Yom Kippur War

The Yom Kippur War

The Yom Kippur War (also known as the Ramadan War and the October War) was without doubt Israel’s most traumatic war since the War of Independence at Israel’s birth in 1948. Beginning as a surprise attack by Egypt on Oct. 6. 1973, across the Suez Canal into the Sinai Peninsula (held by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967) and accompanied by a joint attack from Syria on the Golan Heights, the double assault caught Israel off guard on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. (It was also undertaken during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.)  Israel had only minimum forces in place. When war broke out, orders were immediately given for the assembly of reserve soldiers in Israel, and many men were plucked from synagogues and homes all over the country to report for duty.

Massive forces of Soviet supplied and trained Egyptian and Syrian armor, artillery, air and  infantry units were thrown against the sparse Israeli forces by the opposing Arab armies, causing not only extensive instant casualties among the Israeli defenders  but also loss of territory. There was widespread apprehension in Israel that it would be overrun, threatening the very continued existence of the Jewish state. The first Israeli counterattacks failed against both Egypt and Syria, however, Israeli air and ground attacks soon repelled the Syrian forces and pushed them back further into Syria. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) came within 40 kilometers of the Syrian capital Damascus. And, after falling back in the Sinai in the face of overwhelming Egyptian forces, the IDF successfully counterattacked, splitting the Egyptian forces, crossing the Suez Canal and surrounding the Egyptian Third Army.

An urgent call was made by Israel to the United States for immediate supplies to continue the fight. The US responded with an around-the-clock airlift of equipment, while the Soviet Union initiated its own massive military resupply effort to its Arab allies, leading to a near-confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers.

Eventually, a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire was passed and went into effect on Oct. 25, 1973, ending the war on both fronts.

After the war, Egypt and Israel reached an agreement to separate their forces. Israel withdrew from the areas it had captured in Egypt, and Egyptian forces remained in the places they had secured in the Sinai. There was a large distance between Egyptian and Israeli forces in the Sinai as part of the agreement.

Israel also held negotiations with Syria and agreed to withdraw from the places they had captured in Syria, but they stayed in the Golan Heights. Egypt and Israel furthered their negotiations, and in 1979 they signed the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state. The treaty brought peace between the two countries, as Israel withdrew from the whole Sinai and returned it to Egypt. The treaty still holds to this day.

The war is still regarded in Israel as a near-miraculous turnaround of feared defeat into victory, but one achieved at a great cost of Israeli lives and damaged morale. In Egypt, the war is seen even today as a victory for Egyptian honor, courage and restoration of territory despite the obvious military defeat. Syria obviously sustained a humiliating defeat with no gains, and remains a belligerent state bordering Israel.