The Egyptian/Israeli War 1973
Subject Area - History
OPERATIONAL LEVEL OF WAR
THE EGYPTIAN/ISRAELI WAR 1973
Major Ebrahim Al-Jowder
Bahrain Armed Forces
Conference Group 4
27 March 1997
The nature of warfare focuses on the objective and how to achieve this objective with a decisive victory. So, the view of the reader in this issue may be sometimes right yet sometimes wrong. The question what, why and how are we going to achieve the objective becomes the focus. In this paper I am going to write about the Arab-Israeli 1973 war, focusing on why this war takes place in this period and what happened in each extreme and how each of the extremes achieved his objective.
In 1967, the Israeli factories and the occupied Arab territories were the two issues which led Arab countries should do something. A peace initiative, proposed by U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers, in December 1969, specified an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories in return for assurances of a binding peace commitment. It was rejected by the Israelis. However, President Sadat, the new Egyptian leader seemed to be trying the diplomacy approach by giving the Roger's Peace Plan a chance. At the same time, Egypt and Syria continued to obtain more weapons from the Soviet Union and to improve their armed forces. Launching a peace initiative of his own, Sadat announced on 5 February 1971 that, if the Israelis would make a partial withdrawal, the Egyptians would clean and reopen the Suez Canal. Unfortunately, this proposal came to nothing.
The Background Leading to the 1973 War
The territorial outcome of the 1967 conflict was Israeli control of additional Arab lands. The expanded borders included the Golan Heights in the north, the West Bank of theJordan, and the Sinai Peninsula - over 20,000 square miles of Egyptian territory east of the Suez Canal. The two major combatants, Egypt and Syria maintained standing armies of 260,000 and 120,000 respectively. Egypt reserves numbered nearly 500,000 and Syria 200,000. The military in both countries was basically made up of members of the ruling caste. However, the infusion of Soviet weaponry and training programs required significantly more manpower, and thus became a kind of adult education program. Both sides in the 1973 war relied on outside sources to supply and train their military forces. Both also sought help in surveillance of their adversary's activities while intimate details are best uncovered by the interception of messages, infiltration, or other forms of personal observation. An accurate overview can be achieved through high altitude overflights and observation satellites and only the superpowers had such hardware
On the Suez Canal front, behind the Bar Lev Line, there were three main north-south roads. One, running roughly alongside the Canal, was marked part of the way by a line of telegraph poles which formed a distinctive and useful landmark. Another metal (paved) road in Israel known as Artillery Road designed for the rapid deployment of artillery and tanks, lay between six and seven miles to the east of the Canal. It was covered from the west by a 600 foot high ridge of small features that included Tasa Hill, Subha Hill, and Katib el Kheil, the last known to the Israelis as Triangle 100. Mounds and banks of sand had been added to this ridge to conceal tanks, stores and movement. It also provided the Israelis with excellentobservation points not easily distinguishable against the higher background of the Khatmia Ridge farther to the east. The ground in general sloped gently upward from the canal eastward. Tasa, on Artillery Road was a small military complex. Lying some ten miles back from the Canal, spaced out along the whole front, were six strongly constructed Israeli command posts camouflaged and well protected against bombs and shellfire by concrete walls and roofs and then reinforced by meshwire crated stones. These command posts had sophisticated communication equipment to control their respective areas. Behind the Khatmia Ridge lay Bir Gifgafa, known as Radafine by the Israelis, a fairly large military complex which was the headquarters of the Suez Canal front command. Four east-west roads crossed the Sinai Desert. However, there were other road networks branching off from them. The northern Coastal Road went from Kantara East through Romani eastward to El Arish.
On the northern front, Israel faced Syria on the Golan plateau. The Golan is an extremely valuable piece of terrain, overlooking the upper Jordan Valley and blocking the old route between Damascus and Palestine. On its western edge an escarpment drops steeply down to the upper Jordan Valley. On the south another steep escarpment goes down to the Yarmuk Valley, forming the boundary with Jordan, which to the east gives way to sand larva fields. North of the plateau is blocked by the huge Mount Hermon massif, called Jebel Sheikh by the Arabs, rising to 9,223 feet above sea level. The Golan plateau was not good tank country, and, although it was more passable in its southern part than in the north, areas of it were impassable to vehicles because of the huge basalt boulders and outcrops of rock but, themany defiles provided ideal ambush sites. Five lateral roads ran from west to east across the plateau with bridges over the River Jordan. The northern most, the Massada Road, went from Dan and Borias to Massada. After June 1967, the Israelis continued this road to the ski lift they had erected near the Druse village of Majdal Shams at the foot of the Mount Hermon massif. To the south of the Massada Road, another lateral ran from Kibbutz Gonen near the river Jordan to Wazit and continued to the cease-fire road. In the center was the Damascus Road, the age-old route from Haifa to Damascus. It crossed the river Jordan by the Benot Yacov Bridge, then wound up the escarpment and on through Naffak and Kuneitra to Damascus.
The Israeli troops took advantage of the piles of sand thrown during digging and cleaning the Canal in erecting their fortified defense line alongside the Canal. They raised the height to 25 meters by an angle of more than 45o. Built into the high rampart were a number of fortified Israeli points. This was the so-called Bar Lev line, which the Israelis had spent $238 million, half of the cost of the High Dam in Aswan. The fortified area extended from Port Fued in the north to Ras Misalla on the Suez Gulf in the south, an extended in depth from 30-35 kilometers to the east.
The first line consisted of 22 fortified positions, embodying 31 strong points, each covering about 40,000 square meters. The strong points were complicated engineering structures of several stories, dug below ground and built up high enough to reach the top of therampart. The Suez Canal is 180-240 yards wide and 50 feet deep. The canal is one of the best anti-tank ditches available.
The Israelis built up underground oil storage tanks in order to be constructed under the strong points, with pipes leading from them which could ignite electrically from inside the fortification.
The Arabs had elevated the ramp on their side to a height of 130 feet from which they could look straight over the Israeli rampart and down on the Israeli fortifications and the tank ramps protecting them.
Egypt's usual maneuvers which the Israeli government knew about every year occurred on the same date. Sending some equipment in civilian vehicles, while executing a training program, Egypt continued to enhance the troops close to the front line. Continuation of the daily routine work on the front line made it look as if things were normal. In September 1973, the Arabs began reinforcing and building up their troops under the cover of the usual training. On the 4th of October, Egyptian GHQ declared that they had released 501 reserves after they finished their training and they would giver permission to the military members to travel to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia for Hajj which is one of the five Islamic fundamental roles.
Causes of the War
The Israeli rejection to withdraw from Arab land which it occupied during the 1967 war, and to comply with the United Nations Resolution 242, meant war was imminent. The situation of, no war, no peace from the 1967 war reached the maximum point in capability of the military for the Egyptian and Syrian forces.
Concept of the War
The concept of war had taken place in December 1972 as recommended by President Sadat, but was postponed to May 1973. The decision was made to attack in the first week of October 1973, the same time when the Egyptian forces used to maneuver.
The Syrian Attack
At S hour (1400 hours), the Syrians, using about 100 aircraft, conducted air strikes on targets on the Golan plateau, and the guns began a creeping barrage that lasted for 50 minutes. Under the barrage the forward brigades of the three divisions crashed through the cease-fire line wire fence at selected locations and bypassed the U.N. observer posts. The Syrian columns moved on a broad front with three or four vehicles abreast on either side of the road or track, using anti-mine vehicles to explode mines. Bulldozers and SU-100 guns were interspersed well forward, with infantry armed with sagger and RPG-7's travelling in armored personnel carriers. Bulldozers soon filled in parts of the anti-tank ditch, nullifying this obstacle and enabling vehicles to cross it and bypass the forward Israeli static defenses. Nonetheless, several tanks were knocked out. As the Syrians advanced, tanks supporting the Israeli forward defenses withdrew to prepare positions in the hills overlooking the approaches.
The town of Kuneitra was initially bypassed, and a Syrian brigade from the 7th Infantry Division attempted to penetrate at a point from which the 7th Armored Brigade had positions on the ridge known to the Syrians as the Red Ridge, about 2,000 yards from the anti-tank ditch. The ridge shielded the cease-fire road which ran to its west. The Syrians bridged the anti-tank ditch and attempted to advance across an open stretch of terrain. However, the Israelis had planned it to be a killing area, and picked off two or three at a time. After an hour, the Syrians withdrew to the ditch. The Israelis claim the Syrians left over 60 destroyed or disabled tanks behind them. About ten miles south of Kuneitra, a brigade of the 5th Infantry Division bypassed one of the Israeli infantry forts to the south and swept through the Kudne Gap, an opening opposite Tel Kudne, toward Khushiye, which is about six miles from the cease-fire line. The Israeli tanks gave way before them, and the Israeli infantry fort was evacuated. Another ten miles or so farther south, two brigades of the 9th Infantry Division forced their way through the wide Radif Gap and began moving along the TAP road from the south toward Juhader, at the junction with the El Al Road. The three Israeli infantry forts blocking the gap were evacuated in the afternoon. Overhead, the Israeli Air Force, upon which the Israelis relied on so heavily for ground support and interdiction in such a situation was having a disastrous time. It hit up against the Syrian Air Defense barrier and lost some thirty aircraft that first afternoon.
The Syrians intended that the Israeli OP on Mount Hermon should be dealt with at S Hour, but there was a delay in briefing and organizing the assault force. The assault force was the 500 Ranger Group, the only one the Syrians had. The Syrians cleared the underground passages but were balked at the main sensory and communication center, which was protected by a huge, locked steel door. An Israeli prisoner was brought back and compelled to show the Syrians how to open the door.
The Syrian Ranger Group staged to garrison this vital OP for the remainder of the war. It was anticipated that the Israelis would attempt to retake it because of its immense value, but, apart from later attention by Israeli aircraft and artillery fire, the captured OP had a fairly quiet time.
About 2200 hours on the sixth, a Syrian brigade of the 7th Infantry Division made another attack on the Booster position just to the north of Kuneitra. Once again it was held by the Israelis from their commanding positions, and the Syrians retired with losses about three hours later.
During the night, the tanks of the 5th Infantry Division flooded through the Rafid Gap and the Syrians moved their two armored divisions forward to the cease-fire line. The Israeli reserves arrived on the shore of Lake Tiberias and the West Bank of the river Jordan. They were immediately sent forward in small groups into battle. The Israelis were giving priority to the Golan front, and by noon of the seventh, helicopters were flying in replacement tank crews and returning with wounded. When Moshe Dayan visited the Golan front, the briefing hereceived caused him to return to Tel Aviv in a despondent mood. He recommended to Premier Golda Meir that Israeli troops be withdrawn from the plateau to form a defensive line just to the east of the crest of the river Jordan escarpment and that a stronger defensive line be formed on the river itself. Before leaving the front, he had orders for the escarpment roads to be blocked and the Jordan bridges prepared for demolition.
To the north of Kuneitra, the battle continued between the Syrian 7th Infantry Division and the Israeli 7th Armored Brigade holding the Booster position. In the south the Israelis began closing in on the Khushiye area where the Syrians had been concentrating. Moving more troops along the El Al and Yehudia roads to the TAP Road, the Israelis caused the Syrian 9th Infantry Division to ease itself southward to avoid being trapped. In the north, at dawn on the ninth, seven Syrian helicopters appeared over the Red Ridge battlefield and four of them put down commandos near Bulcata, behind the Red Ridge. This action worried the Israelis more than they cared to admit.
The Egyptian Attack
On the West Bank on 6 October at 1345 hours, the usual off-duty activities occurred as Egyptian soldiers engaged in fishing, swimming and lounging near the water's edge. About 1400 hours, 240 Egyptian aircraft in small groups flew over the Canal eastward into the Sinai to drop bombs and fire rockets at a dozen or more Israeli targets. Their objective included Israeli HQ, communication and radar installations, three airfields, HAWK batteries, gun concentrations, and the Budapest Fort on the Mediterranean. There were twelve waves of athousand assault craft each, but very few were lost in crossing, and each wave successively landed on the East Bank at fifteen-minute intervals. In the north, of the four forts at Kantara East that the 18th Infantry Division attacked on that afternoon, it was reported that one fell within ten minutes, a second within fifteen minutes, and the third at 1500 hours. All the defenders of the last were found dead.
In the south on the Suez Canal front, the first five days of the October war had been ones of tremendous achievement for the Egyptians, but these were followed by another five days of caution and hesitation. It was as though the Egyptian momentum had run down and their soldiers stood with leaden feet on the East Bank, unable to move any farther forward. This military pause, a new expression brought into the military vocabulary, became increasingly embarrassing to the Egyptians after their initial success. On the other hand, General Shazli, Chief of Staff, wanted to push eastward quickly to seize the three main passes while the Israelis were still shocked, confused and disorganized. He advocated this move from the beginning, and a sharp difference of opinion arose between Generals Shazli and Ismail. Shazli wanted to activate another round of helicopter-borne ranger raids and ambushes and to advance to the three passes using armored brigades. General Ismail, Minister of Defense would not agree, saying he was not ready, that there was much more logistics work to be done first, and that he did not have enough equipment, supplies, or ammunition on the East Bank for such an operation.
In the south, the Israelis claimed that Mandler Division, reinforced with an extra armored brigade, was harassing the Third Army. There were certainly skirmishes along its front. On the same day, General Shazli visited the East Bank and, during the course of his tour, spoke to journalists. He modestly commented that "the crossing went off in a very satisfactory way. the operations are taking place according to plans drawn up by the Egyptian command." The following day, the eleventh, on television, he assured the Egyptian people that "the Egyptian Army will not bite off more than it can chew."
The eleventh was the Jewish Succoth, the Feast of Tabernacles, commemorating Moses leading the Jews from their Egyptian bondage some three thousand years earlier. The holiday had a strong religious connotation, and the religious soldiers erected small booths, the Succah under which all meals should be taken for several days. On this day there was spasmodic firing and fighting along the front, but its intensity tended to dwindle, mainly because of exhaustion and the shortage of ammunition. As more Israeli tanks and reinforcements arrived, they were pressed hastily into new brigades; some were given the designations of those already scattered or decimated.
On the twelfth, the Russians brought down their second reconnaissance satellite (Cosmos 597) which they had launched on the sixth, after only half its normal time in orbit. It gave good information of the battles on the tenth and eleventh, indicating where the bulk of the armor was located.
General Gonen, accompanied by Major General Weizman, recalled an officer who had formerly been Commander of the Air Force, flew to Sharon's headquarters near Tasa for a conference on how to deal with the anticipated Egyptian attack. The proposal was that, if it were a frontal attack, Sharon and Mandler should hold it, if the Egyptians forced their way toward Bir Gifgafa, Adan's division should hit them in the flanks. Consequently, one of Adan's brigades was moved down to the western entrance to the Khatmia Pass. Any Egyptian advance along either the Mediterranean coast or south along the shore of the Gulf of Suez, both being outside the cover of the Egyptian Air Defense barrier, would be dealt with by the Israeli Air Force.
Israeli priority had been switched from the Golan to the Suez Canal front on the thirteenth. Thus, the Israeli Air Force was able to give more attention to the Egyptian battlefield on the fourteenth, although its aircraft generally kept clear of the air defense barrier. The Israeli Air Force claims to have "destroyed one mechanized brigade in the south" near the Ras Sudan Valley. It had also been active in the north against Port Said and in support of the Budapest fort, both outside the reach of the air defense barrier.
Alarming rumors of heavy Israeli casualties were circulating in Israel, which the Israeli government did nothing to allay until the fourteenth. Then it issued its first casualty figure, admitting to 656 dead so far, which hardly stemmed the mounting anxiety within the country, especially as no figures of wounded were given. This figure obviously did not include thecasualties of the battles of the fourteenth. The Israelis also stated that they had taken 414 Arab prisoners, but did not specify how many were Egyptian, Syrians or other nationalities.
The decision of war was very difficult and President Sadat was very brave to take this step, as well as, achieving a strategic objective. The huge numbers of weapons came from the Soviets gave the Arabs the advantage to begin the offensive.
The Egyptians and the Syrians forgot a very important point when the operation was moving, there was no coordination between the two. The Egyptians accepted the cease fire without consulting with the Syrians. Therefore, attempts to develop the attack in the east on the twelfth and thirteenth of October when the time was over was impossible.
Center of Gravity
Arab: To cross the Canal and destroy the fortification of the Bar Lev line.
Israel: Destroy Egypt's Second and Third Army.
Israeli experience in the war suggests that problems can ensure when one underestimates an enemy's capability. Before the war, Israel mistakenly believed that Arab forces did not have the courage or the technological capability to stop an armored attack. In reality, Egypt and Syria had acquired superior anti-armor capability which bolstered theirtroops' confidence of success against Israel's massed tank formations. The Israelis failed to recognize that as new weapon technology becomes available over time, the fighting capability of an opponent's forces may increase significantly. An enhanced combat capability could also result from a number of additional factors, such as increased training and improved leadership.
The supply interruptions caused by Arab interdiction of Israeli land and sea supply lines reaffirm the importance of maintaining viable lines of communication, especially in the event of a long war. If the war had continued beyond 24 October, Israel may not have been able to maintain the flow of petroleum to its combat force because of the Egyptian blockade of the Red Sea.
The war and the policy both of which are the continuation of the other, but to achieve any objective, sometimes the policy is not enough. However, both Israel and Arabs had an objective. The entire course of this conflict was affected by the fact that Arabs achieved strategic, operational and tactical objectives. It was the regular army alone which fought against overwhelming odds. This led to situations virtually unprecedented for the IDF; a high casualty rate, men missing in action, and prisoners being taken by both sides.
The war used many different tactics and plans compared to previous wars. It was the first time that Arabs began an offensive with very complete and accurate plans synchronized on all levels. On the other hand, the Israeli equipment and employment was very accurate and the reaction was very fast. Therefore, Israel wanted to keep the Arab territory which itoccupied during the 1967 war under their control and the Egyptians had an objective which was to achieve retrieving their territory.