Understanding the Yom Kippur War of 1973

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  • 0:01 Prelude to the Yom Kippur War
  • 1:35 Rumors of War
  • 3:41 Arab Nations on the Offensive
  • 4:58 Turning Points in the…
  • 6:43 Effects of the 1973…
  • 7:46 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

After a failed attempt to destroy Israel in 1967, Egypt and Syria tried again in 1973, hoping to regain land they had lost. Despite a surprise attack on Yom Kippur and initial Arab successes, Israel withstood the invasion.

Prelude to the Yom Kippur War

In 1948, five of Israel's neighbors attacked the day after the nation was created. They failed in their goal to stop the fledgling nation from being established, but Egypt did manage to take possession of a strip of land called Gaza, and Jordan occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River. Then, in 1967, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria tried to destroy Israel for good. But within six days, Israel had defeated them all, won back the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and also won control of the entire Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.

Immediately, the international community began to debate: does Israel have a right to occupy these territories? Or should it be forced to give them back? Eight Arab nations signed the Khartoum Resolution pledging that there would be 'no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it' until Israel returned all the land it had gained from the Six-Day War. Despite varying interpretations of this document, there were numerous terrorist attacks in Israel, sporadic battles with Israeli forces, artillery barrages, the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games - and of course, Israeli retaliation. Egypt called the Soviets for backup, who sent surface-to-air missiles, or SAMs, and squadrons of Soviet fighters and their crews.

Rumors of War

Instead of waiting for the next round of fighting to begin, Israel set up electronic eavesdropping stations in Gaza, the West Bank, and Golan Heights and was also monitoring its Arab neighbors from the air. In mid-1973, Israeli intelligence picked up pretty clear information about Egyptian and Syrian preparations for another war. Troops, weapons, Soviet SAMs, and anti-tank missiles deployed near the Golan Heights and the Suez Canal. But they had done that before and always stood down.

U.S. intelligence also informed Israel of a potential Egyptian-Syrian attack. But hadn't Israel won every war the Arabs had started? On September 25, 1973, King Hussein of Jordan personally warned Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir of an impending assault. But even when all the signs indicated that the Arabs were ready to start a war in 1973, most Israeli analysts believed they were bluffing.

Then, on October 5, Israeli intelligence received trusted information. An invasion was planned for the next day, which was Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday, at sunset. According to tradition, it's supposed to be a day of complete rest and prayer. But suddenly, the alarm was sounded, reservists called up, and a defense plan initiated. Israel passed the intel to the U.S., who warned them not to launch a preemptive air strike. So Israel scrambled to get defenders in place before the anticipated 6:00 p.m. attack.

But four hours before sunset on October 6, 1973, the assault began. Led by Syria and Egypt, at least nine Arab nations sent men, money, weapons, or equipment to the Yom Kippur War. The goal? Revenge for their 1967 defeat and repossession of the territory they had lost.

Arab Nations on the Offensive

Thousands of jets launched an aerial attack into the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Within minutes, a massive artillery barrage began, protecting the first wave of Egyptian ground troops across the Suez Canal, met by just 500 Israeli defenders. By morning, 100,000 men, 1,000 tanks, and over 10,000 other vehicles invaded the Sinai. A week later, international media watched as the last of Israel's defensive fortresses waved the white flag. But when Britain offered to negotiate a ceasefire based on the two armies' current positions on October 13, Egypt's president Anwar Sadat refused. He would accept nothing less than the entire peninsula.

The offensive also started well near the Golan Heights. Fourteen hundred Syrian tanks greeted just 177 Israeli tanks and outgunned them by 20:1. Within two hours, Syria held the high ground and had pushed into central Golan. The road into the heart of Israel lay undefended in front of them. But Syria's leader, believing it would take the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, about 24 hours to arrive, ordered the army to stop and regroup until morning.

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