The Yom Kippur War (in Hebrew: Milchemet Yom HaKipurim, also known as the October War, the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, and the Ramadan War), was fought from October 6 (the day of Yom Kippur) to October 22/24, 1973, between Israel and a coalition of Egypt and Syria.
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 1967 Six-Day War. The plan to attack Israel in concert with Syria was code-named Operation Badr (the Arabic word for "full moon").
Egypt and Syria attempted to regain the territory Israeli forces gained during the 1967 war. Their armies launched a joint surprise attack on October 6 1973, well aware that it was Yom Kippur, the most significant Jewish holiday. Syrian forces attacked fortifications in the Golan Heights and Egyptian forces attacked fortifications around the Suez Canal and on the Sinai Peninsula. After three weeks of fighting, the IDF was able to hold off the advancing Arab armies and eventually push them back beyond the original lines.
According to Israeli accounts, 2,688 Israeli servicemen were killed in the war and several thousand more were wounded. 314 Israeli soldiers surrendered or were taken prisoner by the Arab forces (242 by Egypt, 68 by Syria and 4 in Lebanon). 8,783 Arab soldiers either surrendered or were captured by the Israelis (8,372 Egyptians, 392 Syrians, 13 Iraqis and 6 Moroccans). All POWs had been exchanged by mid-1974.
It is estimated that a total of around 19,000 Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis and Jordanians were also killed in this conflict. The Egyptian and Syrian air forces together with their air defences shot down 114 Israeli warplanes during the conflict for the loss of an estimated 442 of their own, including dozens which were accidentally shot down by their own surface-to-air missile batteries. During the war, the Barak Armored Brigade played an important role defending Israel's borders against the Syrian attack in the southern Golan Heights. 112 soldiers were killed in action there.
On October 22, a cease-fire was declared, but the Israeli public's confidence had been severely shaken. Israel had been unprepared for the surprise attack. The nation's lack of preparation was blamed on the Defence Minister Moshe Dayan and an outraged public demanded his resignation. The president of the Supreme Court set up a commission to investigate the performance of generals during the war. The commission recommended the resignation of the Chief of Staff, but reserved judgement on Dayan. In 1974 Dayan submitted his resignation to Golda Meir.
As a result of the Yom Kippur War, an international agency known as the Multi-National Force and Observers were established to monitor the ceasefire between Egypt and Israel and to patrol the border between the two nations. A special military decoration, the Multi-National Force and Observers Medal, was established for service members who performed border and security patrols along the Egyptian-Israeli border.
This war was part of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a conflict which has included many battles and wars since 1948. In the Six-Day War in June 1967, Israel captured the Golan Heights in the north and the Sinai Peninsula in the south, right up to the Suez Canal.
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.
In 1971 Anwar Sadat stated that if Israel were to unilaterally withdraw from all land it captured during the 1967 war, Egypt would consider a comprehensive ceasefire or truce. Israel was reluctant to withdraw without any guarantee of a peace treaty from Egypt.
In response, in 1972 Anwar Sadat publicly stated that Egypt was committed to going to war with the State of 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" ATGM (Anti-tank guided missile) from the Soviet Union and improving its military tactics.
In 1972 and 1973 Sadat publicly declared again that Egypt would go to war with Israel unless it unilaterally withdrew from all the territory it conquered in 1967. In 1973 Sadat went on a diplomatic offensive to convince African nations, European nations and the Soviet Union to back his war against Israel. Since the Soviet Union was trying to better relations with the US through détente, the Soviet Union refused to accede to Sadat's demands for yet more weapons and public backing for a war against Israel. In response, Sadat expelled some 20,000 Soviet advisers from Egypt.
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 US 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 threatened the Kremlin leaders that 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 because the Americans would have the upper hand in the region.
One of the undeclared objectives of the War of Attrition (after the 1967 war) was to force the Soviet Union to supply Egypt with more advanced arms and war material. 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 US had supplied to Israel.
President 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 US. 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 an interview published in Newsweek (April 9, 1973), President Sadat again threatened war with Israel. Several times during 1973, the Arab forces conducted large-scale exercises that put the Israeli army, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), 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.
Participation by Arab States
Other Arab nations were involved in this war, providing additional weapons and financing. Exact amounts of support are uncertain. According to some sources, Iraq sent a squadron of Hunter jets to Egypt. During the war itself, Iraq sent a division of 18,000 men, a few hundred tanks, which were deployed in the central Golan, and MiG fighter aircraft. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait also gave financial aid and sent some token forces to join in the battle. Saudi Arabia sent a small number of troops to Syria and a Jordanian armoured unit engaged Israeli forces in the Golan Heights.
From 1971 to 1973 Qadhafi's Libya sent Mirage fighters and gave Egypt some $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 defence forces in the Nile Delta. Sudan sent 3,500 soldiers; Morocco sent three brigades to the front lines.
On the Golan Heights
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.
Over three 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 north soon turned, as the arriving Israeli reserve forces were able to contain 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. The Israelis gave the northern front first priority for their still-mobilizing reserves. By October 11, under the command of armor General Moshe Peled , the Syrians were pushed back beyond the 1967 frontier.
In the following days, the Israeli forces pushed into Syria. From there they were able to shell the outskirts of Damascus, from only 40 km away, using heavy artillery. Meanwhile, the Golani Brigade recaptured the outpost on Mount Hermon and an Israeli D9 bulldozer with Israeli infantry breached a way to the peak, preventing it from falling into Syrian hands after the war. A ceasefire was negotiated on October 22, based on a return to pre-war borders.
In response to the Israeli success and the United Nations support of Israel, on October 17 the Arab states declared an oil embargo against the west.
In the Sinai
The Egyptian army surprised many by breaching the Israeli defences and quickly crossing the Suez Canal in what became known as The Crossing. The Egyptian forces advanced approximately 15 km into the Sinai desert with the combined forces of two army corps. They were opposed by the Israeli "Sinai" division. The Israeli counter-attacks in the air and on land were successful despite the Egyptian army being equipped with new anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. Although the Egyptians had initial success in crossing the Suez Canal they met strong opposition as the Israeli reserves began to emerge on the frontlines. The Egyptian forces were now thinly spread along the Canal and vulnerable to a counter-attack.
On October 15, a division led by Major General Ariel Sharon managed to breach the line between the Second and the Third Egyptian armies and create a bridgehead; on the night of October 16/17, an Israeli bridge was deployed across the Suez Canal. The divisions of Avraham "Bren" Eden and Sharon passed over this bridge onto Egyptian soil in Africa, advancing to within 101 kilometers of Cairo, its capital. They were able to cut off the supply lines of the Egyptian Third Army, stretching to the south, and soon after began encircling them. With the Third Army being cut off and surrounded, only the intervention of the USSR and the United States saved it from imminent destruction.
The ceasefire did not end the sporadic clashes along the ceasefire lines, nor did it dissipate military tensions. On March 5, 1974, Israeli forces withdrew from the Suez Canal's west bank, and returned control to Egypt. Syria and Israel signed a disengagement agreement on May 31, 1974, and the UN Disengagement and Observer Force (UNDOF) was established as a peacekeeping force in the Golan.
U.S. efforts resulted in an interim agreement between Egypt and Israel in September 1975, which provided for another Israeli withdrawal in the Sinai, a limitation of forces, and three observation stations staffed by U.S. civilians in a UN-maintained buffer zone between Egyptian and Israeli forces.
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.
Last updated: 05-18-2005 19:06:55