This 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 up to the Suez Canal, which had become the cease-fire line, and roughly half of Syria's Golan Heights.
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 The decision was kept a closely guarded secret within Israeli government circles and the offer was withdrawn in October, 1967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. 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.
President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt died in September 1970. He was succeeded by Anwar Sadat, who resolved to 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 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 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 had been 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, estranging Assad and Hussein.
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 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.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-6 and SA-7 antiaircraft 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
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 visiting Moscow and pleading with the 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 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 had 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 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.
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. Both the Soviets and the Americans were then pursuing détente, 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
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 could 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 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 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-level Egyptian informant that Egypt wanted to regain all of the Sinai, but would not go to war until they were supplied MiG-23 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 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. It was later revealed in a book published by London-based Israeli historian Ahron Bregman that the informant (or possible double agent) was Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian political insiderThe 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 conducted military exercises near the border, and the Israeli army mobilized in response both times at considerable cost.
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.
On September 27 and September 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.[
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. 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.
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. 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.
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, six hours before the war was to begin. 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
. 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, she informed the United States that Israel did not intend to preemptively start a war, and asked that US efforts be directed at preventing war.
A message arrived later from United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
saying: "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 sided with Elazar's proposal, and the mobilization proceeded.Combat operationsIn the Sinai
The Egyptian units generally 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 the effectiveness of its air force drastically reduced by the presence of the SAM batteries.
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 counter-attacks. 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 ATGW
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 meters 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 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 from East Germany. The Egyptian forces used these water-cannons with water pumped from the Suez Canal. The water-cannons effectively breached through the sand walls.
At 2:00 pm, Operation Badr
began with a large air strike. More than 200 Egyptian aircraft flying at very low altitudes conducted simultaneous strikes against numerous Israeli targets, principally air bases and Hawk
batteries. The airstrike was highly successful with the loss of five aircraft.
The aerial assault was coupled with a barrage from more than 2000 artillery pieces for a period of 53 minutes, against the Bar Lev Line and rear area command posts and concentration bases.
Under cover of this 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. Meanwhile engineers crossed over to breach the sand wall.
The Israeli air force conducted air interdiction
operations to prevent the bridges from being erected, but were met with heavy resistance from SAM batteries. These attacks were overall ineffective, as bridges that were hit were quickly repaired.
The Israeli brigade garrisoning the Bar-Lev forts was overwhelmed, and within six hours, fifteen strongpoints had been captured as Egyptian forces advanced several kilometers. Only the northernmost fortification of the Bar Lev Line
, code-named 'Budapest
', would remain in Israeli control throughout the war. Once the bridges were laid, additional infantry with the remaining portable and recoilless AT 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 downed twenty helicopters.
Major General (res.) Chaim Herzog placed Egyptian chopper 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.”
Egyptian forces advanced approximately 4 to 5 km into the Sinai desert
with the combined forces of two armies (both corps-sized by western standards, included the 2nd Infantry Division
in the northern 2nd Army). By the following morning, some 850 tanks had crossed the canal.
The crossing was completed with few casualties on the Egyptian side: 280 men killed, 10 aircraft and 20 tanks. Israeli forces defending the Bar Lev Line suffered heavy losses. IAF
losses in the first 27 hours of the war were 30 aircraft.
Egyptian forces then consolidated their initial positions. On October 7 the bridgeheads were enlarged an additional 4 km, at the same time repulsing Israeli counter-attacks. In the north, the Egyptians managed to seize most of the town of Qantara
by evening, clearing it completely by next morning.
Meanwhile the commandos airdropped during October 6 began encountering Israeli reserves the following morning. The commandos inflicted and at times incurred heavy losses during these battles, but were successful where they established themselves in delaying Israeli reserves to the front. These special operations often led to confusion and anxiety among Israeli commanders, who commended the Egyptian commandos.
One source however states that few commandos made it to their objectives, and were usually nothing more than a nuisance.
On October 7, David Elazar visited Shmuel Gonen
, commander of the Israeli Southern front—who had only taken the position 3 months before at the retirement of Ariel Sharon
—and met with Israeli commanders. The Israelis planned a cautious counterattack
for the following day by Abraham Adan
's 162nd Armored Division
On October 8 however, after Elazar had left, Gonen changed 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
came 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 Egyptian 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, 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. Israeli losses in these early battles in the Sinai were 49 planes and approximately 500 tanks.
Throughout the front on October 9, Egyptian forces continued to conduct probing attacks to consolidate and expand their bridgeheads, which were met with costly Israeli counterattacks.
In Sharon's sector, Egyptian forces carried out several attacks, and in response, Sharon ordered a number of counterattacks throughout the day, in clear contravention of Elazar's decision to shift to the defensive. Additional attacks to regain positions lost on October 8 were unsuccessful. By nightfall, Sharon had lost a further 50 tanks without making any gains, although the Israelis succeeded in extracting the garrison at the Purkan strongpoint.
After learning of Sharon's disobedient actions, Elazar became furious. But rather than remove Sharon, who was considered innovative, he opted to replace 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. By October 10, both sides had settled into an operational pause.
The 1973 War in the Sinai, October 15–24.
Following several days of waiting, it became clear to the Egyptian Command that Israeli efforts were concentrated against Syrian forces on the Golan. Sadat, wanting to ease pressure on the Syrians, ordered his chief generals (Saad El Shazly
and Ahmad Ismail Ali
chief among them) to attack. The 2nd and 3rd Armies were to attack eastward at the same time with their forces, leaving behind five infantry divisions to hold the bridgeheads. The attacking forces, consisting of 400 tanks
would not have SAM cover, so the 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 600 Israeli tanks, supported by infantry with SS.11
and newly delivered TOW
missiles (the IDF had roughly 60,000 infantry in the Sinai by October 14)
"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."
Herzog said Egyptian losses were 264 tanks, excluding tanks destroyed by the IAF,
although most sources state total losses were only 250 tanks or less.
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. On the basis of the assumption that the Egyptians had returned to their 1967 form following the failed attack on October 14, Stouthearted Men called for a one day crossing of the Suez Canal and another day for a lightning dash towards Suez
. These timetables proved unduly optimistic.
The 143rd Armoured Division led by Major General Ariel Sharon
and Adan's 162nd Armored 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 three days of 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. Ahead of the main Israeli forces a paratrooper brigade commanded by Colonel Danny Matt crossed the canal closely followed by 30 tanks in the early hours of October 16 unopposed, and subsequently established a bridgehead 5 km deep. The brigade was cut off from Israeli units for nearly 24 hours as the battle continued in the Chinese Farm. An Egyptian infantry brigade launched an attack in the morning of October 16, advancing to within under a mile from the canal, before mounting losses forced the brigade to pull back. Sharon sent out raiding units against SAM units, and although only around three batteries were knocked out of action, the Egyptian Command decided to pull back the remaining batteries to safer positions, decreasing their effectiveness and enabling the Israeli Air Force to provide support to its troops.
Prior to the war, fearing a preemptive Israeli crossing of the canal, no Western nation would supply the Israelis with bridging equipment, but they had been able to purchase obsolete modular pontoon bridging
equipment from a French WWII
scrap lot and these were refurbished. Deploying the pontoon bridge on the night of October 16/17, Adan's 162nd Division crossed on the night of October 17/18. An Egyptian paratrooper brigade, which had been directing effective artillery fire against the Israeli crossing area, was pushed northwards by Sharon's division until they lost sight of the crossing area. This decreased the effectiveness of the Egyptian artillery. The Israelis also had constructed their own rather sophisticated "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. By morning on October 19 the Israelis put their second bridge across, although there remained indications of heavy Israeli losses from artillery fire. Sharon's division of one paratroop and three armored brigades, proceeded to advance northwards in an attempt to capture Ismailia and cut off Second Army's main supply lines. A combined force of two Egyptian paratrooper brigades and an armored brigade halted this thrust 10 km south of Ismailia in four days of battle from October 18 to October 22, inflicting heavy casualties on Israeli armor and Matt's paratroopers. Meanwhile Adan, having crossed on October 17, headed south, intent on cutting off the Egyptian Third Army. On October 19, Sadat sent Saad El Shazly to the front to assess the situation. A degree of controversy exists surrounding the events that occurred following Shazly's return from the front, when he suggested a withdrawal of a number of Egyptian forces to counter the Israeli penetration. Whatever Shazly's proposals were, they were entirely rejected by Sadat and Ahmed Ismail. Sadat promptly ordered that no Egyptian forces were to be withdrawn.
By the end of the war, the Israelis had reached a point 101 kilometers from Egypt's capital, Cairo
The Egyptians maintained control of the captured Bar-Lev Line
and had 70,000 men and 720 tanks on the East bank of the canal.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, two Israeli brigades of some 3,000 troops, 180 tanks and 60 artillery pieces faced off against three mechanized divisions incorporating 28,000 Syrian troops, 800 tanks and 600 artillery pieces.
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
), which had a variety of surveillance equipment.
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
, 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 had achieved moderate success. The Israelis put up fierce resistance, as tanks and infantry desperately tried to fend off the Syrians. Having practiced on the Golan heights numerous times, Israeli gunners made deadly use of mobile artillery
. Syrian anti-aircraft batteries shot down 40 Israeli planes, but Israeli pilots soon adopted a different tactic- flying in low over Jordan- swooping in over the Golan heights, catching the Syrians in the flank and avoiding many of the batteries. The Israeli pilots dropped both conventional explosives and napalm
bombs, and wrecked Syrian vehicles soon littered the ground. Within six hours of the initial assault, however, the first Israeli line of defense had been overrun by sheer weight of numbers.
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, Captain Zvika Greengold
, who had just arrived at 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, Greengold received Israel's highest decoration, the Medal of Valor
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
. To the south, however, the Barak Armored Brigade
, bereft of any natural defenses, began to take heavy casualties. Israeli 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. However, the Syrians were also taking heavy casualties. Israeli tanks raining shells at the advancing Syrians had caused heavy casualties, and Syrian brigadier general Omar Abrash was killed when his command tank took a direct hit. For some as-yet-unexplained reason, the Syrians were close to reaching the Israeli defenders at Nafah
yet stopped the advance on Nafah's fences, allowing Israeli forces to 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.
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. 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 taken place 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 October 11 to October 14, the Israeli forces pushed into Syria, although Syrian reservists put up stiff resistance from prepared defenses. The Israelis continued their advance, and reached the main defensive line around Sassa. The Israelis had conquered a further 50 square-kilometers box of territory in the Bashan
. From there they would have been able to shell the outskirts of Damascus
, only 40 km away, using M107
heavy artillery. Syrian MIG fighters swooped in on the Israelis, as part of the desperate defense of Damascus.
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, 250–500 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 October 22, 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 woundedAn 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
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. 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 Navy stayed at their Mediterranean Sea ports throughout most of the war, enabling the Mediterranean sea lanes to Israel to remain partially open. 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 the Egyptian missiles, and sank three Egyptian vessels, before finally returning to port The Battle of Latakia and the Battle of Baltim "drastically changed the operational situation at sea to Israeli advantage
According to Israeli and Western sources, the Israelis lost no vessels in the war In the course of the naval battles Israeli vessels were "targeted by as many as 52 Soviet-made anti-ship missiles, yet no one hit its targetAccording 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 casualties: two Shayetet 13 frogmen, part of a team that penetrated Port Said with the purpose of hitting Egyptian naval targets, and one Dabur Patrol Boat crewman, killed during the Battle of Mersa Talemet, in the Gulf of Suez
Even though most western military historians agree that the Israeli Navy decisively won all naval engagements, one Egyptian historian, Hassan El Badri, said that the Egyptian Navy had some success, and that on October 8 it managed to sink four Israeli vessels Badri is the only one to report such an engagement
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 entirely all shipping destined for Israel. 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. 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 SuezParticipation by other statesAid 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 more than half went to Syria, and supplied another 63,000 tons mainly to Syria by means of a sealift All 400 T-55 and T-62 tanks supplied by the sealift were directed towards replacing Syrian losses, while Egypt did not receive any tanks from the Soviet supply effortThroughout the sea and airlifts it remained difficult for Egypt and Syria to choose which supplies were to be delivered often resulting in important supplies not being where they were most needed
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 of MiG-21s and a squadron of Su-7s to Egypt, both of which arrived at the front between October 9 and October 11. It also sent an armored brigade of nearly 200 tanks, the advance elements of which began to arrive on October 17, but it arrived at 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 V fighters, of which one squadron was to be piloted by the Egyptian Air Force and the other by Libyan pilots. Morocco sent one infantry brigade to Egypt, and one tank regiment to Syria An infantry brigade composed of Palestinians was in Egypt before the outbreak of the war Saudi Arabia and Kuwait gave financial aid and sent some token forces to join in the battle Pakistan sent sixteen pilots and an ambulance unit to Egypt and another to Syria. Bangladesh sent a medical team and relief supplies.
In addition to its forces in Syria, Iraq sent a single Hawker Hunter squadron to Egypt. The squadron quickly gained a reputation amongst Egyptian field commanders for its skill in air support, particularly in anti-armor strikes
A Sudanese brigade also made a late appearance, arriving 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. In 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 also sent approximately 1,500 troops including tank and helicopter crews who reportedly also engaged in combat operations against the IDF North Korea also sent a small reinforcement comprising 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 in October.Aid to Israel
On commencement of hostilities, American leaders expected the tide of the war to quickly shift in favor of the better-equipped IDF and that Arab armies would be completely defeated within 72 to 96 hoursAmerican supplies to Israel until then had consisted of ammunition, particularly AT and AA ammunition It became clear however by October 9 that no such quick reversal would occur, and that IDF losses were unexpectedly high
On the afternoon of October 7, 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 Meir on 8 October authorized the assembling of 13 20-kiloton-of-TNT (84 TJ) atomic bombs. Nuclear-capable Jericho missiles at Hirbat Zachariah and F-4sat Tel Nof were prepared for action against Syrian and Egyptian targets;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 lossesAnecdotal 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 on October 13, although, some equipment, such as the missiles had arrived before October 11. According to Abraham Rabinovich, "while the American a 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 short tons (20,316 t) of matériel to Israel. The Israeli National Airline took part in the airlift and flew in an additional 5,500 short tons (5,000 t) of materiel. Among the supplies sent to Israel were equipment, such as the missile and the , weapons that had only entered production one or more years prior, as well as highly advanced electronic jamming equipment, along with US Army instructors to rapidly train IDF forces in the use of these weapons
The United States also conducted its own seaborne supply operation, delivering 33,210 short tons (30,130 t) to Israel by October 30
Egyptian commanders note that on October 13 and on October 15, air defense radars had 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 and finally disappeared from the radar screens over the Mediterranean Sea. The speed and altitude were those of the US 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