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Yom Kippur War

The Yom Kippur War (also known as the October War and Ramadan War), was fought from October 6 (the day of Yom Kippur) to October 22/24, 1973, between Israel and a coalition of Egypt and Syria.

Table of contents
1 Summary
2 Background
3 The War
4 Related articles
5 External links


President Nasser of Egypt died in September 1970. He was succeeded by Anwar Sadat, considered more moderate and pragmatic than Nasser. However, to counter internal threats to his power and improve his standing in the Arab world, Sadat resolved to fight Israel and win back the territory lost in 1967. The plan to attack Israel in concert with Syria was code-named Operation Badr (the Arabic word for "full moon").

Egypt and Syria attempted to regain the territory under Israeli occupation by force. Their armies launched a joint attack – the Syrian forces attacking fortifications in the Golan Heights and the Egyptian forces attacking fortifications around the Suez Canal and on the Sinai Peninsula. The troops inflicted heavy casualties on the Israeli army. After three weeks of fighting, however, and resupplied with ammunition by a large-scale U.S. airlift operation, the IDF pushed the forces back beyond the original lines.


This battle was part of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a conflict which has included many battles and wars since 1948. In the Six-Day War in June 1967, Israel had occupied the Golan Heights in the north and the Sinai Peninsula in the south, right up to the Suez Canal.

In the years following that war, Israel erected lines of fortification in both the Sinai and the Golan Heights. In 1971, Israel spent $500 million fortifying its positions on the Suez Canal, a chain of fortifications and gigantic earthworks known as the "Bar-Lev Line", named after Israeli general Haim Bar-Lev. After the overwhelming victory against the massed Arab armies in 1967, and having emerged undefeated from the three-year long War of Attrition with Egypt in the south and several border incidents with Syria in the north, the Israeli leadership had grown somewhat complacent. Flush with a sense of their own overwhelming military superiority, they failed to recognize the aggressive effort made by their enemies, Egypt in particular, to rearm and reorganize their armies into a far more disciplined fighting force that could challenge the IDF.

In 1971 Anwar Sadat stated that if Israel were to unilaterally withdraw from all land it conquered during the 1967 war, Egypt would consider a comprehensive ceasefire or truce. Israel was reluctant to withdraw from so much territory without any guarantee of a peace treaty from Egypt and, at that time, with no chance at all of a peace treaty with any of its Arab neighbors. In response, in 1972 Anwar Sadat publicly stated that Egypt was committed to going to war with the State of Israel, and that they were prepared to sacrifice one million Egyptian soldiers. From the end of 1972 Egypt began a concentrated effort to build up its forces, receiving MiG-23s, SAM6s6s, RPG-7s and especially the 'Sagger' ATGM (Anti-tank Guided Missile) from the Soviet Union) and improving its military tactics.

In 1972 and 1973 Sadat publicly declared again that Egypt would go to war with Israel unless it unilaterally withdrew from all the territory it conquered in 1967. In 1973 Sadat went on a diplomatic offensive to convince African nations, European nations and the Soviet Union to back his war against Israel. Since the Soviet Union was trying to better relations with the US through détente, the Soviet Union refused to accede to Sadat's demands for yet more weapons and public backing for a war against Israel. In response, Sadat expelled some 20,000 Soviet advisers from Egypt.

In an interview published in Newsweek (April 9, 1973), Sadat again threatened war with Israel. However, as this threat had been repeated many times since 1971, the Israeli military did not take it seriously. Blinded by the success of the Six-Day War, the Israeli civilian leadership and military intelligence were unable to treat the possibility of an Arab attack seriously. Several times during 1973, the Arab forces conducted large-scale exercises that put the Israeli army, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), on the highest level of alert, only to be recalled a few days later. The Israeli leadership already believed that if an attack took place, the Israeli Air Force would be able to repel it easily – and now they became increasingly convinced that the attack would simply not take place.

Most analyses of the Egyptian intentions in the war assume that they involved the reconquest of all or most of the Sinai, which was indeed the publically stated objective. However, certain Egyptian writers later maintained that Sadat's instructions to his generals were only to capture a strip of a few kilometers wide on the east side of the Suez Canal. As Israeli military archives, and Egyptian documents captured by Israel during the war, started to become available, a number of Western historians have begun to support this version. For example, this is the opinion of Dani Asher, whose book was published by the Israeli Ministry of Defence in 2003. Absolute certainty may need to wait until the Egyptian archives are opened.

The War

Certain other Arab and Muslim nations were involved in this war, providing additional weapons or financing. Exact amounts of support are uncertain. According to some sources, Iraq sent a squadron of Hunter jets to Egypt. During the war itself, Iraq sent a division of 18,000 men and a few hundred tanks, which were deployed in the central Golan; these forces, including some of Iraq's MiG fighter aircraft, did play a role in the war. The nations of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait gave financial aid and sent soldiers to join in the battle. Saudia Arabia sent 3,000 Arab soldiers to Syria, which engaged the Israeli forces on the approaches to Damascus. Between 1971 to 1973, Qadhafi's Libya sent Mirage fighters to Egypt, and it gave Egypt some $1 billion to arm Egypt 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. Sudan sent 3,500 soldiers; Morocco sent three brigades to the front lines.

In the Golan Heights, the Syrians attacked the Israeli defenses of two brigades and eleven artillery batteries with five divisions and 188 batteries. Over three days of fighting, the 7th Israeli brigade in the north (commanded by Yanush Ben-Gal) managed to hold the rocky hill line defending the northern flank of their headquarters in Nafah. 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.

To the south, however, the brigade nicknamed Barak did not have a natural obstacle to defend from, and was badly mauled as the Syrians pushed inwards towards the Sea of Galilee. At one point, the only obstacle between the Syrian attackers and Nafah was a single tank (the so called Zvika force). However, the tide in the North soon turned, as the arriving Israeli reserve forces were able to contain the Syrian offensive. The tiny Golan Heights was too small to act as an effective territorial buffer, unlike the Sinai Peninsula in the south, and the Israelis gave the northern front first priority for their still-mobilizing reserves. By October 11, the Syrians were pushed back beyond the 1967 frontier.

In the following days, the Israeli forces pushed into Syria. From there they were able to shell the outskirts of Damascus, only 40 km away, using heavy artillery. A ceasefire was negotiated on October 22, based on a return to pre-war borders.

In response to the Israeli success and the US support of Israel, on October 17 the Arab states declared an oil embargo against the west.

The Egyptians burst across the Suez Canal and had advanced up to 15 km into the Sinai desert, with the combined forces of two army corps. They were opposed by the Israeli "Sinai" division, which they overcame with relative ease and whose counter-attacks they repelled. The Israeli counter-attacks in air and on land were unsuccessful because of the new anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles the Arabs had.

However, the Egyptians had not planned to develop on their initial success, and their forces were now thinly spread at the Canal, vulnerable to a counter-attack. On October 15, a division led by Ariel Sharon managed to breach the line between the Second and the Third Egyptian armies and to create a bridgehead; on the night of October 16/17, an Israeli bridge was deployed on which passed the divisions of Avraham Eden (Bern) and Sharon. They wrought havoc on the lines of supply of the Third Army stretching south of them. A ceasefire was then negotiated following pressure from the USSR and the United States.

The ceasefire did not end the sporadic clashes along the ceasefire lines nor did it dissipate military tensions. On March 5, 1974, Israeli forces withdrew from the canal's west bank, and Egypt assumed control. Syria and Israel signed a disengagement agreement on May 31, 1974, and the UN Disengagement and Observer Force (UNDOF) was established as a peacekeeping force in the Golan.

U.S. efforts resulted in an interim agreement between Egypt and Israel in September 1975, which provided for another Israeli withdrawal in the Sinai, a limitation of forces, and three observation stations staffed by U.S. civilians in a UN-maintained buffer zone between Egyptian and Israeli forces.

Related articles

See also: History -- Military history -- War

External links