The Yom Kippur War 1973

The Yom Kippur War 1973

The Yom Kippur War of 1973, the most recent ‘full’ war in Middle East history, is so-called because it began on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the holiest day of prayer and fasting in the Jewish calendar.

The Yom Kippur War started with a surprise Arab attack on Israel on Saturday 6th October 1973. On this day, Egyptian and Syrian military forces launched an attack knowing that the military of Israel would be participating in the religious celebrations associated with Yom Kippur. Therefore, their guard would temporarily be dropped.

The combined forces of Egypt and Syria totalled the same number of men as NATO had in Western Europe. On the Golan Heights alone, 150 Israeli tanks faced 1,400 Syria tanks and in the Suez region just 500 Israeli soldiers faced 80,000 Egyptian soldiers.

Other Arab nations aided the Egyptians and Syrians. Iraq transferred a squadron of Hunter jet fighter planes to Egypt a few months before the war began. Iraqi Russian-built MIG fighters were used against the Israelis in the Golan Heights along with 18,000 Iraqi soldiers.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait effectively financed the war from the Arabs side. Saudi troops – approximately 3,000 men – also fought in the war. Libya provided Egypt with French-built Mirage fighters and in the years 1971 to 1973, Libya bankrolled Egypt’s military modernization to the tune of $1 billion which was used to purchase modern Russian weapons.

Other Arabic nations that helped the Egyptians and Syrians included Tunisia, Sudan and Morocco. Jordan also sent two armoured brigades and three artillery units to support the Syrians.

Facing such an attack, the Israeli forces were initially swiftly overwhelmed.

Within two days, the Egyptians had crossed the Suez Canal and moved up to 15 miles inland of the most advanced Israeli troops in the Sinai.

Syrian troops advanced by the same distance into the strategic Golan Heights in north Israel. By the end of October 7th, the military signs were ominous for Israel.

However, on October 8th, Israeli forces, bolstered by called-up reserves, counter-attacked in the Sinai. They pushed back the Egyptian military and crossed the Suez Canal south of Ismailia. Here, the Israelis used the Suez-Cairo road to advance towards the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and got to within 65 miles of it.

The Israelis experienced similar success in the Golan Heights where the Syrian forces were pushed back and Israel re-captured lost land. Using the main road from Tiberias to Damascus, the Israelis got to within 35 miles of the Syrian capital.

The United Nations had played a muted part in the whole war. At the moment of the war, the United Nations was in a difficult position as its Secretary-General, Kurt Waldheim, had been implicated in war crimes in the Balkans during World War Two. Such an association did little to enhance the reputation of the United Nations.

Despite the initial successes of the Egyptian and Syrian forces, the war proved once again how effective the Israeli military could be. After the initial set-backs, the war served as a huge morale boost to Israelis. Despite a coordinated attack on two fronts, Israel had survived and had pushed back the nations that had initially broken through Israel’s defenses.

The war also served as a salutary lesson to the Arab nations that surrounded Israel in that initial victories had to be built on. The failure of the Egyptian and Syrian forces to defeat Israel pushed Egyptian President Sadat towards adopting a diplomatic approach.

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