The 1973 Arab-Isreali War
AUTHOR Major Steven J. Piccirilli, USMC
SUBJECT AREA - History
The 1973 Arab-Israeli War
The 1973 Arab-Israeli War ended the uneasy status
quo of "No Peace, No War. " While the military outcome of the
conflict was a stalemate, the war's political and
psychological effects were profound. The events leading to
the actual conflict are the focus of this paper, which is
presented from the Egyptian perspective.
In 1972, Sadat was frustrated by diplomatic
failures to dislodge the Israelis from areas occupied in the
1967 war. He determined that war was his only viable
alternative. However, he realized that Soviet-support would
not be forthcoming becuase of detente. He also realized
that Egypt was outmatched by Israel's superior military
equipment. Thus, his only hope for victory lay in a surprise
attack. This requirement for victory was implemented by
secret planning at the highest levels and by a brilliant,
sophisticated plan of deception intended to catch the
Israelis off-guard. A broad-front offensive limited in depth
was planned to stretch along the length of the Suez Canal.
Syria agreed to open a second front.
Egypt's surprise assault over the Suez was
successful. Israel had been lulled into complacency. When
the ceasefire was ordered, Egyptian forces occupied positions
on the eastern side of the Suez, though the war was at a
stalemate. Sadat's objectives were achieved. In strategic
and political terms, Egypt won the war.
THE 1973 ARAB-ISRAELI WAR
If President Sadat was to end the status quo of ("no
peace, no war") and to force negotiations, he had to
resort to war.
I. PRECLUDE TO CONFLICT
1. U.S. and U.S.S.R. Action
2. President Sadat's Decision-
4. Deception Plan
C. Israeli Interpretation
II. THE WAR
A. 6 October 1973 -- Crossing the Canal
B. Egyptian Initial Successes
C. Israeli Reorganization
D. The Counterattack
E. Israelis Cross the Canal
A. Military Lessons Learned
B. U.S. and U.S.S.R. Involvement
C. Sadat's Objective Achieved
THE 1973 ARAB-ISRAELI WAR
The course of history is often like the graph line
on a physician's heart monitoring device -- a flat line with
a periodic jump when the heart beats. Such was the course of
contemporary history in the Middle East -- a flat line of
status quo, of "No Peace, No War" -- then a strong heart beat
once again. The moment was 1405 hours, 6 October 1973. This
event has been variously called the "Ramadan War," the "War
of Atonement," the "Yom Kippur War," and simply the "October
Whatever name one might select, the fact is that
the 1973 Arab-Israeli War was an event that coerced political
forces that had become stagnated to once again flow and seek
a new equilibrium. The rapproachment that followed between
the Arab Republic of Egypt and the State of Israel could not
have begun without the fundamental changes to the realities
of the Arab-Israeli question that were the result of this
This paper analyses the events from an Egyptian
perspective, leading to the war itself. It highlights the
determination of the Egyptian political and military
leadership from the decision to go to war, through their
planning process, and to its outcome. It outlines President
Sadat's objective and how he was able to take advantage of
Israel's overconfidence through a masterful deception/
Without a doubt, the 1973 Arab-Israeli War was a
Arab affair and in particular an Egyptian one. However, to
understand this October War, one has to go back to the summer
of 1967 when the Arabs, surveying the political and military
wreckage wrought by the Six-Day war, found their armies
broken and defeated and over one million of their brethren in
the Sinai, Gaza Strip, West Bank and Golan Heights under
Israeli occupation. Apart from the territorial and
population losses, the Arabs had suffered a profound
psychological setback -- they felt they had been humiliated
However, this does not mean that Israel did not
encourage an Arab reaction. In fact Israel was greatly
responsible for the war's occurrence. Israeli leaders were
quick to point out that Israel's security situation had been
vastly improved as a result of the 1967 war. Before the
outbreak of hostilities, large portions of Israel were
vulnerable to artillery attacks from the West Bank and Syria.
After the conflict, all major population centers were out of
artillery range, the new borders were shorter and more
defensible, and Israel had acquired a defense in depth. In
light of the favorable strategic changes, Israeli political
leaders made it clear that a return to the status quo
antebellum would not be acceptable.
In 1972 President Sadat, frustrated by the failure
of Arab diplomatic efforts to dislodge the Israelis from
areas occupied in the 1967 war, told his people that a
"battle of destiny" would have to be waged against Israel.
Arab demands that all the occupied areas be returned was
irreconcilable with the official position of Israel. This
basic contradiction was the rock upon which diplomatic
efforts from 1967 foundered.
Arab skepticism about the ability or will of the
United States and the Soviet Union to change the situation
was reinforced when in 1972 they endorsed detente between
themselves. As a result, Sadat felt that the superpowers
just as Israel, were satisfied with the current "No Peace, No
War" status quo that prevailed in the Middle East. The
superpowers had failed to force the implementation of UN
Security Resolution 242 and had failed Sadat in his attempt
to restore his peoples and territories to their rightful
The Arab world had little alternative. If President
Sadat was to end the status quo of "No Peace, No War" and to
force negotiations, he had to resort to war.
However, a major issue that must be considered is
the behavior of the superpowers, particularly the Soviet
Union, which was the principal patron of both Egypt and
Syria. Sadat had declared 1971 as "The Year of Decision" and
had counted on Soviet arms assistance to make that a reality.
However, Sadat's regional outlook came into conflict with the
Soviet's world outlook and Egypt was not priority number one
in that global outlook. With this, Sadat did not have what
he felt was necessary to put his rhetoric into action.
Although he took no action until the summer of 1972, Sadat
made his decision to take a path independent from the Soviet
Union in December 1971.1
Mohamed Heikal analyzes this situation in these
As a super-power the Soviet Union had to
think in global terms, and these
sometimes came into conflict with its
role as helper and protector of
countries like Egypt . . . [The Soviet
Union had] proved it[self] Egypt's most
reliable friend. No other country could
have given Egypt anything approaching
what the Soviet Union gave . . . but the
fact remained that the Soviet Union was
deeply concerned with the Detente . .
No doubt they wanted a solution of the
Middle East problem which would satisfy
Arab aspirations, but they did not want a
Sadat anxiously waited for the Nixon/Brezhnev
Summit of May 1972, hoping for some change in what he felt
the Soviet position should be. After the Summit, it was
clear to Sadat that Detente was the Soviet policy of
priority. In other words, for the Arabs, Sadat felt that the
two superpowers had agreed that there was to be no war in
the Middle East -- that they too accepted "No Peace, No War"
as being the best policy. Therefore, in July 1972, Sadat
ordered the Soviet advisors, some 15,000, out of Egypt. He
did not want to break diplomatically with the Soviet Union,
because he did not want to cut off his primary source of
military and economic aid. His intent was to demonstrate to
the Soviets, and to the world, that Egypt was setting its own
course. At the same time, he felt that he could make no
plans for war with a large Soviet presence in Egypt. He was
convinced that if the Soviet Union knew that he was
contemplating war with Israel, they would prevent it in any
way possible because of the potential for disrupting the
Detente process between them and the United States. Sadat
was inevitably moving towards war. Dupuy's view is that:
Sadat had obviously come to the
conclusion . . . that Israel was
satisfied with the status quo as it had
existed since the 1967 War, and with its
de facto annexation of the territories
occupied in that war. Thus no Israeli
moves toward reasonable negotiations on
the issues of UN Resolution 242 of 1967
could be expected without pressure from
one or both of the great powers. Sadat
obviously believed, therefore, that the
only possibility of moving toward a
Middle East settlement was to precipitate
action that would force the major powers
and the United Nations to pay attention
to the "No Peace, No War" situation in
the Middle East.3
Dupuy continues with another pressing concern: "Sadat has
given no reason to believe that he was thinking of peace or a
Middle East settlement for reasons other than national and
self-interest. The economy of Egypt . . . had been badly
hurt by the closure of the Suez Canal.4
In the summer of 1972, Sadat had given orders to
the War Minister to prepare for war anytime after
15 November. During a briefing in October, Sadat became so
upset with the progress of preparation that he dismissed the
War Minister and replaced him with General Ahmed Ismail Ali.
He also appointed a new Deputy War Minister, a new Director
of Intelligence, a new Commander of the Navy and a new
Commanding General of the Central Military Area. He quickly
gave General Ismail the Directive of the government: To
prepare the armed forces to secure the land in an offensive
operation which would break the political stalemate.5
By "the land" Sadat meant Sinai territory. Sadat had been
quoted on several occasions as saying "If [we] could win only
ten millimeters of ground on the east bank of the Suez
Canal . . .
General Ismail and his Chief of Staff, General Saad
Shazli, finished the plan in early January 1973. Unique in
his planning, and what won Sadat's personal admiration, was
the input from the field. General Ismail had directed that
every officer stationed along the Canal climb the
fortifications and "look into Sinai, and then define
precisely the plan of action he could carry out after
crossing the canal."7 Their field reports were part of the
analytical process, and it was a significant confidence
builder among the officer corps. As Sadat himself put it, "I
can truly say that the October 1973 War Plan was laid down by
the whole of our armed forces."8
The overall concept of the Egyptian plan was to
change the existing political and military balance in the
Middle East by undermining the basic principle of the Israeli
National Security Doctrine. The aim was to convince Israel,
and the world as well, that its military establishment was
not invincible, that its military achievements could not
impose peace, and that natural or artificial obstacles did
not provide security for any country in our modern times.9
The Egyptians believed they had a just and legal cause for
fighting -- to reclaim the Sinai territory. The strategic
plan envisioned a broad front offensive stretching along the
whole length of the Suez Canal, but limited in depth to the
air cover provided by the SAM Belt over the Canal.10 The
operational plan involved mainly infantry operations with
armor support. The crossing of the Canal would have to
combine river-crossing techniques with an assault landing on
a hostile shore and it was accepted that for some hours the
infantry would have to conduct operations against Israeli
armor counterattacks without organic armor support.11
Egyptian planners conceded Israel's air
superiority and its tactical and technological superiority in
ground operations, especially in tank warfare. But it was
felt that Israel's extended lines of communications
(particularly in a possible two front war) and its inability
to stand manpower loses or a prolonged war were major
disadvantages. Therefore underlying all of this planning was
the need for total surprise. Only with surprise could the
infantry carry the battle to the Israeli armor before they
could organize for a counterattack. After gaining ground on
the eastern side of the Canal, the staunchness of the Arab
infantry in defensive combat supported by a nearly absolute
air defense umbrella would carry them through the war. For
the keystone assumption of the Egyptian plan was that a
complete military victory would not be possible as the two
superpowers would not permit it.12 The goal was to occupy
the ground on the eastern side of the canal when the
From these concepts, the details would flow.
Planning was conducted in the utmost secrecy. Much of it was
carried out as a routine revision of existing contingency
plans. Other planning was carried out in the framework of
normal military training maneuvers, culminating in an annual
exercise of some magnitude in the September/October
timeframe. But behind all of this was a small group of men
who knew the true plan and goal, and who coordinated all
these seemingly routine and innocuous matters into the
overall framework of a plan for war. For many aspects, only
the most senior officers researched data and drafted
documents. This work was not even entrusted to close
subordinates and staff. General Shazli notes "At a personal
level, the plan was very simple. All of us in the senior
echelons had to live two lives and preserve surface
normality while working in secret on the last
At Sadat's request, President Assad of Syria paid a
secret visit to Egypt in April 1973. At a meeting in the
western desert, Sadat recalls telling him "I have decided to
fight my battle this year and have issued the relevant
instructions. What do you say to this?" Assad's reported
answer was "I'll be with you. We're going to fight and are
preparing for it. "14 Egyptian and Syrian forces were thus
joined, and a two-front war was planned. At this meeting, a
top secret report handwritten by General Gamasy, Director of
Operations of the Egyptian Armed Forces, indicated that there
were three sets of dates that could be considered for the
attack: a period in May, a period in August and September,
and a period in October. The most suitable was October --
the attack could be on Yom Kippur, 6 October, when Israel
would be virtually shut down and the Syrian front's weather
would become unfavorable for military operations from
November until spring, thereby encouraging a limited
conflict. During this meeting, they agreed to establish a
Supreme Joint Council in order to coordinate their actions.
Each front would act independently in many regards, but the
overall plan and timing would be strictly a joint
decision.15 This is perhaps one of the most significant
aspects of the 1973 war -- Israel did not count on any
coordination among the Arabs.
The Egyptians' Deception Plan was a master work.
It is doubtful that it could have been surpassed by any other
nation in the world. Herzog states, "there were many
impressive aspects to the preparations for the assault, but
none as original in concept and in execution as the
misinformation plan.16 The expulsion of the Soviet
advisors in July 1972 was hoped to give the Israelis a false
sense of security. The Israelis would surely presume it
unthinkable that Egypt would make any moves without the
guidance and support of the Soviets. Additionally, as early
as November 1972, the Egyptians began a series of monthly
maneuvers or command post exercises in the vicinity of the
Canal and they ensured that the Israelis saw evidence of all
this activity. Hoping that the Israelis would reach the
same conclusions as General Gamasy in picking the ideal times
for an attack, Sadat publicly ordered some mobilization
exercises in May and again in August.17 The Israelis
responded by mobilizing portions of their reserves
immediately. Articles were planted in newspapers and
speeches of Sadat and As sad alternated between fiery rhetoric
and conciliatory tones -- all designed to keep Israel off
In August, the Supreme Joint Council met secretly
in Alexandria to finalize their plans. After meeting for two
days they issued a document for the Presidents that stated
they were fully ready to go to war along the lines laid down
in their plans. The only requirement left to fill was the
exact date. They recommended either the period from 7 to
11 September or 5 to 10 October. Their only operational
requirement was that the Presidents give them at least
fifteen days' notice of D-Day for the final preparations.18
The final decision was probably made during the
Arab Summit Conference held in Cairo on 12 September, during
a secret session between Sadat and Assad. D-Day was fixed as
6 October, the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. This
date also meshed well with the deception plan. That date
fell during the month of Ramadan, the Holy Month of Moslems,
when fasting and other deprivations were the rule. A fasting
army could hardly be a threatening one. There was another
advantage to the October date. Israel had elections
scheduled for 28 October, which meant that the political
leadership of Israel would be preoccupied with issues other
than routine Syrian and Egyptian military exercises.
The deception intensified. The Syrians publicized
that they were digging in tanks along the Golan as they
feared Israeli retaliation after a 13 September air
encounter with Israel. On 26 September, the Egyptians and
the Syrians separately announced the concentration of troops
for their annual maneuvers. The Egyptians had been holding
their annual maneuvers since 1968, so this hardly came as a
surprise to anyone.
The Egyptians announced another mobilization of
reservists on 27 September, ostensibly in support of the
October maneuver, stating that they would be demobilized
about 7 October. It was mentioned that Sadat had earlier
ordered two other mobilizations during the year. Those were
the major mobilizations. In fact, Egypt had mobilized
variously sized groups of reservists 22 other times in
1973.19 Another group of reservists was mobilized on
30 September. To make the scheme credible, some reservists
were actually demobilized on 4 October. The mobilizations in
May, August and September had taken on a different tone,
however. After the appropriate period, the groups were
demobilized and a big show was made of their movement out of
the Canal Zone. However, many of the troop trucks were
empty, the troops blending into the already considerable
forces deployed on the Canal. As they had hoped, Israeli
Intelligence did not pick up the fact that the troops
stayed. All that Israel monitored was the movements of a large
groups of vehicles.
October 1 marked the final phase. The annual
exercise officially began and major troop movements could be
explained in this context, all covered by the appropriate
press releases, of course. The General Staff moved to the
Command Center (an underground war headquarters), something
they had done for several years during these annual
maneuvers. That same day, the Egyptian submarine fleet
sailed with secret, sealed orders, under the strictest radio
silence. Two of them, however, made this move openly, down
the Red Sea, ostensibly bound for Pakistan for overhaul.
(After the war, the Egyptians apologized to Pakistan for
using them in this subterfuge). With the deployment of the
submarine fleet on 1 October, General Shazli noted, "The war
had effectively begun."20
Finally, also on 1 October, the circle of secrecy
was widened to include the two key field commanders, General
Saad Mamoun of the Second Army and General Abdel Muneim Wasel
of the Third Army. (Here it is D-5 and the two field
commanders are just now being told that they have five days
to prepare themselves for war). They were strictly
instructed that they could tell no one for the next 48 hours,
not even their own Chiefs of Staff. This meant that they had
to conduct all of their planning by themselves and yet make
it appear routine in the context of the maneuver. The
Division Commanders could be briefed on 3 October, the
Brigade Commanders on 4 October and the Platoon Leaders and
troops were not to be told until just six hours before
commencing the attack.21 Herzog states "95 percent of the
Egyptian officers taken prisoner by Israel, knew for the
first time that the exercise would turn into a war only on
the morning of 6 October. "22
The entire operation rested upon prior planning and
repeated rehearsal, going to the point of making mock Canal
crossing sights along river areas and then repeatedly
practicing the assault. Each man knew his duty and how his
duty supported and was supported by his fellow soldiers. The
entire concept was founded upon the premise that well trained
troops only need orders.
Two surprises threatened to give it all away.
First on 4 October, both President Sadat and Assad had
summoned their respective Soviet Ambassadors and informed
them that war would occur on 6 October. However, neither
President had expected that Soviet non combatants and
dependents would be evacuated. Therefore, when the Soviet
contingents were evacuated on the night of 4 October from
both Egypt and Syria, the war leaders feared that this would
be a beacon signal to Israel that something was amiss.23
The second was more frightening to the Egyptians, as it
indicated a possible leak in their security. On the night of
4 October, Egypt Air cancelled all its flights and was
organizing the disposal of its fleet to safe airports out of
Egypt. The order was reversed and service was restored on 5
October, but a clearer signal could not have been given to
At 1300 hours, 6 October, President Sadat and
General Ismail arrived at the Command Center. Sadat noted
that everyone was tense and that no one was smoking or
drinking, presumably because of Ramadan. Sadat took out his
pipe and ordered some tea. His generals relaxed and readied
themselves. The Stage was set.25
Turning briefly to the Israeli side, one finds a
different atmosphere, one that is floating upon a series of
misconceptions about itself -- a fact not lost on the
Egyptians, who had done their best to foster these
misconceptions. When Egypt had mobilized in May 1973, so did
the Israelis. When no war came, the general feeling was
that the Arabs had seen the Israelis react and they had
changed their minds.26 In fact, there was considerable
debate at the highest military levels then, and later, on the
need to mobilize. When this mobilization was followed by
another during the summer, and when it is viewed in
conjunction with previous mobilization "false alarms" of
other years, the entire subject of mobilization became a very
sensitive issue in Israel.27
As the Egyptians increased their efforts before the
1 October exercise, Major General Gonen, Commanding General
Southern Command, became concerned. In fact on 1 October, he
placed Southern Command on alert -- leaves were cancelled,
patrols were increased and security in general increased. On
2 October Gonen had even requested to take further
precautionary steps but most were turned down by higher
Two personalities contributed to the Israeli
attitude of minimum concern during this time frame. General
Eli Zeira, Chief of Israeli Defense Intelligence, briefed the
Minister of Defense just days before the war and concluded
that "while Egypt certainly had the capability to attack
without warning . . . the feeling of [Israeli Defense]
Intelligence was the probability of an Arab attack was very
low. "29 He further emphasized the fact that the five
Egyptian divisions along the Canal had been there for some
time and they had made major buildups of forces on three
previous occasions since 1971 without attacking. At the same
time, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had made several public
statements of his view of the situation. He had called the
Suez Canal "one of the best anti-tank ditches available." On
10 August he had addressed the Israeli Staff College,
saying, "the balance of forces is so much in our favor, that
it neutralizes the Arab considerations and motives for the
immediate renewal of hostilities."30 Such were the voices
of counsel heard within Israel as the war approached.
On the evening of 4 October, General Zeira brought
the memo of the evacuation of Soviet families from Egypt and
Syria to the Chief of Staff, General Elazar. On 5 October
General Elazar ordered the highest state of alert for the
regular army. However, he decided against requesting the
mobilization of the reserves because he had been convinced
that he would receive adequate warning from Military
Intelligence to mobilize.31 To support this assumption
further, at a final cabinet briefing also on 5 October, the
deputy Chief of Intelligence informed the cabinet that war
was very unlikely.32
An interesting footnote to this, brought out in the
1974 Agranat Commission investigation of the failure of
Israeli Intelligence, was the report of the Order-of-Battle-
Officer of the Southern Command. He had twice reported to
the Southern Command Intelligence Officer that the
deployments on the west bank of the Canal were an indication
of preparation for war and that the exercise was a ruse.
These reports never left Southern Command. In fact, General
Zeira did not learn of them until the commission
At 0400 hours 6 October, General Zeira called
General Elazar and informed him that the previous reports
were wrong. Intelligence now clearly indicated that war was
imminent, by 1800 hours that very day.34 Elazar
immediately notified the Air Force to prepare for a
preemptive strike and then informed Dayan that he wanted to
take that action and to order a full mobilization. Dayan
deferred, as decisions of this magnitude would normally
require the Prime Minister, if not the whole cabinet. The
cabinet was hastily assembled and the situation was briefed
by Zeira and Elazar. The preemptive strike was out of the
question -- if Israel started the shooting, world opinion
would be against them and the support of the United States
would be in question. A total mobilization was also out.
Until now, Intelligence had been saying "No War." What if it
was wrong now? Another false alarm would be disastrous in
terms of public opinion and economic impact. However, the
cabinet agreed that a partial mobilization was justified and
it was ordered at 1000 hours.35
Word was sent to the Armed Forces that the attack
on both fronts would come by 1800 hours. Some took this
order seriously; others felt that they could wait until 1700
hours to really get concerned. In fact, Egyptian soldiers
reported seeing Israeli soldiers washing their clothes in the
Canal just moments before the attack.36 The Air Force had
another problem -- they had armed for a preemptive strike
and now had to reload for ground combat support. This
process would take most of the day.
In the early afternoon 6 October, General Gonen
called his deployed division commander, Major General Albert
Mendler, to review preparations. Their conversation
proceeded and Gonen finally said, "Albert, I think you had
better start those two brigades moving forward." "Yes, I
think so," Mendler calmly replied. "We are under air and
missile attack. "37
At 1405 hours 6 October, Egypt and Syria launched
synchronized full-scale attacks on Israel. These achieved
virtually perfect strategic surprise, as the Israeli Defense
Forces (IDF) were only six hours into partial mobilization --
a process that requires 72 hours. Five Egyptian mechanized
infantry divisions, reinforced by paratroopers and
commandos, had launched an attack across the Suez Canal and
on the Bar-Lev line. Israel had assumed its embankment along
the Suez Canal would require at least 24 to 48 hours of
effort to breach. However, the Egyptians had devised a
system using high-pressure water jets which did the job much
more quickly. Thus, Egypt had 500 tanks across the Canal
within twenty-four hours and well before IDF armored reserves
could reach the Sinai.
The numerically superior Egyptian armies had made
effective use of their integrated air defense systems
(antiaircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles) and
antitank missiles and had inflicted heavy casualties and
damage on the Israeli forces. With their initial successes
the Egyptians may have had the opportunity to continue the
attack deep into the Sinai, but they hesitated and the front
stabilized. However, the Egyptians now held a long shallow
beachhead on the eastern side of the Canal. (Had a truce
been reached at this point, the war would have ended as a
distinct Egyptian tactical victory).
Israel decided to make its major effort in the
north against Syria, which was closer to its vital population
centers. A two-pronged north and south offensive was ruled
out to permit the Air Force to concentrate on one area at a
time. While fighting static attritional battles against the
Egyptians, the IDF went on the offensive in the Golan. After
successfully pushing the Syrians back toward Damascus during
the period 6-14 October the IDF shifted its attention to the
As the Commander in Chief of the Arab allied
forces, General Ismail was now caught in a predicament. He
could not ignore the pleas for help from the Syrians who were
suffering tremendous losses. Although he knew that his
"defensive victory" could be thrown away against an enemy
more skillful in mobile warfare, he reluctantly ordered a
general offensive to take place on 14 October. Despite some
scattered successes, the days battles were generally
disastrous for the Egyptians.
The defensive successes of the IDF on l4 October
convinced the Israelis that the time was right to go on the
offensive. After locating a weak point between the Second
and Third Egyptian Armies, Israeli tank columns surprised the
Egyptians by crossing the Canal on 16 October. This bold
venture caused the virtual encirclement of the Third Army and
the town of Suez. In doing so they destroyed numerous SAM
sites thus opening the way for the Israeli Air Force to
support their ground forces. They were now in position to
threaten the rear administrative and supply areas of the
entire Egyptian Army.
Largely due to the efforts of the Soviet Union,
which was fearful of the possibility of a serious Egyptian
defeat, the U.N. Security Council imposed a cease-fire
effective 22 October. This cease-fire was soon violated,
however, by both sides and a second and final cease-fire was
established on 24 October. At the time of the ceasefire,
Egyptian forces still occupied positions on the eastern side
of the Canal.
The war aims of the Egyptians were comparatively
limited from a military point of view, but had as a prime
purpose political gains. President Sadat had reached the
conclusion for some time that war was desirable, even
essential, to enable an advance in the political process.
Sadat's directives, as far as the strategic aim of the war
was concerned, were to upset Israeli security doctrine by
initiating a military operation that would cause heavy
casualties to Israel and directly affect her national
President Sadat was not under any illusion that
Egypt had reached or could reach in the proximate future
tactical or technical military parity with Israel. He
realized that the result of war might be another Israeli
victory. Even though the Egyptian decision to go to war
recognized the serious danger of another Arab defeat,
President Sadat apparently believed that a limited military
success was possible. A territorial victory, however small,
would not only instill confidence in the Arabs but force the
Israelis to reconsider the idea that territory could provide
security. His objectives, if achieved, would change the
situation dramatically by initiating a diplomatic process
that would end with Israeli withdrawal from the occupied
From a purely military point of view, the first and
most important Arab success was the strategic and tactical
surprise achieved. While this was aided to no small degree
by mistakes made by Israeli Intelligence and the political
and military leadership in Israel, the bulk of the credit
must go to the highly sophisticated deception plan mounted by
the Egyptians. They succeeded in convincing the Israeli
Command that the intensive military activity to the west of
the Canal during the summer and autumn of 1973 was nothing
more than a series of training operations and maneuvers.
This deception must be marked as one of the outstanding plans
of deception mounted in the course of military history.39
The plan was successful not only as far as Israeli
intelligence was concerned, but also with world-wide
As expected, both the United States and the Soviet
Union played prominent roles during the 1973 war. Although
there is considerable feeling in Israel that the Soviet Union
helped plan this war, Dupuy and other historians state
emphatically that "there is no doubt that the actual
planning and organization of the Egyptian and Syrian surprise
attacks were completely the responsibility of the Arabs."40
President Sadat noted several times that his greatest fear
was that the Soviet Union would actively prevent his war if
they had known of it. Hence, the secrecy was as much
directed against the superpowers as against Israel.
The United States provided considerable resupply to
Israel, as the Soviet Union did to the Arabs. The Soviet
airlift began on 9 October and was quickly supplemented by
sealift. The United States effort had to rely more on
airlift initially, due to the distances at sea. The United
States airlift began on 14 October and the sealift effort did
not reach Israel until after the ceasefires. This resupply
effort was the natural response of both powers to obligations
that they had made in the region, both Israel and the Arabs
had assumed that they would receive this and when it was
asked for, and they had made certain of their logistical
plans on that basis.41
Both the United States and the U.S.S.R. were deeply
committed to ending the conflict as soon as possible.
Premier Kosygin of the U.S.S.R. was in Egypt to argue
personally for an end to hostilities as early as
16 October.42 Both superpowers feared the broadening of the
conflict, an eventuality that might even involve them
directly. Another incentive for both was the air and sea
lifts. Both powers were drawing down arms promised to other
nations or planned for issue for modernization of their own
forces. It is safe to assume that in some categories of arms
and equipment they even had to dip into war reserves stock to
meet the demands of the battlefield. As neither nation was
industrially prepared to support a war effort of the
proportion occurring in the Middle East, they had to end the
war as much out of their own economic and defense interests
as from any interest to stabilize the Middle East situation.
The achievement of President Sadat's strategic
objectives make a good final note. Sadat's basic objective
was to end the state of "No Peace, No War" and to force
negotiations. Kilometer 101, Geneva, and ultimately Camp
David certainly proved this success. The superpowers were
forced to involve themselves in the Middle East on Sadat's
terms, not their own. The war restored Egypt to a position
of primacy among Arab states. The results of the war
permitted Egypt to reopen the Suez Canal and thus regain some
of the economic resources, not to mention the prestige, it
had lost in 1967. Arab pride and confidence had been
restored. The war technically was a stalemate at the point
of the ceasefire, with no clear victory on either side. For
the Arabs and Sadat, that was enough. Their goal was to
prove that the Israelis were not invincible, that they could
be neutralized, that they could be defeated. Clearly, the
Arabs had accomplished that.43
As a final statement, a quote from Dupuy:
If War is the employment of military
force in support of political objectives,
there can be no doubt that in strategic
and political terms the Arab States
and particularly Egypt -- won the War,
even though the military outcome was a
stalemate . 44
1. Heikal, Mohammed, The Road to Ramadan (Collins, St.
Jame's Place, London, 1975), p. 172.
2. Heikal, p. 164.
3. Dupuy, Trevor N., Elusive Victory, The Arab-Israeli
Wars 1947-1974 (Harper and Row, New York, 1978), p. 387.
4. Dupuy, p. 387.
5. Badri, Hassan el, Magdoub, Taha el, Zohdy, Mohammed Dia
el Din, The Ramadan War. 1973 (T.N. Dupuy Asociates,
Inc. Dunn Loring, Virginia, 1978), p. 17.
6. Heikal, p. 181.
7. Sadat, Anwar al, In Search of Identity: An
Autobiography (Harper and Row, New York, 1977, 1978), p.
8. Sadat, p. 237.
9. Badri, p. 17.
10. Badri, p. 14.
11. Badri, p. 21.
12. Dupuy, p. 389.
13. Shazli, Saad el, The Crossing of Suez: The October War
(1973) (Third World Centre for Research and Publishing,
London, 1980), p. 140-141.
14. Sadat, p. 241.
15. Sadat, p. 241-242.
16. Herzog, Chaim, The Arab-Israeli Wars: War and Peace in
the Middle East (Random House, New York, 1982), p. 229.
17. Sadat, p. 241-242.
18. Shazli, p. 136.
19. Shazli, p. 139.
20. Shazli, p. 142.
21. Shazli, p. 142.
22. Herzog, p. 229.
23. Shazli, p. 143-144.
24. Shazli, p. 144.
25. Sadat, p. 248.
26. Herzog, p. 228.
27. Herzog, p. 228.
28. Herzog, p. 235.
29. Herzog, p. 238.
30. Dupuy, p. 406.
31. Herzog, p. 238.
32. Dupuy, p. 408.
33. Herzog, p. 236.
34. Dupuy, p. 408.
35. Dupuy, p. 408.
36. Dupuy, p. 409.
37. Dupuy, p. 410.
38. Herzog, p. 315.
39. Herzog, p. 316.
40. Dupuy, p. 566.
41. Dupuy, p. 566-567.
42. Dupuy, p. 513-519.
43. Dupuy, p. 602.
44. Dupuy, p. 603.
1. Badri, Hassan el, Magdoub, Taha el, Zohdy, Mohammed Dia
el Din, The Ramadan War. 1973 (T.N. Dupuy Asociates,
Inc. Dunn Loring, Virginia, 1978).
2. Dupuy, Trevor N., Elusive Victory, The Arab-Israeli
Wars 1947-1974 (Harper and Row, New York, 1978).
3. Heikal, Mohammed, The Road to Ramadan (Collins, St.
Jame's Place, London, 1975).
4. Herzog, Chaim, The Arab-Israeli Wars: War and Peace in
the Middle East (Random House, New York, 1982).
5. Sadat, Anwar al, In Search of Identity: An
Autobioaraphy (Harper and Row, New York, 1977, 1978).
6. Shazli, Saad el, The Crossing of Suez: The October War
(1973) (Third World Centre for Research and Publishing,
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list