Itzhak Hofi, who died yesterday at the age of 87, lived and operated in some of Israel‘s most critical times; a developing young nation fighting for its survival.
It seems that he was in many of the most important intersections that shaped the IDF. Yet, an internet research on him reveals almost nothing, except for for few dry historical facts on his military career and his time as the head of the Mossad.
Perhaps, this is appropriate for a person who did not seek the spotlight and let his actions speak for themselves. What we can learn from the little that is available are the following:
- He was considered one of the best heads that the Mossad ever had.
- As the general, in-charge of the IDF’s Northern command before the Yom Kippur war, he insisted that reinforcement will be sent to the Golan. As a result, the 7th tank brigade, with its 110 tanks was dispatched to the Golan Heights, just two days before the war broke. During the first days of the war, the 7th brigade stopped an overwhelming Syrian tank force, which attacked the Northern sector of the Golan. A battle that left the 7th brigade with only 15 functioning tanks when the battle was over. It is not difficult to imagine what would have happened to Israel if the 7th brigade wasn’t there to stop them.
- He was the acting IDF chief of staff during the short period between the resignation of David Eazar after the war, and the appointment of the permanent chief of staff.
- He was one of only two candidates to be nominated to be the next chief of staff after the war; a rare case of an IDF general who participated in the Yom Kippur war in a key position and was not tarnished by the investigation that followed it.
- It is speculated that he was appointed the head if the Mossad after the Yom Kippur war as a result of his assessment that war was imminent, during a time period when almost the entire IDF’s top generals discounted this option.
- Some of the most daring Mossad operations took place when he was in-charge. Among them are:
- The rescue of Israeli hostages in Entebbe, Uganda after their plane was hijacked.
- Black September leaders were eliminated.
- Terrorist Ali Salama was assassinated in Beirut
- Israel attacked the nuclear reactor in Iraq.
- Elimination of French scientists who assisted the Iraqis in building the nuclear reactor.
- As the head of the Mossad Hofi saw an opportunity to develop relationship with Egypt, Israel strongest enemy. For that reason, while Sadat was still an enemy, the Mossad warned him of a Libyan plot targeting him. This deeply impressed the Egyptian leader. Soon after, Yitzhak Hofi travelled to Rabat, met the Moroccan king (officially an enemy, but in reality a peace broker between Israel and Egypt), and began negotiations with Sadat’s deputy, Hassan Tuhami. In September 1977, a new meeting was held between foreign minister Moshe Dayan and Sadat’s deputy in Rabat. On November 17, 1977, Sadat went to Jerusalem in a historic visit which would change the Middle East forever.
As the head of the IDF’s Northern Command with the IDF’s Chief of Staff David Elazar in the Yom Kippur war
The Agranat Commission was a National Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate failings in the Israel Defense Forces in the prelude to the Yom Kippur War, when Israel was found unprepared for the Egyptian attack against the Bar Lev Line and a simultaneous attack by Syria in the Golan — the first phase in a war in which 2,812 Israeli soldiers were killed.
Itzhak Hofi was called to testify before the Agranat Commission. The following are excerpts from his testimony in July 1974:
The commission investigated allegations by thousands of soldiers that the IDF lost its moral values in the period between the 1967 war and the 1973 war, and for that reason the IDF was not prepared for the war. Reserve soldiers reported that their emergency supply warehouses were empty, that their tanks were not ready, that there were cases that orders were not followed, military equipment was stolen, and that there were cases of desertion.
Hofi responded that there was a case when an officer deserted his post with his soldiers during a Syrian attack on the post, and that officer was removed from his command later. He testified that some order were not carried out at all and some were only partially executed, but he felt that this was the exception, not the norm. He attributed the deterioration of moral values to the fact that there were too many high ranking officers in the army, who were vain, spent their budget on expensive meals and extravagant headquarters, had relationships with females subordinates against the army regulations, and impatiently competed fiercely on promotion.
When he was asked about incidents where soldiers sabotaged their own tanks to avoid going to battle, Hofi responded that reality was the opposite; the equipment was in bad shape to begin with and the soldiers did everything they could to make them operational.
All the signs in September 1973 showed that the Syrian army was preparing for war, but AMAN, the IDF’s intelligence unit discounted this possibility. The head of AMAN, General Eli Zeira believed in what was termed later as the “Concept”. According to the concept, in 1973, Egypt and Syria were not ready for war.
Hofi testified before the Agranat Commission that in the beginning of September 1973 he noticed changes in the Syrian army. The Northern Command noticed an unusual movement of the Syrian army along the border and it was reported. On September 11, 1973, it was concluded from an aerial photograph that the Syrian army is activating the emergency positions. Aerial photos showed 540 tanks and 70 artillery pieces near the border. AMAN explained, and Hofi testified that he accepted their theory that the Syrian army was put on alert while Hafez Assad is traveling to Algir. There was no data to support this theory, just speculations. On September 24, 1973 aerial photos brought more concerning news;there were unprecedented number of Syrian forces along the border; 670 tanks and 100 artillery pieces.
On October 2nd, 1973 (4 days before the war), in the early morning hours, the Northern Command received a phone call from AMAN warning them that a war was about to erupt. No one in the IDF’s headquarters knew about it, and when Hofi called AMAN for confirmation, no one in AMAN’s headquarters knew about that.
In a discussion at the IDF’s headquarters, 4 days before the war, the general staff couldn’t tell if a war with Syria is about to begin. They argued over the meaning of aerial pictures. David Elazar, the IDF’s Chief of Staff, couldn’t decide one way or another. Hofi ordered his intelligence officer to pay close attention to certain enemy positions. He believed that the tell tell sign is the presence of Syrian army units in those positions.On October 6, 1973 Hofi was called in a hurry to the IDF’s headquarters. He was told, for the first time, with certainty that the war will begin at 6:00 PM. It started at 2:00 PM.
Itzhak Hofi front left with Yekutiel Adam and David Elazar in the Northern Command it the Yom Kippur war