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The Agranat Commission

(November 21, 1973)

The Agranat Commission (Hebrew: ועדת אגרנט) was a National Commission of Inquiry set up by the Israeli government on November 21, 1973, to investigate failings in the Israel Defense Forces in the prelude to the Yom Kippur War. Specifically, it looked at:

  1. The intelligence information for the days preceding the Yom Kippur War on the enemy's moves and intentions to launch the war, the evaluation of this information, and the decisions taken by the responsible military and civil authorities in response thereto.
  2. The general deployment of the IDF in case of war, its state of readiness during the days preceding the Yom Kippur War, and its operations up to the containment of the enemy

The committee was headed by Shimon Agranat, Chief Justice of Israel’s Supreme Court. Its other members were Justice Moshe Landau, State Comptroller Yitzchak Nebenzahl, and former Chiefs of Staff Yigael Yadin and Haim Laskov. The committee sat for 140 sessions, during which they listened to the testimony of 58 witnesses.

The commission’s report was published in three parts. The interim report was released on April 1, 1974. The second part was published July 10, 1974, and contained the reasons for the conclusions of the first report. The final part of the report was published on January 30, 1975.

Interim Report

The interim report caused a sensation. Its headline recommendation was the dismissal of four senior officers in military intelligence: The Chief of Military Intelligence Major General Eliyahu Zeira, his deputy Brigadier Aryeh Shalev, the head of the Egyptian Department Lt. Colonel Yona Bendman, and the chief intelligence officer in the Southern Command Lt. Colonel David Gedalia.

The report also was critical of what it called the “concept” in military intelligence thinking. The “concept” assumed that Egypt would only attack if it had the air-power to take on the Israeli Air Force. Military intelligence also thought that Syria would only attack if Egypt did. In the absence of any upgrading of Egypt’s air force, the directorate concluded there was no threat of imminent war. This assumption led to complacency and evidence being ignored. For example, on October 1, and again on October 3, 1973, Lieutenant Benjamin Siman Yov, order of battle intelligence officer for the Southern Command, gave his superior Lt. Colonel Gedalia documents indicating Egypt’s war preparations.

In its examination of the senior echelons of the IDF, the commission also concluded that GOC Southern Command Shmuel Gonen should be dismissed. After his departure, Gonen argued that he had only been in the post for a few months and that the command had been neglected by his predecessor Ariel Sharon. The Commission also found Chief of Staff David Elazar responsible, but it refused to give an opinion on the responsibility of Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, arguing that this was beyond its remit.

This report caused public uproar and unhappiness in the army. In Abba Eban’s words, “The conclusions ... did not seem to accord with the narrative.” Yitzhak Rabin walked out of the cabinet with Elazar. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets. Nine days after the publication of the Interim Report, Golda Meir announced the resignation of her government.

After his dismissal, Elazar maintained that had he been given more of the information, he would have mobilized the IDF sooner. This only confirmed the Commission’s criticisms about the reliance on a single avenue for intelligence analysis.

Final Report

The final part of the report was 1,500 pages long, with 746 pages devoted to the fighting in the south and 311 to the northern front. Forty-two pages were made public, the remainder being classified. The full text of the report, except for 48 pages, was made public on January 1, 1995.

Besides the IDF’s failures, the commission looked at the issues around civilian and political control of the army and found a “lack of clear definitions....” Surprisingly, they could not find a clear statement of civilian control over the military. They argued that the Basic Law: The Cabinet (1968) implied authority when it stated that the Cabinet has authority over all areas not covered by other legislation. Other critics argued that the Cabinet’s authority stemmed from the IDF Order (1948), which authorized the Minister of Defense to set up the army. Further questions arose over hundreds of orders issued by Chiefs of Staff since 1948 without authorization from the Minister of Defense. These discoveries led to the swift enactment of Basic Law: The Army (1975). Its main clause stated:

  • The Army is subject to the authority of the Cabinet.
  • The Minister responsible is the Minister of Defense.
  • The supreme commander of the Army is the Chief of Staff.
  • The Chief of Staff is subject to the authority of Cabinet and subordinate to the Minister of Defense.

The new law still left some issues unresolved, such as who appoints a Chief of Staff and whether the Chief of Staff was the most senior officer in the army.

The controversy about the report’s absence of criticism of Moshe Dayan led to a strengthening of the Chief of Staff’s position since he could argue that if the Chief of Staff had sole responsibility, it must be the Chief of Staff’s decision.

The Commission was critical of the standard of everyday discipline in the IDF: “Discipline is indivisible. For example, a soldier who becomes accustomed in time of peace not to observe the minor rules, such as in matters of personal appearance, without being alerted to this failure by his superior officer, will in the end be negligent in carrying out operational orders.”

As a response to the Commission’s criticism of using military intelligence as the sole route for analysis of information, the Foreign Ministry established a Research and Planning Department. Despite this, five years later the 29th Comptrollers Report into the conduct of the IDF during Operation Litani, which left 21 IDF soldiers dead, concluded that conditions remained the same as in 1973. The report’s author was Yitzhak Nebenzahl, a member of the Agranat Commission.

The findings of the Agranat Commission remain controversial. The most serious criticism relates to its exoneration of the country’s political leadership, especially Defense Minister Dayan. According to the report: “As long as he accepts the opinions of his advisers, he does not bear any personal responsibility.”

Source: “Agranat Commission,” Wikipedia.