Yom Kippur War

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Jews at the Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement

The Yom Kippur War was fought between Israel, Egypt, and Syria. The war commenced on October 6, 1973 when Egyptian mechanized divisions crossed the Suez Canal by using a series of pressurized water cannons to demolish sand walls on the opposite side of the canal, and then crossing on pontoon bridges. This was concurrent to a Syrian advance into the Golan Heights. The date was chosen because Yom Kippur is a sacred holiday for the Jews, and many Israeli army were stood down during that time. The delay in mobilization, and the lack of a preemptive strike against Egyptian and Syrian forces allowed the initial success of these advances.

At first, the Israeli counterattack was focussed primarily against the forces in the Golan Heights as these were much closer to Israel proper, whereas the Egyptian forces in the Sinai peninsula were not as immediate a threat. Initial counterattacks against both armies were ineffective because the Israelis were hugely outnumbered in armor, although the Egyptians and Syrians were fielding obsolete Russian tanks as opposed to the more modern European and American tanks fielded by Israel. To counter this advantage, the Arab armies armed their soldiers with Russian anti-tank weapons. Additionally, both armies used fixed SAM emplacements, and avoided leaving the coverage of this air umbrella, thus blunting the offensive power of the Israeli air force.

Facing defeat, the Israelis implored the United States for military aid, as the Europeans refused to assist under threat of an Arab oil embargo. The United States airlifted a large number of tanks and aircraft into Israel, thus replacing Israeli losses. Because of the influx of materiel, the Israelis were able to commit their forces to a renewed offensive posture, overwhelming the older Egyptian and Syrian divisions.

Because the Israelis through the majority of their reserves into the Golan Heights theater, they were able to push back the Syrian advance, and counterattack into Syria, though this counter attack was ultimately turned back by a combined Syrian, Jordanian, and Iraqi force. In the Sinai, after several attacks and counter attacks, both sides went into a defensive stance to hold the ground that they had. On October 14, the Egyptian forces decided to attack first, but made a tactical blunder in attacking the Israelis head on and outside of their SAM umbrella. The Egyptian tanks were decimated by the superior Israeli armor and air power. The following day, the Israelis counterattacked across the Suez canal.

By October 23rd, the Israeli army, though pushed back from the outskirts of Damascus, still had captured additional territory near the Golan Heights, and was close to encircling the Egyptian army in the Sinai peninsula. The United Nations chose this time to impose a cease fire which went into effect at sundown on the 23rd. However, overnight the Israeli army continued its attack in Egyptian territory in order to complete the encirclement of the Egyptians. In a conference with Golda Meir that evening, Henry Kissinger asked "how can anyone ever know where a line is or was in the desert?" Their army now encircled, the Egyptians had no choice but to accept the cease fire in exchange for the creation of UN checkpoints to allow non-military supplies to reach their army, and the exchange of prisoners of war. Although the cease fire did not bind the Syrians, they decided not to further counterattack the Israeli army, though their combined force of Syrian, Iraqi, and Jordanian troops had the Israelis in a state of retreat.

Ultimately, the cease fire led to an armistice, and the Camp David accords wherein Egypt agreed to a lasting peace in exchange for the return of the Sinai peninsula, which the Egyptians had lost during the Six Day War, and the recovery of which had been the primary goal of the Yom Kippur War. However, the airlifting of supplies by the United States to the Israelis directly precipitated the 1973 OPEC oil embargo.

The Yom Kippur is the holiest and most solemn day in Judaism.

See also

Further reading

  • Tucker, Spencer C., ed. The Encyclopedia of the Arab-Israeli Conflict A Political, Social, and Military History (4 vol. 2008)