The 1973 October War: The Egyptian Perspective
Subject Area - History
Title: The 1973 October War: The Egyptian Perspective
Author: Major J.C. Moulton, United States Air Force
Problem Statement: Following the conclusion of the 1967 Six Day War with Israel Egypt was forced to completely re-evaluate its strategic and operational objectives and capabilities. Egypt suffered the loss of over 80 percent of its military capability and was forced to concede control of both the Sinai peninsula and the Suez Canal. Israel also gained control of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. Entering the fall of 1973 Egypt's strategic position appeared extremely tenuous. The Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat, had failed to achieve the strategic goals of the Arab coalition and his leadership within the Arab world was threatened. Further, the demands of the 1967 Khartoum Conference appeared to eliminate any alternative course of action. The Egyptian leadership faced the dilemma of how to break the deadlock in which it was entangled with Israel without alienating itself from the Arab mainstream. President Sadat, under intense pressure both internally and throughout the Middle East, had to construct a strategic plan in order to engage Israel and recoup the losses of 1967...and survive (politically and literally) long enough to witness the results.
Background. This paper will analyze the changes which the Egyptian leadership made prior to the 1973 October War which enabled it to emerge as the strategic victor. President Anwar Sadat undertook a course which would either place Egypt and Israel on the road to peace or end his career...and probably his life.
Conclusion: There are several important points to consider:
1. First, the value of constructive analysis. Egypt critically examined the reasons for the
1967 loss, while Israel failed to properly determine all of the reasons for its success. Egypt then corrected its mistakes and planned accordingly.
2. The 1973 War demonstrates the value of properly coordinating military capabilities and national objectives. Egypt tailored its desires in order to fall within the grasp of its own military capabilities. It abandoned its unrealistic "total" war outlook (privately) in exchange for a sensible, attainable "limited" approach.
3. The potential for "shaping" the assumptions and stereotypes of an enemy. Egypt completely fooled the Israelis-a major achievement.
In conclusion, the Egyptian approach to the 1973 October War represents an outstanding case study for any student of military history.
The 1973 October War: The Egyptian Perspective
In September of 1973 Egypt's strategic situation appeared as bleak as at any point in the post-world War II era. Six years earlier Egypt, in alliance with Jordan and Syria, had suffered a military defeat of catastrophic proportions at the hands of Israel. Following the "Six Day" War each member of the Arab coalition lost territory of political, military, and religious significance. Syria relinquished the strategic Golan Heights, Jordan lost both the West Bank of the Jordan River and Jerusalem. Egypt, the leader of the Arab coalition, paid for its miscalculated aggression with the loss of the Sinai desert and the Suez Canal. Although the "War of Attrition," which continued from 1967 to 1970, had offered the Arab nations occasional and very limited opportunities to strike at Israel, it reaped neither military nor political gain. In fact, as the summer of 1973 came to a close, Egypt's position as the leader of the Arab world was seriously threatened. Constant verbal declarations of imminent conquest of the Jewish state followed by inaction had merely made Egyptian President Anwar Sadat the object of skepticism and derision. However, unknown to the outside world, Egypt and its underestimated leader had constructed a game plan which would veer dramatically away from the status quo. Egypt's success in breaking away from the mistakes which had cost it so dearly in earlier conflicts with Israel would be soon measured within the, context of the 1973 October War with Israel.
Yet the changes in the Egyptian strategic and operational arenas provide more than a mere glance back into history. A closer
examination offers several lessons which we would do well to consider. First, the preparations for the 1973 October War provide a real-life example of the value in learning from one's "mistakes." Egypt was forced to humbly and painfully confront its shortcomings and failures from the 1967 Six Day War...and its success in not repeating those mistakes provides a critical lesson for any military force. Secondly, Egypt's ability to tailor its wartime objectives to its combat capabilities serves as an outstanding lesson in the art of synchronizing capabilities and objectives in "limited" warfare. Third, the 1973 War serves as a warning for the conscience of every planner and leader--that there is no such beast as a completely static situation, even in the war-torn Middle East. Those who fail to realize this important fact could well find themselves surprised, and the surprise could well be realized in a military setback. These lessons make a review of the background and conduct of the 1973 War a most worthwhile endeavor.
PREPARATION FOR THE SIX DAY WAR
In constructing a realistic plan for a major campaign against Israel, Egypt could refer to the 1967 Six Day War in order to ascertain how not to wage war. The June debacle evolved as a case study in brinkmanship-gone-awry. The events which marked the conflict provided clear lessons from which Egypt's senior leadership could professionally prepare for a major offensive campaign to recoup some of the losses of 1967.1
First, the Egyptian leadership, in the form of President Gamal Abd El Nasser, had attempted to manipulate the events which
occurred prior to the onset of the 1967 Six Day War in order to "bully" its Jewish neighbor. In doing so, Egypt vacillated dangerously between two extreme warfighting perspectives. On one end of the spectrum was the pronounced Arab goal of annihilating Israel with military force. At the other end of the spectrum was Nasser's belief that brinkmanship would reward Egypt with a "fait accompli" victory without bloodshed. Israel would submit to Arab badgering so as to avoid a military confrontation...or so the Egyptian leadership presumed. Unfortunately for Nasser, neither end of this spectrum represented reality. This movement between two such extreme visions sent very confusing signals to the Israeli leadership, and Egypt failed to properly consider the consequences of an Israeli interpretation of events which might run contrary to Arab expectations. This inconsistency would cost Egypt dearly.2
Prior to the June 1967 War, Nasser was at a low point. For several years Egypt had involved itself in the Yemen Civil War.3 This conflict hurt Egypt in two respects. First, no measure of success had been achieved in spite of the apparent superiority which the Egyptian-supported forces had enjoyed. Secondly, the conflict had placed Nasser directly at odds with such influential Arab coalition partners as Saudi Arabia. Additionally, his relations with Jordan had deteriorated. President Nasser and King Hussein of Jordan had quarreled with an enthusiasm unusual even for the Middle East, and Nasser had lowered himself to issuing publicly broadcasted condemnations of King Hussein.4
Finally, events in April of 1967 had placed great pressure on
Egypt. On 7 April, in retaliation for the Syrian shelling of villages in Galilee below the Golan Heights, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) had launched a reprisal attack which mushroomed into a full scale air battle with Syria. In this battle six Syrian fighters were shot down (as opposed to none for the Israelis).5 Lieutenant General Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Defense Forces' (IDF) Chief of Staff, issued a stern warning that further aggression would be met with a major response. This declaration, matched with the one-sided results of the conflict, aroused intense fear in the Syrian regime and the lack of an immediate response from Egypt (the self-proclaimed defender of Arab interests in the Middle East) further weakened Nasser's credibility and prestige.6
Against this backdrop Nasser responded with an unrehearsed and poorly orchestrated course of action-he simply chose to focus Arab anger and frustration directly at Israel. In concert with a series of major public addresses in which he vowed to quickly crush the Jewish state, he initiated a massive military build-up in the Sinai. From an initial deployment of 100,000 troops and 1,000 tanks Egypt built an imposing force of over 250,000 troops, 2,500 tanks, and 7,000 front-line combat aircraft.7 Next, Nasser achieved an alliance with his nemesis Jordan. The two nations signed a defense agreement which even went so far as to place an Egyptian, General Riadh, in command of Jordan's Arab forces.8 Nasser also proceeded to remove any apparent international obstacles to an Arab offensive campaign against Israel. He ordered U Thant, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, to remove all UN peacekeeping forces in the Sinai.9 This demand was quickly met by the UN, and Nasser then moved to close the Straits of Tiran.10 All of these events seemed to place Egypt in an invulnerable position from which it could dictate events at its leisure.
However, behind all of its posturing Egypt had, amazingly, constructed no realistic strategic objective with which to focus its military alliance. Throughout the build-up (which included large military mobilizations and deployments by Syria in the Golan Heights and by Jordan on the West Bank of the Jordan River) and the ensuing hysteria which gripped the Arab world, Egypt failed to articulate any kind of cohesive strategic objective. President Nasser chose to simply flaunt the time-honored cry of death to Israel without consideration for how to achieve that goal. There were no plans designed to achieve any end state at all. There were no combined war plans or coordinated plans for operations among the members of the Arab coalition. Nasser placed a misplaced faith in the numerical, technological, and geographic advantages which the Arab forces enjoyed.11 Consequently, there was little attention paid to proper preparation for any conflict which might ensue.
Probably the most critical mistake that the Arab coalition made was underestimating Israel's resolve. By the end of May of 1967, Israel faced superior (in virtually every quantitative arena) military forces on three geographic fronts. By constructing such a military threat and raising the fervor of the Arab nations, the coalition forced Israel into a situation from which there appeared no alternative but to fight for its life. In the view of the Jewish nation there existed no avenue of negotiation or discussion with which to avert a military clash which would determine its very existence as a nation. In fact, this appeared to represent the view of the world, as well. As reported in Time Magazine on 9 June 1967:
"Both the land and the soul of Israel are sorely tried. Last week, 19 years after the Diaspora Dream of return to Zion became a reality in the first Jewish state in over 2,000 years, Levi Eshkol and his people found themselves besieged and threatened as few nations have been in their history. Tiny dagger-shaped Israel ...faced the implacable hostility and cocked guns of 14 Arab nations and 110 million people. Its borders were ringed with Arab troops on all sides... "12
Finally, the Egyptian approach failed to consider the value of a first strike. Egypt showed no inclination to make the first strike, thereby seizing the initiative and controlling the tempo on the battlefield. The combat estimation was that Israel would simply surrender the right of first attack and any subsequent pace of operations to the enemy. This miscalculation clearly failed to consider the history of Israeli-Arab conflicts (1948 and 1956), in which the Jewish forces demonstrated a propensity for stepping forward and taking the battle to its enemies.
Therefore, by the morning of 5 June the Arab coalition had succeeded in violating just about every basic military principle in existence. By the time that the week was out, Israel would administer a severe punishment for these violations.
THE RESULTS OF THE 1967 WAR
At 0745L on the morning of 5 June 1967 the Israeli Air Force launched a preemptive strike on 11 Egyptian Air Force (EAF) Bases.13 For the next few hours the IAF continued to strike its primary targets and expanded the assault to include additional airfields (19 in all), air defense locations and Egyptian artillery and armored fortifications.14 Soon the EAF lay in complete ruins: Israel destroyed 309 of 340 targets during its initial 500 sorties, and within 2 days it destroyed 416 Arab (including Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi) aircraft...393 on the ground.15 Blessed with complete air supremacy, 3 IDF armored divisions invaded the Sinai. By dusk on 8 June the IDF forces had crushed 7 Egyptian divisions (5 Infantry and 2 Armored) and controlled the entire Sinai. Additionally, Israel took advantage of Jordanian artillery assaults to launch a second front, and soon controlled both the entire West Bank and, most critically, Jerusalem.
Following the success on the southern and eastern fronts, the IDF turned its fury upon the Syrian forces. During the period of 5-8 June, as Egypt and Jordan fought desperately against the surprising Israeli offensive, Syria had contented itself with merely launching company-sized reconnaissance missions and artillery bombardments of Israeli settlements.16 Thus, instead of having to fight simultaneously on three fronts, the IDF was given unanticipated breathing space on its northern border. This enabled the IAF, following its textbook devastation of the Arab Air Forces, to concentrate its energy on providing close air support on an even grander scale in Egypt and Jordan than anticipated. Israel devoted over 1,000 sorties primarily to close air support, with horrifying results for the Egyptian and Jordanian ground forces.17 Further, this enabled Israel to use its interior lines (one of the precious few advantages which it possessed at the onset of the conflict) to shift critical forces to the Egyptian and Jordanian fronts and simply "hold firm" opposing the Golan Heights. This hesitation did not earn Syria mercy or leniency from Israel, however. When its business in the Sinai and on the West Bank was finished, it turned on Syria and proceeded to conquer the Golan Heights (thought by most experts to be impregnable from the southwest and west) with dizzying speed. While partially a testimony to Israeli courage, planning and execution, this chain of events just as accurately underscored the complete incompetency among the Arab coalition members.
While all of the Arab partners shared some measure of loss in the defeat, Egypt by far fared the worst. During the short campaign, over 800 tanks were destroyed or captured in the Sinai, as well as hundreds of Soviet field guns, self-propelled guns, and over 10,000 vehicles. President Nasser was forced to concede that over 80% of the military equipment which Egypt possessed was lost.18 Egyptian personnel losses exceeded 15,000 dead and thousands of prisoners of war (including 9 General Officers).19 These results forced Nasser's successor, President Anwar Sadat, to conduct a brutally honest evaluation of Egypt's strategic objectives, capabilities, and limitations. Armed with the results of the events of 1967 (and further enhanced the intermittent clashes which characterized the War of Attrition), Sadat inherited the task of breaking the Arab paradigms which dominated relationships with Israel.
PREPARATION FOR THE OCTOBER WAR
The results of the Six Day War forced President Anwar Sadat to conclude that intense changes would be necessary in order to make any progress in the Middle East. He would have to alter the strategic perspective from which the Arab nations viewed Israel. The concept which advocated the destruction of the Jewish state had restrained Arab thought on two fronts. It completely forbade any form of interaction with Israel, and it left virtually no room for consideration of either strategic or operational goals (short of complete victory) which might further the cause of either Egypt or the Arab coalition. Secondly, he would have to ensure that his forces would enter any future Egypt-Israeli conflict better trained, better prepared, and better focused.
President Sadat would need to skillfully maneuver around the avowed Arab position of "no war, no peace" which dominated Middle Eastern Arab politics. Although Sadat recognized the requirement to move beyond this paradigm in order to break the gridlock which stunted Egyptian-Israeli progress, he also understood that this position could be violated by an Arab ruler only at great professional and personal risk. The Khartoum Summit Conference of September 1967 had voiced the "three no's" --no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiation with Israel20 resolution with the overwhelming approval of the Arab delegates, and was firmly maintained as of 1973. Unfortunately, only Sadat seemed to recognize the futility of this position.
Anwar Sadat concluded that, based on the Arab mentality and psyche of the time, his path to breaking the gridlock could only be found by attaining a military victory. The complete defeat of Israel might not be necessary, but some manner of positive action which would grant Egypt a perceived position of strength in relation to Israel might suffice.21 Critical to this analysis was an inspection of the shame and humiliation of previous losses to the Jewish nation, and most importantly the debacle of 1967. "No Westerner can fully understand the sense of peril we felt after 1967," said one Lebanese intellectual.22 In the words of an Egyptian businessman, "After the 1967 War I refused to go to London. I couldn't hold up my head and face my British friends."23
In 1973, faced with an Israel which now seemed to hold the stronger position militarily on one hand, and deep-rooted Arab humiliation on the other, Sadat further concluded that he simply needed gain respect through some form of action. To merely launch an attack in an effort to regain the Suez Canal and the Sinai, regardless of whether the attempt would ultimately prove successful, would restore Arab pride and enable him to work from a position of strength.24 To move in any kind of a conciliatory fashion with the stains of 1967 unremoved would be interpreted as weakness. However, to act with conviction militarily and then to approach Israel would be interpreted as strength. In short, Sadat would need to construct a "military opening with a political closure."25
To accomplish such a military operation, Sadat also faced the
necessary preliminary task of building consensus among the major Arab leaders who might join him in mounting a military action against Israel. Nasser before him had constantly failed to achieve a united Arab front, and the conduct and results of the Six Day spoke volumes to the dire consequences of such a path. The moment that the first shots of the Six Day War were fired the Arab coalition splintered, thereby sacrificing advantage to Israel. Heeding this lesson, Sadat worked closely with Syrian President Hafez Assad to coordinate a two-front operation. The significance of this accomplishment on Sadat's part cannot be overemphasized, particularly since the two leaders envisioned the realities of any conflict with dramatically different perspectives. Next, Sadat ensured that Jordan's King Hussein was restored to a place of prominence in the Arab world. Hussein had been in a tenuous situation since 1970, when he ordered and enforced a brutal crackdown on Palestinian guerrillas.26 These actions cemented Arab unity and paved the way for the October War.
In the operational arena Egypt also made several adjustments which would proved beneficial. The first change concerned the Egyptian military's approach to the air battle. In 1967 the IAF had proven to be the decisive factor in the conflict. Its preemptive strike had completely wiped out any Arab influence from the skies, and the effect of unopposed close air support had multiplied the Israeli ground offensive's capabilities. However, the ensuing War of Attrition had given the EAF little evidence of any ability on the part of its Air Forces to compete with the IAF. In encounter after encounter the IAF had proven itself complete master of the air over the Middle East. In fact, Israeli intelligence estimated that Egypt would pose no air threat until much later in the decade, and this analysis was a contributing factor in the IDF intel estimations that Egypt would never dare to launch an attack across the Suez Canal.27 Egypt (and Syria on the other border) concluded that the solution lay not in matching the Israeli airpower with similar, linear airpower, but in Surface-to-Air-Missiles (SAMs). The answer to the Israeli air threat was the creation of a dense, almost impenetrable mix of Soviet-designed ground-to-air-missiles).28 A belt of SAM-2, SAM-3, SAM-6 and SAM-7 batteries, complemented by anti-aircraft artillery batteries, could provide an umbrella for the Arab ground offensive. Such a belt would protect the initial assault and once the lead forces had consolidated their gains, then additional SAM belts could be located further forward to provide coverage for the next wave forward. This concept would neutralize the daunting IAF superiority.
Secondly, Egypt's forces constructed an effective concept of combined arms operations which had not existed previously. In spite of Arab numerical superiority Israel's forces were continually able to rely on a lack of organization and support on the part of its enemies. Egypt devised a plan which would effectively coordinate artillery, infantry, and armored assets in support of each other against the Bar-Lev line. This set of fortifications had been constructed along the Suez Canal to defend against the first wave of an Egyptian assault. Also, Egypt developed an efficient logistics plan which would support the massive combined arms operation across the Suez. Major bridging, supply, and reinforcement operations would be vital to the success of any action, and a failure in this arena would leave exposed forces trapped between the Suez Canal and the Israeli forces.
Finally, Egypt decided that, as opposed to the public approach which had served to provide Israel ample warning to mobilize for war, it would pursue a concept of deception and misinformation. Israel could not afford the massive costs of maintaining a suitable regular standing military which could defeat the Arab coalition which surrounded it.29 Thus, it relied on the capabilities of its reserve forces. Nowhere in the world exists a reserve force which possesses the ability to mobilize and conduct war with the speed and effectiveness of the Israeli Defense Forces' reserves. However, the cost for such an effective system is the severe economic strain which the nation must bear every time the reserve forces are mobilized. Israel had conducted a large-scale mobilization in the spring of 1973 in reaction to Egyptian movements on the East Bank of the Suez and the cost was enormous.30 Despite the accuracy of the intelligence analysis of Egypt's actions, the follow-on analysis that the Egyptian offensive had been merely postponed until the fall was downplayed by the senior Israeli civilian leadership. This created a hesitancy on the part of Israel's senior leadership to allow a similar call-up without extreme provocation, and Egypt chose to take advantage of this hesitancy.
Egypt chose to carefully downplay its own military operations. It even went so far as to allow the London Daily Telegraph's defense correspondent, Clare Holingworth, to publish an article which highlighted the poor state of Egyptian military affairs, particularly its lack of preparedness.31 In fact, throughout the period leading up to the October War, Egypt carefully played on the preconceived notions which now existed in the Israeli mind. The tables had turned, for now it was Israel which underestimated the potential of its enemies. Egypt's deception plan took great advantage of Israeli complacency, and would use it to downplay the assault on the Suez Canal until the operation had actually begun.
THE RESULTS OF THE OCTOBER WAR
Remarkably, every one of the changes which Egypt adopted in her strategic and operational thought proved successful beyond all expectations. First, Sadat's coalition did indeed accomplish a coordinated and well-designed assault on Israel. At precisely 1400L on 6 October both the east bank of the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights were attacked with an immense artillery barrage, followed by combined arms advances. At the same time, Egypt launched a massive (240 aircraft) air raid on several Israeli airfields, command posts, and communication centers.32 The sheer weight of the offensive actions on both borders forced Israel to make exactly the kind of crucial allocation decisions which it had so fortunately avoided six years earlier. The Israeli high command and civilian leadership were forced to divide their already scarce resources. The Israeli decision was to focus immediately upon the Golan Heights.33 This decision ultimately proved to be the correct one, for the IDF quickly reversed the tide of battle and punished the Syrian forces severely, eliminating any Arab offensive capability on the Golan Heights and stemming the most critical threat to the Jewish state's survival. However, the focus on the Golan Heights meant that the IAF was forced to devote its assets to the north. This provided the Egyptian onslaught even greater freedom of movement during the critical first few days of the campaign. Both the Egyptian Second and Third Armies were able to cross the Suez even more quickly and with far fewer casualties than they had planned for. The combined offensive along both axis (Golan and Suez), which would include major involvement by Egyptian, Syrian, Morroccan, Jordanian, Iraqi, and Saudi forces, represented a major shift in the ability of the Arab coalition to work together on a strategic level.
Operationally, each of the major adjustments worked. In addition to being forced to make critical decisions concerning priorities during the first few days of the crisis, the IAF also suffered from the well-constructed SAM net. The IAF lost over 50 aircraft in the first 3 days of the conflict (approximately one-fourth of its total strength)34, and would lose over 100 throughout the full course of the war. Almost every combat loss was incurred by the SAM umbrellas which covered both the Egyptian and Syrian offensives. While Israeli air operations would eventually gain the upper hand, the IDF's air arm was never able to inflict the kind of punishment which characterized the Six Day War.
In concert with the tremendous losses which the SAM net forced on Israel the combined arms operations on the ground worked with devastating results during the first few days of the campaign. The initial crossing worked magnificently and provided a major testimony to training and planning. "Our men bridged those canals again and again, till they reached the point that crossing a canal was simple. On Oct 6, the only difference was that across this canal was the real enemy." Within 72 hours, the Egyptians moved over 70,000 troops and between 500 and 700 tanks to the eastern bank.35 "The attack on Sinai and the Golan Heights was carried out with a finesse and synchronization that not even most Arabs suspected that the Arabs possessed."36 Further, once established on the east bank of the Suez, the Egyptian forces crushed the first waves of Israeli counterattacks which rushed into the fray. In direct contrast to the Six Day War, in which well-coordinated Israeli combat forces attacked disjointed Arab units, the first Israeli counterattacks resembled old-fashioned cavalry charges-direct armor charges without proper infantry or artillery support. The results were disastrous for Israel. The initial three brigades which encountered the Egyptian assault were heavily defeated and forced to withdraw. A reflection by an IDF tank Lieutenant Colonel demonstrated the manner in which the onrushing IDF brigades were met: "The Egyptians were fighting well, not running away. Our tactic the first two days was, as usual, to move forward, move forward. But as we advanced, we hit a wall of hundreds of
missiles, tanks and heavy guns. There were heavy casualties on both sides..."37
Yet for all of the successes which the Arab forces achieved could not have been possible without the value of surprise. As Time Magazine reported during the height of the battle:
..... details of the invasion were the best-kept Arab military secret in 25 years...Both Israeli and U.S. intelligence picked up signs of gathering forces, but could not bring themselves to believe that the Arabs were actually going to attack. It was only ten hours after the assault began that Israel finally concluded that the Arabs meant business. By the time the attack came on the afternoon of Yom Kippur the Israelis were mobilizing, but they were too late to prevent Arab advances. Syrian forces in the Golan Heights and Egyptian troops in the Sinai peninsula smashed through Israeli lines and established powerful positions within the first minutes of the war."38
In fact during the build-up to the campaign, IDF intelligence was forced to contend with a plethora of contradictory evidence which served to mislead, confuse, and most importantly to slow down the Israeli reaction to any Arab action. Even as the Arab forces were beginning the attack, the Israeli Defense Minister, IDF Chief of Staff, and the IDF Chief of Intelligence were arriving at different conclusions as to Arab intentions.39 The deception campaign by Egypt provided the real opportunity for success.
Most importantly, the initial success of the Arab offensive campaign offered President Anwar Sadat precisely the scenario which he sought. Within a very brief period Israel turned back the Syrian attack on the Golan Heights and crushed the northern arm of the Arab coalition. By the end of the southern conflict Israel had gained the initiative, crossed the Suez, and had virtually cut off the entire Egyptian Third Army. From a limited, short-term perspective Israel had managed a monumental comeback and appeared on the verge of a major victory. However, Sadat achieved exactly what he set out to gain: a military opening and a political closure. The superpowers would step in to broker a cease fire. From a larger strategic perspective, Sadat would emerge the winner.
The reason is that, in spite of the setbacks which would characterize the latter phases of the October War for Egypt and the Arab coalition, Sadat had restored the lost Arab pride. Even as mortal combat continued on the Sinai, Sadat emerged as the leader of the Arab world and in a position of strength to negotiate with Israel. Again, Time Magazine accurately reflected the new situation in the Middle East:
"However the battle might end, it was already clear that the Arabs had never fought better against the Israelis. No longer were they so likely to be dismissed as powerless and posturing giants too weak to defeat the tiniest of neighbors. The extraordinary flowering of Arab machismo was dynamically expressed by Nasser's successor, President Anwar Sadat, in a speech before Egypt's People's Assembly. "No matter what happens in the desert, there has been a victory which cannot be erased," said Sadat. "According to any military standard, the Egyptian armed forces have realized a miracle. The wounded nation has restored its honor the political map of the Middle East has changed.""40
With the pride and honor of the Egyptian nation restored, Sadat (even prior to the conflict's finish) was properly positioned to offer a firm set of peace proposals. The strength of the Egyptian performance allowed her leader to discuss, for the first time, peace and limited objectives. The conclusion of the 1973 War by no means signalled the end of Israeli-Arab confrontation. However, Sadat would become the first Arab leader to come to a peace agreement with Israel, as reflected in the Camp David Accords.
There are several aspects of the Egyptian "game-plan" which are particularly worthy of mention. Aside from the interesting and significant historical details of the 1967 and 1973 wars, and the period between the two conflicts, there are some significant lessons which are important to any student of the military arts.
The very first lesson is the value of critical, constructive analysis. The first step on the road to Egypt's recovery from the debacle of 1967 was to honestly examine the reasons for its dismal performance. The Arab nation admitted its shortcomings and addressed them. Conversely, the IDF became a victim of its own success. While Egypt and its Arab allies were forced to come to terms with their failure, Israel uncharacteristically failed to study the lessons of 1967, or perhaps more accurately came to the wrong conclusions. Israel failed to acknowledge and address some of its own shortcomings, and was to pay a severe price in the fall of 1973. This fundamental difference between the two camps in preparing for the "next" conflict laid the foundation for the conduct of the October War.
Further, the conflict demonstrates perhaps the only consolation of a military defeat--it makes the analysis of "why" and "how" defeat occurred a simpler task. The approach which Egypt was forced to adopt, to bluntly admit to its mistakes and to move to correct them, was unavoidable. No matter of posturing or blame could hide the requirement to fix what was wrong. Conversely, the magnitude of the Israeli victory in 1967 made the desire to consider shortcomings and weaknesses a far more difficult chore. After all, criticizing a victorious rout runs contrary to the nature of most people. The United States appears to have learned this lesson well. The lessons and mistakes of debacles such as Vietnam have been studied continuously. However, while the successes of DESERT STORM have been studied, it remains to be seen if the shortfalls, particularly in the realm of logistics and airflift/sealift, will truly be corrected before the next crisis. I would contend that we have not fully addressed these issues. There is a great deal of lip service paid to logistics and lift, but the real proof of the concern (in terms of money and programs) tells a slightly different story, and it is one which America's adversaries are undoubtedly taking note of.
The second lesson is what is possible when military capabilities and national objectives are properly coordinated. Prior to the 1973 October War, Egypt's stated objectives with regard to Israel were completely out of step with the military capabilities which it (or its Arab allies) possessed. Further, the ''unlimited'' objective of annihilation of the Jewish nation prevented Egypt from considering any form of "limited" warfare by which it could secure more realistic (and attainable) objectives. The real genius of President Sadat's approach to the upcoming conflict was found in his ability to synchronize his objectives, which were to regain the Suez Canal, regain a foothold in the Sinai again, and to begin a serious peace process with Israel, with the military capabilities at his disposal. His vision of a "limited" conflict with Israel waged for "limited" objectives completely broke all conventional paradigms for the Middle East. Israel was completely unprepared to wage such a campaign. This provided Egypt with a unique strategic initiative which paved the way for its success.
Third, the lessons of the 1973 provide an outstanding example of the potential which exists if one can "shape" his enemy's preconceived views and assumptions. The single greatest reason for the success of the October offensive on Egypt's part was its ability to shift gears, changing its strategy and altering its objectives. Israel was caught off-guard for the Egyptian vision of the war, and paid a heavy price. This lesson is applicable from both ends of the spectrum. While we must continue to appreciate the value of "shaping" the thoughts and impressions of an adversary, we must also consider our own vulnerability to faulty or deceptive assumptions. The United States has a particularly poor record when it comes to forecasting the intentions of opponents. The escalation of involvement in Somalia, the miscalculation of Saddam Hussein's intentions in Kuwait prior to August 1990, and the entire Vietnam debacle are some examples of miscalculations by both political and military leaders. Perhaps one of our greatest vulnerabilities in the present global arena is in underestimating our foes. This could be exaggerated by an enemy who is crafty enough to manipulate our own preconceived notions and impressions.
Thus, the 1973 October War provides us with a wide array of lessons which are just as pertinent today as they were almost 25 years ago. Egypt's success in initiating the conflict, and in securing a true peace process as a result of the war, leave both our political and military leadership with much to reflect upon.
1. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, page 190.
2. Eric Hamel, Six Days in June: How Israel Won the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, McMillan Pbulishing Co., 1992, page 29-30.
3. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, Random House Inc., 1982, page 148.
4. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, page 148.
5. Ze'ev Schiff, A History of the Israeli Army, McMillan Publishing Company, 1974, page 126.
6. Eric Hamel, Six Days in June: How Israel Won the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, page 26.
7. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, page 149.
8. Ze'ev Schiff, A History of the Israeli Army, pages 129-130.
9. Brigadier General (Retired) S.L.A. Marshall, Swift Sword: The
Historical Record of Israel's Victory, June 1967, American Heritage
Publishing Co., 1967, pages 18-19.
10. S.L.A Marshall, Swift Sword, page 19.
11. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, page 190.
12. Time Magazine, 9 June 1967 ,page 38.
13. S.L.A. Marshall, Swift Sword, pages 23-24.
14. Ze'ev Schiff, A History of the Israeli Army, page 155.
15. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, pages 152-153.
16. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, page 185.
17. S.L.A. Marshall, Swift Sword, page 32.
18. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, page 165.
19. Ze'ev Schiff, A History of the Israeli Army, page 135.
20. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, page 197.
21. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, page 315.
22. Time Magazine, 29 October 1973, page 30.
23. Time Magazine, 29 October 1973, page 30.
24. Jerry Asher, Duel for the Golan, William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1987, page 50.
25. Jerry Asher, Duel for the Golan, page 50.
26. Time Magazine, 22 October 1973, page 34.
27. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, page 228.
28. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, page 227.
29. Jerry Asher, Duel for the Golan, page 42.
30. Jerry Asher, Duel for the Golan, page 42.
31. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, page 228.
32. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, page 241.
33. Chaim Herzog, The Arab-Israeli Wars, page 250.
34. Time Magazine, 29 October 1973, page 22.
35. Time Magazine, 29 October 1973, page 24.
36. Time Magazine, 22 October 1973, page 34.
37. Time Magazine, 22 October 1973, page 38.
38. Time Magazine, 22 October 1973, page 34.
39. Jerry Asher, Duel for the Golan, page 42-44.
40. Time Magazine, 29 October 1973, page 22.
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