Robert Sid Ahmed,
INTERVIEW WITH INTERVIEW WITH GENERAL AVRAHAM ADAN-(TEL AVIV, 13/5/97. TRANSLATED.)
(QUESTIONS WERE ASKED IN ENGLISH)
(Preliminary chat re: weather, etc)
INTERVIEWER: General Adan, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Could you tell me, were you expecting the war? What was the military situation like in the months running up to October '73?
ANSWER: We felt... we definitely were not aware... We knew there was a conflict and that a war was to be expected some time in the future, but since we assessed that in fact the difference between ourselves, the quality difference between ourselves and the Arabs, would not be reduced but would remain, and since they asked for a cease-fire in the war of attrition, we felt secure that a war would not break out until they had an answer for our air force, an answer they would purchase by purchasing missiles that could attack our rear, which they could not reach without missiles; and they were only beginning to purchase missiles, so we did not expect a war.
INT: So could you give me the mood in '73? Was Israel quite highly armed? Were people mobilizing in any sense at all?
A: We were preparing for an expected war; we were growing stronger very quickly. During the five years I was commander of tanks, we doubled our strength with our aircraft and tanks; we underwent changes in structure, and we did a lot of training, and we prepared equipment for a crossing. The world markets did not sell them to us, but we developed ourselves the means for crossing, and we prepared for a war some time in the future.
INT: And how important were American weapons to Israel?
A: We were based [relied] mainly on American weapons, and throughout the final years we received a flow of tanks and aircraft and other equipment, and in fact that was the foundation of our army's equipment. It was very important, the rate of strengthening, and it was strong and fast.
INT: It's often been said that the Middle East is one of the most highly armed areas of the world. Could you give me some sort of impression of that?
A: Yes. The countries surrounding us, the Arabs, were armed with Soviet weapons. They got a great deal of weapons, and they had logistic assistance and training from the Soviets, and Soviet aircraft carriers went to Egypt and helped them with aircraft. And we, on the other hand, were helped by the United States, which helped us to arm; and there was an arms race on both sides. It's enough if I mention that during the last five years, in tanks and aircraft, we grew two and a half times in strength, so a lot of weapons were accumulating in the Middle East.
INT: That's very interesting. And if it came to a straight contest of weapons, weapon systems, on the Arab and on the Israeli side, who do you think would have won?
A: Well, the American weapons were considered better than the Soviet weapon systems. That was also expressed in the battlefield. Our aircraft had total dominance in the air, and if there were encounters between the two sides, in most of the battles we were victorious. And we also reached the point where the aircraft won the war, and they asked for a cease-fire. So it was clear that the American weapons were better.
INT: Great. How did you hear about the war, how were you alerted to the attack? Can you tell me what you were doing, what you remember of it?
A: There was tension a few days in advance, but we were submerged in a concept that said that it would be unrealistic for the Arabs to attack us. However, we did deploy the entire regular army on the borders, but we did not mobilize reserves. And then, on the eve of Yom Kippur, we were called up and told that the Soviet families were evacuating from Egypt; and still we were not yet sure that there would be a war. And then, at 4 o'clock in the morning, the emergency phone rang and woke me up, and I was called urgently to the general staff, and there we were told that in the evening the war would break out, that information had just arrived that the war would break out.
INT: Can you just tell me what Yom Kippur is and why it was important? Was there a sense of outrage that it should happen on such a sacred day?
A: Yom Kippur is a holiday on which all transportation stops; there is no transportation, all the shops are closed, everyone is at home or in the synagogues, praying. The entire country stops, more than any other day in the year. And the Arabs chose that day to begin the war. But as a matter of fact, it helped us very much, because in a regular situation people would be all over, but this way everyone was at home, and the mobilization system worked perfectly; the mobilization was very quick, the roads were completely empty, and only the army moved on the roads, and the people were either at home or in the synagogue. So in the end that helped us mobilize quickly and move to the front quickly.
INT: That's very interesting. So tell me - you were woken up at 4 o'clock in the morning, the telephone rings and you're told of the attack... Sorry, I just have to wait for that noise to go away before we go on...
INT: ... So you were woken up... just let me take you back... you were woken up at 4 o'clock in the morning. Did you tell your family? What did you do? (Pause) I'll ask you the question again, and we'll just go straight on. So you were woken up at 4 o'clock in the morning. What did you think about the news of the attack? Did you tell your family?
A: My wife woke with me, and I told her that I was being called to the general staff. My eldest son and my middle daughter were in the army at the time, and my youngest daughter, who was a high school student, 16 and a half, went on sleeping. I went immediately to the general staff, and there all the generals of the staff were assembled, and we were told that that same day, in the afternoon or evening, the war was supposed to break out on the part of the Egyptians and Syrians.
INT: So when you heard the news of the attack, what was that like? What did you think they were trying to do to Israel? What did it mean to Israel to be under...?
A: I understood that we were in a very serious situation, that, as a matter of fact, we were being strategically surprised; that on the battlefields and on the fronts, Syria and the Sinai, [there was] a very small part of the regular army, maybe a tenth of the army; and mobilizing the reserve service and for it to reach the borders, would take at least 24 or 48 hours... for them to only begin reaching the borders... and that the situation was very serious, and that the regular army would have to stand before enormous forces attacking it. And I understood that it was a very, very serious situation, and it would be very difficult to manage. I never thought we'd be caught off-guard like that, because the very strongly-held assumption was that we would be alerted of the war at least 48 hours in advance, and now we were being alerted [but] it would not allow us to bring our reserve service to the front before the war broke out.
INT: I understand. And did you believe it would be possible for Egypt to come across the Suez? Did you think it was possible that Israel could suffer a military defeat?
A: I didn't think we would be completely vanquished, but I knew we would pay a very, very high price. I wasn't sure that the Egyptians would cross without any casualties; I knew that they would pay a high price and that their crossing would be stopped, but I didn't know, like on the Syrian front, where they were stopped by night-fall. On the Egyptian border, on the other hand, the Egyptians had great success: they crossed very easily, and we paid a very high price. And I didn't have a picture of our situation 24 or 48 hours after the reserves arrived, but I knew we were in a situation which could hardly be fixed, and I knew that we would pay a very high price for these hours, when our small army stood before two enormous armies attacking full force.
INT: Can you tell me about the strategy, in the first days of the war, of the southern command? How did you set about pthem out?
A: We had plans, and there were exercises on how to act if the Egyptians crossed the Canal, but these plans always began from our that our reserve army would be deployed before the war broke out. In fact, there were reactions to Egyptian or Syrian attacks to which we could reply with the regular army. What happened on the battlefield of the southern command was that, according to the exercises, our strongholds, surrounded by the Egyptian army which had crossed, called for help, and only a few tank platoons came to their rescue. The situation was good for small operations on the part of the Egyptians, but not for a real attack. Most of the tank platoons managed to reach the Canal, but they didn't know what they were supposed to do there; they did not arrive in a concentrated force, but piecemeal, to different areas. They shot a bit, they evacuated the casualties, and then came back again. That's how they arrived: two, three tanks at a time. They began just sinking to the ground... and it became dark, and the Egyptians continued to cross. So that the strategy was a wrong strategy. Instead of evacuating the strongholds and retreat, the tanks ran forward, trying to prevent the crossing, but they acted in very small numbers, while the Egyptians had tens of thousands of soldiers.