1973 Yom Kippur War


On Yom Kippur 1973, Israel was surprised by a coordinated Syrian and Egyptian attack. Over 2,000 Israelis were killed and 10,000 wounded. Yet Israel rallied and the war ended with Israel at Kilometer 101 on the road to Cairo.

During the spring and summer of 1973, several indicators suggested that the Egyptians and Syrians might be contemplating an attack on Israel. As late September and early October approached, these signs became more frequent and pronounced. Notably, King Hussein of Jordan even undertook a covert trip to Israel to alert them to the impending attack. However, these warnings were largely dismissed by the head of Military Intelligence and other top officials. They firmly believed the Arabs wouldn't launch an assault until they achieved military equivalence.

Simultaneously, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) had gleaned insights from the War of Attrition. They were keenly aware of the formidable threat posed by Egyptian and Syrian SAM sites to their aerial superiority. In anticipation, the IAF formulated a detailed strategy to neutralize this threat, a mission that had to be executed before the Air Force could undertake other operations.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, October 5, 1973, the evidence pointing towards an imminent attack became overwhelmingly clear. Despite this, intelligence officials continued to downplay the likelihood of war. In response to the mounting threat, Israel's regular military forces were placed on high alert, just below wartime readiness, and the IAF discreetly mobilized its reserves. As dawn broke, fresh intelligence confirmed the looming conflict, suggesting it would commence by 5 PM. Consequently, on the morning of Yom Kippur, the Israeli government initiated an urgent reserve mobilization. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) proposed a preemptive strike against the Egyptian and Syrian air forces, but this was vetoed by Prime Minister Golda Meir over concerns about potentially jeopardizing American support.

The conflict erupted at 2 PM when an artillery salvo targeted Israeli positions along the Bar-Lev Line at the Suez Canal. Once the bombardment ceased, commando units made their move, landing both along the Canal and deeper into the Sinai. These units were quickly followed by troops who crossed the Canal in small boats. The Egyptians succeeded in seizing a majority of the Israeli posts on the Canal's eastern flank. Subsequent Israeli counterattacks were thwarted by the Egyptians, who employed anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.

However, the gravest threat emerged on the Syrian front. A breakthrough at the Golan Heights meant Syrian forces could potentially reach the Galilee within a day. The Syrians anticipated achieving this in 24 hours. The disparity in forces was stark. On the morning of October 6, the Syrians had a massive advantage: 1,400 tanks to Israel's 177, 115 artillery batteries against Israel's 11, and 40,000 infantry compared to Israel's 200. Against these overwhelming odds, the Israeli defense at Golan lasted a harrowing 24 hours, during which they repelled the Syrians. The cost was high, with substantial territories in the Southern Golan being lost. Yet, by Sunday night, the first Israeli reserve tank division began arriving, staving off further advances and eventually turning the tide against the Syrians.

On the Egyptian front, Israel's first counteroffensive on the war's third day faltered. The IDF then assumed a defensive posture. But on October 14, the Egyptians launched a significant offensive, which the IDF repelled. After a challenging engagement at the Chinese Farm, Israeli forces, under Ariel Sharon's command, crossed the Canal and encircled the third Egyptian army. Recognizing the magnitude of Israel's counteroffensive, an immediate ceasefire was demanded. After a tense standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, a truce was enforced on October 22. The Yom Kippur War extracted a heavy toll on Israel: over 2,000 fatalities and 10,000 injuries.