9 Тамуза 5784 г., второй день недели, гл. Балак

War of Attrition and the interests of the Soviet Union

In recent years we have found out more and more information about the Rebbe’s profound connection with senior IDF officers, government ministers and prime ministers, as well as the leading representatives of the Israeli economy.

17.01.2023 428 (0)
War of Attrition and the interests of the Soviet Union
War of Attrition and the interests of the Soviet Union

What operations did the elite “Sayeret Matkal” special forces unit of Israel’s military intelligence service, carry out during that time? What was the secret operation to protect the nuclear reactor in Dimona? What did Israeli intelligence think about Soviet involvement in the Middle East politics and how did the Rebbe’s vision reach the generals of the General Staff? War of Attrition and the interests of the Soviet Union — the Rebbe’s vision is embraced by the head of AMAN and expressed by him at a meeting of the General Staff...

In recent years we have found out more and more information about the Rebbe’s profound connection with senior IDF officers, government ministers and prime ministers, as well as the leading representatives of the Israeli economy. Some of this information has been made public through the publication of new volumes in the Igrot Kodesh series, consisting of letters written and sent by the Rebbe to these people, and some has been published by the people who spoke with the Rebbe on their own.

One of those individuals was Major General Aharon Yariv (1920-1994), the head of military intelligence in Israel. He became deputy head of AMAN in 1961 and three years later was appointed to the position of military intelligence chief, which he held with great success for 8 years.

In fact, it was largely thanks to him that the Israeli intelligence service achieved a spectacular success in the Six-Day War. And without any doubt: under his leadership, military intelligence has undergone a major transformation. From a small unit with very limited intelligence gathering capacity, the majority of which was based on human sources (HUMINT), it developed into a big and powerful organisation with serious capabilities in a whole range of fields:

1. Electronic intelligence and wiretapping communications — Unit 848 (eventually the famous Unit 8200).

2. The usage of elite units (e.g., the “Sayeret Matkal”) in operations to obtain strategic information.

3. The development of special systems for intelligence gathering and the implementation of innovative solutions — secret technology unit 432 (today unit 81) — one of the most secret units in the IDF, which was not allowed to be mentioned until about a year ago. This unit became well known by the fact that it managed to develop its own model of artificial respiration machine during the crisis triggered by the corona epidemic, caused by the existing concerns about the lack of such machines in the country.

4. Field reconnaissance, including careful tracking of the enemy forces’ locations and various terrain conditions, and preparation of the “battlefield materials” on transportation routes, their level of accessibility, related obstacles and other difficulties, as well as other information about the areas that they control and so on.

5. Gathering information about the terrorist organizations in order to suppress their activities.

Special operations for gathering information and the project “Senator” to protect the reactor in Dimona

According to Brigadier General Amos Gilboa’s memoirs (who headed the intelligence section at AMAN in the early 1980s), during the years when AMAN was headed by Major General Yariv, the following covert operation was carried out: a helicopter with a group of “Sayaret Matkal” fighters penetrated deep into Egyptian territory and planted an infrastructure there to receive quality warning information and other numerous intelligence information. According to Gilboa, AMAN subsequently organized other similar operations that took months and sometimes years to prepare.

These dangerous tasks were performed deep behind enemy lines. More than once they did not go smoothly at all. Thus, two years before the Sinai Campaign (1956), a group of fighters of the “Parachute Brigade” (35th Airborne Brigade “Tsankhanim”) and “Sayeret Golani” — a reconnaissance company of the 1st Infantry Brigade “Golani”, who entered Syria to return the wiretap device located there (Operation “Cricket”), were captured. In fact, the successful completion of such operations was a miracle.

Yet thanks to the Almighty’s miraculous help and, of course, the courage, dedication and devotion of our spies to the people of Israel, it was finally possible to provide high-quality intelligence directly from the depths of enemy countries. This intelligence allowed the country’s leaders to learn a lot about what was going on in the Arab countries and about the decisions taken by the ruling regimes there. All of this eventually helped a lot in the preparations for the Six Day War.

Military intelligence, together with Air Force intelligence, paid special attention to acquiring information about enemy airfields, pilots, their training, etc. It was this information that eventually made it possible to plan the famous “Focus” operation, which became a kind of prelude to the Six Day War, during which the enemy air forces of Egypt and Syria were almost completely destroyed.

We should note at this point the enormous anxiety that prevailed in the intelligence community concerning the success of the operation. This was due to the high probability of the detection of our warplanes on their way to their targets in Egypt, both because of the high-quality radar installed by the Jordanians on Mount Ajlun on the east bank of the Jordan, and because of the many observation posts that were present in the Sinai Peninsula and further inland. Nevertheless, all our planes managed to reach their targets without being detected and, taking the enemy by surprise, successfully struck the targets. In my opinion, it is not difficult to see the real miracle of this amazing fact!

Major General Yariv was also responsible for the secret “Senator” project, which was initiated in response to a possible Egyptian airstrike on the Dimona nuclear reactor. This extremely serious threat led to the development of a top-secret project, the most important part of which was the creation of Israel’s first early warning system, which included a number of different technological tools that were capable of providing a warning of the air threat from Egypt.

By the way, a few days before the start of Six Day War, enemy MiG-21 airplains invaded Israeli airspace and flew freely at high altitudes over the southern part of the country. The IDF could not intercept them.

There were serious fears that Egypt was planning to bomb the Dimona reactor, and according to some researchers this was one of the immediate reasons why Israel decided to launch the pre-emptive attack that started the Six Day War.

The extensive information accumulated by Military Intelligence also enabled IDF units to prepare appropriate plans for ground fighting at the start of the war.

By the grace and miracles of the Almighty, the enemies of Israel deployed their forces in the exact way that the Israeli intelligence service expected. As a result, thanks to the incredible miracles and the brilliant readiness of the Israeli army, the enemies retreated and then escaped, so that the entire Sinai Peninsula fell into the hands of the IDF like ripe fruit.

One of the great wonders of this war, in my humble opinion, was that the order for the entire army to retreat was given by the Egyptian commanders already on the night between the second and third days of the war, while most of their troops had not yet entered the battle at all and were well protected by numerous fortifications.

It is, in my opinion, a great miracle that the entire great Egyptian army fled without a battle at all, as it is written, “May dread and fright fall upon them” (Shemot 15:16), “because the fear of the Jews was upon them” (Megilat Esther 8:17).

After the Six-Day War, Major General Yariv, the head of the AMAN, became one of the most respected men in the intelligence world, both because of Israel’s miraculous and absolutely incredible success in that war, and because of the fact that Israel received as war trophies a huge number of the most advanced Soviet weapons of that time, which all the Western intelligence agencies wanted to examine.

From the Rebbe’s letters to Major General Yariv, published in Igrot Kodesh, it is clear that the connection between him and the Rebbe emerged during this very period, after the Six-Day War and with the beginning of the War of Attrition.

This new war was initiated by the Arabs, who realized that they could not confront Israel in a full-scale war. So they decided to exhaust Israel’s forces with endless limited operations — shelling, bombing, special forces actions that, God forbid, led to casualties, restrained IDF forces, forced them to send reservists to the front lines, and thus harmed the Israeli economy, which cannot withstand such pressure for a long time.

Israel, for its part, boosted IDF forces, inflicting painful blows on the enemy that also hit targets in the Egyptian rear. Eventually Egypt could not stand it and turned to the Soviet Union for help.

Finally, after much reluctance, which was due to concerns about U.S. retaliation, the Soviet Union agreed to send to Egypt fighters and SAMs that would enable it to neutralize Israeli air superiority.

Russia’s interest in military intervention in the Israeli-Egyptian confrontation

It should be noted that this was a very exceptional intervention, as I wrote in the article Preemptive strike that the IDF was about to launch on the eve of the Yom Kippur War (Part II). For the first time in decades, the Soviet Union then directly engaged its military forces outside the borders of the Warsaw Pact countries. The scale of the military contingent was also exceptional. We were talking about tens of thousands of soldiers, dozens of anti-aircraft batteries of the latest model SA-3 (Soviet S-125 Neva short-range air defense systems) and a relatively large number of the latest model MiG-21 (J) fighters, operated only by experienced fighter pilots who had completed thousands of flight hours.

Moreover, it was quite clear to the Soviet authorities that such interference could seriously worsen relations with the United States. This, in turn, contradicted the atmosphere of “détente” (the reduction of tensions between the former superpowers) that began to emerge during the meetings between the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union in those years.

It is clear from the aforementioned that this military intervention on the side of Egypt was exceptional for the USSR.

Researchers cite various explanations for this Soviet decision:

1. It was seen as a part of the struggle between “East” and “West”. After all, Israel was viewed in the USSR as the spearhead of the West in the Middle East.

2. An expression of the Soviet desire for expansion. Seeking to impose its hegemony as broadly as possible, the Soviet Union promoted the idea of a worldwide ideological transformation that would lead to the fall of “capitalism” and the victory of “communism”. For this purpose, the Soviet Union aimed to gain a hold on Egypt and the Middle East as a whole.

3. The military support provision to a crucial regional ally, which was indeed in a critical situation and was literally collapsing under the painful blows of Israel.

4. Enabling large-scale naval and air activity throughout the Middle East (and the Mediterranean in particular) in the context of confronting the powerful American forces stationed in the region — the Sixth Fleet, as well as the fairly serious naval forces of NATO member states, which certainly had a superiority in the Mediterranean, controlling the region.

During those years, the United States deployed aircraft carriers in and around the Mediterranean Sea, as well as submarines carrying Polaris ballistic missiles (UGM-27 Polaris two-stage solid-fuel ballistic missiles), with nuclear warheads and a range of 4,500 km. These missiles could easily hit the Soviet Union from the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, the Soviets were anxious about deploying their warships, submarines and fighter jets in the area as a response to this serious American threat.

Not coincidentally, less than a year after the Six Day War, as early as March 1968, a five-year agreement was signed between Egypt and the Soviet Union for Soviet ships to enter the Egyptian waters. This led to a huge increase in Soviet naval activity in the region, and the establishment of Soviet positions all along Egypt’s Mediterranean border from Alexandria, through Port Said and Mersa Matruh, to the harbor at Es-Salloum. Soviet spy planes and bombers stationed at the West Cairo airfield and at other Egyptian airfields closely monitored American and Israeli activity in the region.

5. Another concern was the restoration of Soviet prestige, which had been dealt a ruthless and painful blow during the Six Day War and the early stages of the War of Attrition by the defeat of the Arab armies armed with Soviet weapons, trained by Soviet instructors and fighting according to Soviet military doctrine.

The Soviet interest in opening a canal — the opinion of the Rebbe

At the same time, it is interesting to note that in the Rebbe’s appeals to Major General Aharon Yariv, the head of the AMAN military intelligence (in letters and personal meetings), the Rebbe stressed another Soviet interest — the opening of the Suez Canal, as is mentioned in this passage (“Igrot Kodesh”, Letter 9775):

...Apparently, the efforts of those who have only recently begun to interfere in this matter [meaning the USSR] are not aimed at further conquest, but at the possibility of using the canal to their own advantage. And so, if the opposing side comes to the conclusion that the use of the canal is impossible, because it has been ruined and destroyed, and even after much effort it will only be suitable for the smallest ships and so on, there is a good chance that these considerations will affect them accordingly, including the reduction of their involvement in the situation. And to continue my conversation with you on a similar topic, acting in this direction does not require much like massive attacks, etc. It can be done in a way that does not provoke those who should not be provoked, and certainly it can be done by someone “different.”

In other words, according to the Rebbe, the Soviet intervention was determined primarily by the desire to use the Suez Canal (which was blocked after the Six Day War) to their advantage. For this purpose, they used their military forces. By moving the missile batteries toward the canal, they wanted to push our military air force away from the canal, even to the point of completely crushing the Israeli positions and eventually reopening the Suez Canal under their patronage — in a way that suited their interests. In addition, of course, they wanted to use it as a sea route for the delivery of goods and all the benefits derived from that.

In another letter to Major-General Yariv, the Rebbe details his opinion that measures should be taken to destroy or block the canal, and that this could be done without much difficulty, given the considerable length of the canal [see Igrot Kodesh, letter 4945].

What is surprising, in my opinion, is that this Soviet interest, about which the Rebbe writes, is not mentioned in almost any other document that lists the objectives of the USSR in this war. I found it only in one place — at one of the meetings in the General Staff, Major General Aharon Yariv, the same to whom the Rebbe wrote the above-mentioned letters, speaks about it: “For the Russians this is not just a step to help Egypt, this is a global process. They want it eventually to culminate in their colossal success — the opening of the Suez Canal — which is a global strategic interest of the Soviet Union.”

The surprising thing is that this meeting at the General Staff was held in early July 1970, that is, only a few weeks after the head of military intelligence of Israel received the first letter of the Rebbe ...

In other words, Major General Aharon Yariv, the Israeli Chief of Military Intelligence, received the Rebbe’s letter about Russia’s interest in the War of Attrition which mentioned the opening of canal, and a few weeks later at the General Staff meeting he said precisely that!

From the context of the Rebbe’s letter, it can be assumed that the considerations mentioned concerning this Soviet interest were new to Major General Aharon Yariv. That is why the Rebbe expanded them and explained them from several angles. Thus, it is logical to assume that the Israeli military intelligence chief took the Rebbe’s remarks as a new consideration for him regarding the Soviet interest and, as already mentioned, used them to justify his position at the General Staff meeting, the most important decision-making forum in the IDF!

This article is based on public sources. Partial bibliography: “A ghost over Cairo. The Israeli Air Force in the War of Attrition 1967-1970,” Dani Shalom, “Mr. Intelligence,” Brigadier General Amos Gilboa (formerly head of the Military Intelligence Research Division), “The Final Study of the Yom Kippur War,” IDF, History Division.

Translated by D. Bilyayev From Война на истощение и интересы Советского Союза

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