Worse than the worst-case scenario: The dreadful hours before the Yom Kippur War

The London streets they walked through after midnight were empty. It was Yom Kippur eve but the sacredness of the hour was not uppermost in the minds of the small group of Israelis. One of them, Zvi Zamir, had just met with his most important source in the Arab world and was formulating a memo in his head to be transmitted by telephone. Zamir was head of the Mossad.

The memo was intended to sound like a dull business report in case anyone was eavesdropping. In reality it was a call to arms, notifying Israel’s leadership in coded phrases that the nation was in its most perilous situation since its founding 25 years before. Two Arab armies, trained by the Soviet Union and armed with a profusion of modern weapons, would launch a two-front attack on Israel before the day was done.

Israel was not ready; it had not even mobilized its reserves, two-thirds of the army’s strength.

Arriving at the home of the local Mossad station chief, Zamir wrote out the memo in longhand and asked the international operator to connect him to the number of his bureau chief in Israel, Freddy Eini. There was a problem getting through. “I think it’s a holiday in Israel,” said the operator.

Zamir confirmed that it was. Finally he heard a familiar but sleepy voice on the other end.

“Put your feet in a tub of cold water,” advised Zamir.

Read More: Times of Israel