Shlomo Gazit: Fear of imminent defeat was 'prevalent among majority' in Israel... but top brass was 'confident in our strength'

Morocco tipped off Israeli intelligence, ‘helped Israel win Six Day War’

King Hassan ll sharpened Israel’s edge by providing secret recordings of Arab leadership discussions in run-up to war, says former military intelligence chief

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Ariel Sharon, second from right, as commander of an armored division in the Sinai during the Six Day War (Courtesy Israel Defense Force Archive)
Ariel Sharon, second from right, as commander of an armored division in the Sinai during the Six Day War (Courtesy Israel Defense Force Archive)

Israel largely has Morocco to thank for its victory over its Arab enemies in the 1967 Six Day War, according to revelations by a former Israeli military intelligence chief.

In 1965, King Hassan ll passed recordings to Israel of a key meeting between Arab leaders held to discuss whether they were prepared for war against Israel.

That meeting not only revealed that Arab ranks were split — heated arguments broke out, for example, between Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Jordan’s king Hussein — but that the Arab nations were ill prepared for war, Maj. Gen. Shlomo Gazit told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper over the weekend.

On the basis of these recordings, as well as other intelligence information gathered in the years leading up to the war, Israel launched a preemptive strike on the morning of June 5, 1967, bombing Egyptian airfields and destroying nearly every Egyptian fighter plane.

During the war, which ended on June 10, Israel captured the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria.

Former head of Israeli Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Shlomo Gazit. (Youtube screenshot)
Former head of Israeli Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Shlomo Gazit. (YouTube screenshot)

King Hassan secretly recorded the 1965 meeting because he did not trust his Arab League guests, Yedioth said.

He initially allowed a joint team from Israel’s internal and external intelligence services, the Shin Bet and the Mossad — a unit known as “The Birds” — to occupy an entire floor of the luxury Casablanca hotel where the conference was to be held. However, fearing that the agents would be noticed by the Arab guests, the king told them to leave a day before the conference began.

Still, according to Rafi Eitan — an Israeli politician and former intelligence officer, who co-led “The Birds” together with Mossad legend Peter Zvi Malkin — the Moroccans “gave us all of the needed information, and didn’t deny us anything,” immediately after the conference ended. It was not clear whether Eitan spoke to Yedioth or had made the comments in the past.

Meir Amit, Mossad chief at the time, described the Morocco operation as “one of the crowning glories of Israeli intelligence ” in a memo to then-prime minister Levi Eshkol.

The Arab leaders had secretly convened in September 1965 at the Casablanca hotel, together with their military and intelligence chiefs, to discuss whether they were ready for war against Israel, and if so, whether they should create a joint Arab command for such a conflict.

Former Mossad official and government minister Rafi Eitan (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Rafi Eitan, former senior Shin Bet and Mossad officer (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

There was agreement about the need to gear up for war, Yedioth Ahronoth reported, and the military commanders spoke openly about their capabilities.

The recordings of the discussions were given to the Research Department of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate, where they were translated into Hebrew.

“These recordings, which were truly an extraordinary intelligence achievement, further showed us that, on the one hand, the Arab states were heading toward a conflict that we must prepare for. On the other hand, their rambling about Arab unity and having a united front against Israel didn’t reflect real unanimity among them,” said Gazit, who headed the research department at the time.

Thanks to the recordings, along with other sources, “we knew just how unprepared they were for war,” Gazit continued. “We reached the conclusion that the Egyptian Armored Corps was in pitiful shape and not prepared for battle.”

Gen. Uzi Narkiss (left), Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War (photo credit: Ilan Bruner/Wikipedia)
Gen. Uzi Narkiss (left), defense minister Moshe Dayan and chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War (Ilan Bruner/Wikipedia)

The commander of the IDF Armored Corps at the time, Maj. Gen. Israel Tal, “dismissed our opinion with scorn,” Gazit said, “saying that their situation couldn’t be that grave. We later saw who was right.”

The information in those recordings gave the Israeli army’s top brass the feeling “that we were going to win a war against Egypt. Prophecies of doom and the feeling of imminent defeat were prevalent among the majority in Israel and the officials outside the defense establishment, but we were confident in our strength.”

Gazit was appointed head of Military Intelligence after Israeli intelligence failed to anticipate Egypt and Syria’s attacks on Israel on Yom Kippur, October 1973.

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