Arab-Israel War (1973) (6 October–24 October 1973)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

ARAB-ISRAEL WAR (1973) (6 October–24 October 1973)

Fourth major Arab-Israel war. On 12 September 1973, Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat received King Hussein of Jordan and Syrian president Hafiz al-Asad. During their conversations, an Egyptian-Syrian-Jordanian alliance was sealed. The next day, Israeli and Syrian fighters engaged in aerial combat, in the course of which thirteen Syrian planes were downed. On 3 October, during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, reserve officers in the Syrian army were called up, and two days later, reserve units were mobilized. On 6 October, while the Jewish state was celebrating the religious holiday of Yom Kippur, the Egyptian army crossed the Suez Canal and attacked the Israeli troops stationed along the Bar-Lev Line, along the canal, the frontier between Israel and Egypt since the Arab-Israel War of June 1967. The Syrian army, for its part, retook control of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since June 1967. A part of the Israeli air force was rapidly destroyed by Soviet missiles that had been supplied to the Arab armies. For four days Israel seemed in danger of a military defeat.

Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan and the army general staff of the Israel Defense Force (IDF), commanded by General David ("Dado") Elazar, seconded by General Aharon Yariv, decided to launch a counterattack simultaneously on the Golan and the Egyptian front. Despite belonging to the Syrian-Egyptian military pact, Jordan did not participate in the fighting, which allowed Israel to focus its efforts on fighting only on two fronts. On 12 October, the Soviet Union established an airlift to send supplies to Syria and Egypt. The next day, the U.S. Sixth Fleet, in turn, started an airlift to Israel. On the Syrian front, the IDF advanced, while in the Sinai Desert, Egyptian and Israeli forces were engaged in a face-off. On 13 October, some Jordanian-Palestinian reinforcements arrived on the Syrian front, backed up by "Arab international brigades," formed of Moroccan and Iraqi soldiers. The following day, the Egyptian Second and Third Armies launched a large offensive in the Sinai, engaging in a gigantic tank battle against the Israeli forces. On 16 October, much to the surprise of the Israeli general staff, General Ariel Sharon succeeded in establishing a beachhead on the western bank of the Suez Canal.

In Washington and Moscow, serious negotiations were begun to establish a cease-fire, while the U.S. and Soviet airlifts intensified. The following day, the tank battle in the Sinai was at its apogee. The Syrian forces on the Syrian-Israeli front launched a counterattack, while the Arab oil-exporting countries announced a progressive reduction of their exports "until the territories occupied by Israel are liberated and the Palestinian people regains its rights." On 19 October, U.S. president Richard M. Nixon asked Congress to accord a supplementary $2 billion in aid to Israel. The following day, Libya, Algeria, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia declared an embargo on oil to the United States and the Netherlands.

In the Golan, Israeli troops retook control over some of the terrain, while in the Sinai the Egyptian armies found themselves surrounded by the armored units of the IDF. On 21 October, after many hours of intense fighting, the Israeli "Golani" brigade pushed through the last of the Syrian resistance, taking control of Mount Hermon. On 22 October, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 338, calling for an immediate cease-fire and the application of Resolution 242, and for "negotiations . . . between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East." The next day, in spite of the cease-fire demanded by the United Nations, Israeli troops advanced on both sides of the Suez Canal, definitively cutting the Egyptian Third Army from its rear. The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 339, demanding the immediate end of hostilities and the return of the warring parties to the positions they occupied previously. Between 23 and 24 October, a series of misunderstandings between Moscow and Washington created a risk of confrontation between the superpowers, as had occurred in 1967.

On 24 October, the second UN cease-fire was finally implemented. Three days later, the first international observers arrived in Egypt. During the night of 27 to 28 October, Israeli and Egyptian officers met at Kilometer 101 on the Cairo-Suez road, so as to agree on conditions for safe conduct of the Egyptian Third Army, trapped in Sinai. On 6 November, U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger arrived in Cairo, where a resumption of U.S-Egyptian diplomatic relations, interrupted since 1967, was announced. On 11 November 1973, at Kilometer 101 on the Cairo-Suez road, Israelis and Egyptians signed a cease-fire, calling for disengagement and separation of their forces. Israeli general Aharon Yariv and Egyptian general Muhammad Gamassi signed this document, as well as the commander-in-chief of the United Nations forces, Ensio Siilasvuo. On 26 November, Algerian president Houari Boumédienne convened an Arab summit in Algiers, after which, two days later, the Arab countries recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), over Jordanian objections, as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. On 21 December, a Middle East peace conference opened in Geneva, chaired by the UN and co-chaired by the United States and the Soviet Union.

On 18 January 1974, the Israeli army chief-of-staff, David Elazar, and General Muhammad Gamassisigned an accord stipulating the withdrawal of Israeli forces, within forty days, to approximately 30 kilometers east of the Suez Canal. Five days later, the IDF started to withdraw from the western bank of the canal. On 29 April, when sporadic fighting had broken out again in the Golan Heights, Kissinger began a new series of diplomatic visits in order to obtain the adherence of Syria to the peace plan. On 31 May, at Geneva, the Syrians and Israelis signed an accord of "limited" disengagement of their forces. Israel accepted evacuating the pocket in the Golan it had occupied in October 1973, during the recent war, but refused to cede the territories it had occupied in 1967. Israeli prime minister Golda Meir and her defense minister Moshe Dayan resigned following the report of the Agranat Commission, established to probe the reasons for Israel's vulnerability to surprise attack. The report blamed the IDF's mistaken assessment of Egyptian military strength and recommended the removal of the chief of staff and other high-ranking officers. A new cabinet was formed, led by Yitzhak Rabin, in June 1974. Debate continued in Israel over whether failures in political and military leadership had allowed the Arab armies to surprise the Jewish state and unleash a conflict that caused nearly 2,800 deaths in the ranks of the IDF.

SEE ALSO Agranat Commission, on Arab-Israel War (1973); Asad, Hafiz al-; Dayan, Moshe; Hussein ibn Talal; Meir, Golda; Rabin, Yitzhak; Sadat, Anwar al-.