Abstract: The authors continue their analysis of Soviet involvement in the 1967 War with a discussion of new evidence and a response to criticisms regarding their controversial thesis that the USSR provoked that war, sought to use the conflict to eliminate Israel’s nuclear capability, and seriously considered direct intervention. Publication of this article is intended to further the debate on these issues.
“Admittedly, key archival documentation remains under lock and key and will be inaccessible for a long time to come…. But enough material is available, in the form of declassified documents, memoirs, oral histories and journalistic treatments, to begin to piece together the story.” — Fredrik Logevall
Eight years ago, MERIA Journal provided the first academic platform for the highly revisionist findings of our joint research on direct Soviet military involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Focusing on the Six-Day War and relying on newly available sources in the former USSR and elsewhere, we challenged the prevailing concepts of Western and Israeli historiography, not to mention the official Soviet version that was upheld by post-Soviet Russia. Several additional papers in scholarly journals led to the appearance of our conclusions in book form, on the fortieth anniversary of the war.
In brief, we sought to demonstrate that:
The war resulted from a deliberate Soviet-Arab effort to provoke Israel into a preemptive strike;
A central motive for the Soviet move was to halt and destroy Israel’s nuclear development before it could attain operational atomic weapons;
This Soviet effort was accelerated by a direct message from Israel that despite its official ambiguity, it was bent on acquiring such weapons;
Soviet nuclear weapons were readied for use against Israel in case it already possessed, and tried to use, any nuclear device;
The Soviets prepared a marine landing–with air support–on Israel’s shores, which was not only planned but actually set in motion, and readied strategic bombers to strike Israeli targets;
The USSR committed its most advanced, still secret experimental aircraft and top pilots for provocative reconnaissance sorties over Israel’s most sensitive installation–its nuclear complex–in possible preparation for the planned attack on this target and/or in order to create such concern in Israel that would ensure its launch of a first strike;
The planned Soviet intervention was to be unleashed once Israel was drawn into this preemptive attack and was internationally branded as the aggressor, out of calculation that the Soviet input could tip the balance in favor of an Arab counterattack.
Even before our book’s official publication on June 5, 2007, press reports about its main thesis touched off two chain reactions, which have since produced such an abundance of repercussions that this update can only present a brief sampling.
ARCHIVAL DOCUMENTS VS. ALTERNATIVE SOURCES
The first was a welcome, long overdue debate as to the relative acceptability, reliability, and value of archival material and other official documents versus the various types of additional sources that Foxbatsdrew on–due to the paucity of such conventional raw evidence. This controversy was reflected in conflicting opinions on the degree of our success in establishing our case. One distinguished military historian judged that “meticulously using every snippet of relevant information from an extraordinary range of sources… Ginor and Remez have succeeded to the point where the onus is now on others to show why they are wrong.” He was seconded by a leading expert on Russian Middle Eastern policy: ‘I was highly skeptical of these bold claims when I began reading the book. ‘Moscow made us do it’ seemed too neat an explanation for Israel’s actions in 1967. Long before reaching the book’s end, though, I became convinced that Ginor and Remez have gotten it right.’
Another noted authority, however, disparaged our findings on the grounds that ‘he had not found ‘any documentary evidence to support’ the book’s central claims’–while admitting ‘that he had visited the Soviet archives and that ‘not a lot has been declassified.” Yet another, while commending Foxbatsfor ‘proximity to the truth,’ nonetheless characterized our evidence as ‘flimsy’ until it could be backed up with documents released from Soviet archives.
Actually, our research did rely quite heavily on Soviet archival documents; our approach, however, called for subjecting them to critical analysis and cross-checking them against the actual events as reflected by the other sources. We assumed–and still do–that political decisions and military operations which were diametrically opposed to the USSR’s declared principles would never be intentionally, directly, and fully revealed in official documents. Even if relevant documents were ever composed, we showed that their formulation was often designed (with possible future exposure in mind) in order to obscure rather than to record the actual substance of the decisions adopted or the actions undertaken.
Some of the documents that we used were never released in Moscow but emerged from archives in such former Warsaw Pact member states as Poland or East Germany. The most prominent of these was General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev’s speech at a closed session of the CPSU Central Committee on June 20, 1967. Among other features, this speech included the disclosure that Moscow’s warning in mid-May about Israel’s supposed offensive intentions, which sparked the final escalation toward war, was passed to Egypt and Syria according to a Politburo resolution and in the expectation that these governments would take appropriate countermeasures–which in itself would suffice to dispose of the previously accepted theories whereby the Soviet warning resulted from a low-level initiative or its results were unintended.
Other Soviet archival documents that we quoted were released or published by the Russian authorities, but inadvertently let revealing details slip through. One such example was a purported request from Finland to transmit a note to the Israeli government dated June 5–a request that was never delivered, as the USSR severed diplomatic relations with Israel, and Finland took over as “protecting power” only a week later. We consequently demonstrated that the letter must have been composed before the outbreak of hostilities — that is, the USSR had premeditated the diplomatic rupture along with the military intervention. One critic, after congratulating us for ‘peeling away the layers of Soviet obfuscation,’ inexplicably goes on to denigrate this as a ‘lapse into conspiracy theory’–while offering no alternative explanation.
Shortly before our book came out, an essay in The New York Times Book Review highlighted a trend that had already been manifest for some time: the accelerated reversal, under President Vladimir Putin, of such partial and often haphazard declassification as had occurred in Soviet archives during the chaotic and frequently corrupt heyday of his predecessor Boris Yeltsin.
Yet our doubts whether complete Soviet documentation of the USSR’s role in 1967 has even survived, to the extent that it was ever recorded, were borne out by an important testimony that was published soon after Foxbats. The author, a former KGB counterintelligence officer, Boris Syromyatnikov, related how after his retirement he sought, in November 2000, to retrieve for historical research a memorandum that he submitted in early 1967 on the likely outcome of a Middle East war (more about the substance of this document follows).
But I received a letter from the FSB Central Archive to this effect: ‘Unfortunately… a number of files from 1967, including those of the subdivision for which you worked, were destroyed in 1978 in situ and were not deposited in the archive.’ That is how the state security agencies treated their own history, and in the 20 volumes that I handed over at my retirement there were even more serious matters.
So we do not expect that such material will soon, or ever, emerge systematically and exhaustively from former Soviet archives, nor do we agree that such release must be awaited in order to delineate the USSR’s actual moves. It should be emphasized that this applies not only to Russia: our continuing search for U.S. and Israeli archival sources is still encountering only somewhat less selective declassification. This was illustrated in November 2007 when the posthumous decoration, by Putin, of an American-born Soviet spy who penetrated the Manhattan Project revealed that the United States had suppressed the affair entirely.
In sum, we contend that much can be learned from whatever documents do emerge, if they are subjected to critical examination; but the mere paucity of official documentation cannot in itself disprove cumulative evidence from alternative sources which have been handled with the same caution. Criticism of any thesis, including our own, merely for supposed lack of archival evidence is thus not merely fallacious. It is also disturbingly dangerous, because it implicitly countenances the Orwellian nightmare whereby the absence, prostitution, or suppression of official records can and should be allowed to excise entire chapters from history. The alternative, to which we have tried to contribute, is to piece together–cautiously and painstakingly–the myriad and often random references now available from other sources, in order to assemble a picture that evolves gradually toward the facts as they took place.
FOXBATS ELICITS DEBATE AND NEW, CORROBORATING EVIDENCE
So it was doubly rewarding for us that the other process which Foxbats helped to generate was a renewed wave of testimonies, memoirs, and investigative reports in Russia itself. As one of these reports concluded, ‘the time has apparently come to set the record straight. So far, the facts have often been replaced by inventions. No one can dispute the obvious: the USSR ‘orchestrated’ that war…. What matters is… that the USSR was prepared for an invasion of Israel. The confessions of our own officers prove this.’
The writer, Col. (ret.) Viktor Baranets, the military correspondent of Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP) and a former General Staff officer, was among the most prominent among several in the Russian media who looked into the Soviet role in the Six-Day War following the first pre-publication news item about this book, which appeared in The Jerusalem Post on May 16, 2007. Col. Valery Yaremenko, the Middle East expert at the Russian Defense Ministry’s Institute of Military History whose studies contributed greatly to our research, also published a major article on the Six-Day War following (and citing) Foxbats,in which he reiterated his previous findings as to the nuclear context of the war. Yaremenko summed up: “the conclusion can only be that the Soviet Union was not opposed to the destruction of Israel’s nuclear potential”–about as explicit a confirmation as can be expected from such a semi-official historian.
The Jerusalem Post report was widely reproduced, in frequently inaccurate translations, throughout the Russian press and Internet, arousing intensive discussion in various online forums. This further accelerated the emergence of important new evidence, which had already been stimulated by the approach of the war’s fortieth anniversary. It was a source of immense satisfaction for us that the overwhelming majority of this new material bore out our thesis. In some major instances, what we already considered to be a solid case has now become incontrovertible.
Russian Air Force Officially Confirms MiG-25 Sorties
The most dramatic instance, as mentioned above, was what amounted to official confirmation of the book’s exhibit A and the source of its title: our exposure that it was Soviet pilots in the yet-experimental and top-secret prototype of the aircraft later known as the MiG-25 (or “Foxbat’ by its NATO reporting name) who flew the highly provocative sorties over Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility on May 17 and 26, 1967.
After our manuscript went to print, we noticed an article that was posted on the official website of the Russian Defense Ministry in October 2006, over the signature of the chief spokesman of the Russian Air Force Col. Aleksandr V. Drobyshevsky. As in several other cases that we cite in the book, it appears to have unwittingly disclosed a hitherto secret operation by mentioning it in a completely different context.
Here the occasion was the anniversary of a test pilots’ school. Enumerating the achievements of this school’s graduates, Drobyshevsky wrote:
In 1967, the military valor and high combat training of Colonel Bezhevets, A[leksandr] S. (now a Hero of the Soviet Union, an honorary test pilot of the USSR, [and] retired Air Force major general), were demonstrated while carrying out combat operations in Egypt, [and] enabled [him] to perform unique reconnaissance flights over the territory of Israel in a MiG-25RB aircraft.
This designation of the plane is of course retrospective; the prototypes then in use were still known by various other code names. Yet the disclosure is momentous, as even absent all our other evidence, this conclusive proof of these Soviet flights is sufficient to eliminate the persistent claims that once having triggered the 1967 crisis, Moscow did its best to defuse it.
Questioned by KP before a second Jerusalem Post report called wide attention to Drobyshevsky’s obscure article, Bezhevets himself denied that such flights were made in 1967–though he implied that Soviet pilots did fly MiG-21’s from Egyptian bases in that year, an unprecedented disclosure in itself. However, it is amply documented that Bezhevets was appointed in 1966 to head the MiG-25’s military testing program (as distinct from its previous test phase by the manufacturer) and that he flew the craft himself. This military testing was directed from the same base–Akhtyubinsk, near Astrakhan–where the test pilots’ school is located. The test program is officially recorded as including, ‘in the late 1960’s,’ the model’s use ‘on the Egyptian-Israeli front as a reconnaissance aircraft.’
Bezhevets’s denial may, then, simply indicate that he was better aware than the younger Drobyshevsky of the secrecy imposed on the 1967 operation. Yet if it was not Bezhevets who provided the information, and since Drobyshevsky could not have personal recollections of it, the spokesman’s statement must have been based on Air Force documentation–presumably the Akhtyubinsk facility’s. It also corresponds with the personal testimony of Bezhevets’s senior colleague, Lt. Gen. Aleksandr I. Vybornov, who on several occasions already cited in our book told of flying MiG-25 missions from Egypt over Israel in 1967 together with at least one other pilot.
Document Confirms Testimony about Planned Soviet Aerial Intervention
An official Soviet document has now backed up another hitherto unique claim by Vybornov: He related making his Foxbat flights in the course of a mission to Egypt, of which the stated purpose was to check the “feasibility” of a Soviet intervention to support Arab air forces, which he was named to command. On June 7, 2007, presenting a book that he co-edited, Professor Yaacov Ro’i cited a Soviet document reproduced therein and dated May 24, 1967, which proposed to Egypt “the temporary transfer of a Soviet Air Force unit to an Egyptian base ‘in anticipation of a further exacerbation of the crisis.'”  This offer was evidently based on Vybornov’s “feasibility report.” Like other Soviet offers and threats cited in Foxbats, this deployment may have been proposed officially after the measure was decided upon or even after its implementation had begun.
Besides confirming that a Soviet aerial intervention was pre-planned, this document bears out our conclusion–based on several features of Vybornov’s account–that he was dispatched to Egypt before the outbreak of war in June 1967. The time frame for the two MiG-25 sorties, which he asserts he performed over Israel during this tour of duty in Egypt, thus corresponds with the dates of the Dimona overflights.
We have also received preliminary indications that Israel and the United States were aware at the time of these flights’ unprecedented characteristics, which pointed to an aircraft more advanced than any operated by Arab air forces. After we presented our findings at a conference in Israel, a former top intelligence officer (who requested that his name be withheld) stated that he had seen a contemporary Israeli Air Force (IAF) document which described the intruding aircraft as flying at 70,000 feet–well over the MiG-21’s ceiling. A few days before, at a conference in Washington, a U.S. analyst reported the same. A former IAF Commander, whoin 1967 led one of the squadrons that attempted to intercept the overflights, confirmed that ‘we estimated their altitude at 70,000 feet.’ This altitude is 10,000-15,000 feet higher than the figure given in all the previously published, unofficial but obviously leaked Israeli accounts that identified the aircraft as “apparently” Egyptian MiG-21’s. We are still trying to obtain this IAF document, and it does not represent the only instance in which the Israelis may have had a better idea of the Soviet involvement than they have so far disclosed.
USS Liberty Documents Confirm Soviet Aspect of Its Mission, Naval Presence
Likewise, a new batch of documents on the USS Liberty incident, which was released by the NSA in 2007, is still extensively sanitized. The scope of this update precludes full detail, but despite this censorship, these documents further reinforce the already clear centrality of monitoring Soviet signals to the Liberty’s mission. Indeed, this was acknowledged though not emphasized in media reports on the survivors’ fortieth anniversary reunion, and even attributed to a “State Department summary.” A National Security Agency (NSA) document also bears out our assumption that “technical reports” were received from the Liberty through June 8, the day of the Israeli attack. The last of these technical reports–none of which has been released–should include some clarification of the Soviet signals that the ship reportedly intercepted that day.
The released documents do name at least one more Soviet ship that was “in the area of the USS Liberty immediately after the attack,” besides the two for which we already had evidence. This third ship, Nikolai Podvoysky, is identified by shipyard records as a tanker –whose presence in the area could only be to refuel warships. The document in question is one of several where the context indicates that the deleted passages pertain to the Soviet angle of the Liberty’s mission or of the circumstances around the attack. Unless the Nikolai Podvoysky was mistakenly identified as a trawler, which in turn was assumed to be an intelligence-gathering ship–both of which are also mentioned as approaching or following the Liberty–one or two more Soviet ships were also present.
U.S. Plan to Aid Egypt Illustrates Asymmetry of Superpower Commitment
More importantly for our thesis, other newly declassified U.S. documents have further highlighted the asymmetry of the superpower-client relationship in the Middle East in 1967–and the validity of the Soviets’ apparent assumption that drawing Israel into a first strike would reduce, if not eliminate, the risk of U.S. intervention on its behalf. These papers established that the CIA station chief in Tel Aviv was not exaggerating wildly when he threatened the Israelis on May 25 that “if you attack, the United States will land forces on Egypt‘s side.” It transpires that there was indeed such a longstanding U.S. contingency plan, including a paratroop drop in Sinai, which was briefly dusted off for operational planning precisely on the same day. A pro-Israeli intervention was, of course, never contemplated–let alone threatened–by the USSR, unless one counts the putative landing to “rescue ‘our people’ in Israel” that is described below. More importantly, unlike the Soviet-Arab plan, the U.S. contingency plan (which did also include a variant for a pro-Israeli intervention) never approached implementation: it never was considered at the top military or political level, no forces were committed, and no operational orders were issued.
Testimonies Flesh out Targeting of Israel by Soviet Bombers
In contrast, the targeting of Dimona by Soviet strategic bombers was reiterated to KP by their corps commander, General Vasily Reshetnikov: “I knew nothing about any Dimona as a nuclear center. At the time, I had not even heard of such a word,” he said–but specified this time that “the secret working maps, according to orders from the General Staff, were marked with ‘battlefield objectives’–the territory was Israeli.” He also repeated that “our special attention was drawn by our superiors to objects that were covered by Hawk [missiles]”–which at the time applied only to Dimona. Reshetnikov now volunteered the number of bombers involved– “about 30”–and the fact that the first of them, armed with “fougaz” (napalm) bombs, “flew to the northern Caucasus for final preparation, and in order to be closer to the target area.”
The precise location of this forward staging field, Mozdok (still a major Russian air base, near the capital of the Ingush Autonomous Republic) was supplied by several former servicemen in Reshetnikov’s corps who took part in the heated exchanges that Foxbats ignited on Russian Internet forums. Their separate accounts also corroborated the general’s crucial though inadvertent disclosure that the bombers’ orders were issued, and their implementation begun, during the weekend of June 3-4–that is, before Israel’s preemptive strike. According to one of these new testimonies, “Between Saturday and Sunday, many of the… personnel had gone home to their families. The solution was found by having the planes transferred… to Mozdok by mixed crews…. The men were picked up from homes and fishing beaches… and were flown directly to Mozdok.”
These new accounts provided a wealth of mutually conforming details as to the units, personnel, and aircraft involved in this operation. One of these details conclusively explains how the bombing of Dimona and other Israeli targets was averted. Along with Reshetnikov himself in the KP interview, they corrected our hypothesis as to the model of the bombers in question: they were not Tu-95’s but shorter-range though faster Tu-16’s. This model–unlike the Tu-95–was also in service with the Egyptian Air Force, which made the camouflage plausible. Consequently, as one of these veterans specified, the pilots were instructed, after bombing targets that included “Haifa and Tel Aviv,” to land in Egypt. However, “as is well known, the Israeli air force, in the first hours of the conflict, already destroyed up to 90% of the Egyptians’ aircraft and bases, and thus gained overwhelming air superiority. Therefore, this planned reinforcement for the Egyptian Air Force with modern bombers was not implemented.”
Reshetnikov himself retold the pretext that was given by his superiors for aborting the mission: “All the Western radio stations began to scream ‘USSR preparing to bomb Israel!’ We understood that foreign intelligence had exposed the operation we were preparing. U.S. and Israeli intelligence in the USSR were earning their keep… soon an order arrived to bring the bombers back home.” There certainly was no such broadcast by Western stations; if any Western intelligence agency detected the bombers’ deployment and found out their mission, the evidence has yet to surface.
CIA Report Shows U.S. Awareness of Soviet Preparations for Military Intervention
However, a declassified (originally top secret) CIA Intelligence history of the Soviet role in the Six-Day War, composed almost three years after the events, now reveals that U.S. intelligence did have “reports” about other Soviet “preparations for limited intervention”: ‘On June 11 there were several reports of Soviet military preparations–one involving the possible landing of 400 Soviet sailors near Latakia, Syria, and the other involving the possible landing of paratroops in Syria to halt the Israeli advance toward Damascus.’
The CIA document–which, overall, attributes to the USSR a moderating and restraining influence on its Arab clients in the 1967 conflict–goes on to minimize the significance of these moves: “These reports reveal the extent of Soviet concern for Syria and its regime, but the amount of support being considered was token only. It is not impossible that these reports were circulated by the Soviets in an attempt to scare the Israelis into stopping their advance into Syria.”
There is as yet no evidence that these specific threatened operations were known to Israel or that they were what moved its leadership, and particularly Dayan, to limit the advance into Syria for fear of Soviet intervention. How landing 400 sailors at distant Latakia could achieve this purpose is unclear. There is also no mention of these reports in the recorded deliberations of the White House on the morning of June 10, following the receipt of Kosygin’s hotline threat to take ‘measures, including military.’ Those present in the situation room (including the CIA chief) admitted they had no idea what the Soviets’ intentions and capabilities were. At any rate, intentionally spreading such rumors on June 11–the day after Israel accepted and implemented a ceasefire–could have served little purpose for the Soviets, except perhaps vis-à-vis their embittered Arab clients: to credit Soviet action retrospectively for cowing the Israelis.
Yet as we demonstrated in Foxbats, these Soviet moves were real, they were larger in scope than described in the 1970 paper, and–most importantly–they were prepared and activated well before June 11, indeed before the outbreak of hostilities. The CIA’s belated reports closely correspond not only with the numerous accounts we presented about the Soviet Navy’s landing operation (more of which below); they also conform with several mutually unrelated accounts that–after the appearance of our book–fleshed out the sketchy evidence we had for another aspect of the planned Soviet operation: a massive paratroop drop. Like the sailors’ landing, this was retrospectively described in official parlance (including Brezhnev’s speech) as intended to take place behind the Syrian lines, but in fact was at least partly assigned targets in Israel.
Details Emerge of Soviets’ Readying Paratroop Drop to Support Marine Landing
These new accounts show that two airborne formations were under training for this mission a month before the start of hostilities–that is, before the overt beginning of the crisis in mid-May. One of these outfits is named as the elite Pskov Division, which was positioned in the Crimea; the other was readied in Azerbaijan. Both forces spent the entire period of the war on alert inside or near their transport aircraft. A veteran of one unit related that the paratroopers were instructed in conversational Arabic; another told that their missions included “preparing to defend the Jews” lest “in the course of the fighting, the Muslims would slaughter them all indiscriminately.”
This not only helps to answer objections that were raised to our findings on the grounds that the Soviet naval landing operation (which we had documented in far greater detail) would have been inadequate to achieve significant military results. It also fits in neatly with a recently recorded memoir by a senior Israeli Communist at the time, Raul Teitelbaum. He was dumbfounded when, at a celebration to mark the Soviet V-E Day (9 May) in 1967, a Soviet colleague spoke to him of an impending war:
He put his arm around my shoulder and… in an elated mood made some remarks to me, which at the time I attributed to vodka… “The USSR’s friends in Israel have nothing to fear. We will protect you…. The balance of power in the Middle East today is completely different from what it was in 1956, and the results of this war will be different from what they were then.”
The task of “protecting the evacuation of Soviet civilians,” which the Soviet landing force was later said to have been assigned in Syria, thus actually applied to the intervention in Israel as well–if not exclusively.
Indeed, several of the new accounts referred to the 100-odd naval cadets who were transshipped from the Soviet Mediterranean flagship Slava to a destroyer as a landing force. These versions attest that the cadets were headed for an operation in hostile territory, rather than a friendly landing in a Syrian port. ‘They were issued sub-machineguns and two hand grenades each. They were given a speech about the need to aid the friendly Arab nation–and off they went to the shores of Egypt. En route, a marine sergeant was transferred from an SDK (medium landing ship), and he taught them some basic infantry skills.” Like our original source, Capt. Yuri Khripunkov, these accounts state that the cadets’ landing “was cancelled literally 30-40 minutes before it was to begin.” This would not have been the case if their role had been to assist in the evacuation of Soviet citizens from Syria, which began only after the ceasefire. A cadet in a later class recalled being lectured, during his studies at the naval academy, “about preparation of forces and means for a landing in Haifa and Tel Aviv, as well as a strike on Dimona….We still were being given the explanation that only a miracle had then saved Israel.” The versions that reached the CIA thus more closely resembled the USSR’s subsequent propaganda line than its actual moves during the war, which appears to confirm the Americans’ hypothesis that the reports were spread intentionally after the war ended.
Admiral Relates Heading Naval Commando Force Tasked with Raid in Israel
Our initial information about another element of the naval landing was amplified and corrected when we located on the internet an interview with Admiral Gennady Zakharov, who made his name as the deputy commander of President Boris Yeltsin’s guard during the latter’s confrontation with the Russian Parliament in 1993. Zakharov clarified that in 1967, as a lieutenant, he commanded a detachment of naval special forces (spetznaz)—not the submarine which, as he attested, was to land them in Israel. “During the war in the Middle East, we were sitting in a submarine close to shore. Our mission was to destroy Israeli oil terminals and reservoirs. We would have done it, but the war ended before the final order to act was received.” As in several other cases, this direct quote from Zakharov has enabled us to refine our concept of his mission: The attack was to be on the oil tank farms near the coast at Haifa, rather than on the refineries farther inland, and his operation was to be a commando raid rather than a bombardment from offshore, as implied by the indirect reference that we originally cited. Overall, this correction reinforces our thesis: In order to be so positioned at the outbreak of war, these counterparts of the U.S. Navy’s Seals must have been assigned their target and dispatched from their Black Sea base considerably earlier.
KGB Colonel Describes Preplanning for War, Dispute about Arab Capability
The memoir of the aforementioned KGB counterintelligence officer also backs up the evidence already included in Foxbats that the Soviet leadership commissioned intelligence estimates of the war’s outcome well before the overt outbreak of the crisis. Col. Syromyatnikov claims that he was an exceptional Cassandra in a chorus of politically slanted sanguine prognoses, due to his intimate acquaintance with the Arab military trainees in the USSR. “My knowledge of this contingent… convinced me of the heresy that in the expected war, Israel would win. I also reflected this in a memorandum that was submitted to the KGB directorate for military counterintelligence.” However, for opposite reasons from the optimistic consensus, he concurred in the recommendation that Soviet forces should intervene directly: “I consequently noted that if the USSR desired a victory for Egypt, Syria and Jordan, it had to send pilots and tank crews, and mainly to assume the management of these armies.”
He claims that several of his colleagues, who did not submit such assessments in writing, did dare to voice similar opinions at a meeting that was convened at the General Staff, because the “big boss” had been “ill for several months” and did not attend. No date is given for this meeting, but assuming that the big boss in question was Defense Minister Rodion Malinovsky, this puts the meeting, and thus this stage of planning for the “expected war,” no later than the latter’s death, after prolonged illness, on March 31–that is, even before the Syrian-Israeli clash on April 7 that is widely held to have precipitated the larger crisis.
Israeli Combatants Attest to Soviet Presence in Egyptian Forces Deployed in Sinai
In Israel, our book has also elicited important new evidence. The presence of Soviet advisers in the Syrian fortifications and artillery emplacements on the Golan Heights has been documented before, as noted in our book. These positions had been developed over a long period, so that the Soviets’ presence ostensibly might not have proved their complicity in offensive plans for May-June 1967. However, two first-hand testimonies have now established that Soviet advisers were also active at the front-line level of Egyptian forces that were deployed in Sinai from May 15–that is, they accompanied the “appropriate measures” that Nasser undertook following the Soviet warning about Israeli troop concentrations on the Syrian border. This attests that these steps were taken at least with Moscow’s knowledge and consent, if not at its behest.
One Israeli ex-serviceman found a Soviet officer’s insignia in the Egyptian trenches at Shaykh Zuwayd, at the northeast tip of Sinai. This position was occupied by an Egyptian formation specially created in mid-May for the specific purpose of invading southern Israel. Farther south along the Israel-Egyptian border, a headquarters signalman in the heliborne paratroop battalion that assaulted Egyptian artillery positions at Umm Qatif relates picking up a constant stream of communications in Russian. Military censorship excised any mention of this Soviet presence from a memoir that he later published, which conforms to Israel’s suppression of other reports reflecting Soviet involvement, such as the capture of POWs.
NEW PUBLICATION, CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE PROVIDE CONTEXT OF HAREL-SNEH CHANNEL
Curiously, some of the strongest criticism aimed at our book referred to a discovery that we made based on an official Soviet document: the announcement in December 1965 by the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Intelligence (and former Mossad chief) Isser Harel to Moscow, via Maki leader Moshe Sneh, that Israel was determined to develop and acquire nuclear weapons. One critic went so far as to call the Soviet Foreign Ministry’s report of this incident into question, merely on the grounds that it is unsigned (a common practice in intra-office staff memoranda), and even though it was published in an official collection of the ministry’s papers. Another critic doubts that Harel made such a statement, since ‘it would have been irresponsible, foolish, and potentially suicidal, and therefore makes no sense’–as though folly has never occurred in affairs of state. If the talk did take place, this critic belittles it as ‘an informal chat between two gossipy Israeli has-beens.’
To answer such objections, we must both present some new evidence and revisit some of Israel’s political literature from the time of the events to an extent that we did not deem necessary in Foxbats.We still cannot determine conclusively whether Harel’s move was a deliberate (but indeed badly miscalculated) attempt on the part of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to deter the Soviets and their Arab clients, or it was a desperate move by Harel, using Eshkol’s delegated authority but without the prime minister’s knowledge, to torpedo the nuclear project for Harel’s own reasons. Though the latter possibility appears increasingly likelier, either way this remarkable event itself appears all the more plausible.
The latest volume of Moshe Sneh’s papers has highlighted his longstanding function, at least from 1962, as an informal conduit for messages between the Soviet and Israeli leaderships on such issues as the German scientists in Egypt. The Communist leader’s liaison function was evidently encouraged by Eshkol, who before taking over as prime minister indicated his intention to coopt Sneh, among several figures that Ben-Gurion had excluded from any role in government. As noted in Foxbats, Sneh too considered the Eshkol administration potentially more open to rapprochement with the USSR than Ben-Gurion’s.
Teitelbaum’s memoir attributes to Sneh’s initiative the Israeli proposal for Eshkol to visit Moscow in May 1967, where the Israeli prime minister might even have had a ‘fortuitous’ reconciliation meeting with Egypt’s Nasser. This amplifies the contention (cited in Foxbats from Sneh’s associate Ya’ir Tzaban) whereby during the crisis, the Communist leader was still working tirelessly to mediate between Israel and the USSR. Harel would thus have had full authorization from Eshkol to meet with Sneh (which, as Harel wrote, he did several times, ‘in secret’) and to use the latter’s good offices for exchanges with Moscow. The Soviets, for their part, had every reason to consider these meetings as an officially sanctioned ‘back channel.’
Whether the content of Harel’s disclosure was authorized by the prime minister remains an open question, but the same critic’s dismissal of the entire incident as ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’ is odd, given his own expertise in the history of Israel’s nuclear project. The secrecy and news blackout imposed on the project itself have also obscured both its contentiousness and the controversy’s centrality to Israel’s foreign relations as well as its domestic politics. An extraordinary glimpse was allowed to appear in a study that was aimed at defending the role of Ben-Gurion and his proteges, particularly Shimon Peres, in the feuding that led to the split of Israel’s ruling party, Mapai, in 1965:
The construction of the reactor at Dimona aroused fierce opposition at the top level of Mapai, as well as other parties and personalities… which continued, beneath the surface, with extraordinary virulence… There are some who consider this to be the main motivating factor behind the [Lavon] ‘Affair’ and the war of succession in Mapai… Golda Meir and Isser Harel were among the most prominent among the opponents, who included most of the ministers. Eshkol was not one of the leading opponents, but he would later claim there was no budget for the purpose.
This study, by one of Israel’s best-connected journalists, also hints broadly at the near-pathological violence of Harel’s resentment–first at being passed over for a deputy prime ministership, and then at his ouster over the German issue, both of which now appear to have been secondary to, or even code names for, the nuclear controversy:
The time will come to tell about his negative role–and not only his positive contribution–in many affairs of security and espionage, intelligence and political intrigue at the highest level… a mysterious figure, consumed by contradictions and violent urges masked as integrity and determination… authoritarian, simplistic to the point of primitiveness, unaware of his own limitations and faults. He lived in a world of self-righteousness with no self-criticism, in which Isser Harel made the rules and defined right and wrong; a world in which there were no clear boundaries for his complex relations with four prime ministers, relations that were constantly marked with extreme shifts of loyalty, unwarranted presumptuousness and unjustified personal grievance.
Eshed makes no pretense of impartiality, but this assessment of Harel was shared by others, including the latter’s former deputy. Whatever factual validity there may have been to Harel’s vituperative rebuttal of Eshed’s charges, it leaves little doubt as to Harel’s visceral abomination of Peres and his obsessive drive to undermine the latter’s base in the defense establishment, which Harel accused Peres of using as a ‘springboard’ for personal power.
Harel thus had both a principled and a personal motive to sabotage the nuclear project, and was capable of going to extreme lengths for this purpose. The timing of Harel’s move was particularly significant both for him and for the Soviets. Following Peres’s resignation as deputy minister of defense in May 1965, Eshkol began a reorganization of the defense establishment, which intensified after the new party founded by Ben-Gurion and Peres, Rafi, was defeated by Eshkol’s ‘Labor Alignment’ in the November 1, 1965election–after an ‘atomic’ campaign in which the rival parties’ positions on the nuclear issue played a central but veiled role.
It was the final rift with Ben-Gurion that prompted Eshkol, in September, to appoint Harel as his intelligence adviser–a move that he had postponed since 1963 for fear of precipitating such a confrontation with his predecessor. Yet soon after the election it transpired that although the nuclear project was being structurally overhauled and conceptually rethought, it was not being terminated or wound down–despite Eshkol’s previous misgivings (and his feelers toward the USSR). Authoritative and timely confirmation of this situation was of prime importance to the Soviets, as their analysis of Harel’s message indicates–and, as Harel had already shown in a previous clash with Peres, he was not above invoking Soviet pressure to derail the project.
For this, Sneh was a suitable partner: the latest volume of his papers points to his preoccupation with the prospect of Israel’s acquiring nuclear weapons. Indeed Sneh appeared to reflect Moscow’s apprehensions in fearing that ‘such weapons were not aimed at the eventuality of war with the neighboring countries, but at threatening the Soviet Union.’
Finally, we must correct an error that occurred in translating a Stasi document for Foxbats: two characters were inadvertently transposed and Regierungskreise (government circles) became Regierungskriese (government crisis). It does not, however, alter the overall significance of the passage in question: that the KGB and Stasi agreed to use manufactured documents in order to convince Arab governments that the United States, West Germany, and Israel were conspiring against them.
We apologize for swamping the reader with such a welter of minute particulars; the above is merely a fraction of what has accumulated in less than a year; but the detail is famously where the devil lurks–and where the truth must also be sought. We are still in the process of verifying and further exploring the new wave of testimonies, a task that has become even more difficult and sensitive due to the renewed authoritarian and secretive tendency in Russia. A foreign television producer who tried last autumn, in Moscow, to interview several of our previously forthcoming sources found that most of them were now unwilling to cooperate. For similar reasons, we have yet to identify most of the persons behind some of the internet pseudonyms.
Nonetheless, it would be wrong to dismiss this entire body of evidence out of hand just because some of it remains anonymous–wrong if only because so many unrelated informants have provided such closely consistent accounts. Rejecting them all, together with the entirety of our other evidence, would imply that someone has, for the last 20 years, led a vast and coordinated effort to concoct and plant such a number of falsehoods in an enormous variety of sources both in and out of the USSR’s successor government’s control, in order to weaken this government’s official (though topically marginal) version of the 1967 events. This would amount to a conspiracy theory much more bizarre and convoluted–and much less plausible–than even our fiercest critics have attributed to us.
It is our sincere hope that other researchers will keep on complementing our own continuing endeavor to faithfully record this central chapter of twentieth century history in the lifetime of its participants.
*Dr. Isabella Ginor came to Israel from the USSR in 1967. She was a specialist on Soviet and post-Soviet affairs for Haaretz and other media, and a research fellow of the Hebrew University’s Truman Institute.
*Gideon Remez, a historian by training, was a journalist with Israel Radio for almost 40 years, most of them as head of the Foreign News Desk.
*Notes refer only to sources not cited in Foxbats over Dimona, except to provide current URL’s for internet sources that have been moved. All internet addresses are correct as of this paper’s completion.
 Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, ‘Un-Finished Business: Archival Evidence Exposes the Diplomatic Aspect of the USSR’s Pre-Planning for the Six-Day War,’ Cold War History, Vol. 6, No. 3 (August 2006); Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, ‘The Spymaster, the Communist, and Foxbats over Dimona: The Motive for the USSR’s Instigation of the Six-Day War,’ Israel Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Summer 2006).
 Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviets’ Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War (New Haven: Yale University Press), 2007.
 Excerpts of the Russian original, in English translation, have since appeared in Yaacov Ro’i and Boris Morozov (eds.), The Soviet Union and the June 1967 Six Day War (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center and Stanford University Press, 2008).
 Oded Brosh, Review in American Historical Review (AHR) (April 2008), p. 618;authors’ response, AHR (June 2008), p. 964.
 Bezhevets did not refer even to his own subsequent, well-known tour of duty in Egypt in 1971-72, when he commanded a detachment of four MiG-25’s. Likewise, a retired admiral denied to KP the presence of nuclear submarines in the Med in 1967–which has, however, been asserted by several of these submarines’ captains and crewmen. See Ginor and Remez, Foxbats, pp. 81-82.
 Col. (ret.) Vitaly Stefanovich Tokarev, memorial essay on test pilot Aleksandr V. Fedotov, http://www.qsl.net/5ocean/Fedotov.htm. Tokarev held senior engineering positions at the Akhtyubinsk test facility from 1966 to 1989. He too names Bezhevets as head of the MiG-25 test team.
 Maj. Gen. Vladimir A. Zolotaryov (ed.), Russia (USSR) in Local Wars and Armed Conflicts in the Second Half of the 20th Century (Moscow: Institut Voyennoi Istorii Ministerstva Oborony RF, 2000), p. 296.
 Lecture by Prof. Ro’i at a workshop at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington DC, June 7, 2007, citing a document from the Soviet Presidential archive reproduced in Ro’i and Morozov, The Soviet Union and the June 1967 Six Day War.
 Vybornov does not date his arrival in Egypt in 1967; Vakhlamov states, but does not attribute to Vybornov, that it was after the outbreak of hostilities. Yet Vakhlamov also quotes Vybornov’s eyewitness description of a devastating Israeli air raid on an Egyptian air base. The suggestion has been made by Rolf Behrens, in a review of Foxbats in Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 20, No. 1-2, (Spring 2008) that Vybornov might have seen such an event during the War of Attrition. However, no such Israeli operation occurred during that war–or at any time other than June 5, 1967. Also, there is no record that Vybornov, who by then had been appointed to a desk job in Moscow, was in Egypt at all during the War of Attrition.
 “According to a State Department summary, the Liberty had been sent to the area by the NSA to find out whether Soviet personnel were operating with Egyptian forces.” Oren Dorell, “Coverup Theory Alive at USS Liberty Reunion,” USA Today, June 8, 2007, http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2007-06-07-liberty-meeting_N.htm. Mr. Dorrell did not respond to our request for details, and we have so far been unable to identify or obtain this document.
 For example, in http://www.nsa.gov/liberty/51665/3106024.pdf, two entire sections are excised before section 3 begins “Comment: The Nikolaj Podvojskij was in the area of the USS Liberty immediately after the attack…” (spelling as in original documents).
 Reshetnikov seemed to locate the targets ‘in Sinai’ during a BBC interview quoted in Ginor and Remez, Foxbats, p. 147. However, in view of the new details about the model of bombers and their flight plan, his statement that they were moved to a forward base ‘from which they could reach Sinai’ now appears to refer to their planned landing sites. Baranets’ report in KP also quotes a former Soviet Air Force staff officer and military adviser in Egypt in 1966-67, Col. (ret.) Vladimir Timoshev: “The idea of utilizing ‘masked’ planes of our strategic aviation circulated in the Air Force Staff. All sorts of variants were elaborated, but the speed and results of the war obviated these plans.”
Soviet Policy and the 1967 Arab-Israeli War (Reference Title: CAESAR XXXVIII), March 16, 1970, p. 20, http://www.foia.cia.gov/docs/DOC_0001408643/0001408643_0028.gif. The quotes follow two still-sanitized paragraphs, which judging by their context appear to elaborate how “on June 9 and 10… the Soviets began to threaten some (undefined) action if Israel did not stop” its advance into Syria. Why this should be censored, while Kosygin’s hotline message containing this threat has long since been released, is unclear–perhaps indicating that a more concrete threat was conveyed through other channels.
 Teitelbaum, “”Was the Six-Day War Inevitable?” (Hebrew), Unpublished essay , March-April 2007. Teitelbaum was a journalist with the Maki newspaper Kol Haam and the party spokesman. His interlocutor was the TASS correspondent in Israel. Another member of the Maki leadership, Berl Balti, related in his memoirs being told by the Bulgarian minister in Israel: “Don’t worry, when the war is over we’ll send a ship to return the remaining Jews to Europe.” See Struggling for Jewish Survival (Hebrew), (Jerusalem: Marcus, 1981), quoted at: http://www.hagada.org.il/hagada/html/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=3967.
 Interview with Yisrael Arif, April 15, 2008. Professor Galia Golan has also related to us that signals in Russian were picked up from the adjacent Gaza Strip, near which she was posted during the 1967 crisis.
 Michael B. Oren, Six Days of War (New York: Oxford, 2002), p. 180.
 Personal communication from Aryeh Shevy, January 14, 2008; see Oren, Six Days, pp. 181-82, 20. Shevy, “We Live Thanks to the Blood They Shed,” in Shabtai Raviv (ed.), We, the Warriors (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Amihai, 1967), pp. 173-78. Avner (Walter) Bar-On, The Untold Stories: The Diary of the Chief Censor (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Edanim, 1981), pp. 207-08.
 Amnon Sella, Review in The Journal of Israeli History,(March 2008), p. 105. Sella also objects to the ‘selective’ assertion of this incident based on a ‘single’ document, although it appeared in a necessarily selective collection and explicitly referred to other, unpublished documents, such as a dispatch from the Soviet ambassador in Israel to whom Sneh reported.
 Brosh, Review in American Historical Review (AHR), p. 618.
 Pinhas Ginosar (ed.), Moshe Sneh:Papers, Vol. 4, 1954-1965 (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 2005), p. 37-38. On the German scientists issue Sneh’s position, like the Soviets’, was close to Harel’s extreme alarm and activism, which caused Ben-Gurion to force his resignation.
 Eshkol in interview with Yeshayahu Ben-Porat, Yediot Aharonot, June 7, 1963, quoted in Haggai Eshed, Who Gave the Order: The Lavon Affair (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Edanim, 1979), p. 300. See Nathan Yanai: A Rift at the Top (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Lewin-Epstein, 1969), pp.56-57: ‘Ben-Gurion’s resignation created, in broad circles worldwide, a sense that one could now expect… an improvement in Israel’s relations with the USSR; Eshkol and his cabinet encouraged this impression.’
 Brosh co-authored, with Shlomo Aronson, The Politics and Strategy of Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East: Opacity, Theory, and Reality, 1960–1991, An Israeli Perspective (New York: State University of New York Press, 1992).
 Eshed, Who Gave the Order, p. 284. Although the book appeared in July 1979, it is based on research commissioned by Ben-Gurion in 1962. Eshed was granted full access to documentation, and Peres’s influence in the defense establishment during the book’s preparation may help to explain how this singular passage (which supports his nuclear policy) escaped military censorship. In contrast, Yanai’s equally seminal book about the political events of 1965 mentions the word ‘nuclear’ only once, and that too in quoting a disparaging remark by Peres about nuclear disarmament (p. 131). Elsewhere the nuclear project is coded as ‘scientific defense development’ (p. 129) and the like.
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