The 1973 Arab-Israeli War: Arab Policies, Strategies, and Campaigns
Subject Area - Strategic Issues
Title: The 1973 Arab-Israeli War: Arab Policies, Strategies, and Campaigns
Author: Major Michael C. Jordan, United States Marine Corps
Thesis: The 1973 Arab-Israeli War provides valuable insight into theater warfighting strategy and operational art, matters of particular relevance in today's world of joint and combined operations. This paper examines that conflict, focusing on Arab policy objectives and the historical circumstances framing them; the strategic setting which influenced Arab leaders decision making as they translated policy into Arab grand strategy; and the planning and execution of Arab military strategy as campaign plans at the operational level of war.
Background: War, as preeminent military analyst Carl von Clausewitz asserted, is an instrument of policy--a means by which nations may achieve political ends. In October 1973, Arab nations led by Egypt and Syria chose war as their instrument of policy--their primary policy objective in waging war: to recover Arab lands occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six Days' War.
Arab leaders translated their policy objective to recover the occupied territories into a grand strategy designed to achieve that objective. The Arab grand strategy contemplated limited military action followed by political pressure to compel recovery of the occupied territories in total. Their return to Middle East hostilities, the Arab leadership reasoned, would militarily compel partial Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and create international and internal political pressure upon Israel to concede the remaining Arab lands for the sake of regional peace.
Arab military strategy planned limited Egyptian and Syrian offensive campaigns against Israel to secure lodgments within the occupied territories, thereby achieving the military aspect of their grand strategy, followed by immediate Arab reversion to the defensive to facilitate the political aspect of the strategy.
The 1973 Arab-Israeli War is particularly relevant to study of the relationship between the strategic and operational levels of war. It clearly illustrates how political objectives influence grand strategy designed to achieve those strategic aims and how these policy objectives control the planning and execution of military strategy as campaign plans at the operational level of war.
THE 1973 ARAB-ISRAELI WAR:
ARAB POLICIES, STRATEGIES, AND CAMPAIGNS
War is only a branch of political activity .... [A] continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means .... [P]olicy converts the overwhelmingly destructive element of war into a mere instrument. It changes the terrible battle-sword that a man needs both hands and his entire strength to wield, and with which he strikes home once and no more, into a light, handy rapier--sometimes just a foil for the exchange of thrusts, feints, and parries .... The conduct of war ... is therefore policy itself, which takes up the sword in place of the pen.
War, as preeminent military analyst Carl von Clausewitz asserted, is an instrument of policy--a means by which nations may achieve political ends. In October 1973, Arab nations led by Egypt and Syria chose war as their instrument of policy--their primary policy objective in waging war: to recover Arab lands occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six Days' War.
Arab leaders translated their policy objective to recover the occupied territories into a grand strategy designed to achieve that objective. The Arab grand strategy contemplated limited military action followed by political pressure to compel recovery of the occupied territories in total. Their return to Middle East hostilities, the Arab leadership reasoned, would militarily compel partial Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and create international and internal political pressure upon Israel to concede the remaining Arab lands for the sake of regional peace.
Arab military strategy  planned limited Egyptian and Syrian offensive campaigns against Israel to secure lodgments within the occupied territories, thereby achieving the military aspect of their grand strategy, followed by immediate Arab reversion to the defensive to facilitate the political aspect of the strategy.
This paper will examine the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, focusing on Arab policy objectives and the historical circumstances framing them; the strategic setting which influenced Arab leaders decision making as they translated policy into Arab grand strategy; and the planning and execution of Arab military strategy as campaign plans at the operational level of war.
"Damascus is only one hour's drive away, and Cairo perhaps two."
This pre-October 1973 Israeli saying illustrates the supremely confident, even arrogant view Israelis held of their military prowess following their lightning-quick victory over Arab forces in the 1967 Six Days' War. Conversely, it also reflects the contempt Israelis held for the military abilities of Arab neighbors Egypt and Syria. Their 1967 preemptive victory was so complete and won so cheaply, Israelis viewed their military forces as invincible, their intelligence service as unmatched, and their Arab foes as inferior and incapable.
If the Six Days' War gave Israel reason for jubilation, it cast a long shadow over the entire Arab Middle East, particularly upon Egypt and Syria. Their militaries had been largely destroyed and their economies suffered from staggering military expenditures necessary to replace their losses. Perhaps most importantly, the humiliating defeat of 1967 and its aftermath--continued Israeli occupation of Arab lands, deeply wounded Arab national psyche. The stigma to the Arabs was unbearable and Arab nations collectively vowed to force resolution. Throughout the Middle East, Arab nations adopted pan-Arab national political objectives, including Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue. Israel, buffered by the occupied territories and buoyed by a sense of overall military superiority, was certain it could crush any Arab military attempt to compel these political aims. The Israelis, convinced they could eventually force the Arabs to peace on Israeli terms, were satisfied with the status quo.
In 1973, the Middle East question no longer held center-stage internationally. The superpowers, focused on détente, sought to avoid Middle East tensions that could disrupt Soviet-American diplomatic accords. American Middle East mediation efforts progressively declined, finally ceasing entirely in mid-1973. The environment in the Middle East, albeit tense, was not war, and the superpowers, emersed in rapidly evolving global politics, tolerated this no peace-no war situation.
Following three years of political efforts, Arab leaders concluded that diplomatic resolution of their problems was at a political impasse. The Arabs believed Israel would never negotiate concessions so long as Israelis felt militarily secure inside their borders and the United States was unwilling to apply pressure to force a settlement. Arab leaders determined that war was the only viable alternative to achieve their political goals.
Arab leadership adopted a grand strategy developed principally by Egypt that contemplated a combined military-political approach to achieve the policy aim of Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. The Arabs determined that they could compel partial Israeli withdrawal by military force, the remaining Arab lands they would recover as a result of political pressure. The renewal of hostilities, they believed, would refocus world attention upon the Middle East question and disrupt Soviet-American détente, resulting in American, as well as international political pressure, upon Israel to make concessions on Arab political objectives. Simultaneously, military action would shatter Israeli feelings of security, significantly disrupt their economy, and inflict casualties upon their small population. These factors, the Arabs reasoned, would force Israelis to reexamine and soften their position, resulting in internal political pressure upon the Israeli government to concede the remaining occupied Arab lands for the sake of peace. The return to war and combined international and internal Israeli political pressure, the Arab leadership planned, would break the political impasse, and compel Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab lands.
Arab military strategy designed to force partial Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories envisioned a sophisticated and brilliant strategic deception operation, followed by separate, but strategically linked Egyptian and Syrian offensive campaigns. The Arab campaign plans reflected critical lessons learned from previous wars, maximized Arab capabilities, and minimized Israeli strengths. The central operational focus of both Arab campaigns was to quickly seize limited military objectives before the Israelis could fully mobilize. Egypt planned to cross and seize a perimeter along the eastern shore of the Suez Canal, defeating Israeli defensive positions there, and then prepare to advance further to seize strategic passes, if circumstances permitted. Syria planned to defeat Israeli strongholds upon the Golan Heights and seize the entire Golan Plateau. Their lodgments secured, Arab forces would transition to the operational defensive, anticipating superpower or United Nations' intervention and political pressure for a cease-fire, solidifying their initial territorial gains. If a cease-fire was not forthcoming, Arab forces would fight Israel in a prolonged conventional conflict, if necessary. In either case, the Arabs sought to facilitate the political aspect of their grand strategy, international and internal political pressure upon Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. Their plans and training complete, the Arab forces undertook to achieve their policies through the instrument of war, shocking Israel and the world in the process.
Israeli illusions of complete superiority and militarily negligible Arab foes were shattered at 1400 on 6 October 1973, as Egyptian forces attacked across the Suez Canal into the Sinai and Syrian forces attacked on to the Golan Heights in offensive campaigns against Israel. The Arab attacks caught the Israelis short, achieved near complete strategic, as well as, tactical surprise and initially appeared to threaten Israel's existence. The conflict raged at a murderous pace for almost three weeks, each combatant inflicting and suffering rates of attrition and expending materiel at rates of consumption unmatched in history over a comparable period. The Arab forces won an initial advantage, but the Israelis, fighting from interior lines in two separate theaters of operation, managed to recover and gain the initiative before superpower and United Nation's intervention imposed a cease-fire on 24 October 1973, prior to any clear-cut military decision on the battlefield. A complete understanding of Arab policies, plans, and campaigns during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War requires an historical review of the circumstances which gave rise to this conflict.
Arab policies, plans, decisions, and actions prior to and during the 1973 war reflect the historical context from which they arose: a recurring series of wars fought by various combinations of Arab states and Israel since the latter's founding as a nation. Following its war for independence in 1948, Israel fought wars with Arab states in 1956, 1967, and 1969, in addition to executing numerous retaliatory raids, and counter-terrorist, and anti-guerilla operations. The 1973 Arab-Israeli War, referred to variously as the Yom Kippur War, the War of Atonement, the War of Ramadan, and the October War, was the fourth major conflict in this series. Even before the nation of Israel was founded, Arab inhabitants of Palestine and surrounding Arab nations warred with Jewish settlers over the land that eventually formed the state of Israel. Each of these prior conflicts helped set the stage for the 1973 war, but it was the 1967 Six Days' War that most significantly influenced the action.
On 5 June 1967, following three weeks of tense international brinkmanship, Israel launched preemptive airstrikes against Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq which "effectively won the war in the first three hours, the time it took to knock out the Arab air forces on the ground." Though the Arab forces greatly outnumbered the Israelis, left without air cover, Arab armor forces were defenseless against the Israeli Air Force (IAF) and were disastrously defeated. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF), employing a "classic tank-cum-aircraft blitzkrieg,"  routed the Arab forces, including a 90,000-strong Egyptian force, and raced for the Arab frontiers. By the end of the Six-Days' War, Israel, a country of 20,000 square kilometers, had seized control of 65,000 square kilometers of Arab lands, including the Gaza Strip and the whole Sinai Peninsula with the Suez Canal, from Egypt; the Golan Plateau from Syria; and the West Bank of the Jordan River, from Jordan.
Israel 's preemptive attack in the 1967 war and its offensive military strategy in general stemmed from its small size and corresponding lack of defensible territory. Israeli leaders developed a doctrine which called for the attack as soon as practicable in order to carry the battle away from Israeli soil. This strategy, successful in 1956, became doctrine following the 1967 campaign. The 1967 Six Days' War molded Israeli thought about themselves, their Arab foes, and the next war. Flush with victory, the Israeli military viewed itself as inherently superior, and the Arabs as militarily negligible. Israelis developed an almost mystical faith in the tank and tank commanders became national cult heroes. Israeli military doctrine adopted the frontal armored charge as the acme of tactics, to be immediately followed by a campaign of strategic maneuver with a blitzkrieg deep into the enemy's rear. Israel, quite simply, planned and trained to fight the 1967 war again.
Following the Six Days' War, Israel felt secure, believing it had achieved strategic depth and fully defensible borders provided by the occupied territories seized from the Arabs. The Israeli government ignored United Nations Resolution 242, supported by the United States, which specified Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories in return for Arab recognition of Israel. This collective sense of security removed any real impetus for Israel to negotiate with the Arab states. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Israel distrusted the Arabs, and preferred the status quo, believing that the country was strong enough to eventually force the Arabs to make peace on Israeli terms. Further, Israel was confident in the United States' support for its military requirements. In the absence of direct negotiations and the retention of some of the occupied territory deemed necessary to Israel's security, Israelis believed that "no war was a plus, and no peace could be lived with. For the Arabs ... no war and no peace was intolerable."
The Arabs, for their part, were humiliated by their losses to Israel. Since Israel destroyed much of their military forces and occupied Arab lands, the Arab's political bargaining position was weak. The Israelis demanded direct negotiations which implicitly required official state recognition, the only terms on which they would negotiate a peace; the Arabs required total Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue. Neither side could agree to the other's starting position and the situation settled into a stalemate punctuated by minor military engagements over the next six years.
Syria, Jordan, and Egypt each faced significant negative political, economic, and military impact from the Six Days' War, exacerbated by the Israeli policy of settlement and annexation of the occupied territories. The situation was particularly problematic for Egypt whose economy suffered greatly from the loss of tourism, Suez Canal revenues, and oil production due to the Israeli occupation. The Egyptian economy fell to below zero and the treasury was empty; Egypt was unable to secure military arms sought from the Soviet Union, and internal Egyptian unrest grew within the citizenry and the army. Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat found the situation intolerable, and in early 1971, declaring a "year of decision," embarked upon a two-pronged approach to resolve the long standing conflict: diplomatic resolution or war.
Sadat believed the key to all of Egypt's economic, political, and military problems lay in redressing the situation ensuing from the 1967 defeat  The basic task in Sadat's view, was to "wipe out the disgrace and humiliation [of 1967]" in order to restore Egyptian self-confidence and the respect of the world community. Sadat determined that Egypt could accomplish this only by recovering the territories lost in the Six Days' War. Sadat then conceived and set in motion a long-range strategy which would simultaneously develop political (i.e., diplomatic) and military courses of action to recover the occupied territories from Israel. The political side of Sadat's two-pronged approach included his "peace initiative" launched in February 1971. In this Egyptian diplomatic offensive, Sadat proposed that if Israel withdrew her forces east of the Mitla and Gidi passes (about forty miles east of the Suez Canal in the Sinai Peninsula), Egypt would reopen the Suez Canal; officially declare a cease-fire; restore diplomatic relations with the United States; and sign a peace agreement with Israel, contingent upon the latter's fulfillment of the provisions of UN Resolution 242, which committed Israel to withdrawal from all occupied territories and resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. Diplomatically, Israel was unwilling to accept any proposal without direct negotiations and retention of territories deemed essential to its security and political resolution was not forthcoming.
Concurrent with his diplomatic efforts, Sadat in March 1971, began to develop his military options, making the first of four trips to Moscow to secure ammunition and weapons from the Soviets. The Egyptian military General Staff set about assessing the military situation and planning possible military options against Israel. In public speeches and interviews throughout the Middle East, Sadat beat the drums of war, calling 1971 the year of decision. Sadat elicited from the Soviets agreements to provide ammunition sufficient to replace that expended by Egypt during the War of Attrition, as well as surface-to-air missiles, and missile equipped aircraft. The Soviets, however, failed to deliver all the promised weapons and Sadat determined that the military situation would not permit him to resume the War of Attrition, let alone launch a decisive offensive against Israel. Thus 1971, the year of decision, passed without any military action and many observers viewed Sadat's talk of war merely as more Arab rhetoric, and the Egyptian threats as hollow.
In 1972 the general consensus among Arab political leaders was that diplomatic resolution of the Arab-Israeli problem was at a hopeless impasse. U.S. President Nixon and Soviet Premier Breznev met at a summit in Moscow in May 1972. President Sadat viewed this growing détente between the United States and the Soviet Union as boding ill for the Arabs, because it could mean a diplomatic status quo, and could perpetuate Egypt's military disadvantage. Sadat's fears were confirmed, when in July 1972, the United States and Soviet Union issued a joint communiqué hardly mentioning the Middle East and failing to refer at all to UN Resolution 242. The small portion devoted to the Arab-Israeli problem "advocat[ed] military relaxation in the Middle East. It was a violent shock to ... [Egypt, because the country] lagged at least twenty steps [militarily] behind Israel and so 'military relaxation' in this context could mean nothing but giving in to Israel." Sadat's actions subsequent to the US-USSR pronouncement suggest he determined that even more decisive, and remarkable, actions were necessary in order to advance his strategy to resolve the Middle East question.
In July 1972, Sadat dismissed the 15,000 Russian technicians and military personnel present in Egypt. The Soviet Ambassador to Egypt visited Sadat to inform him that no progress was made on the Middle East question during the Soviet-American talks. When the Russian Ambassador failed to explain delays in the delivery of promised weapons, Sadat ordered that all Russian personnel leave Egypt within a week.
In addition to serving as a rebuke to the Soviets for their perceived high-handed treatment of Egypt generally, and Sadat and his weapons contracts specifically, the Soviet dismissal directly furthered Sadat's two-pronged strategy. It served him militarily, enhancing strategic deception and thereby advancing the prospect of a surprise attack, by encouraging the belief that war was not an Egyptian option. Sadat, therefore played to advantage the commonly held view that Egypt would not go to war without its Soviet advisors. Further, it provided the Egyptian military freedom to plan and train for war without direct Soviet observation or knowledge. This lessened the likelihood of Soviet attempts at dissuasion in the name of détente with the United States or disclosure of Egyptian intentions. Finally, it served as political posturing on Sadat's part to convince the Soviets their role in the Middle East was potentially diminishing, thereby implicitly encouraging them to deliver the needed weapons to buttress their position with the Egyptians.
Sadat's actions also served him diplomatically by creating an impression in the international community, particularly in the West and in Israel, that Sadat was making a conciliatory gesture toward the West. While Sadat needed the Soviets for weapons, he needed the United States politically and diplomatically, for he believed that only the United States could exert the political pressure upon Israel that could force it to make concessions on the occupied territories. Coupled with his earlier peace initiative offer to restore diplomatic relations, Sadat dangled an inticing diplomatic carrot before the United States. A United States, anxious to increase its influence in the oil-rich Middle East, might be inclined to view the Arab position more favorably, which could prove beneficial, whether for a diplomatic solution, or if Egypt went to war.
In July 1972, after expelling the Soviets, Sadat instructed his National Security Adviser to be ready to conduct dialogue with the United States, correctly predicting that his dismissal of the Soviets would bring the Americans calling. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger contacted the Egyptians for a meeting at the highest possible level, initially scheduled for September 1972, but subsequently postponed until February 1973.
Additionally, Sadat ordered his Minister of War General Mohammed Sadek to prepare the armed forces for launching an attack against Israel sometime after November 15, 1972. Sadat chose this date because it fell after the United States' presidential elections and he hoped the President-elect could find a peaceful solution to the Middle East question. He believed that as it was an election year, the American government might be paralyzed at the time and incapable of taking the bold action necessary to resolve these difficult issues.
In August 1972, Sadat, desiring to show the Soviets he did not intend to break with them altogether, and needing to enhance his military option, reestablished contact with the Soviets. His efforts were rewarded later in the form of weapons essential to military action against Israel as Egypt moved ever closer toward a decision to go to war.
In October 1972, Sadat met with the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to determine Egyptian readiness for war. He discovered that Egyptian forces were not ready and that, in fact, a number of critical Egyptian officers had not even been told of Sadat's instructions to be prepared for war after November 15, 1972. Sadat replaced his Minister of War, promoting and appointing a long time supporter, General Ahmed Ismail Ali as the new War Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces. Sadat charged Ismail with improving Egyptian defensive fortifications along the Suez Canal and devising an offensive plan for an attack against Israel. Subsequently, Ismail approved plans previously prepared under the direction of Lieutenant General Saad el-Shazly, appointed by Sadat in 1971 as Egyptian Armed Forces Chief of Staff. Shazly began studying the military situation and planning possible Egyptian operations in 1971 when Sadat first initiated his two-pronged strategy. Ismail and Shazly's conclusions regarding Egyptian military capabilities critically impacted strategic decisions regarding possible military options. Their estimation of the situation was that Egypt was militarily incapable of conducting a large-scale general offensive through the Sinai to destroy Israeli positions or of militarily forcing complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Egyptian capabilities, they concluded, would permit only a limited attack across the Suez Canal to destroy the Israeli fortifications along the canal, push the perimeter out a short distance into the Sinai, and establish a defensive posture. Sadat and his planners faced the reality that Egypt's strategic plan could not rely solely on military action if it was to succeed in securing total Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. Ismail and Sadat agreed that an Arab political and military alliance was desirable. Such an alliance with Syria was particularly critical, as it could enhance the military option, by forcing Israel into a two-front war.
Sadat, Ismail, and Shazly continued on-going discussions concerning military action against Israel with Arab political leaders and rulers throughout the Middle East. Negotiations, conducted in very general terms and not disclosing any detail of the military plans, included discussions of Arab political support for war; materiel support, specifically, the need for oil and equipment; the commitment of troops; and the possibility of an Arab oil embargo. Negotiations proved generally fruitful, resulting in promises of oil supplies, and troops and equipment from various Arab countries. Most importantly, though, was Syria's expressed interest in military operations against Israel. In January 1973, Syria's President Hafez al-Assad indicated Syrian intentions of military action against the Israelis. Following weeks of negotiation concerning combined military operations against Israel, leaders of the two nations agreed in principle, and Egypt's General Ismail was named to the essentially honorific post of Commander-in-Chief of the armies of the Federation of Arab Republics. Ismail began negotiations with Syria's Minister of War, General Mustafa Tlas, in an effort to forge a common military strategy between the two countries.
In addition to his meetings with Arab leaders, Sadat continued to court the Soviet Union in an effort to secure weapons. Sadat curried Soviet favor in December 1972 by ordering a five-year extension of a maritime facilities agreement. This agreement, due to expire in March 1973, allowed the Soviet Mediterranean Fleet to use Egyptian port facilities, and was of central strategic importance to the Soviets. A diplomatic trip to Moscow in February 1973 by General Ismail resulted in the largest arms deal ever concluded between the two countries and deliveries began promptly. The Soviets delivered vital surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), that the Egyptians could use to counter Israeli air power, and SCUD, surface-to-surface missiles, which would enable the Egyptians to strike Israeli cities. The Soviets, however, enigmatically delivered only part of the equipment agreed to before again stopping deliveries.
Meanwhile, Sadat's final and parallel diplomatic initiative reached its peak. As his military planned for war, Sadat continued to pursue diplomatic resolution hoping the United States would exert pressure on Israel to accept his original peace initiative. Egyptian National Security Adviser Hafez Ismail met with both President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger in February 1973. The President spoke of America's wish to get negotiations going; the Egyptians renewed their offer of Sadat's 1971 peace initiative. Kissinger separately stated that the President was ready to cooperate in the establishment of peace, but that while the United States could exert pressure upon Israel, it could not force it to take any actions. Egypt would have to offer something in exchange for Israeli withdrawal. Finally, he warned Egypt not to take military action as Israel would score an even greater victory than it had in 1967. Shortly after the meetings, the United States announced that it would supply Israel with forty-eight additional Phantom aircraft. This announcement caused Sadat to abandon all hope of breaking the deadlock by diplomatic means. Sadat's view was that diplomatic resolution of the situation was impossible and that Egypt could not hope to achieve peace through the Americans so long as Israel did not want peace and the United States did not exert pressure upon it to sue for peace. Sadat believed that as long as Israel felt secure, it had no incentive to negotiate. In order to extract Israeli concessions, Sadat determined that direct pressure on both Israel and the United States was necessary. The Arabs must shatter the Israeli sense of security to make them more inclined to negotiate. Further, the Arabs must convince the United States of the need to pressure the Israelis for concessions. This required that the Arab's demonstrate that failure to resolve the Middle East question would disrupt the Soviet-American rapproachment. Sadat reasoned that only a Soviet-supplied, Arab war against Israel could accomplish both of these aims. At the end of March 1973, Sadat gave an interview to Newsweek magazine in which he warned:
If we don't take our case in our own hands, there will be no movement .... Everything I've done leads to pressures for more concessions .... Every door I have opened has been slammed in my face -- with American blessings .... Everything [in Egypt] is now being mobilized in earnest for the resumption of the battle -- which is now inevitable .... [T]his will be the nightmare to end all nightmares -- and everybody will be losers .... Everyone has fallen asleep over the Middle East crisis. But they will soon wake up.
Sadat, believing he had exhausted diplomatic avenues for resolution of the Middle East question, announced to the world Egypt's intention to go to war. The decision made, Sadat turned to the task of formulating the details of the strategic plan.
Sadat determined that it would be advantageous to expand the Arab coalition to include Jordan, thereby presenting the Israelis with the possibility of yet a third front. First, however, Sadat sought to build a common political strategy with Syria. This required that the leaders and planners of Egypt and Syria agree on the primary political objectives for the war. Syria had previously rejected UN Resolution 242, because to accept it required at least implicit recognition of Israel as a nation, which Syria vehemently opposed. The controversy between the two Arab states concerned the central political objective of the war, that is, "what the war was about -- the existence of Israel, or merely the recovery of the occupied lands?" Sadat's aim, based on the realities of the military situation and his assessment of Egyptian needs, was only to recover the occupied Arab territories. Assad, however, contemplated a general Syrian military offensive into the heartland of Israel to dismantle and destroy Israel as a nation. Following a number of meetings between the two countries' political and military leaders, Sadat finally persuaded Assad that Syria could not fight Israel alone and that even combined, Egypt and Syria were militarily incapable of a general offensive to destroy Israel. Assad, apparently convinced of the military necessity to ally with Egypt, limited Syria's war aims and accepted Sadat's aim of recovering the occupied territories and the grand strategy designed to achieve it. Syria's alliance assured, Sadat increased his efforts to bring Jordan into the Arab coalition. Sadat understood the strategic value, militarily and politically, of threatening Israel with a third front. Though initially rebuffed by King Hussein, Sadat persevered and his efforts eventually succeeded in bringing Jordan into the Arab alliance. Sadat, Assad, and Hussein ratified agreements already reached when they met at a Cairo summit on September 10, 1973.
The political leaders ratified the principal Arab policy objective of the war -- to recover the Arab territories seized and occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Days' War. Coupled with this, was the aim of restoring Arab pride, embarrassingly stripped away in the humiliating military defeat suffered in 1967. Finally, Arab policy objectives sought to punish and humiliate Israel internationally for what Arabs believed was its policy of arrogance and brutality toward Arabs in the occupied territories. The men ratified Sadat's grand strategy, calling for a combination of military and political action in order to achieve the basic war aim of total Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. The Arab plan was to militarily compel partial Israeli withdrawal and politically achieve total withdrawal. The leaders agreed that Syria could, through military action, recapture all of the relatively limited territory it lost on the Golan Heights in the 1967 war. The Egyptians, however, could not recapture the Suez Canal, an extraordinary feat in itself, and the vast lands of the Sinai, lost to the Israelis in 1967, solely through military force. Rather, limited military action within Egyptian capabilities, coupled with international political intervention and pressure for Israeli concessions, was necessary. The international crisis "sparked" by the outbreak of renewed Middle East conflict would refocus the world's attention upon the Middle East question and cause superpower and United Nations intervention to stop the fighting. The resulting cease-fire, the Arab leaders reasoned, would solidify their limited territorial gains. The Arabs would recover the remainder of the occupied territories in the Sinai and the west bank of the Jordan as a result of international political pressure, particularly by the United States, to compel Israeli concessions. Successful military action would also destroy Israeli illusions of security, demonstrating the invalidity of the view that holding the occupied territories provided total safety through strategic depth and fully defensible borders. Even the planned limited military action, the Arab leaders believed, would shatter Israeli notions of total military superiority and militarily negligible Arab foes, while simultaneously restoring Arab confidence. Israel, faced with recognizing its vulnerability, would be shaken out of its "status quo syndrome." Israelis, confronted with the realities of insecurity; mounting casualties in a small population; a significantly disrupted economy; and subject to intense international political pressure, would be much more likely to view favorably Arab peace initiatives calling for total Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories. Prior to adjourning the Cairo summit, the Arab political leaders ratified the military strategy previously developed, and left the final decision to go ahead with the war to Sadat.
The overarching military strategy ratified by the Arab political leaders was the outgrowth of the attack plan formulated by Egyptian Chief of Staff Shazly and adopted by Egyptian and Syrian military leaders, Generals Ismail and Tlas when they met in April 1973. The plan sought to achieve limited military objectives in order to facilitate the political aspects of the Arab grand strategy. Ismail focused the Arab military strategy on achieving strategic and tactical surprise, commenting that "in war there are two plans, one an operations plan and the other a decoy plan." Arab forces, on the strategic and operational offensive, would seize the initiative by attacking and defeating the IDF at the frontiers, making limited advances on two separate fronts. Egypt would cross the Suez Canal, defeat the Israeli fortifications on the east bank and seize a narrow strip along the entire length of the canal. If circumstances permitted, the Egyptians would exploit the advantage by pushing their perimeter out between 30-40 miles in order to seize the Mitla, Gidi, and Khatmia passes, strategic choke-points to the Sinai. Simultaneously, Syria would defeat the Israeli strongholds on the Golan Heights and seize the entire Golan plateau. Jordan would merely pose the threat of a third front, tying up Israeli forces and preventing Israel from launching a flank attack through Jordan against southern Syria. The sudden, violent surprise attacks would force Israel to withdraw and enable Arab forces to seize the limited territory, establish lodgments and consolidate their positions before Israel could mobilize her reserves, reinforce, and counterattack in strength. Arab forces, firmly entrenched, would revert to the operational and tactical defensive and hold their positions until superpower or United Nations intervention solidified their gains through a cease-fire. The desired military end state was to hold lodgments within the occupied territories at the time a cease-fire was proclaimed and then achieve further territorial gains, the strategic end state, through negotiations conducted from a position of Arab strength. The limited military objectives selected directly supported Arab policy aims by enhancing the possibility of successful military action and creating the condition for international intervention and political pressure, as well as internal Israeli pressure, for negotiations and concessions. If the military strategy failed to achieve the political objectives quickly, the Arabs were prepared for a prolonged war of attrition with the Israelis, until Israel, through exhaustion of money and lives, was compelled to negotiate concessions.
Sadat and Assad and their military staffs ultimately agreed to conduct the attack on
6 October 1973. The leaders chose this date because it offered optimal conditions of illumination, maximum moonlight, necessary for building the bridges across the canal, with darkness later when troops and equipment would pass across; and favorable tide and current conditions within the canal. The date also furthered the deception plan since it fell during Ramadan, when Moslems fasted during the day and the Israelis might well expect the Arab's energies to be failing. Further, the date fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Hebrew calendar. The operation was code named Badr in honor of Mohammed's victory at the Battle of Badr on the same date in 626 A.D.
The Arab strategic plan envisioned separate, but strategically linked Egyptian and Syrian campaigns. The overall intent was to neutralize Israeli advantages and enhance Arab capabilities through technological improvements to Arab equipment and detailed, intensive planning and preparation. The plan called for deliberate, step-by-step, set-piece action, denying to the Israelis the opportunity to fight their combined-arms maneuver battles. In order to neutralize the vast Israeli air advantage, both the Egyptians and the Syrians would build formidable air defense umbrellas with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and ZSU-23 cannon (AAA) over their forces. The Arab infantry would employ precision guided munitions, principally the Sagger anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), to defeat Israeli armor counterattacks.
The plan called for the Egyptians to bridge the Suez Canal and attack under a massive artillery barrage in great strength all along the length of the canal, rather than at only a few selected points. In this manner, the Egyptian forces hoped to confuse the Israelis as to where to launch their counterattacks, delaying them as they tried to determine the Egyptian's main attack and forcing the Israelis to spread their forces all along the frontier. Once across the canal, the Egyptian forces would attack and isolate the Bar-Lev line, a series of Israeli strongpoints defending the East Bank, then advance eastward six to nine miles and dig-in to await Israeli counterattack. Simultaneously, the Syrians would attack all along the 1967 cease-fire line, to recapture the entire Golan Plateau and then hold their positions and await counterattack. While the land campaign raged, Egypt's navy would impose a strategic blockade of Israel, while tactically seeking to avoid direct confrontation with Israeli vessels. At this point, the Arabs hoped the superpowers or United Nations would intervene and force a cease-fire. If no cease-fire was forthcoming, the plan was to conduct a protracted war of attrition, inflicting heavy casualties upon the Israelis. A prolonged war would cripple Israel's service industries and severely disrupt the country's economy, by requiring the continued mobilization of more than one-fifth of its three million inhabitants in order to support the war effort.
The Arab's limited military end state translated directly into operational objectives. The Egyptian's operational objective was to seize bridgeheads and cross the Suez Canal, a decisive point, penetrate a short distance into the Sinai, and seize and hold operational lodgments along the length of the canal north to the Mediterranean Sea and south to the Gulf of Suez. The Syrian's operational objective was to seize and hold operational lodgments across the entire Golan Plateau, particularly Mount Hermon massif, a decisive point, the loss of which would deprive the Israelis of their vision over the battlefield, and the Benot Yacov Bridge, a decisive point that served as the main military supply route (MSR) to Israel.
None of the literature concerning the October War written by its political or military leaders discusses military strategy or planning in terms of the Clausewitzian concept of centers of gravity or the more recent constructs of critical capabilities, critical requirements, or critical vulnerabilities. Rather, the literature published by both Arab and Israeli leaders associated with the October War simply discusses strengths and weakness' and means of neutralizing or enhancing them. From these discussions, though, taken in the context of the military strategy to which they were relevant, one may reasonably infer Arab intentions and apply them to the constructs by analogy.
Clausewitz wrote that "a center of gravity is always found where the mass is concentrated most densely." This was clearly the case from the Arab perspective during the October War. The fully mobilized Israel Defense Force (IDF) once it took the field, comprised one of two Israeli centers of gravity at the strategic level. Each of the two separate IDF commands, Northern Command concentrated against Syria, and Southern Command massed to face Egypt, constituted the single Israeli operational center of gravity in its respective theater of war. The IDF was, as Clausewitz described, the "hub of all power and movement." It was essential to Egyptian and Syrian forces' military success that each achieve its operational objectives prior to the time the IDF could fully mobilize and deploy. Pursuant to their strategy of limited military action, once they had defeated the Israeli strongholds in their respective theaters, the Egyptians and Syrians planned to seize lodgments and revert to the operational and tactical defensive and fight until the superpowers or United Nations intervened. The Arab intent was to engage the Israeli center of gravity, once mobilized, from a strong defensive posture, employing a number of means to neutralize Israeli strengths and enhance Arab capabilities. The Suez bridgehead and crossing, and isolation and defeat of the Israeli static defense positions on both fronts, would be at significant risk, if not impossible, if Israel were able to fully mobilize and deploy to face the Arabs with the whole of their combat power at these very vulnerable points in the Arab attacks.
The Arab's intended to fight a prolonged war of attrition if intervention did not quickly stop the war. Given this strategic plan, it is possible that Arab leaders also considered the Israeli national will and public support for continuing the war effort, a second strategic center of gravity. The follow-on political aspect of the Arab grand strategy, seeking Israeli concessions of the remaining occupied territories, was premised upon pressure from within Israel, as well as from external international pressure to force concessions. The Arabs, therefore, planned to attack the Israeli national will and public support for war in order to compel them to seek peace through concessions.
The vastly superior Israeli air power and ability to fight lightning-quick combined-arms maneuver campaigns constituted Israeli critical capabilities. The Arab's planned to fight a set-piece defensive battle to take away the Israeli's maneuver advantage. Arab military planners knew that they could not defeat Israeli air power head-to-head with their own air. Instead, they built an air defense system with anti-aircraft artillery and various surface-to-air missile systems, including the new Soviet SA-6, whose hardware and characteristics were unknown to the Israelis. The air umbrella would neutralize the Israeli air advantage and leave vulnerable Israeli armor which Arab forces would engage with Sagger ATGMs.
Israel's critical vulnerabilities at the strategic level included: an extended frontier, 500 miles in length and surrounded by Arab enemies, which could prove particularly relevant during the crucial first hours of the war, as Israel mobilized forces to defend on possible multiple fronts; a small population of under three million, strongly adverse to casualties, as compared to Egypt's 36 million and more than 82 million collectively for the Arab states hostile to it; and an overstrained economy already suffering from defense commitments. Israel's manpower, let alone her national will, could scarcely support a protracted war if significant casualties began to mount. Additionally, prolonged defense expenditures would be ruinously expensive, and coupled with the loss of productivity resulting from mobilization of roughly one-fifth of Israel's population, could cripple the country's economy if the war was protracted. This too, would severely degrade popular support for a prolonged war.
Israel's extended lines of communication (LOCs) constituted an operational critical vulnerability. These LOCs, supporting operations at the frontiers in two separate theaters, though internal, were nonetheless difficult to defend. The Arab forces planned to attack the Israeli lines of communication with special operations forces behind the lines to disrupt the flow of supplies, equipment, and troops, particularly initial Israeli reinforcements. Israeli overconfidence, resulting in extremely aggressive doctrine and tactics, also constituted an operational critical vulnerability. Israeli doctrine, calling for immediate combined-arms counterattack at the frontiers, initially was a vulnerability because it played directly into the Arab plan and their enhanced strengths. The Arab forces knew the Israeli tactics and specifically planned to take advantage of them. After seizing their lodgment, the Egyptian forces would dig-in and wait with their Sagger anti-tank missiles, their SAMs, and anti-air artillery for the coming Israeli counterattacks. Just as the Arab's expected, the Israelis, who had trained to fight the 1967 war again, rushed headlong into the counterattack, tactics which cost them dearly during the initial battles of the October War.
Arab leaders believed that obtaining at least partial strategic and tactical surprise was essential to military success in order to offset significant Israeli military superiority. Surprise was particularly critical to initial success, as they crossed the Suez Canal and attacked the Israeli strongholds on both fronts. Achieving even a partial measure of surprise would increase the chances that Arab forces could seize their operational lodgments and prepare for the coming counterattacks before Israel could fully mobilize her reserve forces and build-up along the borders of the occupied territories. Equally important, surprise would prevent a preemptive air attack like that Israel conducted in 1967, which effectively won the war in a matter of mere hours. Finally, surprise would ensure the Israelis did not have a reason to seek and obtain additional weapons from the United States based on their assertions that an Arab war was imminent.
In an effort to achieve surprise, the Arabs devised a sophisticated and brilliant strategic deception plan, employing both political and military means of deception, on-going as part of Sadat's two-pronged strategy since late 1972. The Arab military strategy and campaign plans were in large measure built around this elaborate deception plan. The desired purpose was to disguise the Arab's ultimate intentions by conditioning the Israelis to Arab troop build-ups along the borders of the occupied territories. Additionally, the Arabs sought to force the Israelis to operate at a high state of alert for long periods of time, fatiguing Israeli troops and equipment and placing considerable financial burdens on the Israeli economy. The plan involved movements of various size units, progressively increasing in size up to divisions, toward the borders where they conducted tactical exercises and then returned to the rear. These actions, the Arabs believed, would ultimately condition the Israelis to accept even mass movements as routine, giving them a false sense of security, and ultimately disguising the actual attack when it was executed as simply another exercise. Whether the Israelis fully mobilized each time, expending millions of pounds in the process, or became conditioned to the exercises, the result was to Arab advantage.
The 1973 Arab-Israeli theater of war involved two primary theaters of operation, the Suez front and the Golan Heights, each with its own strategically related campaign. The theater of war included the entire country of Israel; the occupied territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war; the Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba, and the Red Sea; and Israel's and Egypt's coastlines on the Mediterranean Sea. The southern or Suez theater included the Sinai peninsula and operations focused around the Suez Canal. The northern or Golan Heights theater included the Golan Plateau and Israel's northern borders with Syria and Jordan.
Topographical considerations in the Suez theater centered upon the Suez Canal, a strategic decisive point, and its manmade 30 to 60 foot tall sand ramparts. The canal was the single most important terrain feature, militarily and politically, in the theater of war. Moshe Dayan, Israel's Defense Minister, believed and publicly stated that the canal presented an insurmountable obstacle to Egyptian attack. In the Golan theater, Mount Hermon was the most significant terrain feature on the Golan Plateau, and constituted an operational decisive point.
Command and Control:
Command and control of the Egyptian forces ran from President Sadat, who assumed the office of Premier, to General Ismail, the Egyptian Minister of War and Commander-in-Chief of the Federated Armed Forces of Egypt and Syria. Ismail, the military commander of both country's forces for Operation Badr, was the only individual common to the otherwise separate chains of command. Lieutenant General Saad el-Shazly was the Egyptian chief of staff and served as the top military officer at the Egyptian General Headquarters (GHQ) located in Cairo. Egyptian forces were divided into two armies under the command of the GHQ: the Second Army, commanded by Major General Saad el-Din Maamun; and the Third Army, commanded by Major General Abdel Moneim Mwassil. On the Syrian side, command and control ran from President Assad to his Minister of War Lieutenant General Mustafa Tlas -- directly to the five Syrian division commanders in the field.
Israeli command and control ran from Prime Minister Golda Meir to Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to Israeli military Chief of Staff Lieutenant General David Elazar and out to the Israeli theater commanders: General Officer Commanding (GOC), Northern Command, Major General Yitzhak Hofi; and GOC, Southern Command Major General Schmuel Gonen. The differences in styles of command and control between the Arabs and Israelis could not have been more striking.
Command and control on the Arab side was centralized and retained within General Ismail in Cairo on the Egyptian side and General Tlas in Damascus for the Syrians. Field commanders were given little latitude in their decision making. Centralized control was valuable for the canal crossing, given the sheer magnitude of the operation. In general, however, centralized control prevented the Egyptians and Syrians from capitalizing on their successes on several occasions. Arab subordinate commanders, trained to this strict regimented control and unaccustomed to making decisions in a free flowing maneuver type environment, missed critical opportunities to exploit situations to Arab advantage.
Israeli command style emphasized decentralized operational control and leadership from the front. Israeli commanders throughout the chain of command were accustomed to practicing decentralized command, a function of the rapid maneuver tactics adopted from the 1967 war. This aggressive style proved costly, however, in early battles when subordinate commanders, trained in the 1967 war tactics, rushed headlong into the teeth of the Arab forces in the obligatory armor counterattack. The Israeli's practice of decentralized command on the whole, though, with its emphasis on freedom of action and independent decision making and initiative, was much more effective than the Arab style of control.
Firepower and Maneuver and Movement:
The Arab campaign plan combined limited maneuver, that optimized their advantage as they moved to secure operational objectives, with firepower that neutralized Israeli strengths. Egypt's operational maneuver to cross the canal and seize and establish a lodgment in the Sinai was perfectly planned and executed to facilitate Arab strategic aims. Egypt executed its cross-canal attack across a broad front, rather than mass its forces. This operational maneuver caused the Israelis to delay their counterattack and prevented them from concentrating their forces, as they sought to determine from where the Egyptian main attack was coming. In support of the maneuver, Egyptian infantry with anti-tank weapons crossed first, setting-up their anti-armor protective shield, while air defense forces simultaneously established a formidable air defense umbrella, and Egyptian Rangers conducted deep operations to harass and interdict Israeli counterattack forces. These tactical actions succeeded in neutralizing Israeli strengths of combined-arms maneuver warfare and firepower, and in facilitating Egyptian operational maneuver as the Arab forces flowed across the canal, moved into the Sinai and established lodgments, securing their operational objectives.
Israeli strength centered upon air power, as the means for achieving air superiority and as half of the Israeli preferred method of operation: rapid-paced, offensive, tank with air, combined-arms maneuver warfare. Arab forces took advantage of the Israeli's extremely aggressive doctrine and tactics and neutralized their firepower at the same time. Since the Arabs could not compete with Israeli air, they saw their counter as air defense. The Arab forces devised and employed a plan that combined SA-2, SA-3, SA-6, and SA-7 surface to air missiles (SAMs), with ZSU-23 four-barrelled anti-air artillery (AAA), into an air defense package that provided air neutrality. Once under their air umbrella, the Arab forces took advantage of the Israeli propensity to conduct armor charges, tactics learned in the 1967 war. As the Israeli tanks counterattacked, Arab infantry forces armed with Sagger and RPG-7 anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) launched salvos of tank-killing missiles. Egypt's combination of maneuver and firepower enhanced their operations and enabled them to achieve their initial strategic aims.
Syria also employed operational maneuver that provided leverage when they attacked the Israelis on the Golan Heights. The Syrians massed their forces prior to attack, giving them a six-to-one numerical advantage over the Israelis. Their concept was essentially the opposite of the Egyptians, but also secured an operational advantage, if only by sheer weight of numbers. The Syrians employed Soviet tactics, advancing their massed forces in columns, in a classic four-pronged pincer move. They overcame the vastly outnumbered Israelis and pushed them back behind the 1967 cease-fire line. The Syrians attacked with strong momentum that had the Israelis reeling. Syria most likely would have achieved its operational objectives had Syrian forces not stopped their attack overnight on the second day, permitting Israeli reinforcements to arrive. The Israelis seized the initiative during the Syrian operational pause and never lost it again.
Israeli operational maneuver on both fronts was impossible until mobilized reserves arrived. On 8 October the Israeli high command attempted operational maneuver, consistent
with their strategic defensive aims of defeating an enemy at the frontier, by ordering a counterattack against the Egyptians. As in the two previous day's fighting, Egyptian strategy worked masterfully as Egyptian infantry with ATGMs destroyed Israeli tanks conducting an armored cavalry charge in the counterattack, without air support. The IAF had suspended air operations in the Sinai theater because the Arab air defense system had already shot down more than half of the attacking Israeli aircraft. Egyptian firepower was able to neutralize Israeli firepower and movement so long as the Arab forces remained under the air defense umbrella. When the Egyptians left this protective overhead shield, as they did in their attack to the Sinai passes to relieve pressure on the Syrians on 14 October, the IAF gained freedom of action and Israeli tactical maneuver and firepower inflicted significant losses on the Egyptians.
The Israeli's operational maneuver in the Sinai began on 15 October with their counteroffensive against the Egyptians. Capitalizing on the seam between the Egyptian Second and Third armies, the Israelis maneuvered to penetrate the Arab forces deep, entrap them, sever their LOCs, and threaten to destroy them in detail. The Israelis took advantage of the Egyptian's disorganized defense, not yet reconstituted, following their unsuccessful attack the day prior. Once the corridor between the two Arab armies and the Israeli bridgehead were secured, the Israelis swept into Egypt employing a maneuver campaign. They benefited significantly from their destruction of Egyptian SAM sites which punched a hole in the Arab air defense umbrella. This allowed the Israelis to bring the IAF back into its close air support role, restoring their combined-arms firepower and maneuver capabilities.
The enormous rates of attrition suffered by both sides and the rates of consumption of equipment and ammunition were staggering. In a war lasting less than three weeks, the forces suffered nearly 40,000 casualties between them. Both forces expended equipment at the cyclic rate, including, for example: 3,394 tanks destroyed; 1,250+ armored personnel carriers (APCs) destroyed; 550+ artillery pieces destroyed (Israeli losses unreported); 554 aircraft destroyed; 15 ships destroyed, and the list goes on. These destruction and consumption rates strained the logistics systems of the opposing forces mightily. Both sides had expended nearly all their ammunition by the end of the first week of murderous, but indecisive fighting. Each combatant required and received massive strategic replenishment, the Arabs from the USSR and the Israelis from the United States. The Soviets sent supplies by sea and air. The United States, because of sealift distances involved, immediately began an airlift to Israel; American sealifted equipment did not arrive until after the war's end. The U.S. was forced to deplete NATO war stocks in Europe and U.S. war stocks from the continental U.S., in an effort to match the Soviet's resupply of the Arab forces. Without the U.S. resupply effort, the Israelis could not have sustained offensive operations in the Sinai or sustained its Golan efforts in the face of further Syrian offensive operations beyond 17 October 1973.
Israel's extended land and sea LOCs were operational critical vulnerabilities which the Arab forces sought to exploit. Arab commandos interdicted the land LOCs with some success and the sea LOCs were virtually closed by the Egyptian naval blockade.  Egyptian Rangers targeted Israeli logistics facilities and oil reserves behind Israeli lines causing significant damage and disruption in the Israeli rear. The lack of Egyptian air strikes against their LOCs in the Sinai theater, allowed the IDF to push supplies forward in relative security. In spite of inadequate road networks for strategic mobility, and land interdiction attempts, the Israelis did an admirable job operating from internal lines, of providing logistical support in a two-front war. At the operational level, Israel's use of forward supply bases enhanced Israeli mobility and mobile repair teams actually repaired tanks and other damaged vehicles on the battlefield, returning a significant number to service, a significant contribution to the war effort given the equipment shortage. Egyptian LOCs were also vulnerable. The Israeli Navy was able to interdict Egyptian efforts to resupply across the Red Sea and the Israeli Army cut the Third Army's LOCs and encircled it prior to superpower intervention. Further, the Israelis destroyed a significant amount of the Syrian war economy with a strategic bombing campaign that destroyed Syria's only oil refinery, burned half of its oil storage capacity, destroyed power generating stations, and incapacitated its port facilities.
Intelligence and Force Protection:
The Arab forces believed that by achieving strategic and tactical surprise they could counter Israeli firepower and maneuver by quickly seizing their operational objectives before the IDF could fully mobilize. The Arab forces employed an elaborate deception plan that convinced senior Israeli officers, including Major General Eliyahu Zeira, the chief of Israeli Intelligence, that Egypt and Syria would not attack and were only conducting routine defensive training and saber rattling. Despite Israel's sophisticated and renowned intelligence gathering apparatus, the Arabs achieved total surprise on the Suez front and near complete surprise on the Golan front, directly contributing to their initial successes.
The success of the Arab deception plan was due in large measure to incorrect analysis and not failure in gathering intelligence. Israeli intelligence gathered many indications in the spring of 1973 that in May convinced some junior intelligence officers that war was probable. These included, for example, brigade size movements up to the canal and extensive modification and improvements to defensive works and roads on the west bank. Major General Zeira, disagreed with the analysis, but briefed Lieutenant General Elazar, nonetheless. Elazar concurred with the assessment of war and recommended preparatory measures to the Meir government, which, in turn, ordered mobilization. The judgment was incorrect and the false alarm cost the Israelis millions of pounds, and with an election upcoming, possibly political capital. The Arabs stepped-up their deception plan and the Israelis watched the monthly movements of men, equipment, and supplies up to the borders, in combat formations, in elements as large as divisions. In September alone, the Egyptian formations moved up to the canal six times and then withdrew. The Egyptian navy made open arrangements for two submarines to receive repairs in Pakistan, to deceive the Israelis into believing they were operationally unready. Instead, these subs assumed posts in the Egyptian blockade off the Israeli coast. Egypt made public announcements that naval forces had performed poorly during exercises and would undergo further mine laying training. The mines laid during this subsequent exercise were real and part of the blockade. The Arabs planted articles in newspapers quoting Sadat and Assad making public pronouncements, alternating between strong condemnation and conciliatory speeches, to keep the Israelis off balance. Both Arab nations actively engaged in many other deceptive measures right up until the attack. In fact, the morning of the attack, Egyptian forces lounged and sunned themselves along the canal. The Arab deception plan was so successful, that as late as the morning of 5 October 1973, Zeira advised Elazar that the risk of attack was low. Not until 0700 on 6 October 1973, the day of the attack, did Israeli GHQ inform her reserve commanders that war was imminent and give orders to begin mobilization.
Additionally, Israeli operational security apparently was poor following the 1967 war. The Egyptians prepared their cross-canal attack based upon an accurate portrayal of Israeli Sinai defenses, to include a detailed Israeli counterattack plan prepared by Southern Command in May 1973. Further, the Egyptians captured a detailed Israeli map depicting the Israeli plan for an assault crossing of the Suez that contained all the code names referred to in Israeli radio traffic.
The Arab's clearly won the initial battle of intelligence services. Their deception plan, a shrewd combination of political and military maneuvering, was a major aspect of Arab force protection and directly contributed to the early Arab successes. Arab deception, and perhaps the Israeli belief that their military was invincible, lulled the Israelis into complacency. Though Israeli troops were belatedly placed at high alert, Prime Minister Meir made the political decisions not to preemptively attack the Arab forces or to mobilize Israeli reserves until the morning of the attack. These proved to be truly momentous decisions.
At 1400 on 6 October 1973, fire from 2,000 Egyptian guns signaled the Arab attack against Israel along the Suez Canal, while a 100 plane Syrian airstrike followed immediately by artillery and rocket attacks against targets on the Golan Plateau, initiated the offensive in that theater. The October War was underway. Israel, having failed to preempt or mobilize early, was rocked out of her complacency and forced to assume a strategic and operational defensive posture.
As the Egyptian bombardment continued, Egyptian infantry began its assault crossing of the Suez. Though the Israelis delivered heavy fire from the Bar-Lev outposts, the Egyptian's canal crossing was completely successful. The Egyptians, prepared to accept 10,000 casualties in the crossing operation alone, suffered only 208 dead. Infantry engaged in the piecemeal reduction of the Israeli strongpoints and moved inland into the Sinai to establish defensive positions on the east bank while anti-armor teams dug in and sighted their anti-tank guided missiles toward the east. Egyptian engineers established vehicle bridgeheads all along the canal; Egyptian armor began pouring across the canal by dark, and by midnight more than 500 Egyptian tanks and a forward anti-air defense umbrella were established on the east bank. After twenty-four hours, the Egyptians had put 100,000 troops, 1,020 tanks, and 13,500 vehicles across the Suez Canal -- the largest water obstacle first day crossing in world military history. The Egyptian's multi-pronged attack had no main effort against which Israeli Southern Command GOC Gonen could direct a counterattack and he lost valuable hours trying to determine where to employ his forces. Offensively oriented, Israeli commanders immediately reverted to old habits, and ordered a series of tactical counterattacks while her reserve forces scrambled to mobilize. These counterattacks in the Sinai between 6-9 October were disastrous, as entire armor battalions employing their blitzkrieg tactics were destroyed by Egyptian infantry fired ATGM, principally Sagger missiles. In the first three days of fighting, the Israeli's lost over 400 tanks, and following their counterattack on 8 October, only 90 Israeli tanks remained in the theater. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) suffered severe losses of aircraft and was rendered virtually ineffective by the Egyptian air defense umbrella. The conflict spread throughout the theater of war when on 7 October the Israeli navy initiated offensive operations against Syria and Egypt, defeating an attempted commando attack. The Egyptians continued attacks upon the Bar-Lev forts that remained in Israeli hands and on 9 October, Gonen authorized the Israeli garrisons to surrender or try to breakout. Following this, all but one strongpoint fell to the Egyptians. The Egyptian Second and Third Armies consolidated their positions on the east bank about eight miles into the Sinai, their lodgments firmly established. Their operational objectives secured, Egyptian forces reverted to the operational and tactical defensive.
The Syrian's attack against the Golan front was well synchronized with the Egyptian attack in the Sinai. The Syrians attacked with 800 tanks and 28,000 troops in three mechanized infantry divisions, the 5th, 7th, and 9th, under the cover of close air support and artillery fire. The massed Syrian armor advanced against 176 Israeli tanks of the Barak and 7th Armored Brigades. The Israelis, employing a mobile defense, engaged in "stalking warfare, pouncing and retreating ... fir[ing] first, quickly, and accurately." The Syrians suffered heavy casualties, but broke through by virtue of sheer weight of numbers. Syrian Rangers captured the decisive point Mt. Hermon and combined Syrian mechanized and armor forces pushed eight kilometers beyond the Purple Line--the 1967 cease-fire line. The Israelis also suffered heavy casualties, particularly the Barak Brigade, which lost all but 15 tanks and had its brigade commander and every company commander killed in action. The IAF continued to attack despite suffering significant losses to Syrian air defense. Moroccan and Druze units that had joined the Syrians refused to advance and were removed from the battlefield. The Syrians continued their attack until the afternoon of 7 October when it apparently reached its culminating point. The Syrians halted their advance just short of their operational objective for reasons which remain historically unclear. This operational pause, lasting all night, ended their attack's momentum and allowed mobilized Israeli reserve troops, tanks, and supplies to arrive in reinforcement. The Israeli government viewed the situation on the Golan as extremely grave and determined that it must focus efforts upon stopping the Syrian advance, which could threaten Israeli population centers. Irrespective of peacetime plans for employment of mobilized reserves, the Israeli military leadership committed troops and tanks to the northern front without waiting for battalions, or even companies to form. The Syrians attempted to advance again on 8 October, but an Israeli counterattack seized and maintained the initiative. Iraq entered the war, supplying air support to Syria over the Golan, however, Syrian air defenses shot down 12 Iraqi MIGs due to poor coordination between the forces. On 8 and 9 October, Syria fired 10 FROG surface-to-surface missiles at an Israeli air base that missed, impacting instead among Israeli kibbutzim. The Israelis retaliated by engaging in a strategic bombing campaign against targets around Damascus, including Syria's only oil refinery, a power installation, port facilities, and the Defense Ministry. IAF aircraft, attempting to defeat the Syrian air defense umbrella, changed tactics. The new Israeli tactics, using terrain to mask their approach in the attack and flying out of Jordanian airspace, were effective. This allowed IAF aircraft to attack and destroy Syrian air defense sites and provide close air support to advancing Israeli armor on the Golan. The Israeli's armor counterattack reached the Purple Line and Syrian units continued to withdraw. The Israeli leadership made a decision to continue the attack into Syria, pursuing the strategic aim of dissuading Jordanian and further Arab intervention. On 10 October, however, Jordan mobilized its armed forces. Israel continued its offensive, recapturing by nightfall all of its former positions on the Golan Heights, except those on Mt. Hermon. During these Israeli-Syrian battles on the Golan, tactical maneuver was restricted; there were no quick and elegant victories, as in the Six Days War. The forces engaged in a brutal war of attrition involving shooting matches at maximum range, which the Israelis, considerably more proficient, were apt to win. By the 11th, the Syrians were in trouble, having lost more than 1,000 tanks. Israeli armored units invaded Syria and the IAF, having neutralized Syrian air defenses, attacked industrial, governmental, and military targets in Syria. Assad appealed to Sadat for assistance, requesting that the Egyptians take the offensive and attack the Israelis in the southern sector. Assad apparently hoped this would relieve Israeli pressure, particularly by the IAF against Syria in the north, by forcing the Israelis to divert resources to the south. Only 35 miles from Damascus, the Syrian's fighting withdrawal, lacked territory to trade for time. Egypt's Lieutenant General Shazly opposed any Egyptian attack which would take it outside its air defense umbrella and play to Israeli strength, open combined-arms maneuver warfare. The Egyptians, having destroyed Israeli counterattacks in the Sinai and inflicted significant casualties on the IDF, delivered a psychological shock to the Israeli military, government, and citizens. The vaunted IAF suspended operations in the theater and the IDF launched no further counterattacks following their disastrous attack on 8 October. Prior to Assad's request, the Egyptians were satisfied to hold and fight a defensive war of attrition, consistent with their strategic aims. Sadat, however, apparently felt obliged to assist the Syrians and therefore rejected a cease-fire sponsored by the United States and proposed to him by Henry Kissinger on 12 October. Had he accepted it, the war may well have ended with a clear-cut, though limited, Egyptian military victory. Sadat ordered the Egyptian military to revert to the offensive and attack; it was a fateful decision and the attack proved disastrous.
On 14 October, despite his two-to-one force advantage, Egyptian General Ismail's plan sent only six (of twenty-six available) armor brigades with armored personnel carrier mounted infantry into the attack all along the front to confuse Israeli counterattack efforts. Egyptian objectives were three strategic mountain passes, Mitla, Giddi, and Khatmia, that controlled access to the Sinai. The Egyptians advanced slowly and deliberately across the front, making little use of speed or maneuver. The largest tank battle since World War II ensued. 1,000 Egyptian tanks and 5,000 mechanized infantry faced 800 Israeli tanks and their infantry. Israeli tanks, and infantry armed with American provided TOW missiles, fired from prepared positions. Rather than fight individually, tanks fought as companies with commander designated targets. Israeli tank and ATGM fire stopped and turned the attackers while Israeli artillery prevented the mounted Egyptian Sagger ATGM teams from employing their weapons. The Egyptian's exposed armor, mostly outside their air defense umbrella, faced the wrath of the IAF. By midday the Egyptians had lost 264 tanks, compared with 40 lost for the Israelis. Ismail recalled his forces, ordering a withdrawal to original lines. This same day, the Jordanian 40th Armored Brigade joined the Syrian lines and American resupply planes began arriving in Israel.
Once the situation on the Golan front was stabilized, the Israelis reverted from the operational offense to the defensive in the Golan theater. The Israeli's decision to halt their counter-offensive into Syria was probably due to two major factors. First, the logistics requirements were greater than the Israelis could afford. The Israelis were losing troops and expending ammunition and equipment at rates they could not sustain. Moreover, the Israeli approach toward Damascus simply was internationally unacceptable. The Soviets hinted at direct intervention with ground troops and the U.S. threatened to cut-off its resupply effort if the Israelis did not stop the advance. The Israeli government and military leadership realized that time worked against it, as Israeli losses in killed and wounded, and cost to the state grew staggeringly high. The Israeli high command sought a strategy to seize the initiative and bring about a quick decision, ending the war on terms favorable to Israel. The Israeli government decided to return to the operational offensive in the Sinai theater after defeating the Egyptian attack. The Israeli counteroffensive would attack up a seam between the Egyptian Second and Third Armies, an operational decisive point and critical vulnerability, assault across the canal and attack the Egyptian air defense umbrella, creating a gap for IAF operations, and then encircle and cut-off Egyptian forces.
On 15 October, the Iraqi Third Armor Division counterattacked Israeli forces on the Golan, but was repulsed. The Israelis went on the operational offensive, initiating their counteroffensive in the Sinai theater. Sharon's division was to open a corridor to the canal, establish a bridgehead, and build bridges across the canal. Adan's division would pass through the corridor, cross the canal to the west bank and launch an attack from the rear, cutting-off the Third Army. Magen's division would follow in trace and support Adan. Sharon launched two paratroop brigades. The first attacked west through the corridor driving toward the canal to seize the bridgehead, cross and secure the western bank. Sharon's second brigade looped south, then drove north in a diversionary attack to draw attention away from the Israeli canal crossing. The paratroop brigade encountered stiff Egyptian resistance as it slammed into the southern flank of the Egyptian 21st Armor Division in an area known as the Chinese Farm. The diversionary attack became a major engagement as Second Army forces drove down to close the corridor and one of the toughest battles of the war ensued. Successive waves of tanks and paratroopers fought to keep the corridor open and the battle around the Chinese Farm raged for two days. On 16 October Sharon sent one infantry brigade and a company of 30 tanks across the canal on heavy rafts. Once across, despite his orders to secure the bridgehead pending Adan's arrival, Sharon sent the armor force on a raiding party to destroy Egyptian logistics facilities and SAM sites, leaving only a token force to secure the west bank position. Sharon's forces on the west bank destroyed a number of SAM batteries and punched a hole in the Egyptian air defense umbrella. Sharon's superior, Gonen, however, ordered Sharon to withdraw his forces until the corridor was secured and the paratroops at the Chinese Farm were rescued. The Egyptians, whose division and brigade commanders remained in the rear, were slow to react and missed their opportunity to crush the bridgehead. Once they realized Israelis were across the canal, the Egyptians attempted to contain the penetration and belatedly sent aircraft in unsuccessful attacks upon the bridgehead. On the Golan front, Syrian, Iraqi, and Jordanian forces attempted a coordinated attack, however, elements failed to participate and the Israelis easily stopped the attack.
On 17 October Sharon bridged the canal and Adan successfully attacked to clear the corridor to the canal and rescue the paratroop brigade at the Chinese Farm. Israeli Minister of Defense Dayan and Chief of Staff Elazar, who had considered canceling the Israeli canal crossing, flew to the desert and met with Southern Command generals. Upon learning of Israeli successes that day, they agreed to allow the operation to continue. The Israeli's intercepted radio traffic that the Egyptian 25th Tank Brigade would move south to close the corridor to the canal. Adan's division ambushed the Egyptian brigade, destroying 86 of its 96 tanks and his forces then began pouring across the bridge over the canal at 1800. On 18 October Adan's division completed its canal crossing and Egypt withdrew SAM sites near the Israeli bridgehead, further allowing the IAF to return to freedom of action. The Egyptians attempted to stem the Israeli threat by activating the Egyptian Air Force, which had avoided confrontation with the IAF. Numerous dogfights ensued in which the Egyptians were invariably the loser.
On 19 October Egyptian Chief of Staff Shazly recommended withdrawing Egyptian forces from the east bank to counter the Israeli west bank threat. Sadat and Ismail relieved him and issued orders that no troops would withdraw. The Israelis, with elements of three divisions across the canal on the west bank, began their attack with plentiful close air support from the IAF. Adan's division with his flank and rear protected by Magen, turned south and Sharon's division pushed north. Sadat proposed a cease-fire to Assad, while Syrian, Iraqi, and Jordanian forces attacked again on the Golan, but were stopped by the Israelis.
On 20 October Assad rejected the cease-fire proposal. Adan's division continued its advance toward the rear of the Third Army, destroying SAM sites en route and pushing the Israeli bridgehead 30 kilometers west of the canal and less than 100 kilometers from Cairo. Megan's division cut the Third Army's main supply link to Cairo. On 21 October Israeli forces attempted unsuccessfully to seize Mt. Hermon on the Golan Heights, but were prevented by the Syrians. Anticipating a cease-fire, Adan attacked the Egyptians on 22 October in an attempt to gain as much ground as possible before the cease-fire was declared. The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 338 calling for a cease-fire at 1852 on 22 October. The cease-fire time arrived with the forces still fighting on the battlefield. Israeli forces seized Mt. Hermon on the Golan front 30 minutes after the cease-fire was to have taken effect. The cease-fire failed and the Israelis continued their attack on both fronts. On 23 October Israel continued its push in Egypt in order to gain a stronger bargaining position at the negotiating table after the imminent cease-fire. Megan's division reached the Gulf of Suez, trapping the Egyptian Third Army. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 339 calling for an immediate cease-fire in accordance with Resolution 338. On 24 October Adan continued his attack into Suez City where the Egyptians inflicted significant casualties on his force in the last battle of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The United Nations patrols then separated the forces and maintained the truce.
The 1973 Arab-Israeli War ended with no clear decisive outcome on the battlefield. Militarily, the war was a stalemate, though on 24 October when the cease-fire took effect, Israel had seized the initiative, crossed the Suez Canal and maneuvered elements of three divisions on the west bank between the Egyptian Third Army, located primarily on the east bank, and Cairo. The Egyptians, however, clearly were not defeated, as was readily apparent by the significant casualties their forces inflicted on Adan's division in Suez City immediately prior to the cease-fire. Both sides suffered casualties and equipment destruction and supply consumption at rates neither could support, even with resupply from the superpowers. Time worked against the Israelis much more so than against the Arab side. Thus, whether the Israelis could have destroyed the Third Army in detail, as they claim, one may only speculate.
What seems clear, however, is that the Arab grand strategy eventually proved successful in achieving most of thei Arab's strategic policy objectives. While as an immediate result of the war, Egypt recovered only a small portion of the territory seized by the Israelis in 1967, and the Syrians lost some territory, a clear shift in the political balance occurred in the Arab's, particularly Egypt's favor.
Just as the Arab alliance planned, the return to Middle East hostilities broke the political impasse, refocused world attention on the Arab question, and forced international negotiations concerning the occupied territories. These negotiations ultimately resulted in the return of the Suez Canal and land in the western Sinai to Egypt and more Golan Heights territory to Syria than it lost during the fighting. Further, the war shocked and embarrassed Israel internationally. The Arab's military successes, particularly the deception campaign resulting in strategic surprise, shattered the twin myths of Israeli invincibility and Arab incompetence. This restored Arab confidence and morale, a psychological victory for them, while conversely, Israel was downcast and very paranoid about its future.
Adan, Avraham. On the Banks of the Suez. San Rafael: Presidio Press, 1980.
Aker, Frank. October 1973: The Arab-Israeli War. Hamden: The Shoe String Press, 1985.
Allen, Peter. The Yom Kippur War. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1982.
Aronson, Shlomo. Conflict & Bargaining in the Middle East: An Israeli Perspective. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1978.
Badri, Hassel el, et al. The Ramadan War, 1973. Dunn Loring: T.N. Dupuy Associates, 1978.
Bickerton, Ian J. and Carla L. Klausner. A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1991.
Burrel, Michael R. and Abbas R. Kelidar. The Washington Papaers # 48, "Egypt The Dilemmas of a Nation -- 1970-1977." Beverly Hills: SAGE Publications, 1977.
Department of Military Strategy, Planning and Operations, U.S. Army War College. Arab-Israeli War October 1973. Carlisle Barracks, 1992.
Department of Defense. Joint Publication 3-0: Doctrine for Joint Operations (Washington D.C.: Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1995).
Dupuy, Trevor. Elusive Victory: The Arab-Israeli War, 1947-1974. New York:
Harper & Row, 1978.
Dayan, Moshe. Moshe Dayan: Story of My Life. New York: William Morrow and
Company, Inc. 1976.
Eban, Abba. Abba Eban, An Autobiography. New York: Random House, 1977.
Gilbert, Martin. The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Its History in Maps. London: Widenfeld & Nicholson, 1974.
Herzog, Chaim. The Arab-Israeli Wars: War and Peace in the Middle East. New
York: Vintage Books, 1984.
Herzog, Chaim. The War of Atonement. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1973.
Insight Team of the London Sunday Times."Insight on the Middle East War." London, Andre Deutsch Limited, 1974.
Izzo, Lawrence. The Center of Gravity is Not an Achilles Heel. Military Review,
Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Maghroori, Ray and Stephen M. Gorman. The Yom Kippur War: A Case Study in
Crisis Decision-Making in American Foreign Policy. Washington: University
Press of America, 1981.
Maxwell, George. IDF Logistics in the Yom Kippur War. Montgomery: Air University, 1986.
Meir, Golda. My Life. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1975.
Monroe, Elizabeth and Farrar-Hockley, A.H.. Adelphi Papers No. 111, "The Arab-Israel War, October 1973: Background and Events," London:, 1975.
O' Ballance, Edgar. No Victor, No Vanquished: The Yom Kippur War. London:
Presidio Press, 1978.
Owen, Richard. Operation Valiant: Turning of the Tide in the Sinai 1973
Arab-Israeli War. Quantico: Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 1984.
Piccirilli, Steven. The 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Quantico: Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 1989.
Rodwell, Robert R. "The Mideast War: 'A Damned Close-Run Thing,'" Air Force
Magazine, (February 1974): 36-41.
Sadat, Anwar el. In Search of Identity: An Autobiography. New York: Harper &
Shazly, Saad el. The Crossing of the Suez. San Francisco: American Mideast Research, 1980.
Strange, Joe. Perspectives on Warfighting Number Four: Centers of Gravity & Critical Vulnerabilities: Building on the Clusewitzian Foundation So That We Can All Speak the Same Language, Monograph, Marine Corps Command and Staff College Foundation. Quantico: 1996.
van Creveld, Martin. The Washington Papers # 24, "Military Lessons of the Yom
Kippur War, Historical Perspective." London: SAGE Publications, Inc., 1975.