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Israel’s History in a Nutshell Series: The Yom Kippur War ~ October 1973

From October 6 to October 26, 1973 Israel was under attack in what was named the Yom Kippur War, the Ramadan War or the October War. This 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict was between Israel and a coalition of Arab states backing Egypt and Syria. On the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement, Oct. 6, 1973, a surprise attack was launched by Egypt and Syria. Egypt crossed the cease-fire lines in the Sinai desert and Syria entered the Golan Heights. These areas had been captured by Israel in the 1967 conflict.

The obvious reason for choosing this Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur was to stage a surprise attack knowing that the entire country of Israel comes to a complete standstill. The soldiers go home and most are on their leave. In retrospect the analysts believe that the attack on this day actually helped Israel as the reserves were easily called up from their homes and synagogues. All the roads and communications were open and eased the transporting of the troops and military equipment.

The Arab world had been humiliated by Israel’s victory in 1967 and early in this conflict they were on the offensive and felt psychologically vindicated by its early string of victories.

In the south the Egyptians had armed their assault force with large numbers of man-portable anti-tank weapons and rocket-propelled grenades which proved devastating to the first Israeli armored counter-attacks. The scale and effectiveness of the Egyptian strategy of deploying these anti-tank weapons coupled with Israeli’s inability to disrupt their use with close air support greatly contributed to Israeli losses early in the war.

The Egyptians had begun with a large air strike. More than 200 Egyptian aircraft flying at very low altitudes conducted simultaneous strikes against numerous Israeli targets and air bases. 32,000 Egyptian infantry began crossing the Suez Canal and within six hours, fifteen Israeli strong holds had been captured in the Sinai.

By the second day of the war Israel had lost 500 tanks and 49 aircraft. General Ariel Sharon was called out of his retirement and returned to the battle field in the south. By October 9 the Egyptians continued to conduct probing attacks but were now met with Israeli counterattacks. Israeli armored and mechanized units began to attack on October 14 with 60,000 infantry achieving great success and it was the first Egyptian failure of the war. By the end of the war on October 26, the Israelis had reached a point 101 kilometers (60 miles) from Egypt’s capital Cairo.

In the North, in the Golan Heights, the Syrians attacked Israeli defenses of two brigades and eleven artillery batteries with five divisions and another 188 batteries. From the onset 180 Israeli tanks and 60 Israeli artillery pieces faced off 1,200 Syrian tanks and 600 artillery pieces. Every Israeli tank was attacked. If the Syrians advanced they could have come to Tiberius, Safed, Haifa, Netanya and Tel Aviv. The Syrians had estimated that it would take 24 hours for the reservists to come to the front but in fact they started to arrive within 15 hours of when the war began.

By the end of the first day the Syrians had achieved moderate success and 40 Israeli aircraft were shot down. The Israeli pilots adopted a new tactic and flew low over Jordan swooping in over the Golan Heights, attacking the Syrians and avoiding the batteries. Wrecked Syrian vehicles began to litter the ground but the Israeli assault was overrun by the sheer weight of the numbers against them. The tide began to turn by October 8 with the arrival of more reservists who were able to contain the Syrian advance and by October 10 the last Syrian tank was pushed back to pre-1967 borders. From Oct. 11 to October 14, the Israeli forces pushed into Syria and reached Syria’s main defense line. They were 40 km (24 miles) away from the capital of Damascus. By October 22 the Israeli forces recaptured the outposts on Mr. Hermon.

American President Richard Nixon ordered an American airlift to replace all of Israel’s losses and by October 13 Israel had begun to receive the American supplies. While the American airlift of supplies did not immediately replace Israel’s losses in equipment, it did allow Israel to expend what it did have more freely. The Americans also conducted a seaborne supply operation, delivering 33,210 tons to Israel by October 30.

When the cease fire came into effect Israel had lost some  territory on the east side of the Suez canal but gained territory west of the canal and in the Golan Heights.

This war effectively ended the old Arab ambition of destroying Israel by force.

Prime Minister Golda Meir resigned on April 11, 1974 and her cabinet followed suit. Moshe Dayan, the illustrious and flamboyant general also resigned and Yitzhak Rabin became the new Prime Minister in June.

Excerpt from the book: Israel, History in a Nutshell – By Hela Crown-Tamir

Used with permission

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