Interview with Amos Gilboa

Biography

Amos Gilboa (1939-) has served in a variety of capacities in the Israeli intelligence community for fifty years.  He started his career in Israeli military intelligence, both as a field and staff officer, and held several senior positions in the Intelligence Corps and the Intelligence Department of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) General Staff.  His last military position was head of the Research Division, at the rank of Brig. General, within the IDF Intelligence Branch. 

After his retirement from the IDF, Gilboa remained involved as an advisor on intelligence affairs to the Israeli intelligence community at large.  He was advisor at the Prime Minister’s Office for Arab Affairs, and intelligence attaché to the Unites States.

In later years, Gilboa lectured on intelligence studies at the Lauder School of Government, Policy and Diplomacy of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. He was also a political columnist for Ma’ariv daily newspaper.

Gilboa has an M.A. in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  He is an author and editor of a number of books and publications on intelligence matters, including Mr. Intelligence: Arale, the Biography of General Aharon Yariv (Tel Aviv: Yediot Achronot, 2013).

Interview Notes by Avner Cohen

The Nuclear Proliferation International History Project (NPIHP) asked for Brigadier General (Ret.) Amos Gilboa’s testimony due to the research he conducted as an intelligence historian, specifically the research he did on the Israeli intelligence in the 1960s for Mr. Intelligence: Arale, the Biography of General Aharon Yariv (Tel Aviv: Yediot Achronot, 2013), his biography of General Aharon “Arale” Yariv, Israel’s chief of Military Intelligence (AMAN) in 1964-72.  In the book, Gilboa discusses AMAN’s assessment of Egyptian intentions toward Israel’s nuclear program at Dimona, as well as Israeli intelligence capabilities. The interview was conducted for this collection at Gilboa’s home in Israel in March 2017 by Adam Raz, an Israeli historian and author affiliated with NPIHP.

Gilboa started the interview by stressing that his knowledge on the period is not that of an eyewitness, but that of a researcher.  The key moment, according to Gilboa, is a meeting held on 11 November 1965 between Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin and Chief of Intelligence Yariv.  The subject was Dimona as a potential target for an Egyptian strike.  Rabin had two working assumptions. First, Dimona was a potential Egyptian target and therefore Israeli Defense Force (IDF) should set up a program to protect it. Second, it was unlikely that Egypt would be able to attack Dimona by surprise; there must be some early warning signs if and when Egypt seriously planned to attack Dimona. The most evident sign would be Egyptian reconnaissance flights over Dimona.  Rabin noted that within the coming year a second HAWK ground to air missile battery should be committed to defend Dimona.

Then Rabin came to the purpose of the meeting.  The chief of staff requested his chief of intelligence to set up an intelligence collection program whose task was to provide early warnings of Egyptian hostile intentions toward Dimona.  At that time, according to Gilboa, Israel had very limited collection capability in regards to the Egyptian Air Force.  The focus of the early warning program should be Egyptian strategic bombers, the Tupolev Tu-16.  At that time, Egypt had one squadron fully operational, a second in the making, and a third in planning. Altogether, Egypt possessed 40 bombers, not including the interceptors to accompany them. 

That task was given to the Israel’s central SIGINT unit – then called 515, today known as 8200 – and AMAN’s technological unit. The code name of the warning system was “Senator.”  Shortly after the system’s inception, it became evident that to meet basic requirements “Senator” must be a comprehensive system monitoring the entire Egyptian Air Force.  “Senator” quickly became a major operation – in cost, equipment, and manpower. 

According to Gilboa, the cost of building “Senator” was so high that it required AMAN to ask for a loan from the Treasury outside the regular AMAN budget. Ultimately, “Senator” yielded much more than originally planned; it served not just to defend Dimona, but was integrated into the “Moked” comprehensive plan for the Israeli Air Force to attack simultaneously most Egyptian air bases to destroy the Egyptian air capability. “Moked’s” success was the basis of the Israeli victory in the 1967 War.