YOM KIPPUR WAR
YOM KIPPUR WAR
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The Yom Kippur War, Ramadan War or October War (Hebrew: מלחמת יום הכיפורים; transliterated: Milẖemet Yom HaKipurim or מלחמת יום כיפור, Milẖemet Yom Kipur; Arabic: حرب أكتوبر; transliterated: ħarb Aktoobaror حرب تشرين, ħarb Tishrin), also known as the 1973 Arab-Israeli Warand the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, was fought from October 6 to 25, 1973, between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egyptand Syria. The war began when the coalition launched a joint surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, which coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Egyptian and Syrian forces crossed ceasefire lines to enter the Israeli-held Sinai Peninsulaand Golan Heights respectively, which had been captured and occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War. The conflict led to a near-confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers, the United States and theSoviet Union, both of whom initiated massive resupply efforts to their allies during the war.
The war began with a massive and successful Egyptian crossing of the Suez Canalduring the first three days, after which they dug in, settling into a stalemate. The Syrians coordinated their attack on the Golan Heights to coincide with the Egyptian offensive and initially made threatening gains against the greatly outnumbered defenders. Within a week, Israel recovered and launched a four-day counter-offensive, driving deep into Syria. To relieve this pressure, the Egyptians went back on the offensive, but were decisively defeated; the Israelis then counterattacked at the seam between two Egyptian armies, crossed the Suez Canal, and advanced southward and westward in over a week of heavy fighting. An October 22 United Nations-brokered ceasefire quickly unraveled, with each side blaming the other for the breach. By 24 October, the Israelis had improved their positions considerably and completed their encirclement of Egypt’s Third Army. This development prompted superpower tension, but a second ceasefire was imposed cooperatively on October 25 to end the war. At the conclusion of hostilities, Israeli forces were 40 kilometres (25 mi) from Damascus and 101 kilometres (63 mi) from Cairo.
The war had far-reaching implications. The Arab World, which had been humiliated by the lopsided rout of the Egyptian-Syrian-Jordanian alliance in the Six-Day War, felt psychologically vindicated by early successes in the conflict. In Israel, despite impressive operational and tactical achievements on the battlefield, the war effectively ended its sense of invincibility and complacency. The war also challenged many American assumptions; the United States initiated new efforts at mediation and peacemaking. These changes paved the way for the subsequent peace process. The Camp David Accords that followed led to the return of the Sinai to Egypt and normalized relations—the first peaceful recognition of Israel by an Arab country. Egypt continued its drift away from the Soviet Union and left the Soviet sphere of influence entirely.
|Yom Kippur War/October War|
|Part of the Arab-Israeli conflict|
|Egyptian forces crossing the Suez Canal on October 7|
Major Arab Expeditionary Forces:
|Commanders and leaders|
|Ahmad Ismail Ali
Saad El Shazly
Abdel Ghani el-Gammasy
|Egypt: 650,000–800,000 troops, 1,700 tanks (1,020 crossed),2,400 armored carriers, 1,120 artillery units, 400 combat aircraft, 140 helicopters,104 Navy vessels, 150 surface to air missile batteries (62 in the front line)
Syria: 150,000 troops, 1,200 tanks, 800–900 armored carriers, 600 artillery units,
Expeditionary Forces*: 100,000 troops, 500-670 tanks,700 armored carriers
3,000 armored carriers,
945 artillery units,
440 combat aircraft,
|Casualties and losses|
The war was part of the Arab-Israeli conflict, an ongoing dispute which included many battles and wars since 1948, when the state of Israel was formed. During the Six-Day War of 1967, the Israelis captured Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula all the way to the Suez Canal, which became the cease-fire line, and roughly half of Syria’s Golan Heights.
AN ARMOURED UNIT STARTING OUT AT DAWN IN SINAI.
According to Chaim Herzog:
On June 19, 1967, the National Unity Government of Israel voted unanimously to return the Sinai to Egypt and the Golan Heights to Syria in return for peace agreements. The Golan would have to be demilitarized and special arrangement would be negotiated for the Straits of Tiran. The government also resolved to open negotiations with King Hussein of Jordan regarding the Eastern border.
ISRAELI ARMOUR BOMBARDING THE BRIDGES IN TSHE SOUTHERN SECTOR OF THE SUEZ CANAL.
The Israeli decision was to be conveyed to the Arab states by the U.S. government. The U.S. was informed of the decision, but not that it was to transmit it. There is no evidence it was conveyed to Egypt or Syria. The decision was kept a closely guarded secret within Israeli government circles and the offer was withdrawn in October 1967.
ISRAELI ARMOUR ADVANCING UNDER AIR COVER DURING THE BATTLE FOR THE BREAKTHROUGH ACROSS THE SUEZ CANAL.
Egypt and Syria both desired a return of the land lost in the Six-Day War. In September 1967, the Khartoum Arab Summit issued the “three no’s”, resolving that there would be “no peace, no recognition and no negotiation with Israel”. In the years following the 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 Chaim Bar-Lev.
AN EGYPTIAN MIG IN FLAMES OVER THE BATTLE-FRONT ON THE WEST BANK OF THE SUEZ CANAL.
President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt died in September 1970. He was succeeded by Anwar Sadat, who resolved to win back the lost territory. 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 lines.
MIG 21 IN THE SUEZ CANAL AREA.
Sadat hoped that by inflicting even a limited defeat on the Israelis, the status quo could be altered. Hafez al-Assad, the leader 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. After the Six-Day War, Assad had launched a massive military buildup 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 Israel 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.
HIT EGYPTIAN MIG 21 DIVING TOWARDS THE GROUND IN THE SUEZ CANAL AREA.
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 was highly upset that Sadat had not launched one in his first three years in office.
THE EGYPTIAN MIG 21 EXPLODING ON THE GROUND.
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, in which Jordan had been halved in population. Sadat was also backing the claim of the PLO to the 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, estranging Hussein.
THE EGYPTINA PILOT OF THE HIT MIG 21 PARACHUTING TO THE GROUND.
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 because of 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 favour in Europe and had some success before the war. Britain and France for the first time sided with the Arab powers against Israel on the United Nations Security Council.
ISRAELI 175 MM GUNS GIVING ARTILLERY SUPPORT DURING THE CROSSING OF THE SUEZ CANAL.
Events leading up to the war
Following Israel’s rejection of Sadat’s peace initiative, which had proposed a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-67 borders in exchange for a non-belligerency pact, Sadat declared that Egypt was prepared to “sacrifice a million Egyptian soldiers” to recover its lost territory. From the end of 1972, Egypt began a concentrated effort to build up its forces, receiving MiG-21 jet fighters, SA-2, SA-3, SA-6 and SA-7antiaircraft missiles, T-55 and T-62 tanks, RPG-7 antitank weapons, and the AT-3 Sagger anti-tank guided missile from the Soviet Union and improving its military tactics, based on Soviet battlefield doctrines. Political generals, who had in large part been responsible for the rout in 1967, were replaced with competent ones.
A KATYUSHA BATTERY FIRING ROCKETS AGAINST EGYPTIAN POSITIONS ON THE WEST BANK OF THE CANAL.
The role of the superpowers, 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. President Nasser was only able to obtain the material for an anti-aircraft missile defense wall after visitingMoscow and pleading with Kremlin leaders. He said 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 matériel. Egypt felt the only way to convince the Soviet leaders of the deficiencies of most of the aircraft and air defense weaponry supplied to Egypt following 1967 was to put the Soviet weapons to the test against the advanced weaponry the United States had supplied to Israel.
YOM KIPPUR WAR. MEDICAL ORDERLIES EVACUATING CASUALTIES IN SINAI.
Nasser’s policy following the 1967 defeat conflicted with that of the Soviet Union. The Soviets sought 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.
MEDICAL ORDERLIES EVACUATING CASUALTIES IN SINAI.
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 Soviets from Egypt. In July 1972, Sadat expelled almost all of the 20,000 Soviet military advisers in the country and reoriented the country’s foreign policy to be more favorable to the United States. The Syrians remained close to the Soviet Union.
A SOLDIER USING HIS TEETH TO OPEN POP BOTTLES IN THE FIELD IN SOUTHERN SINAI
The Soviets thought little of Sadat’s chances in any war. They warned that any attempt to cross the heavily fortified Suez Canal would incur massive losses. Both the Soviets and the Americans were then pursuingdétente, and had no interest in seeing the Middle East destabilized. In a June 1973 meeting with U.S. President Richard Nixon, Soviet leader Leonid 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.
SOLDIER WRITING A LETTER HOME.
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 (IAF) could repel it.
SOLDIERS CATCHING A FEW MINUTES OF SLEEP DURING A STOP-OVER IN SINAI.
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 had begun in 1971 and was conducted 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 (Arabic for “full moon“), after theBattle of Badr, in which Muslims under Muhammad defeated the Quraish tribe of Mecca.
SOLDIERS RESTING IN THE SHADE OF THEIR TROOP-CARRIER IN THE DESERT IN SINAI. 43075
Lead-up to the surprise attack
The Israel Defense Forces Directorate of Military Intelligence‘s (abbreviated as “Aman”) Research Department was responsible for formulating Israel’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 did so as well. Second, the department learned from a high-level Egyptian informant,Ashraf Marwan, that Egypt wanted to regain all of the Sinai, but would not go to war until they were supplied MiG-23fighter-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.
DAMAGED EGYPTIAN TANKS ABANDONED IN THE DESERT IN SINAI.
Since they had not received MiG-23s, and Scud missiles had only arrived in Egypt from Bulgaria in late August and it would take four 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 prejudiced the department’s thinking and led it to dismiss other war warnings.
AN ISRAELI DOCTOR TAKING CARE OF AN EGYPTIAN PRISONER OF WAR IN SINAI.
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 reduced the effectiveness of the Egyptian 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.
AN ISRAELI SOLDIER TAKING PRISONERS TO AN ENCLAVE IN SINAI.
The Egyptians made repeated misleading reports about lack of spare parts that also made their way to the Israelis. Sadat had so long engaged in brinkmanship that his frequent war threats were being ignored by the world. In May and August 1973, the Egyptian army conducted military exercises near the border, and the Israeli army mobilized in response both times at considerable cost.
EGYPTIAN PRISONERS OF WAR TAKEN ON AN ISRAELI BASE ON THE WEST BANK OF THE SUEZ CANAL
For the week leading up to Yom Kippur, the Egyptian army staged a week-long training exercise adjacent to the Suez Canal. Israeli intelligence, detecting large troop movements towards the canal, dismissed these movements as mere training exercises. Movements of Syrian troops towards the border were puzzling, but not a threat because, Aman believed, they would not attack without Egypt and Egypt would not attack until the weaponry they wanted arrived.
A SUPPLY-CONVOY CROSSING ONE OF THE BRIDGES TO THE WEST BANK OF THE SUEZ CANAL.
On September 27 and 30, two batches of reservists were called up by the Egyptian army to participate in these exercises. Two days before the outbreak of the war, on October 4, the Egyptian command publicly announced the demobilization of part of the reservists called up during September 27 to lull suspicion on the Israeli side. Around 20,000 troops were demobilized, and subsequently some of these men were given leave to perform the Umrah (pilgrimage) to Mecca.
ISRAELI TROOPS DUG IN ON THE WEST BANK OF THE CANAL.
The obvious reason for choosing the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur to stage a surprise attack on Israel was that on this specific holiday (unlike any other) the country comes to a complete standstill. Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar; both religiously observant Jews and most of the secular majority fast, abstain from any use of fire, electricity, engines, communications, etc., and all road traffic ceases.
FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF HAIM BAR- LEV (LEFT) CONSULTS WITH MAJ. GEN. ARIEL SHARON (WITH BANDAGE) DURING THE YOM KIPPUR WAR.
Many soldiers also go home from military facilities for the holiday, and Israel is more vulnerable with much of its military on leave. The war coincided that year with the Muslim month of Ramadan, when many Arab Muslim soldiers also fast. Other analysts believe that the attack on Yom Kippur actually helped Israel to more easily marshal reserves from their homes and synagogues, because the nature of the holiday meant that roads and communication were largely open and this eased mobilizing and transporting the military.
ISRAELI PARATROOPERS MARCHING ALONG THE SUEZ-CAIRO ROAD ON THE WEST BANK.
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.”
AN ISRAELI ARMY UNIT RECOVERING SAM 3 MISSILES.
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 anything that was not already known. “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 War].” Finally, Zvi Zamir personally went to Europe to meet with Marwan at midnight on October 5/6. Marwan informed him that a joint Syrian-Egyptian attack was imminent.
FRAGMENTS OF DESTROYED MISSILES AT AN EGYPTIAN SAM 2 BASE.
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.
A DESTROYED RADAR MISSILE-GUIDING UNIT ON THE WEST BANK.
The attack by the Egyptian and Syrian forces caught the United States by surprise. According to the future CIA Director and Defence SecretaryRobert Gates, he was briefing a US arms negotiator on the improbability of armed conflict in the region when he heard the news of the outbreak of war on the radio. On the other hand, KGB learned about the attack in advance, probably from its intelligence sources in Egypt.
ISRAELI SOLDIERS LOOKING AT A SAM 2 MISSILE ON THE WEST BANK OF THE SUEZ CANAL.
Lack of Israeli pre-emptive attack
The 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, in the worst case, about 48 hours notice prior to an Arab attack.
ISRAELI ARMY ENGINEERS RECOVERING SAM 3 MISSILES ON THE WEST BANK OF THE SUEZ CANAL
Dayan opened 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 p.m., and Syrian ground forces at 5:00 p.m. “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. Other developed nations, being more dependent on OPEC oil, took more seriously the threat of an Arab oil embargo and trade boycott, and had stopped supplying Israel with munitions.
ARMY RESERVISTS POSING AT ONE OF THE EGYPTIAN MISSILES SITES ONT THE WEST BANK OF THE SUEZ CANAL.
As a result, Israel was totally dependent on the United States for military resupply, and particularly sensitive to anything that might endanger that relationship. After Meir made her decision, at 10:15 a.m. she met with US ambassadorKenneth Keating in order to inform the United States that Israel did not intend to preemptively start a war, and asked that US efforts be directed at preventing war.
A SAM 2 MISSILE ON ITS PAD ON THE WEST BANK OF THE CANAL.
An electronic telegram with Keating’s report on the meeting was sent to the US at 16:33 GMT (6:33 p.m. local time). A message arrived later fromUnited States Secretary of State Henry Kissingersaying, “Don’t preempt. At the same time, Kissinger also urged the Soviets to use their influence to prevent war, contacted Egypt with Israel’s message of non-preemption, and sent messages to other Arab governments to enlist their help on the side of moderation. These late efforts were futile.According to Henry Kissinger, had Israel struck first, they would not have received “so much as a nail.
David Elazar proposed a mobilization of the entire Air Force and four armored divisions, a total of 100,000 to 120,000 troops, while Dayan favored a mobilization of the Air Force and two armored divisions, totaling around 70,000 troops. Meir chose Elazar’s proposal.
In the Sinai
The Sinai was once again the arena of conflict between the Israelis and the Egyptians, the fifth such occasion. The Egyptians had prepared for an assault across the canal and deployed five divisions totaling 100,000 soldiers, 1,350 tanks and 2,000 guns and heavy mortars for the onslaught. Facing them were 450 soldiers of the Jerusalem Brigade, spread out in 16 forts along the length of the Canal. There were 290 Israeli tanks in all of Sinai divided into three armored brigades, and only one of these was deployed near the Canal when hostilities commenced.
Large bridgeheads were established on the east bank on October 6. Israeli armoured forces launched counterattacks from October 6 to 8, but they were often piecemeal and inadequately supported and were beaten back principally by Egyptians using portable anti-tank missiles.
The Egyptian units generally would not advance beyond a shallow strip for fear of losing the protection of their surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries, which were situated on the west bank of the canal. In the Six-Day War, the Israeli Air Force had pummelled the defenseless Arab armies. Egypt (and Syria) had heavily fortified their side of the ceasefire lines with SAM batteries provided by the Soviet Union, against which the Israeli Air Force had no time to execute a SEADoperation due to the element of surprise. Israel, which had invested much of its defense budget building the region’s strongest air force, would see the effectiveness of its air force curtailed in the initial phases of the conflict by the SAM presence.
On October 9, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chose to concentrate its reserves and build up its supplies while the Egyptians remained on the strategic defensive. It was decided to counterattack once Egyptian armour attempted to expand the bridgehead beyond the protective SAM umbrella. The riposte, codenamed Operation Gazelle, was launched on October 15. IDF forces spearheaded by Ariel Sharon‘s division broke through the Tasa corridor and crossed the Suez Canal to the north of the Great Bitter Lake.
After intense fighting, Israeli progress towards Cairo was brought to a halt while the IDF advanced southwards on the east bank of the Great Bitter Lake and in the southern extent of the canal right up to Port Suez when the ceasefire was declared on October 24.
Anticipating a swift Israeli armored counterattack by three armored divisions, the Egyptians had armed their assault force with large numbers of man-portable anti-tank weapons—rocket-propelled grenades and the less numerous but more advanced Sagger guided missiles, which proved devastating to the first Israeli armored counterattacks. Each of the five infantry divisions that was to cross the canal had been equipped with RPG-7 rockets and RPG-43 grenades, and reinforced with an anti-tank guided missile battalion, as they would not have any armor support for nearly 12 hours.In addition, the Egyptians had built separate ramps at the crossing points, reaching as high as 21 metres (69 ft) to counter the Israeli sand wall, provide covering fire for the assaulting infantry and to counter the first Israeli armored counterattacks. The scale and effectiveness of the Egyptian strategy of deploying these anti-tank weapons coupled with the Israelis’ inability to disrupt their use with close air support (due to the SAM shield) greatly contributed to Israeli setbacks early in the war.
The 1973 War in the Sinai, October 6–15.
The Egyptian army put great effort into finding a quick and effective way of breaching the Israeli defenses. The Israelis had built large 18 meter (59 foot) high sand walls with a 60 degree slope and reinforced with concrete at the water line. Egyptian engineers initially experimented with explosive charges and bulldozers to clear the obstacles, before a junior officer proposed using high pressure water cannons. The idea was tested and found to be a sound one, and several high pressure water cannons were imported from Britain and East Germany.
The water cannons effectively breached the sand walls using water from the canal.At 2:00 pm on October 6, Operation Badr began with a large airstrike. More than 200 Egyptian aircraft conducted simultaneous strikes against three airbases, Hawk missile batteries, three command centers, artillery positions, and several radar installations.Airfields atRefidim and Bir Tamada were temporarily put out of service, and damage was inflicted on a Hawk battery at Ophir. The aerial assault was coupled with a barrage from more than 2,000 artillery pieces for a period of 53 minutes against the Bar Lev Line and rear area command posts and concentration bases.
Wreckage of an EgyptianSukhoi Su-7 on display at the Israeli Air Force Museum in Hatzerim. The aircraft was shot down on October 6, 1973 during a strike mission over Sinai.
Israeli air defenses took a toll on the Egyptian Air Force. Egypt acknowledged the loss of five aircraft during the air strike, and Andrew McGregor states that the success of the first strike negated the need for a second planned strike. The airstrike’s effectiveness, however, was questioned by Pollack, who notes that 18 Egyptian aircraft were shot down for no Israeli losses and that these losses prompted the cancellation of the second planned wave. Saad El Shazlyacknowledged that the Egyptians lost 15 planes. In one notable engagement during this period, a pair of Israeli F-4E Phantomschallenged 28 MiGs over Sharm el-Sheikh and within half an hour, shot down between seven and eight Egyptian MiGs with no losses.
Israeli F-4E Phantom of the type present in the dogfight over Sharm el-Sheikh. Flag markings on nose credit the plane with 3 combat kills.
Under cover of the initial artillery barrage, the Egyptian assault force of 32,000 infantry began crossing the canal in twelve waves at five separate crossing areas, from 14:05 to 17:30, in what became known as The Crossing. The Egyptians prevented Israeli forces from reinforcing the Bar Lev Line and proceeded to attack the Israeli fortifications.
BAR LEV LINE
The Bar Lev Line (Hebrew: קו בר לב, Kav Bar Lev; Arabic: خط برليف, Khaṭṭ Barlīf) was a chain of fortifications built by Israel along the eastern coast of the Suez Canal after it captured the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt during the 1967 Six-Day War.
The Bar Lev Line evolved from a group of rudimentary fortifications placed along the canal line. In response to Egyptian artillery bombardments during the War of Attrition, Israel developed the fortifications into an elaborate defense system spanning 160 kilometers along Suez Canal, with the exception of the Great Bitter Lake (where a canal crossing was unlikely due to the width of the lake). The Bar Lev Line was designed to defend against any major Egyptian assault across the canal, and was expected to function as a “graveyard for Egyptian troops”.
The line, costing around $300 million in 1973, was named after Israeli Chief of Staff Haim Bar-Lev. The line was built at the Suez Canal, a unique water barrier that Moshe Dayan described as “one of the best anti-tank ditches in the world.” The line incorporated a massive, continuous sand wall lining the entire canal (except for the Bitter Lake), and was supported by a concrete wall. The sand wall varied in height from 20-25 meters, at a 45-65 degree incline. The sand wall and its concrete support prevented any armored or amphibious units from landing on the east bank of the Suez Canal without prior engineering preparations. Israeli planners estimated it would take at least 24 hours, probably a full 48 hours for the Egyptians to breach the sand wall and establish a bridge across the canal.
Immediately behind this sand wall was the front line of Israeli fortifications. Following the War of Attrition the total number of fortifications was 22, and these incorporated 35 strongpoints. The fortifications were designed to be manned by a platoon. The strongpoints, built several stories into the sand, were on average distanced less than five kilometers from each other, but at likely crossing points they were less than 900 meters apart. The strongpoints incorporated trenches, minefields, barbed wire and a sand embankment. Major strongpoints had up to 26 bunkers with medium and heavy machineguns, 24 troop shelters, six mortar positions, four bunkers housing anti-aircraft weapons, and three firing positions for tanks. The strongpoints were surrounded by nearly fifteen circles of barbed wire and minefields to a depth of 200 meters. A strongpoint’s perimeter averaged 200 by 350 meters. The bunkers and shelters provided protection against anything under 1,000 pound bombs, and offered luxuries to the defenders such as air conditioning. Between 500-1,000 meters behind the canal were prepared firing positions designed to be occupied by tanks to support the strongpoints. Some of the names of the strongpoints were Tasa, Maftzach, Milano, Mezach, Chizayon, Mifreket, Orcal, Budapest (the largest), Nisan, Lituf, Chashiva.Behind the forward canal-line of fortifications were eleven strongholds 5-8 kilometers behind the canal, built along sandy hills. Each stronghold was designed to hold a company of troops.To take advantage of the water obstacle, the Israelis installed an underwater pipe system to pump flammable crude oil into the Suez Canal to create a sheet of flame. Some Israeli sources claim the system was unreliable and only a few of taps were operational. Nevertheless, the Egyptians took this threat seriously, and on the eve of the war, during the late evening of 5 October, teams of Egyptianfrogmen blocked the underwater openings with concrete.
To support the Bar Lev Line, Israel built an elaborate system of roads. Three main roads ran north-south. The first was Lexicon Road (Infantry Road), running along the canal, which allowed the Israelis to move between the fortifications and conduct patrols. The second was Artillery Road, around 10-12 kilometers from the canal. Its name came from the twenty artillery and air defense positions that were located on the road. It also linked armored concentration areas and logistical bases. Lateral Road (Supply Road), thirty kilometers from the canal, was meant to allow the concentration of Israeli operational reserves which, in case of an Egyptian offensive, would counterattack the main Egyptian assault. A number of other roads running east to west, Quantara Road, Hemingway Road, and Jerusalem Road, were designed to facilitate the movement of Israeli troops towards the canal.
The defense of the Sinai depended upon two plans, Dovecoat (שׁוֹבָךְ יוֹנִים/Shovakh Yonim) and Rock (סֶלַע/Sela). In both plans, the Israeli General Staff expected the Bar-Lev Line to serve as a “stop line” or kav atzira— a defensive line that had to be held at all cost. As noted by an Israeli colonel shortly after the War of Attrition, “The line was created to provide military answers to two basic needs: first, to prevent the possibility of a major Egyptian assault on Sinai with the consequent creation of a bridgehead which could lead to all-out war; and, second, to reduce as much as possible the casualties among the defending troops.”
Israeli planning was based on a 48-hour advance warning by intelligence services of impending Egyptian attack. During these 48-hours, the Israeli Air Force would assault enemy air defense systems while Israeli forces deployed as planned. The Israelis expected an Egyptian attack would be defeated by armored brigades supported by the superior Israeli Air Force.
Dovecoat tasked a regular armored division to the defense of the Sinai. The division was supported by an additional tank battalion, twelve infantry companies and seventeen artillery batteries. This gave a total of over 300 tanks, 70 artillery guns, and 18,000 troops. These forces, which represented the Sinai garrison, were tasked with the mission of defeating an Egyptian crossing at or near the canal line. It called for around 800 soldiers to man the forward fortifications on the canal line. Meanwhile, along Artillery Road, a brigade of 110 tanks was stationed with the objective of advancing and occupying the firing positions and tanks ramparts along the canal in case of an Egyptian attack. There were two additional armored brigades, one to reinforce the forward brigade, and the other to counterattack the main Egyptian attack.
Should the regular armored division proved incapable of repulsing the Egyptian attack, the Israeli army would activate Rock, mobilizing two reserve armored divisions with support elements; implementation of Rock signified a major war.
Egyptian military intelligence photo of a Bar lev line strong point,
Meanwhile engineers crossed over to breach the sand wall. The Israeli air force conducted air interdiction operations to try to prevent the bridges from being erected, but were met with heavy resistance from SAM batteries. These attacks were overall ineffective, as the sectional design of the bridges enabled quick repair.
suez canal / bar–lev line. scene from the 360 degree rotating panorama
Despite fierce Israeli resistance, the Israeli reserve brigade garrisoning the Bar-Lev forts was overwhelmed, and according to Shazly, within six hours, fifteen strongpoints had been captured as Egyptian forces advanced several kilometers unto the Sinai.
Shazly’s account is disputed by Kenneth Pollack, who notes that for the most part, the forts only fell to repeated assaults by superior forces or prolonged sieges over many days.The northernmost fortification of the Bar Lev Line, code-named ‘Fort Budapest‘, withstood repeated assaults and remained in Israeli hands throughout the war.
IDF prisoners of war in one of the fortifications of the Israeli Bar Lev Line. In the background is an Israeli M60 tank.
Once the bridges were laid, additional infantry with the remaining portable and recoilless anti-tank weapons began to cross the canal, while the first Egyptian tanks started to cross at 20:30.
The Egyptians also attempted to land several heli-borne commando units in various areas in the Sinai to hamper the arrival of Israeli reserves. However, this attempt met with disaster as the Israelis shot down up to twenty helicopters, inflicting massive losses. Israeli Major General (res.) Chaim Herzog placed Egyptian helicopter losses at fourteen. Still, other sources claim that “several” helicopters were downed with “total loss of life” and that the few commandos that did filter through were ineffectual and presented nothing more than a “nuisance.” However, Kenneth Pollack asserts that despite their heavy losses, the Egyptian commandos fought exceptionally hard and created considerable panic, prompting the Israelis to take precautions which hindered their ability to concentrate on stopping the assault across the canal.
Egyptian forces advanced approximately 4 to 5 km into the Sinai Desert with two armies (both corps-sized by western standards, included the 2nd Infantry Division in the northern Second Army). By the following morning, some 850 tanks had crossed the canal. In his account of the war, Saad El Shazly notes that the crossing cost the Egyptians 280 soldiers killed and 20 tanks destroyed, though this account is disputed. Israeli forces defending the Bar Lev Line suffered heavy casualties. For the next several days, the IAF played a minimal role in the fighting largely because it was needed to deal with the simultaneous, and ultimately more threatening, Syrian invasion of the Golan Heights.
Egyptian forces then consolidated their initial positions. On October 7, the bridgeheads were enlarged an additional 4 km, at the same time repulsing Israeli counterattacks. In the north, the Egyptians managed to seize most of the town of Qantara by evening, clearing it completely by the next morning.
Meanwhile the Egyptian commandos airdropped on October 6 began encountering Israeli reserves the following morning. Both sides suffered heavy losses, but the commandos were at times successful in delaying the movement of Israeli reserves to the front. These special operations often led to confusion and anxiety among Israeli commanders, who commended the Egyptian commandos. However, this view is contradicted by another source which states that few commandos made it to their objectives, and were usually nothing more than a nuisance. Of the 1,700 Egyptian commandos inserted behind Israeli lines during the war, 740 were killed — many in downed helicopters — and 330 taken prisoner.
An Israeli M60 Patton tank destroyed in the Sinai
On October 7, David Elazar visited Shmuel Gonen, commander of the Israeli Southern front—who had only taken the position three months before at the retirement of Ariel Sharon—and met with Israeli commanders. The Israelis planned a cautious counterattack for the following day byAbraham Adan‘s 162nd Armored Division. On October 8 however, after Elazar had left, Gonen changed the plans on the basis of over-optimistic field reports. Adan’s division was composed of three brigades totaling 183 tanks. One of the brigades was in still en route to the area, and would participate in the attack by noon, along with a supporting mechanized infantry brigade with an additional 44 tanks. The Israeli counterattack was in the direction of the Bar Lev strongpoints opposite the town of Ismailia, against entrenched Egyptian infantry. In a series of ill-coordinated attacks, which were met by stiff resistance, the Israelis suffered heavy losses. That afternoon, Egyptian forces advanced once more to deepen their bridgeheads, and as a result the Israelis lost several strategic positions. Further Israeli attacks to regain the lost ground proved futile. Towards nightfall, an Egyptian counterattack was repulsed by the Israeli 143rd Armoured Division, which was led by Ariel Sharon—Sharon had been reinstated as a division commander at the outset of the war. Garwych, citing Egyptian sources, documents Egyptian tank losses from October 6 through 13 at 240.
According to Herzog, by October 9 the front lines had stabilized and the Egyptians were unable to advance further, and that Egyptian armored attacks on October 9 and 10 were repulsed with heavy losses. However, this claim is disputed by Shazly, who states that the Egyptians continued to advance and improve their positions well into October 10. He points to one engagement, which involved elements of the 1st Infantry Brigade, attached to the 19th Division, which captured Ayoun Mousa, south of Suez. However, both Herzog and Shazly mention a failed Egyptian attack southward along the Gulf of Suez in the direction of Ras Sudar by the Egyptian 1st Mechanized Brigade. Leaving the safety of the SAM umbrella, the force fell victim to the Israeli Air Force and suffered severe losses. Shazly cited this experience as a basis to resist pressure by Minister of War, General Ahmad Ismail Ali to attack eastward toward the Mitla and Gidi Passes.
With the situation on the Syrian front stabilizing, the Israeli high command agreed that the time was ripe for an Israeli counterattack and strike across the canal. General Sharon advocated an immediate crossing at Deversoir at the northern edge of Great Bitter Lake. On October 9, a reconnaissance force attached to Colonel Amnon Reshef’s Brigade detected a gap between the Egyptian Second and Third armies in this sector. Chief of Staff Elazar and General Chaim Bar-Lev, who had by now replaced Gonen as Chief of Southern Command, agreed that this was the ideal spot for a crossing. However, given the size of the Egyptian armoured reserves, the Israelis chose to wait for an opportunity which would allow them to reduce Egyptian armored strength before initiating any crossing.
The opportunity arrived on October 12, when Israeli intelligence detected signs that the Egyptians were gearing up for a major armored thrust. This was precisely the moment the Israelis were waiting for. They could finally utilize their advantages in speed, maneuver and tank gunnery, areas in which they excelled. Once Egyptian armored strength was sufficiently degraded, the Israelis would commence their own canal crossing. General Shazly strongly opposed any eastward advance that would leave his armor without adequate air cover. He was overruled by General Ismail and Sadat, whose aims were to seize the strategic Mitla and Gidi Passes and the Israeli nerve centre at Refidim, which they hoped would relieve pressure on the Syrians (who were by now on the defensive) by forcing Israel to shift divisions from the Golan to the Sinai.
The 1973 War in the Sinai, October 15–24.
The 2nd and 3rd Armies were ordered to attack eastward in six simultaneous thrusts over a broad front, leaving behind five infantry divisions to hold the bridgeheads. The attacking forces, consisting of 800-1,000 tanks would not have SAM cover, so theEgyptian Air Force(EAF) was tasked with the defense of these forces from Israeli air attacks. Armored and mechanized units began the attack on October 14 with artillery support. They were up against 700-750 Israeli tanks. Preparatory to the tank attack, Egyptian helicopters set down 100 commandos near the Lateral Road to disrupt the Israeli rear. An Israeli reconnaissance unit quickly subdued them, killing 60 and taking numerous prisoners. Still bruised by the extensive losses their commandos had suffered on the opening day of the war, the Egyptians were unable or unwilling to implement further commando operations that had been planned in conjunction with the armored attack. ”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 wadithrust, they had expended them in head-on attack against the waiting Israeli brigades.”
Kenneth Pollack credits a successful Israeli commando raid early on October 14 against an Egyptian signals-intercept site at Jebel Ataqah with seriously disrupting Egyptian command and control and contributing to its breakdown during the engagement. The Egyptian attack was decisively repelled. Whatever the reasons for the Egyptian failure, one thing remains clear, the decidedly lop-sided result in Israel’s favor represented a turning point on the southern front. No fewer than 250 Egyptian tanks and some 200 armored vehicleswere destroyed. Egyptian casualties exceeded 1,000.Fewer than 40 Israeli tanks were hit and all but six of these were repaired by Israeli maintenance crews and returned to service.
The Israelis immediately followed their success of October 14 with a multidivisional counterattack through the gap between the Egyptian 2nd and 3rd Armies. Sharon’s 143rd Division, now reinforced with a paratroop brigade commanded by Col. Dani Matt, was tasked with establishing bridgeheads on the east and west banks of the canal. The 162nd and 252nd Armored Divisions, commanded by Generals Bren Adan and Kalman Magen respectively, would then cross through the breach to the west bank of the canal and swing southward, encircling the 3rd Army. The offensive was code-named Operation Stouthearted Men or alternatively, Operation Valiant.
On the night of October 15, 750 of Matt’s paratroopers crossed the canal in rubber dinghies. They were soon joined by tanks ferried on motorized rafts and additional infantry. The force encountered no resistance initially and fanned out in raiding parties, attacking supply convoys, SAM sites, logistic centers and anything of military value, with priority given to the SAMs. Several SAM batteries were destroyed, punching a hole in the Egyptian anti-aircraft screen and enabling the IAF to more aggressively strike value targets. By now, the Syrians no longer posed a credible threat and the Israelis were able to shift their air power to the south in support of the offensive. The combination of a weakened Egyptian AA umbrella and a greater concentration of IAF fighter bombers in the theatre of operations did not bode well for the Egyptians, who now bore the full brunt of IAF efforts. EAF attempts to interdict the IAF sorties resulted in one-sided dogfights which usually ended in Israeli victories.
Despite the success the Israelis were having on the West Bank, Generals Bar-Lev and Elazar ordered Sharon to concentrate on securing the bridgehead on the East Bank. He was ordered to clear the roads leading to the canal as well as a position known as the Chinese Farm, just north of Deversoir, the Israeli crossing point. Sharon objected and requested permission to expand and breakout of the bridgehead on the west bank, arguing that such a maneuver would cause the collapse of Egyptian forces on the east bank. But the Israeli high command was insistent, believing that until the east bank was secure, forces on the west bank could be cut off. Sharon was overruled by his superiors and relented. On October 16, he dispatched Amnon Reshef’s Brigade to attack the Chinese Farm. Other IDF forces attacked entrenched Egyptian forces overlooking the roads to the canal. After three days of bitter, close-quarters fighting, the Israelis succeeded in dislodging the numerically superior Egyptian forces. Both sides suffered heavy casualties. An ancillary target codenamed Missouri was not taken, but this proved to be of no consequence and ultimately, had no bearing or impact on the success of the Israeli counteroffensive.
The Egyptians meanwhile failed to grasp the extent and magnitude of the Israeli crossing nor did they appreciate its intent and purpose. This was partly due to attempts by Egyptian field commanders to obfuscate reports concerning the Israeli crossing and partly due to a false assumption that the canal crossing was merely a diversion for a major IDF offensive targeting the right flank of the Second Army. Consequently, on October 16, General Shazly ordered the 21st Armored Division to attack southward and the T-62-equipped 25th Independent Armored Brigade to attack northward in a pincer action to eliminate the perceived threat to the Second Army. However, the Egyptians failed to scout the area and were unaware that by now, Adan’s 162nd Armored Division was in the vicinity. Moreover, the 21st and 25th failed to coordinate their attacks, allowing General Adan’s Division to meet each force individually. Adan first concentrated his attack on the 21st Armored Division, destroying 50–60 Egyptian tanks and forcing the remainder to retreat. He then turned southward and ambushed the 25th Independent Armored Brigade, destroying 86 of its 96 tanks and all of its APCs.
After the failure of the October 17 counterattacks, the Egyptian General Staff slowly began to realize the magnitude of the Israeli offensive. Early on October 18, the Soviets showed Sadat satellite imagery of Israeli forces operating on the west bank. Alarmed, Sadat dispatched Shazly to the front to assess the situation first hand. He no longer trusted his field commanders to provide accurate reports. Shazly confirmed that the Israelis had at least one division on the west bank and were widening their bridgehead. He advocated withdrawing most of Egypt’s armor from the east bank to confront the growing Israeli threat on the west bank. Sadat rejected this recommendation outright and even threatened Shazly with a court martial. Ahmad Ismail Ali recommended that Sadat push for a cease-fire so as to prevent the Israelis from exploiting their successes.
Israeli forces were by now pouring across the canal on two bridges, including one of indigenous design, and motorized rafts. Adan’s division rolled south to Suez City while Magen’s division pushed west toward Cairo and south toward Adabiya. Sharon’s drive north was halted 10 km south of Ismailia by a combined force of paratroopers and commandos. However, Adan and Magen beat the Egyptians decisively in a series of engagements, though they often encountered determined Egyptian resistance which caused heavy Israeli casualties.
By the end of the war, the Israelis had advanced to positions some 101 kilometers from Egypt’s capital, Cairo, and occupied 1,600 square kilometers west of the Suez Canal. The Israelis had also cut the Cairo-Suez road and encircled the bulk of Egypt’s Third Army. The Egyptians held a narrow strip on the east bank of the canal, occupying some 1,200 square kilometers of the Sinai. One source estimated that the Egyptians had 70,000 men and 720 tanks on the east bank of the canal. However, between 30,000 to 45,000 of these were now encircled by the Israelis.
Egypt’s trapped Third Army
An Israeli soldier on the road to Ismailia
The United Nations Security Council passed (14–0) Resolution 338calling for a cease-fire, largely negotiated between the U.S. and Soviet Union, on October 22. It called upon the belligerents to immediately cease all military activity. The cease-fire was to come into effect 12 hours later at 6:52 p.m. Israeli time. Because this was after dark, it was impossible for satellite surveillance to determine where the front lines were when the fighting was supposed to stop. U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger intimated to Prime Minister Meir that he would not object to offensive action during the night before the ceasefire was to come into effect.
When the time for the ceasefire arrived, Sharon’s division had failed in repeated attempts to capture Ismailia and cut off the Second Army’s supply lines, but Israeli forces were just a few hundred meters short of their southern goal—the last road linking Cairo and Suez. Adan’s drive south had left Israeli and Egyptian units scattered throughout the battlefield, with no clear lines between them. As Egyptian and Israeli units tried to regroup, regular firefights broke out. During the night, Elazar reported that the Egyptians were attacking in an attempt to regain land at various locations, and that nine Israeli tanks had been destroyed. He asked permission from Dayan to respond to the attacks and Dayan agreed. Israel then resumed its drive south.It is unclear which side fired first but Israeli field commanders used the skirmishes as justification to resume the attacks. When Sadat protested alleged Israeli truce violations, Israel said that Egyptian troops had fired first. William B. Quandt noted that regardless of who fired the first post-ceasefire shot, it was the Israeli Army that was advancing beyond the 22 October cease-fire lines.
Adan resumed his attack on October 23. Israeli troops finished the drive south, captured the last ancillary road, and encircled the Egyptian Third Army east of the Suez Canal. The Israelis then transported enormous amounts of military equipment across the canal, which Egypt claimed was in violation of the ceasefire. Israeli armor and paratroopers also entered Suez in an attempt to capture the town, but they were ambushed by Egyptian soldiers and hastily raised local militia forces. They were surrounded, but towards night the Israeli forces managed to extricate themselves. The Israelis had lost 80 dead and 120 wounded, with an unknown number of Egyptian casualties, for no tactical gain (see Battle of Suez).
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. Kissinger called Meir in an effort to persuade her to withdraw a few hundred yards and she indicated that Israel’s tactical position on the ground had improved. Kissinger found out about the Third Army’s encirclement shortly thereafter.
Kissinger considered that the situation presented the United States with a tremendous opportunity and that Egypt was dependent on the United States to prevent Israel from destroying its trapped army. The position could be parlayed later into allowing the United States to mediate the dispute and wean Egypt from Soviet influence.
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.”
Despite being surrounded however, the Third Army managed to maintain its combat integrity east of the canal and keep up its defensive positions, to the surprise of many. According to Trevor N. Dupuy, the Israelis, Russians and Americans overestimated the vulnerability of the Third Army at the time. It was not on the verge of collapse, and he writes that while a renewed Israeli offensive would probably overcome it but this was not a certainty. David T. Buckwalter agrees that despite the isolation of the Third Army, it was unclear if the Israelis could have protected their forces on the west bank of the canal from a determined Egyptian assault and still maintain sufficient strength along the rest of the front. This assessment however was challenged by Patrick Seale, who states that the Third Army was “on the brink of collapse.” Seale’s position finds support from P.R. Kumaraswamy who wrote that intense American pressure prevented the Israelis from annihilating the stranded Third Army. Herzog notes that given the Third Army’s desperate situation, in terms of being cut off from re-supply and reassertion of Israeli air superiority, the destruction of the Third Army was inevitable and could have been achieved within a very brief period. Shazly himself described the Third Army’s plight as “desperate” and classified its encirclement as a “catastrophe that was too big to hide.” He further notes that, “the fate of the Egyptian Third Army was in the hands of Israel. Once the Third Army was encircled by Israeli troops every bit of bread to be sent to our men was paid for by meeting Israeli demands.
On the morning of October 26, the Egyptian Third Army violated the ceasefire by attempting to break through surrounding Israeli forces. The attack was repulsed by Israeli air and ground forces.
On the Golan Heights
In the Golan Heights, the Syrians attacked two Israeli brigades and eleven artillery batteries with five divisions and 188 batteries. They began their attack with an airstrike by about 100 aircraft, followed by a 50-minute artillery barrage.
ISRAELI ARMOUR RUSHING UP TO THE NORTHERN FRONTIER WITH THE OUTBREAK OF THE WAR.
The forward brigades of three divisions then penetrated the cease-fire lines and bypassed United Nations observer posts, followed by the main assault force, which was covered by mobile anti-aircraft batteries and bulldozers to penetrate anti-tank ditches, along with mine-clearance vehicles.
ISRAELI INFANTRY AIR COVER MOVING INTO FORWARD BATTLE-ZONE ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS.
At the onset of the battle, the Israeli brigades of some 3,000 troops, 180 tanks and 60 artillery pieces faced off against three infantry divisions with large armour components comprising 28,000 Syrian troops, 800 tanks and 600 artillery pieces. In addition, the Syrians deployed two armoured divisions from the second day onwards.
ISRAELI TROOPS TAKING COVER FROM SYRIAN PLANES STRAFING THE ROAD ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS.
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. An Israeli force attempting to counterattack was ambushed and repulsed by the Syrians.
ISRAELI CONVOY MOVING NORTHWARDS PAST A DESTROYED SYRIAN TANK ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS.
The Golan Heights front was given priority by the Israeli High Command. The fighting in the Sinai was sufficiently far away that Israeli population centers were not immediately threatened. The Golan however, was in close proximity to Israeli population centers and its fall would pose a serious threat to major Israeli cities such as Tiberias, Safed, Haifa and Netanya.
ISRAELI CENTURIONS COUNTER ATTACKING SYRIAN INVADERS ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS.
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 crews they trained with to arrive, machine guns to be installed on the tanks, or taking the time to calibrate the tank guns (a time-consuming process known as bore-sighting). The Syrians had expected it to take at least 24 hours for Israeli reserves to reach the front lines; in fact, reserve units began reaching the battle lines only fifteen hours after the war began.
ISRAELI TANKS IN BATTLE AGAINST THE SYRIAN ARMOUR ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS.
As the Egyptians had in the Sinai, the Syrians took care to stay under cover of their SAM 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).
ISRAELI OFFICERS QUESTIONING A SYRIAN PRISONER ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS.
By the end of the first day, the Syrians had achieved moderate success. The Israelis put up fierce resistance, as tanks and infantry fought desperately to buy time. Having practiced on the Golan Heights numerous times, Israeli gunners made highly effective use of mobile artillery. Syrian anti-aircraft batteries shot down 40 Israeli planes, but Israeli pilots soon adopted a different tactic of flying in low over Jordan and diving in over the Golan heights, catching the Syrians in the flank and avoiding many of their batteries. The Israeli pilots dropped both conventional explosives and napalm bombs, devastating Syrian armored columns. Within six hours of the initial assault, however, the first Israeli line of defense was overrun by sheer weight of numbers. The Israelis continued to resist throughout the day. The Syrians had suffered very heavy losses but had managed to inflict significant losses on the small Israeli defending force.
ISRAELI ARMOUR MOVING THROUGH THE BROKEN SYRIAN LINES IN THR NORTH.
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 Nafah, which was not only the location of Israeli divisional headquarters but the most important crossroads on the Heights.
During the night, Israeli forces successfully held back numerically superior Syrian forces. The Syrians were equipped with night-vision goggles, and struck with precision. The Israelis had to allow the Syrians to advance to ranges close enough for night fighting, and then open fire.
A SIKORSKY CH 53 RESCUING A DAMAGED BELL 205 HELICOPTER ON THE SYRIAN FRONT.
Whenever Syrian tanks penetrated the Israeli lines, Israeli gunners would immediately rotate their turrets and destroy them before turning their attention back to the oncoming forces. The Syrians seized some of the high ground during the night but were soon pushed off by an Israeli counterattack. Captain Zvika Greengold, who had just arrived unattached to any unit, helped fight them off, sometimes with his single tank, until help arrived.
MEMBERS OF THE ENGINEERING CORPS REPAIRING A DAMAGED TANK NEAR THE FRONTLINE ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS.
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 skirmish.
LONG-RANGE 175 MM ARTILLERY IN ACTION ON THE SYRIAN FRONT.
On the second day of fighting, the Israeli Air Force attempted to take out the Syrian anti-aircraft batteries. Codenamed Operation Doogman 5, the attempt was a costly failure. Six Israeli aircraft were shot down, killing two pilots, with another nine captured. The Israelis only managed to take out one Syrian missile battery.
ON OF THE LONG RANGE 203 MM CANONS FIRING AT MILITARY TARGETS ON THE SYRIAN FRONT.
During over four days of fighting, the Israeli 7th Armoured Brigade in the north (commanded by Avigdor Ben-Gal) managed to hold the rocky hill line defending the northern flank of their headquarters in Nafah. They inflicted severe losses on the Syrians, but by the afternoon of October 9, only six of their tanks remained in action. Just as it was starting to be pushed back, it was bolstered by a small force of individual tanks arrived from Israel, and held firm.
AN ISRAELI SOLDIER POINTING AT THE WRECKAGE OF FA SYRIAN PLANE SHOT DOWN IN THE KUNEITRA AREA.
To the south, the Barak Armored Brigade was bereft of any natural defenses. The Syrians were initially slowed down by a minefield and the Barak Brigade’s gunners inflicted severe losses on the Syrians with accurate cannon fire. Undeterred by their losses, the Syrians continued pushing and the Barak Brigade began to take heavy casualties. The Israelis continued to fight desperately, hoping to buy time for reserve forces to reach the front lines. In several instances, some Israeli tank crews sacrificed themselves rather than voluntarily give ground. At night, the Syrians made deadly use of infrared technology, while the Israelis responded by using illumination rounds and xenon light projectors on their tanks and carried out a series of small blocking actions.
SYRIAN T55 AND T54 TANKS KNOCKED OUT OF ACTION ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS.
Israeli Brigade Commander Colonel Shoham was killed on the second day, along with his second-in-command and operations officer, as the Syrians desperately tried to advance towards the Sea of Galilee and Nafah. At this point, the Barak Brigade stopped functioning as a cohesive force although the surviving tanks and crewmen continued fighting independently. Syrian Brigadier General Omar Abrash was killed when his command tank took a direct hit. The Syrians were close to reaching the Israeli defenders at Nafah, yet stopped the advance on Nafah’s fences at 1700; the pause lasted all night, allowing Israeli forces to form a defensive line. It is surmised that the Syrians had calculated estimated advances, and the commanders in the field did not want to diverge from the plan.
THE TAIL PORTION OF A SAM 6 MISSILE ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS.
The tide in the Golan began to turn as the arriving Israeli reserve forces were able to contain and, beginning on October 8, push back the Syrian offensive. The tiny Golan Heights were 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 bombarding the cities below.
DESTROYED SYRIAN ARMOUR COMPOSED OF T62 TANKS AND ENGINEERING EQUIPMENT LEFT BEHIND BY THE RETREATING SYRIAN ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS
After taking heavy casualties, the Israelis began relying mostly on mobile artillery to dislodge the Syrians, who were by now retreating back to the pre-war ceasefire lines. By October 10, the last Syrian unit in the Central sector had been pushed back across the Purple Line(the pre-war ceasefire line). After four days of intense and incessant combat, the outnumbered Israelis succeeded in ejecting the Syrians from the entire Golan.
On October 9, Syrian FROG-7 surface-to-surface missiles struck the Israeli Air Force base ofRamat David, killing a pilot and injuring several soldiers. Additional missiles struck civilian settlements. In retaliation, 7 Israeli F-4 Phantoms flew into Syria and struck the Syrian General Staff Headquarters in Damascus. The upper floors of the Syrian GHQ and the Air Force Command were badly damaged, and a nearby Soviet cultural center was also mistakenly hit.
REMNANTS OF A DESTROYED CONVOY OF ANTIAIRCRAFT GUNS ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS.
One Israeli Phantom was shot down. The pilot was killed, and the navigator ejected and was taken prisoner. An unknown number of Syrian military personnel were killed. Syria announced its civilian casualties in the raid as 26 dead and 117 injured, while the Soviets reported that 30 people had been killed in its cultural center.
A decision now had to be made—whether to stop at the post-1967 border or to continue advancing into Syrian territory. Israeli High Command spent all 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 defeat at Hizayon in the Sinai had taken place two days earlier).
ISRAEL SOLDIERS RECOVERING A SYRIAN T62 TANK ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS.
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 strongpoints— and that it would be better to fight from defensive positions in the Golan Heights (rather than the flat terrain deeper in 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 unmitigating—to cross the purple line… The attack would be launched tomorrow, Thursday, October 11.
From October 11 to 14, Israeli forces pushed into Syria, despite stiff resistance by Syrian reservists in prepared defenses, and reached the main defensive line around Sassa. The Israelis had conquered a further 50 square kilometers of territory in the Bashan. From there, they were able to shell the outskirts of Damascus, only 40 km away, using M107 heavy artillery.
RUSSIAN – MADE SYRIAN HOWITZERS CAPTURED ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS.
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 US intermediaries, in the hope that it [Israel] would accept that this was not a casus bellijustifying an attack into Jordan… Dayan declined to offer any such assurance, but Israel had no intention of opening another front.
THE HERMON FORTRESS (MUTZAV HA- HERMON) RECAPTURE BY ISRAEL TROOPS.
Iraq also sent an expeditionary force to the Golan, consisting of the 3rd Armoured Division, 6th Armoured Division, some 30,000 men, 250–500 tanks, and 700 APCs. The Iraqi divisions were actually a strategic surprise for the IDF, which expected 24-hour-plus advance intelligence of such moves. This turned into an operational surprise, as the Iraqis attacked the exposed southern flank of the advancing Israeli armor, forcing its advance units to retreat a few kilometers in order to prevent encirclement.
ISRAELI ARMOUR MOVING ACROSS THE SYRIAN LINES ON THE KUNEITRA-DAMASCUS ROAD.
Combined Syrian, Iraqi and Jordanian counterattacks prevented any further Israeli gains. However, they were also unable to push the Israelis back from the Bashan salient, and suffered heavy losses. The Syrian Air Force also attacked Israeli ground forces, but was often defeated in dogfights with Israeli planes. The Israeli Air Force utilized its air superiority to bomb targets all over Syria.
ISRAELI SOLDIERS QUENCHING THE THIRST OF AN OLD ARAB WOMAN IN ONE OF THE ABANDONED SYRIAN VILLAGES NEAR THE FRONTLINE.
On October 22, the Golani Brigade and Sayeret Matkal commandos recaptured the outpost on Mount Hermon, after a hard fought battle that involved hand-to-hand combat and Syrian sniper attacks. An unsuccessful attack two weeks prior cost the Israelis 23 dead and 55 wounded and the Syrians 29 dead and 11 wounded, while this second attack cost Israel an additional 55 dead and 79 wounded. An unknown number of Syrians were also killed and some were taken prisoner. An IDF D9 bulldozer supported by infantry forced its way to the peak. An Israeli paratroop force, landing by helicopter took the corresponding Syrian Hermon outposts on the mountain, killing more than a dozen Syrians. Seven Syrian MiGs and two Syrian helicopters carrying reinforcements were shot down as they attempted to intercede. The paratroopers lost one killed and four wounded.
ENTERTAINERS PLAYING FOR SOLDIERS ON THE GOLAN HEIGHTS.
Northern front de-escalation
On October 23, a large air battle took place near Damascus during which the IAF shot down 10 Syrian aircraft. The Syrians claimed a similar toll against Israel. The Syrians prepared for a massive counteroffensive to drive Israeli forces out of Syria, scheduled for October 23. A total of five Syrian divisions were to take part, alongside Arab expeditionary forces. The Soviets had replaced most of the losses Syria’s tank forces had suffered during the first weeks of the war.
SYRIAN OIL-TANK EXPLODING AT LATAKIA HARBOUR AFTER BEING HIT BY ISRAELI MISSILES.
However, the day before the offensive was to begin, the United Nations imposed its ceasefire (following the acquiescence of both Israel and Egypt). Abraham Rabinovich claimed that “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 Damascus“ Ultimately, Syrian President Assad decided to cancel the offensive. On October 23, the day the offensive was to begin, Syria announced it had accepted the ceasefire, and ordered its troops to cease-fire, while Iraqi government ordered its forces home.
Alleged Syrian atrocities against prisoners
Syria ignored the Geneva Conventions and many Israeli prisoners of war (POW) were reported tortured or killed.Advancing Israeli forces, re-capturing land regained by the Syrians early in the war, came across the bodies of 28 Israeli soldiers, blindfolded with their hands bound, summarily executed. The Syrians employed brutal interrogation techniques utilizing electric shocks to the genitals. Some Israeli POWs reported having their fingernails ripped out while others were described as being turned into human ashtrays as their Syrian guards burned them with lit cigarettes. A report submitted by the chief medical officer of the Israeli army notes that, “the vast majority of (Israeli) prisoners were exposed during their imprisonment to severe physical and mental torture. The usual methods of torture were beatings aimed at various parts of the body, electric shocks, wounds deliberately inflicted on the ears, burns on the legs, suspension in painful positions and other methods. Following the conclusion of hostilities, Syria would not release the names of prisoners it was holding to the International Committee of the Red Cross and in fact, did not even acknowledge holding any prisoners despite the fact they were publicly exhibited by the Syrians for TV crews. The Syrians, having been thoroughly defeated by the Israelis were attempting to use their captives as their sole bargaining chip in the post-war negotiations. One of the most famous Israeli POWs was Avraham Lanir, an IAF pilot who bailed out over Syria and was captured. He died under Syrian interrogation. When his body was returned in 1974, it exhibited signs of torture.
Naval engagements in Yom Kippur War saw the first naval battles between missile boats using surface-to-surface missiles. 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. Following this and other smaller naval battles, the Syrian Navy stayed at their Mediterranean Sea ports throughout most of the war, enabling the Mediterranean sea lanes to Israel to remain open.
On October 7, the Israeli Navy defeated the Egyptian Navy in what became known as the Battle of Marsa Talamat. Two Israeli Dabur class patrol boats were patrolling in the Gulf of Suez, and encountered two Egyptian Zodiac boats loaded with Egyptian naval commandos, a patrol boat, and coastal guns. In the engagement that followed, the Israeli boats sank a Zodiac and the patrol boat, killing an unknown number of sailors and commandos. One Israeli sailor was killed, and seven were wounded. The second naval battle which ended in a decisive Israeli victory was the Battle of Baltim in which the Israelis, with the use of electronic countermeasures, evaded Egyptian missiles and sank three Egyptian vessels. The Battles of Latakia and Baltim “drastically changed the operational situation at sea to Israeli advantage”.
A team of Israeli Shayetet 13 naval commandos infiltrated the Egyptian port ofArkada on the night of October 9–10, sinking a Kumar-class missile boat, after four previous attempts had failed. After another infiltration attempt failed, the commandos successfully infiltrated Arkada again on the night of October 21–22, heavily damaging a missile boat with M72 LAW rockets. On October 16, Shayetet 13 commandos infiltrated Port Said in two Hazir mini-submarines carrying naval frogmen to strike Egyptian naval targets. In the battle that followed, the commandos sank a torpedo boat, a coast guard boat, a tank landing craft, and a missile boat. Two frogmen went missing in this operation.
According to Israeli and Western sources, the Israelis lost no vessels in the war.Israeli vessels were “targeted by as many as 52 Soviet-made anti-ship missiles, yet no one hit its target.” According to historian Benny Morris, the Egyptians lost seven missile boats and four torpedo boats and coastal defense craft, while the Syrians lost five missile boats, one minesweeper, and one coastal defense vessel. All together, the Israeli Navy suffered three dead or missing and seven wounded.
Having decisively beaten the Egyptian and Syrian navies, the Israelis had the run of the coastlines. Their missile boats utilized their 76mm cannon and other armaments to attack Syrian coastal oil installations as well as radar stations and other targets of military value on both Syrian and Egyptian coastlines. The navy even attacked some of Egypt’s northernmost SAM batteries.
The Egyptian Navy managed to enforce a blockade at Bab-el-Mandeb. Eighteen million tons of oil were transported yearly from Iran to Israel through the straits of Bab-el-Mandeb. The naval blockade, which lasted throughout the war until November 1, halted shipping destined for Israel through the Gulf of Eilat but left shipping in the Mediterranean unaffected. The Gulf of Suez was also mined to prevent the transportation of oil from the Bala’eem and Abu Rudeis oil fields in southwestern Sinai to Eilat in Southern Israel. Two oil tankers, one with a 48,000 ton capacity and one with a 2,000 ton capacity, sank after hitting mines in the Gulf of Suez.
Egypt’s blockade gave rise to an Israeli counter-blockade by its naval forces based at Sharm el-Sheikh and the Sinai coast in the Gulf of Suez. The Israeli blockade had a substantial negative impact on the Egyptian economy. Throughout the war, the Israeli Navy enjoyed complete command of the seas both in the Mediterranean approaches and in the Gulf of Suez.
Soviet threat of intervention
During the cease-fire, Henry Kissinger mediated a series of exchanges with the Egyptians, Israelis and the Soviets. On October 24, Sadat publicly appealed for American and Soviet contingents to oversee the ceasefire; it was quickly rejected in a White House statement. Kissinger also met with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin to discuss convening a peace conference with Geneva as the venue. Later in the evening (9:35pm) of October 24–25, Brezhnev sent Nixon a “very urgent” letter. In that letter, Brezhnev began by noting that Israel was continuing to violate the ceasefire and it posed a challenge to both the US and USSR. He stressed the need to “implement” the ceasefire resolution and “invited” the US to join the Soviets “to compel observance of the cease-fire without delay” He then threatened “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. The Soviets were threatening to militarily intervene in the war on Egypt’s side if they could not work together to enforce the ceasefire.
Kissinger immediately passed the message to Haig, who met with Nixon for 20 minutes around 10:30 pm, and reportedly empowered Kissinger to take any necessary action. Kissinger immediately called a meeting of senior officials, including Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, CIA Director William Colby, and White House Chief of StaffAlexander 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 decisions.
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. 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 placed seven airborne divisions on alert and an airlift was marshaled to transport them to the Middle East. An airborne command post was set up in the southern Soviet Union, and several air force units were also alerted. “Reports also indicated that at least one of the divisions and a squadron of transport planes had been moved from the Soviet Union to an airbase in Yugoslavia“. The Soviets also deployed seven amphibious warfare craft with some 40,000 naval infantry in the Mediterranean.
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 Premier Alexei Kosygin, while KGB chief Yuri Andropov added that “We shall not unleash the Third World War.” 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.
Participation by other states
Aid to Israel
Based on intelligence estimates at the commencement of hostilities, American leaders expected the tide of the war to quickly shift in Israel’s favor, and that Arab armies would be completely defeated within 72 to 96 hours. On October 6, Secretary of State Kissinger convened theNational Security Council‘s official crisis management group, the Washington Special Actions Group, which debated whether the U.S. should supply additional arms to Israel. High-ranking representatives of the Defense and State Departments opposed such a move. Kissinger was the sole dissenter; he said that if the US refused aid, Israel would have little incentive to conform to American views in postwar diplomacy. Kissinger argued the sending of U.S. aid might cause Israel to moderate its territorial claims, but this thesis raised a protracted debate whether U.S. aid was likely to make it more accommodating or more intransigent toward the Arab world.
By October 8, Israel had encountered military difficulties on both fronts; in the Sinai, its effort to break through Egyptian lines with armor had been thwarted, and despite advances in the Golan, Syrian air defense systems were taking a high toll of Israeli planes, Israeli forces were retreating, and Syrian forces were overlooking the Jordan River. It became clear by October 9 that no quick reversal in Israel’s favor would occur and that IDF losses were unexpectedly high.
During the night of 8-9 October, an alarmed Dayan told Meir that “this is the end of the third temple.” He was warning of Israel’s impending total defeat, but “Temple” was also the code word for nuclear weapons. Dayan again raised the nuclear topic in a cabinet meeting, warning that the country was approaching a point of “last resort.” That night Meir authorized the assembly of thirteen 20-kiloton-of-TNT (84 TJ) tactical atomic weapons for Jericho missiles at Hirbat Zachariah, and F-4 aircraft at Tel Nof, for use against Syrian and Egyptian targets. They would be used if absolutely necessary to prevent total defeat, but the preparation was done in an easily detectable way, likely as a signal to the United States. Kissinger learned of the nuclear alert on the morning of October 9. That day, President Nixon ordered the commencement of Operation Nickel Grass, an American airlift to replace all of Israel’s material losses.Anecdotal evidence suggests that Kissinger told Sadat that the reason for the U.S. airlift was that the Israelis were close to “going nuclear.”
Israel began receiving supplies via US cargo airplanes on October 14,although some equipment had arrived before this date. According to Abraham Rabinovich, “while the Americanairlift of supplies did not immediately replace Israel’s losses in equipment, it did allow Israel to expend what it did have more freely”. By the end of Nickel Grass, the United States had shipped 22,395 tons of matériel to Israel. 8,755 tons of it arrived before the end of the war.American C-141 Starlifterand C-5 Galaxy aircraft flew 567 missions throughout the airlift. The Israeli national airline El Al conducted its own airlift and flew in an additional 5,500 tons of matériel in 170 flights. The United States also delivered approximately 90,000 tons of matériel to Israel by sea until the beginning of December, using 16 ships. 33,210 tons of it arrived by October 30.
By the beginning of December, Israel had received between 34 to 40 F-4 fighter-bombers, 46 A-4attack airplanes, 12 C-130 cargo airplanes, 8 CH-53 helicopters, 40 unmanned aerial vehicles, 200M-60/M-48A3 tanks, 250 armored personnel carriers, 226 utility vehicles, 12 MIM-72 Chaparral surface-to-air missile systems, 3 MIM-23 Hawksurface-to-air missile systems, 36 155 mm artillery pieces, 7 175 mm artillery pieces, large quantities of 105 mm, 155 mm and 175 mm ammunition, state of the art equipment, such as the AGM-65 Maverickmissile and the BGM-71 TOW, weapons that had only entered production one or more years prior, as well as highly advanced electronic jamming equipment. Most of the combat airplanes arrived during the war, and many were taken directly from United States Air Force units. Most of the large equipment arrived after the ceasefire. The total cost of the equipment was approximately US$800 million (US$3.95 billion today).
On October 13 and 15, Egyptian air defense radars detected an aircraft at an altitude of 25,000 metres (82,000 ft) and a speed of Mach 3, making it impossible to intercept either by fighter or SAM missiles. The aircraft proceeded to cross the whole of the canal zone, the naval ports of the Red Sea (Hurghada and Safaga), flew over the airbases and air defenses in the Nile delta, and finally disappeared from radar screens over the Mediterranean Sea. The speed and altitude were those of the US SR-71 Blackbird, a long-range strategic-reconnaissance aircraft. According to Egyptian commanders, the intelligence provided by both reconnaissance flights helped the Israelis prepare for the Egyptian attack on October 14 and assisted it in conducting Operation Stouthearted Men.
Aid to Egypt and Syria
Starting on October 9, the Soviet Union began supplying Egypt and Syria by air and by sea. The Soviets airlifted 12,500–15,000 tons of supplies, of which 6,000 tons went to Egypt, 3,750 tons went to Syria and 575 tons went to Iraq. General Shazly, the former Egyptian chief of staff, claimed that more than half of the airlifted Soviet hardware actually went to Syria. According to Ze’ev Schiff, Arab losses were so high and the attrition rate so great that equipment was taken directly from Soviet and Warsaw Pact stores to supply the airlift. Antonov An-12and AN-22 aircraft flew over 900 missions during the airlift.
The Soviets supplied another 63,000 tons, mainly to Syria, by means of a sealift by October 30. Historian Gamal Hammad asserts that 400 T-55and T-62 tanks supplied by the sealift were directed towards replacing Syrian losses, transported from Odessa on the Black Sea to the Syrian port of Latakia, while Egypt did not receive any tanks from the Soviets. However, this is disputed by military historianZe’ev Schiff, who states that freighters loaded with tanks and other weapons reached Egyptian, Algerian and Syrian ports throughout the war. The sealift may have included Soviet nuclear weapons, which were not unloaded but kept in Alexandria harbor until November to counter the Israeli nuclear preparations, which Soviet satellites had detected. American concern over possible evidence of nuclear warheads for the Soviet Scud missiles in Egypt contributed to Washington’s decision to go to DEFCON 3.
In total, Arab countries added up to 100,000 troops to Egypt and Syria’s frontline ranks. Besides Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, several other Arab states were also involved in this war, providing additional weapons and financing. Algeria sent a squadron each of MiG-21s and Su-7s to Egypt, which arrived at the front between October 9 and October 11. It also sent an armored brigade of 150 tanks, the advance elements of which began to arrive on October 17, but reached the front only on October 24, too late to participate in the fighting.
Libyan forces were stationed in Egypt before the outbreak of the war. Libya provided one armored brigade and two squadrons of Mirage Vfighters, of which one squadron was to be piloted by the Egyptian Air Force and the other by Libyan pilots, and also sent financial aid. Morocco sent one infantry brigade to Egypt and one armored regiment to Syria. An infantry brigade composed of Palestinians was in Egypt before the outbreak of the war. A Saudi brigade of 3,000 soldiers and the Kuwaiti Al Jahra Brigade Group were sent to Syria. These arrived with additional Jordanian and Iraqi reinforcements in time for a new Syrian offensive scheduled for October 23. The offensive was cancelled however. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait also provided financial aid. Tunisia sent 1,000-2,000 soldiers to Egypt, where they were stationed in the Nile Delta. Lebanon sent radar units to Syria for air defense. Pakistan sent sixteen pilots and an ambulance unit to Egypt and another to Syria.
In addition to its forces in Syria, Iraq sent a single Hawker Huntersquadron to Egypt. The squadron quickly gained a reputation amongst Egyptian field commanders for its skill in air support, particularly in anti-armor strikes.
A 3,500-strong Sudanese brigade was deployed to Egypt. It arrived on October 28, again too late to participate in the war. Nearly all Arab reinforcements came with no logistical plan or support, expecting their hosts to supply them, and in several cases causing logistical problems. On the Syrian front, a lack of coordination between Arab forces led to several instances of friendly fire.
After the war, during the first days of November, Algeria deposited around 200 million dollars with the Soviet Union to finance arms purchases for both Egypt and Syria.
Cuba sent approximately 1,500 troops, including tank and helicopter crews, who reportedly engaged in combat operations against the IDF. North Korea sent 20 pilots and 19 non-combat personnel. The unit had four to six encounters with the Israelis from August through the end of the war. Israeli military intelligence reported that Soviet-piloted MiG-25 Foxbat interceptor/reconnaissance aircraft conducted flyovers over the Canal Zone.
The Arab armies were equipped with predominantly Soviet-made weapons while Israel’s armaments were mostly Western-made. The Arabs’ T-54/55s and T-62s were equipped with night vision equipment, which the Israeli tanks lacked, giving them an advantage in fighting at night, while Israel tanks had better armor and/or better armament. Israeli tanks also had a distinct advantage in the “hull-down” position where steeper angles of depression resulted in less exposure. The main guns of Soviet tanks could only depress 4 degrees. By contrast, the 105 mm guns on Centurion and Patton tanks could depress 10 degrees.
Home front during the war
The war created a state of emergency in the countries involved in fighting. The Egyptian government began to evacuate foreign tourists, and on October 11, 1973, the Egyptian ship Syria left Alexandriato Piraeus with a load of tourists wishing to exit Egypt. The US Interest Section in Cairo also requested US government assistance in removing US tourists to Greece. On October 12, Kissinger ordered the US Interest Section in Cairo to speed up preparations for the departure of US tourists staying in Egypt, while notifying such actions to the IDF in order to avoid accidental military operations against them.
UN Emergency Forces at Kilometer 101
On October 24, the UNSC passed Resolution 339, serving as a renewed call for all parties to adhere to the ceasefire terms established in Resolution 338. Most heavy fighting on the Egyptian front ended by October 26, but several airstrikes took place against Third Army from October 25 to 28.The ceasefire did not end the sporadic clashes along the ceasefire lines nor did it dissipate military tensions.
With continuing Israeli advances, Kissinger threatened to support a UN withdrawal resolution, but before Israel 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 non-military supplies to reach their army and agree to a complete ceasefire.
About noon on October 25, Kissinger appeared before the press at the State Department. He described the various stages of the crisis and the evolution of US policy. He reviewed the first two weeks of the crisis and the nuclear alert, reiterated opposition to US and Soviet troops in the area and more strongly opposed unilateral Soviet moves. He then reviewed the prospects for a peace agreement, which he termed “quite promising”, and had conciliatory words for Israel, Egypt and even the USSR. Kissinger concluded his remarks by spelling out the principles of a new US policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict saying:
Our position is that… the conditions that produced this war were clearly intolerable to the Arab nations and that in the process of negotiations it will be necessary to make substantial concessions. The problem will be to relate the Arab concern for the sovereignty over the territories to the Israeli concern for secure boundaries. We believe that the process of negotiations between the parties is an essential component of this.
Quandt considers, “It was a brilliant performance, one of his most impressive.” One hour later the United Nations Security Council adoptedResolution 340. This time the ceasefire held, and the fourth Arab-Israeli war was over.
Disengagement talks took place on October 28 at “Kilometer 101″ between Israeli Major General Aharon Yariv and Egyptian Major GeneralAbdel Ghani el-Gamasy. Ultimately, Kissinger took the proposal to Sadat, who agreed. United Nations checkpoints were brought in to replace Israeli ones, nonmilitary supplies were allowed to pass, and prisoners-of-war were to be exchanged. A summit conference in Genevafollowed, and ultimately, an armistice agreement was worked out. On January 18, Israel signed a pullback agreement to the east side of the canal, and the last of their troops withdrew from the west side on March 5, 1974, giving Egypt control of the Suez Canal. Between the UN ceasefire and the armstice agreement in January, a minor war of attrition took place between the belligerents, during which the Egyptians claimed to have killed 187 Israeli soldiers, destroyed 41 tanks, and downed 11 planes. The IDF acknowledged the loss of 14 soldiers during this postwar period. Egyptian losses were higher especially in the sector controlled by General Sharon, who ordered his troops to respond with massive firepower to any Egyptian provocation.
On the Syrian front, continuing Syrian shelling was, according to Syrian foreign minister Abdel Halim Khaddam, “part of a deliberate war of attrition designed to paralyse the Israeli economy”, and was intended to pressure Israel into yielding the occupied territory. 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 agreement ended the skirmishes and exchanges of artillery fire that had occurred frequently along the Israeli-Syrian ceasefire line. The UN Disengagement and Observer Force (UNDOF) was established as a peacekeeping force in the Golan.
Israel suffered between 2,520 and 2,800 killed in action. An additional 7,250 to 8,800 soldiers were wounded. Some 293 Israelis were captured. Approximately 400 Israeli tanks were destroyed. Another 600 were disabled but returned to battle after repairs. A major Israeli advantage, noted by many observers, was their ability to quickly return damaged tanks to combat. The Israeli Air Force lost 102 aircraft: 32 F-4s, 53 A-4s, 11 Mirages and 6 Super Mysteres. Two helicopters, a Bell 205 and a CH-53, were also shot down.According to Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, nearly half of these were shot down during the first three days of the war.IAF losses per combat sortie were less than in the preceding Six Day War of 1967.
An Israeli Air Force Mirage IIIC. Flag markings on the nose credit this particular aircraft with 13 aerial kills.
Arab casualties were known to be much higher than Israel’s, though precise figures are difficult to ascertain as Egypt and Syria never disclosed official figures. The lowest casualty estimate is 8,000 (5,000 Egyptian and 3,000 Syrian) killed and 18,000 wounded. The highest estimate is 18,500 killed in action of which 15,000 were Egyptian and 3,500 Syrian. Most estimates lie somewhere in between the two, with the Insight Team of the London Sunday Times claiming combined Arab losses of 16,000 killed and yet another source citing a figure of some 15,000 dead and 35,000 wounded. Some 8,372 Egyptians and 392 Syrians were captured. Thirteen Iraqis and six Moroccans were also captured.Arab tank losses amounted to 2,250 though Garwych cites a figure of 2,300.400 of these fell into Israeli hands in good working order and were incorporated into Israeli service. Between 341 and 514Arab aircraft were shot down. According to Herzog, 334 of these aircraft were shot down by theIsraeli Air Force in air-to-air combat for the loss of only five Israeli planes. The Insight Team of the London Sunday Times notes Arab aircraft losses of 450. At sea, 19 Arab naval vessels, 10 of which were missile boats, were sunk for no Israeli losses.
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.
Response in Israel
Though the war reinforced Israel’s military deterrence, it 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 reversals that occurred at the beginning of the war inflicted a terrible psychological blow to the Israelis, who had hitherto experienced no serious military challenges.
A protest against the Israeli government started four months after the war ended. It was led by Motti Ashkenazi, commander of Budapest, the northernmost of the Bar-Lev forts and the only one during the war not to be captured by the Egyptians. Anger against the Israeli government (and Dayan in particular) was high. Shimon Agranat, President of the Israeli Supreme Court, was asked to lead an inquiry, theAgranat Commission, into the events leading up to the war and the setbacks of the first few days.
The Agranat Commission published its preliminary findings on April 2, 1974. Six people were held particularly responsible for Israel’s failings:
- Though his performance and conduct during the war was lauded, IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar was recommended for dismissal after the Commission found he bore “personal responsibility for the assessment of the situation and the preparedness of the IDF.”
- Intelligence Chief, Aluf Eli Zeira, and his deputy, head of Research, Brigadier-General Aryeh Shalev, were recommended for dismissal.
- Lt. Colonel Bandman, head of the Aman desk for Egypt, and Lt. Colonel Gedelia, chief of intelligence for the Southern Command, were recommended for transfer away from intelligence duties.
- Shmuel Gonen, commander of the Southern front, was recommended by the initial report to be relieved of active duty. He was forced to leave the army after the publication of the Commission’s final report, on January 30, 1975, which found that “he failed to fulfill his duties adequately, and bears much of the responsibility for the dangerous situation in which our troops were caught.”
Rather than quieting public discontent, the report—which “had stressed that it was judging the ministers’ responsibility for security failings, not their parliamentary responsibility, which fell outside its mandate”—inflamed it. Although it had absolved Meir and Dayan of all responsibility, public calls for their resignations (especially Dayan’s) intensified.
On April 11, 1974, Golda Meir resigned. Her cabinet followed suit, including Dayan, who had previously offered to resign twice and was turned down both times by Meir. Yitzhak Rabin, who had spent most of the war as an advisor to Elazar in an unofficial capacity, became head of the new government, which was seated in June.
In 1999, the issue was revisited by the Israeli political leadership to prevent similar shortcomings from being repeated. The Israeli National Security Council was created to improve coordination between the different security and intelligence bodies, and the political branch of government.
Response in Egypt and Syria
For the Arab states (and Egypt in particular), the psychological trauma of their defeat in the Six-Day War had been healed, allowing them to negotiate with the Israelis as equals. Due to the later setbacks in the war (which saw Israel gain a large salient on African soil and even more territory on the Syrian front), some believe that the war helped convince many in the Arab world that Israel could not be defeated militarily, thereby strengthening peace movements and ending the old Arab ambition of destroying Israel by force.
General Shazli had angered Sadat for advocating the withdrawal of Egyptian forces from Sinai to meet the Israeli incursion on the West Bank of the Canal. Six weeks after the war, he was relieved of command and forced out of the army. Ultimately, he went into political exile for years. Upon his return to Egypt, he was placed under house arrest. Following his release, he advocated the formation of a “Supreme High Committee” modeled after Israel’s Agranat Commission, to “probe, examine and analyze” the performance of Egyptian forces and command decisions during the war. His requests were ignored. His book, which candidly described Egyptian military failings and sharp disagreements he had with Ismail, Sadat and others in connection with the prosecution of the war, was banned in Egypt.
The commanders of the Second and Third Armies, Generals Khalil and Wasel, were likewise dismissed from the army. The commander of the Egyptian Second Army at the start of the war, General Mamoun, suffered a heart attack or alternatively, a breakdown after the 14 October Sinai tank battle and was replaced by General Khalil.
In Syria, the Druze commander of an infantry brigade that had collapsed during the Israeli breakthrough – Colonel Rafik Halawi – was executed even before the war ended.
The Seventh Division commander, Gen. Omar Abash, who failed to break through Col. Avigdor Ben-Gal’s brigade, was alternatively reported to have been killed in the fighting or to have died of a heart attack.
Camp David Accords
Yom Kippur War upset the status quo in the Middle East, and the war served as a direct antecedent of the 1979 Camp David Accords.
Rabin’s government was hamstrung by a pair of scandals, and he was forced to step down in 1977. The right-wing Likud party, under the prime ministership of Menachem Begin, won the elections that followed. This marked a historic change in the Israeli political landscape: for the first time since Israel’s founding, a coalition not led by the Labor Party was in control of the government.
Sadat, who had entered the war in order to recover the Sinai from Israel, grew frustrated at the slow pace of the peace process. In a 1977 interview with CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite, Sadat admitted under pointed questioning that he was open to a more constructive dialog for peace, including a state visit. This seemed to open the floodgates, as in a later interview with the same reporter, the normally hard-line Begin – perhaps not wishing to be compared unfavorably to Sadat – said he too would be amenable to better relations and offered his invitation for such a visit. Thus in November of that year, Sadat took the unprecedented step of visiting Israel, becoming the first Arab leader to do so, and so implicitly recognizedIsrael.
The act jump-started the peace process. United States President Jimmy Carter invited both Sadat and Begin to a summit at Camp David to negotiate a final peace. The talks took place from September 5–17, 1978. Ultimately, the talks succeeded, and Israel and Egypt signed the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty in 1979. Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from the Sinai, in exchange for normal relations with Egypt and a lasting peace.
Many in the Arab community were outraged at Egypt’s peace with Israel. Egypt was expelled from the Arab League. Until then, Egypt had been “at the helm of the Arab world.” Egypt’s tensions with its Arab neighbors culminated in 1977 in the short-lived Libyan–Egyptian War.
Sadat was assassinated two years later on October 6, 1981, while attending a parade marking the eighth anniversary of the start of the war, by Islamist army members who were outraged at his negotiations with Israel.
In response to U.S. support of Israel, the Arab members of OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, decided to reduce oil production by 5% per month on October 17. On October 19, President Nixon authorized a major allocation of arms supplies and $2.2 billion in appropriations for Israel. In response, Saudi Arabia declared an embargo against the United States, later joined by other oil exporters and extended against theNetherlands and other states, causing the 1973 energy crisis.
Wreckage of an Israeli A-4 Skyhawk on display in Egypt’s war museum
October 6 is a national holiday in Egypt called Armed Forces Day. It is a national holiday in Syria as well, where it is called “Tishreen Liberation Day”. Marking the 35th anniversary in 2006,Hosni Mubarak said that the conflict “breathed new life” into Egypt. He said Egypt and Syria’s initial victories in the conflict eased Arab bitterness over Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War and ultimately put the two nations on a path of peaceful coexistence.
In Egypt, many places were named after the October 6 date and Ramadan 10, its equivalent in theIslamic calendar. Examples of these commemorations are the 6th October Bridge in Cairo and the cities 6th of October City and 10th of Ramadan City.
The “Museum of 6 October War” was built in 1989 in the Heliopolis district of Cairo. The center of the museum is occupied by a rotunda housing a panoramic painting of the struggle between Egyptian and Israeli armed forces. The panorama, the creation of which was outsourced to a group of North Korean artists and architects, is equipped with engines to rotate it 360° during a 30-minutes presentation accompanied by commentary in various languages. A similar museum, which was also built with North Korean assistance—the October War Panorama—operates in Damascus.