The Yom Kippur War, Ramadan War, or October War
Hebrew: מלחמת יום הכיפורים
Transliterated: Milhemet Yom HaKipurim
Arabic: حرب أكتوبر
Transliterated: Harb October
Arabic: حرب تشرين Transliterated: Harb Tishrin
This 1973 Arab-Israeli War, was fought from October 6 (the day of Yom Kippur) to October 24, 1973, between Israel and a coalition of Egypt and Syria. The War began when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise joint attack (though recent evidence suggests that some key figures in Israel were aware of it ahead of time) in the Sinai and Golan Heights, respectively, both of which had been captured by Israel during the Six-Day War six years earlier.
Date: October 6–October 24, 1973
Place: Sinai, Golan Heights, and surrounding regions of the Middle East
Outcome: Ended by a United Nations cease-fire
Combatants: Israel Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq
Notable Commanders: Moshe Dayan, David Elazar, Ariel Sharon,
Shmuel Gonen Saad El Shazly, Ahmad Ismail Ali
400 tanks destroyed
600 damaged/returned to service
102 planes shot down
2,250 tanks destroyed or captured
432 planes destroyed
The Egyptians and Syrians advanced during the first 24–48 hours, after which momentum began to swing in Israel's favor. By the second week of the war, the Syrians had been pushed entirely out of the Golan Heights. In the Sinai to the south, the Israelis had struck at the
hinge between two invading Egyptian armies, crossed the Suez Canal (where the old cease-fire line had been), and cut off an entire Egyptian army just as a United Nations cease-fire came into effect.
The war had far-reaching implications for many nations. The Arab world, which had been humiliated by the lopsided defeat of the Egyptian-Syrian-Jordanian alliance during the Six-Day War, felt psychologically vindicated by its string of victories early in the conflict. This vindication paved the way for the peace process that followed, as well as liberalizations such as Egypt's infitah policy. The Camp David Accords which came soon after led to normalized relations between Egypt and Israel—the first time any Arab country had recognized the Israeli state. Egypt, which had already been drifting away from the Soviet Union, then left the Soviet sphere of influence almost entirely.
This war was part of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a conflict which has included many battles and wars since 1948. During the Six-Day War six years earlier, the Israelis had captured the Sinai clear to the Suez Canal, which had become the cease-fire line. The Israelis had also captured roughly half of the Golan Heights from Syria.
In the years following that war, Israel erected lines of fortification in both the Sinai and the Golan Heights. In 1971 Israel spent $500 million fortifying its positions on the Suez Canal, a chain of fortifications and gigantic earthworks known as the Bar Lev Line, named after Israeli General Haim Bar-Lev. After the war that defeated the Egyptian and Syrian armies in 1967, and having emerged undefeated from the three-year-long War of Attrition with Egypt in the south and several border incidents with Syria in the north, the Israeli leadership had grown somewhat complacent.
Both Arab countries desired a return of the territories lost in the 1967 war. After the success of the Six-Day War the Israeli leadership was reluctant to enter into negotiations over returning these territories, feeling that they were militarily secure. President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt died in September 1970. He was succeeded by Anwar Sadat, who resolved to fight Israel and win back the territory lost in the Six-Day War. In 1971, Sadat, in response to an initiative by UN intermediary Gunnar Jarring, declared that if Israel committed itself to
withdrawal of its armed forces from Sinai and the Gaza Strip and to implementation of other provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 242 as requested by Jarring, Egypt would then
be ready to enter into a peace agreement with Israel. Israel responded that it would not withdraw to the pre-June 5, 1967,
Sadat hoped that by inflicting even a limited defeat on the Israelis, the status quo could be altered. Hafiz al-Assad, the head of Syria, had a different view. He had little interest in negotiation and felt the retaking of the Golan Heights would be a purely military option. Since the Six-Day War, Assad had launched a massive military build up and hoped to make Syria the dominant military power of the Arab states. With the aid of Egypt, Assad felt that his new army could win convincingly against the Israeli army and thus secure Syria's role in the region. Assad only saw negotiations beginning once the Golan Heights had been retaken by force, which would induce Israel to give up the West Bank and Gaza, and make other concessions.
Sadat also had important domestic concerns in wanting war. The three years since Sadat had taken office... were the most demoralized in Egyptian history... A desiccated economy added to the nation's despondency. War was a desperate
option.. In his biography of Sadat, Raphael Israeli argued that Sadat felt the root of the problem was in the great shame over the Six-Day War, and before any reforms could be introduced he felt that shame had to be overcome. Egypt's economy was in shambles, but Sadat knew that the deep reforms that he felt were needed would be deeply unpopular among parts of the population. A military victory would give him the popularity he needed to make changes. A portion of the Egyptian population, most prominently university students who launched wide protests, strongly desired a war to reclaim the Sinai and were highly upset that Sadat had not launched one in his first three years in office.
The other Arab states showed much more reluctance to fully commit to a new war. King Hussein of Jordan feared another major loss of territory as had occurred in the Six-Day War, during which Jordan was halved in population. Sadat was also backing the claim of the PLO to the territories (West Bank and Gaza) and in the event of a victory promised Yasser Arafat that he would be given control of them. Hussein still saw the West Bank as part of Jordan and wanted it restored to his kingdom. Moreover, during the Black September crisis of 1970 a near civil war had broken out between the PLO and the Jordanian government. In that war Syria had intervened militarily on the side of the PLO, leaving Assad and Hussein estranged.
Iraq and Syria also had strained relations, and the Iraqis refused to join the initial offensive. Lebanon, which shared a border with Israel, was not expected to join the Arab war effort due to its small army and already evident instability. The months before the war saw Sadat engage in a diplomatic offensive to try to win support for the war. By the fall of 1973 he claimed the backing of more than a hundred states. These were most of the countries of the Arab League, Non-Aligned Movement, and Organization of African Unity. Sadat had also worked to curry
favor in Europe and had some success before the war. Britain and France had for the first time sided with the Arab powers against Israel on the United Nations Security Council. In the lead up to the war West Germany became one of Egypt's largest sources of
Events leading up to the War
Anwar Sadat in 1972 publicly stated that Egypt was committed to going to war with Israel, and that they were prepared to
sacrifice one million Egyptian soldiers. From the end of 1972, Egypt began a concentrated effort to build up its forces, receiving MiG-23s, SA-6s, RPG-7s and especially the AT-3 Sagger anti-tank guided missile from the Soviet Union and improving its military tactics. Political generals, who had in large part been responsible for the rout in 1967, were replaced with competent ones.
The role of the great powers, too, was a major factor in the outcome of the two wars. The policy of the Soviet Union was one of the causes of Egypt's military weakness. While the U.S. and other allied nations supplied Israel with the most up-to-date assault weapons in the world, the Russians supplied Egypt only with defense weaponry, and then only with great reluctance. Indeed, President Nasser was only able to obtain the material for an anti-aircraft missile defense wall after having visited Moscow and pleaded with the Kremlin leaders. He claimed that if supplies were not given, he would have to return to Egypt and tell the Egyptian people Moscow had abandoned them, and then relinquish power to one of his peers who would be able to deal with the Americans. The Americans would then have the upper hand in the region, which Moscow could not permit.
One of Egypt's undeclared objectives of the War of Attrition was to force the Soviet Union to supply Egypt with more advanced arms and war materiel. It was felt that the only way to convince the Soviet leaders of the deficiencies of most of the aircraft and air defense weaponry they had supplied to Egypt following 1967 was to put them to the test against the advanced weaponry which the U.S. had supplied to Israel.
Nasser's policy following the 1967 defeat conflicted with that of the Soviet Union. The Soviets sought to push Egypt towards a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. At all costs they wanted to avoid a new conflagration between the Arabs and Israelis so as not to be drawn into a confrontation with the United States. The reality of the situation became apparent when the superpowers met in Oslo and agreed to maintain the status quo. This was unacceptable to Egyptian leaders, and when it was discovered that the Egyptian preparations for crossing the canal were being leaked, it became imperative to expel the Russians from Egypt. In July 1972 Sadat expelled almost all of the 20,000 Soviet military advisors in the country and reoriented the country's foreign policy to be more
favorable to the United States.
The Soviets thought little of Sadat's chances in any war. They warned that any attempt to cross the heavily fortified Suez would incur massive losses. The Soviets, who were then pursuing Detente, had no interest in seeing the Middle East destabilized. In a June 1973 meeting between U.S. President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, Brezhnev had proposed Israel pull back to its 1967 border. Brezhnev said that if Israel did not,
we will have difficulty keeping the military situation from flaring
up—an indication that the Soviet Union had been unable to restrain Sadat's plans.
In an interview published in Newsweek (April 9, 1973), President Sadat again threatened war with Israel. Several times during 1973, Arab forces conducted large-scale exercises that put the Israeli military on the highest level of alert, only to be recalled a few days later. The Israeli leadership already believed that if an attack took place, the Israeli Air Force would be able to repel it.
Almost a full year before the war, in an October 24, 1972, meeting with his Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Sadat declared his intention to go to war with Israel even without proper Soviet support
. Planning was done in absolute secrecy—even the upper-echelon commanders were not told of war plans until less than a week prior to the attack, and the soldiers were not told until a few hours beforehand. The plan to attack Israel in concert with Syria was code-named Operation Badr (the Arabic word for
Lead up to the surprise attack
The IDF's Aman (Military Intelligence), the leader of Israel's intelligence
community, was responsible for formulating the nation's intelligence estimate. Their assessments on the likelihood of war were based on several assumptions. First, it was assumed correctly that Syria would not go to war with Israel unless Egypt went to war as well. Second, they learned from a high-ranking Egyptian informant (who to-this-day remains confidential, known only as
The Source) that Egypt wanted to regain all of the Sinai, but would not go to war until the Soviets had supplied Egypt with fighter-bombers to neutralize the Israeli Air Force, and Scud missiles to be used against Israeli cities as a deterrent against Israeli attacks on Egyptian infrastructure. Since the Soviets had not yet supplied the fighter bombers, and the Scud missiles had only arrived in Egypt in late August (it would take 4 months to train the Egyptian ground crews), Aman predicted war with Egypt was not imminent. This assumption about Egypt's strategic plans, known as
the concept, strongly colored their thinking and led them to dismiss other war warnings.
The Egyptians did much to further this misconception. Both the Israelis and the Americans felt that the expulsion of the Soviet military observers had severely hurt the army. The Egyptians ensured that there was a continual stream of false information on maintenance problems and a lack of personnel to operate the most advanced equipment. The Egyptians made repeated reports on a non-existent lack of spare parts that also made their way to Israel. Sadat had long engaged in brinkmanship. Sadat had so frequently stated that the war would soon resume that the world ignored such declarations. In May and August 1973 the Egyptian army had engaged in exercises by the border. Both times the Israeli army had mobilized at the cost of some $10 million dollars.
For the week leading up to Yom Kippur, the Egyptians staged a week-long training exercise adjacent to the Suez Canal. Israeli intelligence, detecting large troop movements towards the canal, dismissed them as more training exercises. Movement of Syrian troops towards the border was puzzling, but not a threat because, Aman believed, they would not attack without Egypt and Egypt would not attack until the Soviet weaponry arrived.
The obvious reason for choosing the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur for staging a surprise attack on Israel was that on this specific day (unlike any other holiday) the country comes to a complete standstill. On Yom Kippur most Jews fast, abstain from any use of fire, electricity, engines, cars, communications, etc. Many soldiers leave military facilities for home during the holiday and Israel is most vulnerable, especially with much of its army
Despite refusing to participate, King Hussein of Jordan had met with Sadat and [Syrian President] Assad in Alexandria two weeks before. Given the mutual suspicions prevailing among the Arab leaders, it was unlikely that he had been told any specific war plans. But it was probable that Sadat and Assad had raised the prospect of war against Israel in more general terms to feel out the likelihood of Jordan joining
in. On the night of September 25, Hussein secretly flew to Tel Aviv to warn Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir of an impending Syrian attack.
Are they going to war without the Egyptians, asked Mrs. Meir. The king said he didn't think so. 'I think they [Egypt] would
cooperate'. Surprisingly, this warning fell on deaf ears. Aman concluded that the king had not told it anything it did not already know.
Eleven warnings of war were received by Israel during September from well placed sources. But [Mossad chief] Zvi Zamir continued to insist that war was not an Arab option. Not even Hussein's warnings succeeded in stirring his
doubts. He would later remark that We simply didn't feel them capable [of
Finally, Zvi Zamir personally went to Europe to meet with The Source (the high-ranking Egyptian official), at midnight on October 5th/6th. At that meeting, the source informed him that a joint Syrian-Egyptian attack on Israel was imminent. It was this warning in particular, combined with the large number of other warnings, that finally goaded the Israeli high command into action. Just hours before the attack began, orders went out for a partial call-up of the Israeli
reserves. Ironically, calling up the reserves proved to be easier than usual, as almost all of the troops were at synagogue or at home for the holiday.
Lack of an Israeli Pre-emptive attack
Upon learning of the impending attack, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir made the controversial decision not to launch a pre-emptive strike
Upon learning of the impending attack, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir made the controversial decision not to launch a pre-emptive strike
Israeli strategy was, for the most part, based on the precept that if war was imminent, Israel would launch a pre-emptive strike. It was assumed that Israel's intelligence services would give, at the worst case, about 48 hours' notice prior to an Arab attack.
Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, and Israeli general David Elazar met at 8:05 AM the morning of Yom Kippur, 6 hours before the war was to begin. Dayan began the meeting by arguing that war was not a certainty. Elazar then presented his argument, in favor of a pre-emptive attack against Syrian airfields at noon, Syrian missiles at 3:00 PM, and Syrian ground forces at 5:00 PM.
When the presentations were done, the prime minister hemmed uncertainly for a few moments but then came to a clear decision. There would be no preemptive strike. Israel might be needing American assistance soon and it was imperative that it not be blamed for starting the war.
If we strike first, we won't get help from anybody, she said. European nations, under threat of an Arab oil embargo and trade boycott, had stopped supplying Israel with munitions. As a result, Israel was totally dependent on the United States to
re-supply its army, and was particularly sensitive to anything that might endanger that relationship.
In retrospect, the decision not to strike first was a sound one. Operation Nickel Grass, the American airlift of supplies during the war which began on October 13, while it did not immediately replace Israel's losses in equipment, did allow it to expend what it did have more freely. Had they struck first, according to Henry Kissinger, they would not have received
so much as a nail.
Operation Nickel Grass was the American airlift of supplies to Israel. Shown here, an American C-5 Galaxy unloads an M-60 Patton Tank at Ben Gurion International Airport
Operation Nickel Grass was the American airlift of supplies to Israel. Shown here, an American C-5 Galaxy unloads an M-60 Patton Tank at Ben Gurion International Airport
In the Sinai
The Egyptian units would not advance beyond a shallow strip for fear of losing protection of their SAM missile batteries. In the Six-Day War, the Israeli Air Force had
pummeled the defenseless Arab armies. Egypt (and Syria) had heavily fortified their side of the cease-fire lines with SAM batteries, against which the Israeli Air Force had no effective countermeasures. Israel, which had invested much of its defense budget building the region's strongest air force, would see its air force rendered almost useless by the presence of the SAM batteries.
Anticipating a swift Israeli armored counterattack, the Egyptians had armed their first wave with unprecedented numbers of tank-destroying weapons—Rocket propelled grenades and the more devastating Sagger missiles. One in every three Egyptian soldiers had an anti-tank weapon.
Never before had such intensive anti-tank fire been brought to bear on the
battlefield. In addition, the ramp on the Egyptian side of the canal had been increased to twice the height of the Israeli ramp, giving them an excellent vantage point from which to fire down on the Israelis, as well as any approaching tanks.
The Egyptian army surprised many by breaching the Israeli defenses and quickly crossing the Suez Canal in what became known as The Crossing, reducing all but one of the Bar-Lev forts. In a meticulously rehearsed operation, the Egyptian forces advanced approximately 15 km into the Sinai desert with the combined forces of two army corps. The Israelis had set up defensive positions behind huge sand berms on the east bank of the canal, which experience taught them would be nearly impervious to bombing or artillery attack. However, Egyptian military engineers came up with an ingenious plan—attacking the berms with water cannon, fed directly from the canal. The berms disintegrated under water pressure, leaving the Israeli defensive positions exposed.
The troops garrisoning the Bar-Lev forts, outnumbered by orders of magnitude, were overwhelmed. Only one, Budapest (the northernmost Bar-Lev fort) would remain in Israeli control through the end of the war.
The Egyptian forces consolidated their initial positions. On October 8, Shmuel Gonen, commander of the Israeli Southern front—who had only taken the position 3 months before at the retirement of Ariel Sharon—ordered a counterattack by Gabi Amir's brigade against entrenched Egyptian forces at Hizayon, where approaching tanks could be easily destroyed by Saggers fired from the Egyptian ramp. Despite Amir's reluctance, the attack proceeded, and the result was a disaster. Towards nightfall, a counterattack by the Egyptians was stopped by Ariel Sharon's division—Sharon had been reinstated as a division commander at the outset of the war. The fighting lulled, with neither side wanting to mount a large attack against the other.
Israeli paratroops breaking through an Egyptian commando ambush on a
sand spit leading to Fort Budapest on the Sinai front
Israeli paratroops breaking through an Egyptian commando ambush on a
sand spit leading to Fort Budapest on the Sinai front
Following the disastrous Israeli attack on the 8th, both sides settled into defensive postures and hoped for the other side to attack. Elazar replaced Gonen, who had proven out-of-his-league, with Haim Bar-Lev, who had come out of retirement. Because it was considered dangerous to morale to replace the front commander during the middle of a battle, rather than being sacked Gonen was made chief-of-staff to the newly appointed Bar-Lev.
After several days of waiting, Sadat, wanting to ease pressure on the Syrians, ordered his chief generals (Saad El Shazly and Ahmad Ismail Ali chief among them) to attack. The Egyptian forces brought across their reserves and began their counterattack on 14 October.
The attack, the most massive since the initial Egyptian assault on Yom Kippur, was a total failure, the first major Egyptian reversal of the war. Instead of concentrating forces of maneuvering, except for the wadi thrust, they had expended them in head-on attack against the waiting Israeli brigades. Egyptian losses for the day were estimated at between 150 and 250
The following day, October 15, the Israelis launched Operation Stouthearted Men—the counterattack against the Egyptians and crossing of the Suez Canal. The attack was a tremendous change of tactics for the Israelis, who had previously relied on air and tank support—support that had been decimated by the well-prepared Egyptian forces. Instead, the Israelis used infantry to infiltrate the positions of the Egyptian SAM and anti-tank batteries, which were unable to cope as well with forces on foot. A division led by Major General Ariel Sharon attacked the Egyptian line just north of Bitter Lake, in the vicinity of Ismailiya. The Israelis struck at a weak point in the Egyptian line, the
seam between the Egyptian second Army in the north and the Egyptian third Army in the south. In some of the most brutal fighting of the war in and around the Chinese Farm (an irrigation project east of the canal and north of the crossing point), the Israelis opened a hole in the Egyptian line and reached the Suez Canal. A small force crossed the canal and created a bridgehead on the other side. For over 24 hours, troops were ferried across the canal in light inflatable boats, with no armor support of their own. They were well supplied with American-made M72 LAW missiles, negating the threat of Egyptian armor. Once the anti-aircraft and anti-tank
defenses of the Egyptians had been neutralized, the infantry once again was able to rely on overwhelming tank and air support.
Prior to the war, fearing an Israeli crossing of the canal, no Western nation would supply the Israelis with bridging equipment. They were able to purchase modular, pontoon bridging equipment from a French scrap lot. Deploying the pontoon bridge on the night of October 16/17, Avraham
Bren Adan's division crossed and raced south, intent on cutting off the Egyptian third Army before it could retreat west back into Egypt. At the same time, it sent out raiding forces to destroy Egyptian SAM missile batteries east of the canal. (Before the war ended, the Israelis were within 101 kilometers of Cairo, Egypt's capital.)
In the Golan Heights, the Syrians attacked the Israeli defenses of two brigades and eleven artillery batteries with five divisions and 188 batteries. At the onset of the battle, approximately 180 Israeli tanks faced off against approximately 1,400 Syrian tanks. Despite the overwhelming odds and the fact that most of the Syrian tanks were equipped with night-fighting equipment, every Israeli tank deployed on the Golan Heights was engaged during the initial attacks. Syrian commandos dropped by helicopter also took the most important Israeli stronghold at Jabal al Shaikh (Mount Hermon), which had a variety of surveillance equipment.
Fighting in the Golan Heights was given priority by the Israeli High Command. The fighting in the Sinai was sufficiently far away that Israel was not immediately threatened; should the Golan Heights fall, the Syrians could easily advance into Israel itself. Reservists were directed to the Golan as quickly as possible. They were assigned to tanks and sent to the front as soon as they arrived at army depots, without waiting for the crewman they trained with to arrive; without waiting for machine guns to be installed on their tanks, and without taking the time to calibrate their tank guns (a time-consuming process known as boring).
As in the Sinai, on the Golan Heights, the Syrians took care to stay under cover of their SAM missile batteries. Also as in the Sinai, the Syrians made use of Soviet anti-tank weapons (which, because of the uneven terrain, were not as effective as in the flat Sinai desert).
The Syrians had expected it would take at least 24 hours for Israeli reserves to reach the front lines; in fact, Israeli reserve units began reaching the battle lines only fifteen hours after the war began.
By the end of the first day of battle, the Syrians (who at the start outnumbered the Israelis in the Golan 9 to 1) had achieved moderate success. Towards the end of the day,
A Syrian tank brigade passing through the Rafid Gap turned northwest up a little-used route known as the Tapline Road, which cut diagonally across the Golan. This roadway would prove one of the main strategic hinges of the battle. It led straight from the main Syrian breakthrough points to Nafekh, which was not only the location of Israeli divisional headquarters but the most important crossroads on the
Heights. During the night, Lieutenant Zvika Greengold, who had just arrived to the battle unattached to any unit, fought them off with his single tank until help arrived.
For the next 20 hours, Zvika Force, as he came to be known on the radio net, fought running battles with Syrian tanks—sometimes alone, sometimes as part of a larger unit, changing tanks half a dozen times as they were knocked out. He was wounded and burned but stayed in action and repeatedly showed up at critical moments from an unexpected direction to change the course of a
Syrian tanks at Israeli anti-tank ditch the Golan. A tank, hit by Israeli fire, has fallen off one of the two bridges the Syrians laid across the ditch. Another knocked out tank lies in the ditch. To the left is the roadway the Syrian later succeeded in opening through the
Over four days of fighting, the 7th Israeli brigade in the north (commanded by Yanush Ben Gal) managed to hold the rocky hill line defending the northern flank of their headquarters in Nafah. To the south, however, the
Barak brigade, bereft of any natural defenses, began to take on heavy casualties. Commander Colonel Shoham was killed during the first few days of fighting, as the Syrians desperately tried to push inwards towards the Sea of Galilee.
The tide in the Golan turned as the arriving Israeli reserve forces were able to contain and, starting 8 October, push back the Syrian offensive. The tiny Golan Heights was too small to act as an effective territorial buffer, unlike the Sinai Peninsula in the south, but it proved to be a strategic geographical stronghold and was a crucial key in preventing the Syrian army from bombing the cities below. By Wednesday, October 10, the last Syrian unit in the Central sector had been pushed back across the purple line (the pre-war
A decision now had to be made—whether to ease the fighting down and end the war at the 1967 border, or to continue the war into Syrian territory. Israeli High Command spent the whole of October 10 debating this, well into the night. Some favored disengagement, which would allow soldiers to be redeployed to the Sinai (Shmuel Gonen's ignominious defeat at Hizayon in the Sinai had happened two days before). Others favored continuing the attack into Syria, towards Damascus, which would knock Syria out of the war; it would also restore Israel's image as the supreme military power in the Middle East and would give them a valuable bargaining chip once the war ended. Others countered that Syria had strong defenses—antitank ditches, minefields, and
strong-points—and that it would be better to fight from defensive positions in the Golan Heights (rather than the flat terrain of Syria) in the event of another war with Syria. However, Prime Minister Meir realized the most crucial point of the whole
debate—It would take four days to shift a division to the Sinai. If the war ended during this period, the war would end with a territorial loss for Israel in the Sinai and no gain in the north—an unmitigated defeat. This was a political matter and her decision was
un-mitigating to cross the purple line... The attack would be launched tomorrow, Thursday, October
From October 11 to 14 October, the Israeli forces pushed into Syria, conquering a further twenty-square-mile box of territory in the Bashan. From there they were able to shell the outskirts of Damascus, only 40 km away, using heavy artillery.
As Arab position on the battlefields deteriorated, pressure mounted on King Hussein to send his Army into action. He found a way to meet these demands without opening his kingdom to Israeli air attack. Instead of attacking Israel from their common border, he sent an expeditionary force into Syria. He let Israel know of his intentions, through U.S. intermediaries, in the hope that it [Israel] would accept that this was not a casus belli justifying an attack into Jordan... Dayan declined to offer any such assurance, but Israel had no intention of opening another
front. Iraq also sent an expeditionary force to the Golan, consisting of some 30,000 men, 500 tanks, and 700 APCs.
Combined Syrian, Iraqi and Jordanian counterattacks prevented any further Israeli gains.
On October 22, the Golani Brigade recaptured the outpost on Mount Hermon, after sustaining very heavy casualties from entrenched Syrian snipers strategically positioned on the mountain. An attack two weeks before had cost 25 dead and 67 wounded, while this second attack cost an additional 55 dead and 79 wounded (Rabinovich, 450). An Israeli D9 bulldozer with Israeli infantry breached a way to the peak, preventing the peak from falling into Syrian hands after the war. A paratrooper brigade took the corresponding Syrian outposts on the mountain.
The Battle of Latakia, a revolutionary naval battle between the Syrians and the Israelis, took place on October 7, the second day of the war, resulting in a resounding Israeli victory that proved the potency of small, fast missile boats equipped with advanced ECM packages. The battle also established the Israeli Navy, long derided as the
black sheep of the Israeli services, as a formidable and effective force in its own right.
Several other times during the War, the Israeli navy mounted small commando-style raids on Egyptian ports. The purpose of these raids was to destroy boats that were to be used by the Egyptians to ferry their own commandos behind Israeli lines.
Participation by other Arab states
Besides Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, many other Arab nations were involved in this war, providing additional weapons and financing. Exact amounts of support are uncertain.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait gave financial aid and sent some token forces to join in the battle. Morocco sent three brigades to the front lines; the Palestinians sent troops as well.
Pakistan sent sixteen pilots.
From 1971 to 1973, Muammar al-Qaddafi of Libya sent Mirage fighters and gave Egypt around $1 billion to arm for war. Algeria sent squadrons of fighters and bombers, armored brigades, and dozens of tanks. Tunisia sent over 1,000 soldiers, who worked with Egyptian forces in the Nile delta, and Sudan sent 3,500 soldiers.
The cease-fire and immediate aftermath
The United Nations passed a cease-fire, largely negotiated between the U.S. and Soviet Union, on October 22. It called for an end to the fighting between Israel and Egypt (but technically not between Syria and Israel). It came into effect 12 hours later at 6:52 PM Israeli
time. Because it went into effect after darkness, it was impossible for satellite surveillance to determine where the front lines were when the fighting was supposed to stop.
When the cease-fire began, the Israeli forces were just a few hundred meters short of their goal—the last road linking Cairo and Suez. During the night, the Egyptians broke the cease-fire in a number of locations, destroying nine Israeli tanks. In response, David Elazar requested permission to resume the drive south, and Moshe Dayan approved. The Israeli troops finished the drive south, captured the road, and trapped the Egyptian Third Army west of the Suez Canal.
The next morning, October 23, a flurry of diplomatic activity occurred. Soviet reconnaissance flights had confirmed that Israeli forces were moving south, and the Soviets accused the Israelis of treachery. In a phone call with Golda Meir, Henry Kissinger asked,
how can anyone ever know where a line is or was in the desert? Meir responded,
they'll know, all right. Kissinger found out shortly later about the trapped Egyptian
Kissinger realized the situation presented the United States with a tremendous opportunity—Egypt was totally dependent on the United States to prevent Israel from destroying its trapped army, which now had no access to food or water. The position could be parlayed later into allowing the United States to mediate the dispute, and push Egypt out of Soviet influences.
Kissinger had pushed Israel during the war to strike hard—harder, in fact, than it had initially been able to—in order to demonstrate its military superiority. But once the Israelis had begun smiting the Egyptians, he worked towards a speedy cease-fire that would leave the Egyptians with their dignity intact. Israel, in short, was to emerge quasi-victorious, not
As a result, the United States exerted tremendous pressure on the Israelis to refrain from destroying the trapped army, even threatening to support a UN resolution to force the Israelis to pull back to their October 22 positions if they did not allow non-military supplies to reach the army. In a phone call with Israeli ambassador Simcha Dinitz, Kissinger told the ambassador that the destruction of the Egyptian Third Army
is an option that does not exist
In the meantime, Brezhnev sent Nixon a letter in the middle of the night of October 23–24. In that letter, Brezhnev proposed that American and Soviet contingents be dispatched to ensure both sides honor the cease-fire. He also threatened that
I will say it straight that if you find it impossible to act jointly with us in this matter, we should be faced with the necessity urgently to consider taking appropriate steps unilaterally. We cannot allow arbitrariness on the part of
Israel. In short, the Soviets were threatening to intervene in the war on Egypt's side.
The message arrived after Nixon had gone to bed. Kissinger immediately called a meeting of senior officials, including Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, CIA Director William Colby, and White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig. The Watergate scandal had reached its apex, and Nixon was so agitated and discomposed that they decided to handle the matter without him:
When Kissinger asked Haig whether [Nixon] should be wakened, the White House chief of staff replied firmly 'No.' Haig clearly shared Kissinger's feelings that Nixon was in no shape to make weighty
The meeting produced a conciliatory response, which was sent (in Nixon's name) to Brezhnev. At the same time, it was decided to increase the Defense Condition (DEFCON) from four to three, the highest peacetime level. Lastly, they approved a message to Sadat (again, in Nixon's name) asking him to drop his request for Soviet assistance, and threatening that if the Soviets were to intervene, so would the United States.
The Soviets quickly detected the increased American defense condition, and were astonished and bewildered at the response.
Who could have imagined the Americans would be so easily
frightened, said Nikolai Podgorny. It is not reasonable to become engaged in a war with the United States because of Egypt and
Syria, said KGB chief Alexei Kosygin, while Yuri Andropov added that
We shall not unleash the Third World War. In the end, the Soviets reconciled themselves to an Arab defeat. The letter from the American cabinet arrived during the meeting. Brezhnev decided that the Americans were too nervous, and that the best course of action would be to wait to reply. The next morning, the Egyptians agreed to the American suggestion, and dropped their request for assistance from the Soviets, bringing the crisis to an end.
Northern front de-escalation
On the northern front, the Syrians had been preparing for a massive counter-attack, scheduled for October 23. In addition to Syria's five divisions, Iraq had supplied two, and there were smaller complements of troops from other Arab countries, including Jordan. The Soviets had replaced most of the losses Syria's tank forces had suffered during the first weeks of the war.
However, the day before the offensive was to begin, the United Nations imposed its cease-fire (following the acquiescence of both Israel and Egypt).
The acceptance by Egypt of the cease-fire on Monday [October 22] created a major dilemma for Assad. The cease-fire did not bind him, but its implications could not be ignored. Some on the Syrian General Staff favored going ahead with the attack, arguing that if it did so Egypt would feel obliged to continue fighting as well... Others, however, argued that continuation of the war would legitimize Israel's efforts to destroy the Egyptian Third Army. In that case, Egypt would not come to Syria's assistance when Israel turned its full might northward, destroying Syria's infrastructure and perhaps attacking
Ultimately, Assad decided to call off the offensive, and on October 23, Syria announced it had accepted the cease-fire, and the Iraqi government ordered its forces home.
Organized fighting on all fronts ended by October 26. The cease-fire did not end the sporadic clashes along the cease-fire lines, nor did it dissipate military tensions. With the third Army cut off and without any means of
re-supply, it was effectively a hostage to the Israelis.
Israel received Kissinger's threat to support a UN withdrawal resolution, but before they could respond, Egyptian national security advisor Hafez Ismail sent Kissinger a stunning message—Egypt was willing to enter into direct talks with the Israelis, provided that the Israelis agree to allow nonmilitary supplies to reach their army and agree to a complete cease-fire.
The talks took place on October 28, between Israeli Major General Aharon Yariv and Egyptian Major General Muhammad al-Ghani al-Gamasy. Ultimately, Kissinger brought the proposal to Sadat, who agreed almost without debate. United Nations checkpoints were brought in to replace Israeli checkpoints, nonmilitary supplies were allowed to pass, and prisoners-of-war were to be exchanged. A summit in Geneva followed, and ultimately, a peace agreement was worked out. On January 18, Israel signed a pullback agreement to the west side of the canal, and the last of their troops withdrew on March 5, 1974.
Shuttle diplomacy by Henry Kissinger eventually produced a disengagement agreement on May 31, 1974, based on exchange of prisoners-of-war, Israeli withdrawal to the Purple Line and the establishment of a UN buffer zone. The UN Disengagement and Observer Force (UNDOF) was established as a peacekeeping force in the Golan.
Long-term effects of the war
The peace discussion at the end of the war was the first time that Arab and Israeli officials met for direct public discussions since the aftermath of the 1948 war.
For the Arabs (and Egyptians in particular), the psychological trauma of their defeat in the Six-Day War had been healed. In many ways, it allowed them to negotiate with the Israelis as equals. However, given that the war had started about as well as the Arabs could have wanted but at the end they only made limited territorial gains in the Sinai front, while Israel gained more territory on the Golan Heights than it held before the war and also managed to gain a foothold on African soil east of the canal helped convince many in the Arab world that it could not be defeated militarily, thereby strengthening peace movements.
The war had a stunning effect on the population in Israel. Following their victory in the Six-Day War, the Israeli military had become complacent. The shock and sudden defeats that occurred at the beginning of the war sent a terrible psychological blow to the Israelis, who had thought they had military supremacy in the
region. However, in time, they began to realize that Reeling from a surprise attack on two fronts with the bulk of its army still
un-mobilized, and confronted by staggering new battlefield realities, Israel's situation was one that could readily bring strong nations to their knees. Yet, within days, it had regained its footing and within less than two weeks it was threatening both enemy
capitals, an achievement having few historical parallels. However, in Israel, the casualty rate was high. Per capita, Israel suffered as many casualties in 3 weeks of fighting as the United States did during almost a decade of fighting in Vietnam.
In response to U.S. support of Israel, OAPEC nations, the Arab members of OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, decided to reduce oil production by 5% per month on October 17, and threatened an embargo. President Nixon then appealed to Congress on October 18th for $2.2 billion for arms shipments to Israel. On October 20th, in the midst of the war, Saudi Arabia declared an embargo against the United States, later joined by other oil exporters and extended against the Netherlands and other states, causing the 1973 energy crisis.
Any hope among the Egyptian government that this war would distract the Egyptian population from internal grievances, were nullified by a massive destructive anti-government food riot in Cairo with the slogan
Yā batl al-`abūr, fēn al-futūr (Hero of the crossing, where is our