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Yom Kippur War

Related subjects Military History and War

Yom Kippur War/October War
Part of the Arab-Israeli conflict
Date October 6 – October 26, 1973
Location Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, and surrounding regions of the Middle East
Result UNSCR 338: cease-fire leading to Geneva Conference.
Belligerents
Flag of Israel Israel Flag of Egypt Egypt
Flag of Syria Syria
Flag of Iraq Iraq
Commanders
Moshe Dayan
David Elazar
Ariel Sharon
Shmuel Gonen
Benjamin Peled
Israel Tal
Rehavam Zeevi
Aharon Yariv
Yitzhak Hofi
Rafael Eitan
Abraham Adan
Yanush Ben Gal
Saad El Shazly
Mustafa Tlass
General Shakkour
Naji Jamil

Hafez al-Assad
Ahmad Ismail Ali
Hosni Mubarak
Mohammed Aly Fahmy
Anwar Sadat
Abdel Ghani el-Gammasy
Abdul Munim Wassel
Abd-Al-Minaam Khaleel
Abu Zikry

Strength
415,000 troops,
1,500 tanks,
3,000 armored carriers,
945 artillery units,
561 airplanes,
84 helicopters,
38 Navy vessels
Egypt: 800,000 troops (300,000 deployed, 80,000 crossed), 2,400 tanks (800 crossed), 2,400 armored carriers, 1,120 artillery units, 690 airplanes (220 crossed, about 60 participated in the Mansourah battle), 161 helicopters, 104 Navy vessels,
Syria: 150,000 troops (60,000 deployed), 1,400 tanks, 800–900 armored carriers, 600 artillery units, 350 airplanes, 36 helicopters, 21 Navy vessels,
Iraq: 60,000 troops, 700 tanks, 500 armored carriers, 200 artillery units, 73 airplanes,
Casualties and losses
2,656 killed
7,250 wounded
More than 340 captured
400 tanks destroyed
600 tanks damaged/returned to service
unknown number of tanks captured
102 planes destroyed
8,528* – 15,000** dead
19,540* – 35,000** wounded
2,250 tanks destroyed or captured
432 planes destroyed
* Western analysis
** Israeli analysis

The Yom Kippur War, Ramadan War or October War (Hebrew: מלחמת יום הכיפורים‎; transliterated: Milkhemet Yom HaKipurim or מלחמת יום כיפור, Milkhemet Yom Kipur; Arabic: حرب أكتوبر‎; transliterated: ħarb October or حرب تشرين, ħarb Tishrin), also known as the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, was fought from October 6 to October 26, 1973 by a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria against Israel. The war began with a surprise joint attack by Egypt and Syria on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Egypt and Syria crossed the cease-fire lines in the Sinai and Golan Heights, respectively, which had been captured by Israel in 1967 during the Six-Day War.

The Egyptians and Syrians advanced during the first 24–48 hours, after which momentum began to swing in Israel's favour. By the second week of the war, the Syrians had been pushed entirely out of the Golan Heights. In the Sinai to the south, the Israelis struck at the seam between two invading Egyptian armies, crossed the Suez Canal (where the old ceasefire line had been), and cut off the Egyptian Third Army just as a United Nations cease-fire came into effect.

The war had far-reaching implications for many nations. The Arab World, which had been humiliated by the lopsided defeat of the Egyptian-Syrian-Jordanian alliance during the Six-Day War, felt psychologically vindicated by its string of victories early in the conflict, despite the endstate. This vindication paved the way for the peace process that followed, as well as liberalizations such as Egypt's infitah policy. The Camp David Accords, which came soon after, led to normalized relations between Egypt and Israel—the first time any Arab country had recognized the Israeli state. Egypt, which had already been drifting away from the Soviet Union, then left the Soviet sphere of influence entirely.

Background

Casus belli

This war was part of the Arab-Israeli conflict, an ongoing dispute which has included many battles and wars since 1948 when the state of Israel was formed. During the Six-Day War of 1967, the Israelis had captured Egypt's Sinai Peninsula all the way up to the Suez Canal, which had become the cease-fire line, and roughly half of Syria's Golan Heights.

In the years following that war, Israel erected lines of fortification in both the Sinai and the Golan Heights. In 1971 Israel spent $500 million fortifying its positions on the Suez Canal, a chain of fortifications and gigantic earthworks known as the Bar Lev Line, named after Israeli General Chaim Bar-Lev.

Nonetheless, 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 Golans 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.

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 of receipt from Egypt or Syria, who thus apparently never received the offer. The decision was kept a closely-guarded secret within Israeli government circles and the offer was withdrawn in October, 1967.

Egypt and Syria both desired a return of the land lost in the Six-Day War. However, the Khartoum Arab Summit issued the "three no's," resolving that there would be "no peace, no recognition and no negotiation with Israel."

President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt died in September 1970. He was succeeded by Anwar Sadat, who resolved to fight Israel and win back the territory lost in the Six-Day War. In 1971, Sadat, in response to an initiative by UN intermediary Gunnar Jarring, declared that if Israel committed itself to "withdrawal of its armed forces from Sinai and the Gaza Strip" and to implementation of other provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 242 as requested by Jarring, Egypt would then "be ready to enter into a peace agreement with Israel." Israel responded that it would not withdraw to the pre- June 5, 1967 lines.

Sadat hoped that by inflicting even a limited defeat on the Israelis, the status quo could be altered. Hafiz al-Assad, the head of Syria, had a different view. He had little interest in negotiation and felt the retaking of the Golan Heights would be a purely military option. Since the Six-Day War, Assad had launched a massive military build up and hoped to make Syria the dominant military power of the Arab states. With the aid of Egypt, Assad felt that his new army could win convincingly against the Israeli army and thus secure Syria's role in the region. Assad only saw negotiations beginning once the Golan Heights had been retaken by force, which would induce Israel to give up the West Bank and Gaza, and make other concessions.

Sadat also had important domestic concerns in wanting war. "The three years since Sadat had taken office… were the most demoralized in Egyptian history… A desiccated economy added to the nation's despondency. War was a desperate option." In his biography of Sadat, Raphael Israeli argued that Sadat felt the root of the problem was in the great shame over the Six-Day War, and before any reforms could be introduced he felt that shame had to be overcome. Egypt's economy was in shambles, but Sadat knew that the deep reforms that he felt were needed would be deeply unpopular among parts of the population. A military victory would give him the popularity he needed to make changes. A portion of the Egyptian population, most prominently university students who launched wide protests, strongly desired a war to reclaim the Sinai and was highly upset that Sadat had not launched one in his first three years in office.

The other Arab states showed much more reluctance to fully commit to a new war. King Hussein of Jordan feared another major loss of territory as had occurred in the Six-Day War, during which Jordan was halved in population. Sadat was also backing the claim of the PLO to the territories (West Bank and Gaza) and in the event of a victory promised Yasser Arafat that he would be given control of them. Hussein still saw the West Bank as part of Jordan and wanted it restored to his kingdom. Moreover, during the Black September crisis of 1970 a near civil war had broken out between the PLO and the Jordanian government. In that war Syria had intervened militarily on the side of the PLO, leaving Assad and Hussein estranged from each other.

Iraq and Syria also had strained relations, and the Iraqis refused to join the initial offensive. Lebanon, which shared a border with Israel, was not expected to join the Arab war effort due to its small army and already evident instability. The months before the war saw Sadat engage in a diplomatic offensive to try to win support for the war. By the fall of 1973 he claimed the backing of more than a hundred states. These were most of the countries of the Arab League, Non-Aligned Movement, and Organization of African Unity. Sadat had also worked to curry favour in Europe and had some success before the war. Britain and France had for the first time sided with the Arab powers against Israel on the United Nations Security Council.

Events leading up to the war

Anwar Sadat in 1972 publicly stated that Egypt was committed to going to war with Israel, and that they were prepared to "sacrifice one million Egyptian soldiers." From the end of 1972, Egypt began a concentrated effort to build up its forces, receiving MiG-21 jet fighters, SA-2, SA-3, SA-4, SA-6 and SA-7 antiaircraft missiles, T-55 and T-62 tanks, RPG-7 antitank weapons, and especially 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.

The role of the great powers, too, was a major factor in the outcome of the two wars. The policy of the Soviet Union was one of the causes of Egypt's military weakness. President Nasser was only able to obtain the material for an anti-aircraft missile defense wall after visiting Moscow and pleading with the Kremlin leaders. He claimed that if supplies were not given, he would have to return to Egypt and tell the Egyptian people Moscow had abandoned them, and then relinquish power to one of his peers who would be able to deal with the Americans. The Americans would then have the upper hand in the region, which Moscow could not permit.

One of Egypt's undeclared objectives of the War of Attrition was to force the Soviet Union to supply Egypt with more advanced arms and war materiel. 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 supplied to Israel.

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. This was unacceptable to Egyptian leaders, and when it was discovered that the Egyptian preparations for crossing the canal were being leaked, it became imperative to expel the Russians from Egypt. In July 1972 Sadat expelled almost all of the 20,000 Soviet military advisors in the country and reoriented the country's foreign policy to be more favorable to the United States. The Syrians remained close to the Soviet Union.

The Soviets thought little of Sadat's chances in any war. They warned that any attempt to cross the heavily fortified Suez would incur massive losses. The Soviets, who were then pursuing détente, 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.

In an interview published in Newsweek ( April 9, 1973), President Sadat again threatened war with Israel. Several times during 1973, Arab forces conducted large-scale exercises that put the Israeli military on the highest level of alert, only to be recalled a few days later. The Israeli leadership already believed that if an attack took place, the Israeli Air Force would be able to repel it.

Almost a full year before the war, in an October 24, 1972, meeting with his Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Sadat declared his intention to go to war with Israel even without proper Soviet support. Planning was done in absolute secrecy—even the upper-echelon commanders were not told of war plans until less than a week prior to the attack, and the soldiers were not told until a few hours beforehand. The plan to attack Israel in concert with Syria was code-named Operation Badr (the Arabic word for "full moon"), after the Battle of Badr, in which Muslims under Muhammad defeated the Quraish tribe of Mecca.

Lead up to the surprise attack

The IDF's 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 went to war as well. Second, the department learned from a high-ranking Egyptian informant that Egypt wanted to regain all of the Sinai, but would not go to war until the Soviets had supplied fighter-bombers to neutralize the Israeli Air Force, and Scud missiles to be used against Israeli cities as a deterrent against Israeli attacks on Egyptian infrastructure. Since the Soviets had not yet supplied the fighter bombers, and the Scud missiles had only arrived in Egypt in late August, and in addition 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. It was later revealed in a book published by London-based Israeli historian Roni Bregman that the informant (or possible double agent) was none other than Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian political insider.

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. 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 had engaged in exercises by the border and mobilizing in response both times had cost the Israeli army some $10 million.

For the week leading up to Yom Kippur, the Egyptians staged a week-long training exercise adjacent to the Suez Canal. Israeli intelligence, detecting large troop movements towards the canal, dismissed 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 Soviet weaponry arrived.

The obvious reason for choosing the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur for staging a surprise attack on Israel was that on this specific day (unlike any other holiday) the country comes to a complete standstill. On Yom Kippur, the holiest day for Jews, not only observant, but most secular Jews fast, abstain from any use of fire, electricity, engines, communications, etc., and all road traffic comes to a standstill. Many soldiers leave military facilities for home during the holiday and Israel is most vulnerable, especially with much of its army demobilized. The war also coincided with the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, meaning that many of the Muslim soldiers were also fasting. Many others believe that the attack on Yom Kippur surprisingly helped Israel to easily recruit reserves from their homes and synagogues, because the nature of the Yom Kippur holiday meant that roads and communication would be largely open, to help organize and mobilize the military.

Despite refusing to participate, King Hussein of Jordan "had met with Sadat and [Syrian President] Assad in Alexandria two weeks before. Given the mutual suspicions prevailing among the Arab leaders, it was unlikely that he had been told any specific war plans. But it was probable that Sadat and Assad had raised the prospect of war against Israel in more general terms to feel out the likelihood of Jordan joining in." On the night of September 25, Hussein secretly flew to Tel Aviv to warn Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir of an impending Syrian attack. "Are they going to war without the Egyptians, asked Mrs. Meir. The king said he didn't think so. 'I think they [Egypt] would cooperate'". Surprisingly, this warning fell on deaf ears. Aman concluded that the king had not told it anything it did not already know. "Eleven warnings of war were received by Israel during September from well placed sources. But [ Mossad chief] Zvi Zamir continued to insist that war was not an Arab option. Not even Hussein's warnings succeeded in stirring his doubts". He would later remark that "We simply didn't feel them capable [of War]"

Finally, Zvi Zamir personally went to Europe to meet with Marwan, at midnight on October 5/6th. At that meeting, Marwan informed him that a joint Syrian-Egyptian attack on Israel was imminent. It was this warning in particular, combined with the large number of other warnings, that finally goaded the Israeli high command into action. Just hours before the attack began, orders went out for a partial call-up of the Israeli reserves. Ironically, calling up the reserves proved to be easier than usual, as almost all of the troops were at synagogue or at home for the holiday.

Lack of an Israeli pre-emptive attack

Upon learning of the impending attack, Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir made the controversial decision not to launch a pre-emptive strike.
Upon learning of the impending attack, Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir made the controversial decision not to launch a pre-emptive strike.

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, at the worst case, about 48 hours notice prior to an Arab attack.

Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, and Israeli general David Elazar met at 8:05 a.m. the morning of Yom Kippur, 6 hours before the war was to begin. Dayan began the meeting by arguing that war was not a certainty. Elazar then presented his argument, in favour 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." European nations, under threat of an Arab oil embargo and trade boycott, had stopped supplying Israel with munitions. As a result, Israel was totally dependent on the United States to resupply its army, and was particularly sensitive to anything that might endanger that relationship. After Meir had made the decision not to strike first, a message arrived from Henry Kissinger: "Don't preempt."

Some say that in retrospect the decision was a sound one. While Operation Nickel Grass, the American airlift of supplies during the war which began October 13, did not immediately replace Israel's losses in equipment, it did allow Israel to expend what it did have more freely. Had they struck first, according to Henry Kissinger, they would not have received "so much as a nail".

Combat operations

In the Sinai

The Egyptian units would not advance beyond a shallow strip for fear of losing protection of their 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 cease-fire lines with SAM batteries provided by the Soviet Union, against which the Israeli Air Force had no effective countermeasures. Israel, which had invested much of its defense budget building the region's strongest air force, would see its air force rendered almost useless by the presence of the SAM batteries.

Anticipating a swift Israeli armored counterattack, the Egyptians had armed their first wave with unprecedented numbers of man-portable anti-tank weapons— rocket propelled grenades and the more advanced Sagger guided missiles, which proved devastating to the first Israeli armoured counter-attacks. One in every three Egyptian soldiers had an anti-tank weapon. "Never before had such intensive anti-tank fire been brought to bear on the battlefield." In addition, the ramp on the Egyptian side of the canal had been increased to twice the height of the Israeli ramp, giving them an excellent vantage point from which to fire down on the Israelis, as well as any approaching tanks. The 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 losses early in the war.

The 1973 War in the Sinai, October 6–15.
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 high barricades made primarily from sand. Egyptian engineers initially used explosive charges 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 Germany. The Egyptian forces used these water-cannons loaded with water from the Suez Canal. The water-cannons effectively blasted away the barricades. Troops then crossed the Suez Canal in small personnel-carrier boats and inflatable rafts, in what became known as The Crossing, capturing or destroying all but one of the Bar-Lev forts. In a meticulously rehearsed operation, the Egyptian forces advanced approximately 15 km into the Sinai desert with the combined forces of two armies (both by Western standards corps-sized, which included the 2nd Infantry Division in the northern 2nd Army). The Israeli battalion garrisoning the Bar-Lev forts was vastly outnumbered, and was overwhelmed. Only one fortification, code named Budapest (the northernmost Bar-Lev fort), would remain in Israeli control through the end of the war.

The Egyptian forces consolidated their initial positions. On October 8, Shmuel Gonen, commander of the Israeli Southern front—who had only taken the position 3 months before at the retirement of Ariel Sharon—ordered a counterattack by Gabi Amir's brigade against entrenched Egyptian forces at Hizayon, where approaching tanks could be easily destroyed by Saggers fired from the Egyptian ramp. Despite Amir's reluctance, the attack proceeded, and the result was a disaster for the Israelis. Towards nightfall, a counterattack by the Egyptians was stopped by Ariel Sharon's 143rd Armoured Division—Sharon had been reinstated as a division commander at the outset of the war. The fighting subsided, with neither side wanting to mount a large attack against the other.

Following the disastrous Israeli attack on the 8th, both sides adopted defensive postures and hoped for the other side to attack. Elazar replaced Gonen, who had proven to be out of his depth, with Chaim Bar-Lev, brought out of retirement. Because it was considered dangerous to morale to replace the front commander during the middle of a battle, rather than being sacked, Gonen was made chief of staff to the newly appointed Bar-Lev.

The 1973 War in the Sinai, October 15–24.
The 1973 War in the Sinai, October 15–24.

After several days of waiting, Sadat, wanting to ease pressure on the Syrians, ordered his chief generals ( Saad El Shazly and Ahmad Ismail Ali chief among them) to attack. General Saad El Shazly stated in his published memoires that he strongly and vocally opposed the attack, and told president Sadat that this would be a grave strategic error. Due to this sentiment, El Shazly was practically removed from the line of command. The Egyptian forces brought across their reserves and began their counterattack on 14 October. "The attack, the most massive since the initial Egyptian assault on Yom Kippur, was a total failure, the first major Egyptian reversal of the war. Instead of concentrating forces of maneuvering, except for the wadi thrust, they had expended them in head-on attack against the waiting Israeli brigades. Egyptian losses for the day were estimated at between 150 and 250 tanks."

Israeli bridge on the Suez Canal.
Israeli bridge on the Suez Canal.

The following day, October 15, the Israelis launched Operation Abiray-Lev ("Valiant" or "Stouthearted Men")—the counterattack against the Egyptians and crossing of the Suez Canal. The attack was a tremendous change of tactics for the Israelis, who had previously relied on air and tank support—support that had been decimated by the well-prepared Egyptian forces. Instead, the Israelis used infantry to infiltrate the positions of the Egyptian SAM and anti-tank batteries, which were unable to cope as well with forces on foot.

A division led by Major General Ariel Sharon (almost certainly the 143rd Armoured Division) attacked the Egyptian line just north of Bitter Lake, in the vicinity of Ismailiya. The Israelis struck at a weak point in the Egyptian line, the "seam" between the Egyptian Second Army in the north and the Egyptian Third Army in the south. In some of the most brutal fighting of the war in and around the Chinese Farm (an irrigation project east of the canal and north of the crossing point), the Israelis opened a hole in the Egyptian line and reached the Suez Canal. A small force crossed the canal and created a bridgehead on the other side. For over 24 hours, troops were ferried across the canal in light inflatable boats, with no armor support of their own. They were well supplied with American-made M72 LAW rockets, negating the threat of Egyptian armor. Once the anti-aircraft and anti-tank defences of the Egyptians had been neutralized, the infantry once again was able to rely on overwhelming tank and air support.

Prior to the war, fearing an Israeli crossing of the canal, no Western nation would supply the Israelis with bridging equipment. They were able to purchase and refurbish obsolete modular pontoon bridging equipment from a French WWII scrap lot. The Israelis also constructed a rather sophisticated indigenous "roller bridge" but logistical delays involving heavy congestion on the roads leading to the crossing point delayed its arrival to the canal for several days. Deploying the pontoon bridge on the night of October 16/17, Avraham "Bren" Adan's 162nd Division crossed and raced south, intent on cutting off the Egyptian Third Army before it could retreat west back into Egypt. At the same time, it sent out raiding forces to destroy Egyptian SAM batteries east of the canal. By October 19 the Israelis managed to construct four separate bridges just north of the Great Bitter Lake under heavy Egyptian bombardment. By the end of the war the Israelis were well within Egypt, reaching a point 101 kilometers from its capital, Cairo.

On the Golan Heights

In the Golan Heights, the Syrians attacked the Israeli defenses of two brigades and eleven artillery batteries with five divisions and 188 batteries. At the onset of the battle, 180 Israeli tanks faced off against approximately 1,300 Syrian tanks. 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.

Golan Heights campaign
Golan Heights campaign

Fighting in the Golan Heights was given priority by the Israeli High Command. The fighting in the Sinai was sufficiently far away that the Israeli population centers were not immediately threatened; should the Golan Heights fall, the Syrians could easily advance towards Tiberias, Safed, Haifa, Netanya, and Tel Aviv. 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, without waiting for machine guns to be installed on their tanks, and without taking the time to calibrate their tank guns (a time-consuming process known as bore-sighting).

As the Egyptians had in the Sinai, the Syrians on the Golan Heights 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).

The Syrians had expected it would take at least 24 hours for Israeli reserves to reach the front lines; in fact, Israeli reserve units began reaching the battle lines only fifteen hours after the war began.

By the end of the first day of battle, the Syrians (who at the start outnumbered the Israelis in the Golan 9 to 1) had achieved moderate success. Towards the end of the day, "A Syrian tank brigade passing through the Rafid Gap turned northwest up a little-used route known as the Tapline Road, which cut diagonally across the Golan. This roadway would prove one of the main strategic hinges of the battle. It led straight from the main Syrian breakthrough points to Nafah, which was not only the location of Israeli divisional headquarters but the most important crossroads on the Heights." During the night, Lieutenant Zvika Greengold, who had just arrived to the battle unattached to any unit, fought them off with his single tank until help arrived. "For the next 20 hours, Zvika Force, as he came to be known on the radio net, fought running battles with Syrian tanks—sometimes alone, sometimes as part of a larger unit, changing tanks half a dozen times as they were knocked out. He was wounded and burned but stayed in action and repeatedly showed up at critical moments from an unexpected direction to change the course of a skirmish." For his actions, Zvika became a national hero in Israel.

During over four days of fighting, the Israeli 7th Armoured Brigade in the north (commanded by Yanush Ben Gal) managed to hold the rocky hill line defending the northern flank of their headquarters in Nafah. For some as-yet-unexplained reason, the Syrians were close to conquering Nafah, yet they stopped the advance on Nafah's fences, letting Israel assemble a defensive line. The most reasonable explanation for this is that the Syrians had calculated estimated advances, and the commanders in the field didn't want to digress from the plan. To the south, however, the Barak Armored Brigade, bereft of any natural defenses, began to take heavy casualties. Brigade Commander Colonel Shoham was killed during the second day of fighting, along with his second in command and their Operations Officer (each in a separate tank), as the Syrians desperately tried to advance towards the Sea of Galilee and Nafah. At this point, the Brigade stopped functioning as a cohesive force, although the surviving tanks and crewmen continued fighting independently.

The tide in the Golan began to turn as the arriving Israeli reserve forces were able to contain and, starting on 8 October, 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. By Wednesday, October 10, the last Syrian unit in the Central sector had been pushed back across the Purple Line, that is, the pre-war border.

A decision now had to be made—whether to stop at the 1967 border, or to continue into Syrian territory. Israeli High Command spent the entire 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 happened two days earlier). 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 of Syria) in the event of another war with Syria. However, Prime Minister Meir realized the most crucial point of the whole debate—"It would take four days to shift a division to the Sinai. If the war ended during this period, the war would end with a territorial loss for Israel in the Sinai and no gain in the north—an unmitigated defeat. This was a political matter and her decision was unmitigating—to cross the purple line… The attack would be launched tomorrow, Thursday, October 11."

From 11 October to 14 October, the Israeli forces pushed into Syria, conquering a further twenty-square-mile box of territory in the Bashan. From there they were able to shell the outskirts of Damascus, only 40 km away, using heavy artillery.

"As Arab position on the battlefields deteriorated, pressure mounted on King Hussein to send his Army into action. He found a way to meet these demands without opening his kingdom to Israeli air attack. Instead of attacking Israel from their common border, he sent an expeditionary force into Syria. He let Israel know of his intentions, through US intermediaries, in the hope that it [Israel] would accept that this was not a casus belli justifying an attack into Jordan… Dayan declined to offer any such assurance, but Israel had no intention of opening another front."

Iraq also sent an expeditionary force to the Golan, consisting of some 30,000 men, 500 tanks, and 700 APCs. The Iraqi divisions were actually a strategic surprise for the IDF, which expected a 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.

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.

On 22 October, the Golani Brigade and Sayeret Matkal commandos recaptured the outpost on Mount Hermon, after sustaining very heavy casualties from entrenched Syrian snipers strategically positioned on the mountain. An attack two weeks before had cost 25 dead and 67 wounded, while this second attack cost an additional 55 dead and 79 wounded. An Israeli D9 bulldozer with Israeli infantry breached a way to the peak, preventing the peak from falling into Syrian hands after the war. A paratrooper brigade took the corresponding Syrian outposts on the mountain.

At sea

Diagram of the Battle of Latakia
Diagram of the Battle of Latakia

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. This battle was the world's first battle between missile boats equipped with surface-to-surface missiles. 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 and Egyptian navies stayed at their Mediterranean Sea ports throughout most of the war, enabling the Mediterranean sea lanes to Israel to remain open.

However, the Israeli navy was less successful in breaking the Egyptian Navy's blockade of the Red Sea for Israeli or Israel-bound shipping, thus hampering Israel's oil resupply via the port of Eilat. Israel did not possess enough missile boats in Red Sea ports to enable breaking the blockade, a fact it regretted in hindsight.

Several other times during the war, the Israeli navy mounted small assault raids on Egyptian ports. Both Fast Attack Craft and Shayetet 13 naval commandos were active in these assaults. Their purpose was to destroy boats that were to be used by the Egyptians to ferry their own commandos behind Israeli lines. The overall effect of these raids on the war was relatively minor.

Participation by other states

Besides Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, several other Arab states were involved in this war, providing additional weapons and financing. The amount of support is uncertain.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait gave financial aid and sent some token forces to join in the battle. Morocco sent three brigades to the front lines; the Palestinians sent troops as well. Pakistan sent sixteen pilots.

From 1971 to 1973, Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya sent Mirage fighters and gave Egypt around $1 billion to arm for war. Algeria sent squadrons of fighters and bombers, armored brigades, and dozens of tanks. Tunisia sent over 1,000 soldiers, who worked with Egyptian forces in the Nile delta, and Sudan sent 3,500 soldiers.

Uganda radio reported that Idi Amin sent Ugandan soldiers to fight against Israel. Cuba also sent approximately 1,500 troops including tank and helicopter crews who reportedly also engaged in combat operations against the IDF.

Weapons

The Arab armies were equipped with predominantly Soviet-made weapons while Israel's armaments were mostly Western-made. The Arab armies' T-54/55s and T-62s were equipped with night vision equipment, which the Israeli tanks lacked, giving them an added advantage on the battlefield during the fighting that took place at night.

Type Arab armies IDF
Tanks Egypt, Syria and Iraq used T-34/85, T-54, T-55, T-62 and PT-76, as well as SU-100/ 152 WWII vintage self propelled guns. M50 Sherman, M51 Sherman, M48 Patton, M60 Patton, Centurion and about 200 T-54/55 captured during the Six-Day War, and later upgraded with British 105 mm L7 gun.
APCs/ IFVs BTR-40, BTR-152, BTR-50, BTR-60 APC's & BMP 1 IFV's M2 /M3 Half-track, M113
Artillery 2A18, M1937 Howitzer, BM-21 M109 self-propelled howitzer, M107 self-propelled gun, M110 self-propelled howitzer, M50 self-propelled howitzer and Makmat 160 mm self-propelled mortar and 155 mm towed howitzers
Aircraft MiG-21, MiG-19, MiG-17, Su-7B, Tu-16, Il-28, Il-18, Il-14, An-12, Aero L-29 A-4 Skyhawk, F-4 Phantom II, Dassault Mirage III, Dassault Mystère IV, IAI Nesher, Sud Aviation Vautour
Helicopters Mi-6, Mi-8 Super Frelon, CH-53, AB-205
AAW SA-6 Gainful, SA-3 Goa, SA-2 Guideline, ZSU-23-4 MIM-23 Hawk, MIM-72/M48 Chaparral
Infantry weapons Carl Gustav M/45, AK-47, RPK, RPD, DShK HMG, AT-3 Sagger and RPG-7 Uzi, FN FAL, M16, FN MAG, M2 Browning, LAW and TOW

Long-term effects of the war

The peace discussion at the end of the war was the first time that Arab and Israeli officials met for direct public discussions since the aftermath of the 1948 war.

On a tactical level, the end of the war saw Israel with territorial gains in the Golan Heights and the encirclement of the Egyptian third army. Some believe the cease fire prevented Israel from landing its harshest blow, as a USMC report asserts: "They were now in position to threaten the rear administrative and supply areas of the entire Egyptian Army. Largely due to the efforts of the Soviet Union, which was fearful of the possibility of a serious Egyptian defeat, the U.N. Security Council imposed a cease-fire effective 22 October."

The report also argues that the Arab side succeeded in surprising Israeli and worldwide intelligence agencies both strategically and tactically: "From a purely military point of view, the first and most important Arab success was the strategic and tactical surprise achieved. While this was aided to no small degree by mistakes made by Israeli Intelligence and the political and military leadership in Israel, the bulk of the credit must go to the highly sophisticated deception plan mounted by the Egyptians. They succeeded in convincing the Israeli Command that the intensive military activity to the west of the Canal during the summer and autumn of 1973 was nothing more than a series of training operations and maneuvers. This deception must be marked as one of the outstanding plans of deception mounted in the course of military history. The plan was successful not only as far as Israeli intelligence was concerned, but also with world-wide intelligence agencies."

For the Arab states (and Egypt in particular), the psychological trauma of their defeat in the Six-Day War had been healed. In many ways, it allowed them to negotiate with the Israelis as equals. However, given that the war had started about as well as the Arab leaders could have wanted, at the end they had made only limited territorial gains in the Sinai front, while Israel gained more territory on the Golan Heights than it held before the war; also given the fact that Israel managed to gain a foothold on African soil west of the canal, the war helped convince many in the Arab World that Israel could not be defeated militarily, thereby strengthening peace movements. The war effectively ended the old Arab ambition of destroying Israel by force.

The war had a stunning effect on the population in Israel. Following their victory in the Six-Day War, the Israeli military had become complacent. The shock and sudden defeats that occurred at the beginning of the war sent a terrible psychological blow to the Israelis, who had thought they had military supremacy in the region. However, in time, they began to realize what an astounding, almost unprecedented, turnaround they had achieved: "Reeling from a surprise attack on two fronts with the bulk of its army still unmobilized, and confronted by staggering new battlefield realities, Israel's situation was one that could readily bring strong nations to their knees. Yet, within days, it had regained its footing and in less than two weeks it was threatening both enemy capitals, an achievement having few historical parallels." In Israel, however, the casualty rate was high. Per capita, Israel suffered three times as many casualties in 3 weeks of fighting as the United States did during almost a decade of fighting in Vietnam.

In response to U.S. support of Israel, 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 the Netherlands and other states, causing the 1973 energy crisis.

The initial success greatly increased Sadat's popularity, giving him much firmer control of the Egyptian state and the opportunity to initiate many of the reforms he felt were necessary. In later years this would fade, and in the destructive anti-government food riot of 1977 in Cairo had the slogan "Hero of the crossing, where is our breakfast?" ("يا بطل العبور، فين الفطور؟", "Yā batl al-`abūr, fēn al-futūr?").

Fallout in Israel

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, the Agranat 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:

  • 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 cleared Meir and Dayan of all responsibility, public calls for their resignation (especially Dayan's) became more vociferous.

Finally, 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 Israel's political leadership, and in order to correct the shortcomings of the war from being repeated, the Israeli National Security Council was created to help in better coordinating between the different security and intelligence bodies, and between these and the political branch.

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 as for the first time since Israel's founding, a coalition not led by the Labour 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' 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 recognized Israel.

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."

Anwar 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.

Commemorations

Yom Kippur is the holiest day for Jews. Apart from the usual ceremonies of the holiday and the fasting, in Israel Yom Kippur also commemorates the war of 1973. This is very apparent in the Israeli media.

October 6 is a national holiday in Egypt called Armed Forces Day. It is a national holiday in Syria as well.

In commemoration of the war, many places in Egypt were named after the October 6 date and Ramadan 10, its equivalent in the Islamic calendar. The examples of these commemorations are the famous 6th of October Bridge كوبري السادس من اكتوبر and the known cities 6th of October city and 10th of Ramadan city.

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