The Yom Kippur War
The Arab-Israeli War of 1973, also known as the Yom Kippur War or the Ramadan War, was a war between Israel on one side and Egypt and Syria on the other side. It was the fourth major military confrontation between Israel and the Arab states.
The path leading up to the Yom Kippur war had two major factors. First, there was a failure to resolve territorial disputes arising from the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. These disputes involved the return of the Sinai to Egypt and the return of the Golan Heights to Syria. UN Resolution 242 and Egyptian President Sadat’s peace initiative failed to bring peace. Sadat wanted to sign an agreement with Israel provided the Israelis returned all the occupied territories, but Israel refused to withdraw to the pre-1967 armistice lines. Since no progress was being made toward peace, Sadat was convinced that to change things and gain legitimacy at home, he must initiate a war with limited objectives.
The second factor leading up to the war was the assurance Israel’s general staff felt that Israel was safe from Arab attack for the indefinite future. Therefore, Israel felt no reason to trade territory for peace. Israel felt this way because of the Israel Defense Force’s strength, the disarray of the Arab world, and the large buffer zone around Israel formed by the Sinai, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. Thus in spite of Sadat’s threats of war throughout 1972 and much of 1973, Israel’s commanders were unprepared for the October attack of Egypt and Syria. They misinterpreted the buildup of armed forces along the canal as military exercises instead of an attack.
The surprise attack on two fronts from Egypt and Syria began on October 6, 1973, which was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. Egypt’s forces swiftly crossed the Suez Canal and overran the Bar-Lev line. Syria moved into the Golan Heights and nearly reached the 1967 border with Israel (overlooking the Hula Basin). Israel was outnumbered in the north nearly 12 to 1 (there were 1,100 Syrian tanks versus 157 Israeli tanks); therefore, the first few days of the war saw Israeli counterattacks fail as Israel suffered hundreds of casualties and lost nearly 150 planes.
The tide of the war began to turn on October 10. The Syrians were pushed back and Israel advanced into Syria proper. The Soviet Union responded by sending airlifts to Damascus and Cairo, which were answered on October 12 and 13 by massive US airlifts to Israel. Israeli forces crossed the Suez Canal and surrounded the Egyptian Third Army on October 21.
The war started an international crisis when the Soviet Union responded to a plea from Egypt to save its Third Army by threatening to send troops to assist Egypt. Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State, went to Moscow to negotiate a cease-fire. The result was UN Resolution 338, an immediate cease-fire that reinstated Resolution 242, which "aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East". This cease-fire was broken and again the Soviets threatened to intervene. However, the US pressured Israel into accepting a second cease-fire on October 25, 1973. The war was over, and both Israel and Egypt claimed victory.
The peace process continued with the First Sinai Disengagement Agreement in January 1974. This called for Israel to withdraw its forces back across the Suez Canal and for the UN buffer zone to be restored. The Israeli-Syrian Disengagement Agreement in June 1974 caused Israel to withdraw to the 1967 cease-fire line in the Golan Heights. A UN Disengagement Observer Force occupied a buffer zone between Israeli and Syrian forces. The Second Disengagement Agreement between Israel and Egypt was signed in September 1975. It widened the buffer zone and ensured a further Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai passes.
The war’s repercussions were far-reaching. An estimated 8,500 Arab soldiers were killed, and economic losses equaled the GNP for one year. The war also increased the Arabs’ dependency on the Soviet Union. Approximately 6,000 Israeli soldiers were killed or wounded in 18 days, and Israel’s losses were equivalent to their annual GNP. The image of an invincible Israeli army from the 1967 war was destroyed, Arab confidence was increased, and Israel became more dependent on the US for military, diplomatic, and economic aid. Internationally, the war emboldened the organization of petroleum exporting countries to double its oil prices. The US experienced gasoline shortages because of an embargo placed on countries that assisted Israel. The rise in oil prices began a trend of worldwide inflation and a recession in 1974-1975.
Metz, Helen Chapin, ed. Israel, A Country Study. (Federal Research Division, Library of Congress; US Government Secretary of Army, 1996).
Simon, Reeva S., Philip Mattar, and Richard W. Bulliet, ed. Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East. (New York; Simon and Schuster Macmillan, 1996).
Edited by: Dana Thompson
Researched by: Darlene Duncan
Written by: Robin Trautman
April 27, 1999
Copyright 1996-1999 by David W. Koeller. All rights reserved.