Yom Kippur War

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Yom Kippur War, October 6 to October 22/24 1973

On the holiest day in the Jewish calender, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the Syrian and Egyptian armies launched a simultaneous attack on Greater Israel and inflicted a heavy defeat on the suprised Israeli Defence Force (IDF). After a three week struggle the invaders were pushed back and the land recaptured.

Following its creation on May 14 1948 the state of Israel has been in regular conflict with its Arab neighbours, right from May 15 1948. Following the success of the Six-Day War in June 1967 Israel had extended its borders to the Golan Heighs in the north and right to the Suez Canal in the south - Greater Israel. This bought a state in almost continual low-level conflict with its neighbours, including the 'Ten-Hour War' of 1969. Israel spent almost $500m fortifying its postions on the Suez Canal (the Bar Lev Line) in 1971 alone.

In September 1970 President Nasser of Egypt died and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat, considered more moderate and pragmatic than Nasser. However to counter internal threats to his power and improve his standing in the Arab world Sadat became determined to fight Israel and win back the territory lost in 1967. From the end of 1972 Egypt began a concentrated effort to build up its forces (receiving MiG-23s, SAM6s, RPG-7s and especially the 'Sagger' ATGM (Anti-tank Guided Missile) from the Soviet Union) and improve its military tactics. The plan to attack Israel in concert with Syria was code-named Operation Badr.

Following a failure at military intelligence and political levels the Israelis were unaware of the plan. Badly misreading the Arab mobilization as defensive the Israeli cabinet was still arguing whether they should mobilise as the attack began.

The Egyptians burst across the Suez Canal and had advanced 15km into the Sinai desert where they waited for the inevitable counter-attack. On October 8 the counter-attack came and many Israeli aircraft were wrecked by the SAMs and many Israeli tanks by the anti-tank missiles.

However the Egyptians were now in a weak position of defending a long front and were vulnerable to a narrow strike. On October 15 Israeli forces under General Ariel Sharon broke through the Egyptian line at the Great Bitter Lake near Deversoir. They spread out and caused havoc behind the Egyptian lines. The Egyptian 3rd Army in the Sinai was cut off. By October 24 it was over, the UN negotiatied a cease-fire returning almost half the Sinai desert to the Egyptians.

In the Golan Heights the Syrians had similiar initial success but by October 11 they had lost the Heights to Israel and were fighting in their own territory. A cease-fire was negotiated on October 22 based on a return to pre-war borders.