both of the meetings, with Elazar and with Dayan, he said nothing. “Not only that, but he did not even suggest inviting the head of Wing 2 [Jordan] to the chief of the General Staff and the defense minister so that they could hear directly and authoritatively what Golda Meir had actually heard from King Hussein.”
In this account, Shalev is said to have “deceived the heads of state” by withholding this information.
It would have been interesting to hear Meir describe her own reading of the historic conversation. Maybe next year.