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War of Attrition (1969–1970)


Egypt's unsuccessful campaign to drive Israel back from the Suez Canal.

After the ArabIsrael War in 1967, fighting continued along the borders of the new territories captured by Israel, particularly along the Suez Canal. Violations of the cease-fire proliferated in September 1968, when Egypt concentrated some 150,000 troops along the west side of the canal. Heavy fighting took place on 8 and 9 March 1969, causing the death of Egypt's chief of staff, General Abd alMunʿim Riyad. On 23 July of that year, President Gamal Abdel Nasser formally declared a war of attrition. He stated that, although his country was incapable of regaining the Sinai Peninsula by force, it could and would wear Israel outhoping that Egyptian artillery barrages would make Israel withdraw its troops from the Suez Canal. Israel responded by building a system of thirty strongholds along the canal, known as the Bar-Lev Line.

On 31 October 1968 Israel had destroyed a power station at Naj Hamadi in upper Egypt, but it was not until July 1969 that it began regular aerial attacks that devastated Egyptian cities along the canal and turned their residents into refugees. In early 1970 Egypt received substantial amounts of Soviet military aid, including surface-to-air missile batteries that could down Israeli aircraft. After a number of aerial battles between Israeli planes and Russian-flown MiG fighters, the United States introduced its Rogers Plan and pressed Egypt and Israel for a new cease-fire, which went into effect on 7 August 1970.

Some controversy exists among military scholars as to which country actually won the war of attrition. Israel certainly proved its military superiority, especially in aerial dogfights with Egyptian pilots, but Egypt gained a diplomatic victory in persuading the Soviet Union to provide military assistance and in moving SAM missile batteries, which Egypt used in the 1973 ArabIsrael War, close to the Suez Canal. The long-term effect of the war of attrition has been to make Israel more suspicious of international peace proposals and Egypt more precise in its strategic military planning.

see also arabisrael war (1967); arabisrael war (1973); bar-lev, haim; rogers, william pierce.


Bar-Siman-Tov, Yaacov. The Israeli-Egyptian War of Attrition, 19691970: A Case Study of Limited Local War. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980.

Herzog, Chaim. The ArabIsraeli Wars: War and Peace in the Middle East, revised edition. New York: Vintage, 1984.

Korn, David A. Stalemate: The War of Attrition and Great Power Diplomacy in the Middle East, 19671970. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1992.

benjamin joseph
updated by arthur goldschmidt

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