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Keywords:

  • Yom Kippur war;
  • strategic surprise;
  • need for cognitive closure

This paper uses newly available evidence to shed light on the circumstances and causes of the 6 October 1973 Yom Kippur surprise attack of Egyptian and Syrian forces on Israeli positions at the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights. The evidence suggests that an important circumstance that accounts for the surprise effect these actions managed to produce, despite ample warning signs, is traceable to a high need for cognitive closure among major figures in the Israeli intelligence establishment. Such a need may have prompted leading intelligence analysts to “freeze” on the conventional wisdom that an attack was unlikely and to become impervious to information suggesting that it was imminent. The discussion considers the psychological forces affecting intelligence operations in predicting the initiation of hostile enemy activities, and it describes possible avenues of dealing with the psychological impediments to open–mindedness that may pervasively characterize such circumstances.