The October Arab-Israeli War of 1973: What happened?

The October Arab-Israeli War of 1973: What happened?
From Al Jazeera - October 6, 2017

It has been 44 years since the start of the 1973 War between Israel, Egypt and Syria.

The war, known to Israelis as the Yom Kippur War, ushered in a new reality in the Arab world and changed the face of US foreign policy towards the Middle East.

Here's a breakdown of what happened:

Why did the three countries go to war?

The conditions that shaped the 1973 War were established six years prior.

In 1967, Egypt, Jordan, Syria engaged in six days of battle against Israel that resulted in the Israeli occupation of what remained of historic Palestine, as well as the Egyptian Sinai desert, and the Golan Heights from Syria. The event came to be known as the June War.

In a matter of six days, the Israeli army delivered a huge setback to the forces of three Arab countries and gained territory that was three and a half times its size.

Fast-forward six years, Egypt and Syria decided to launch a two-front coordinated attack to regain the territory they lost in 1967.

In the background, the politics of the Cold War between the Soviets - who supplied the Arab countries with weapons - and the US - which backed Israel - played out and inflamed the war, bringing the two blocs to the brink of military conflict for the first time since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Under Egyptian and Syrian former presidents Anwar Sadat and Hafez al-Assad, the two Arab nations concluded a secret agreement in January 1973 to unify their armies under one command.

How did the war unfold?

To catch Israel off guard, the Egyptians and Syrians decided to launch an attack on the Yom Kippur religious holiday, the only day in the year in which there are no radio or television broadcasts, shops close and transportation shuts down as part of religious observations.

The holiday fell on Saturday, October 6, 1973, and just after 2pm, the Egyptian and Syrian armies, with advanced Soviet weapons, launched a two-front offensive on Israel, from the north and the south.

Under "Operation Badr" the Egyptian military forces managed to cross the Suez Canal and capture the Bar Lev Line - a fortified sand wall on the east bank of the canal.

This initial military success, which came to be known to Egyptians as "the crossing," served as a sign of victory after 25 years of defeat.

WATCH: The War in October (47:41)

On the northern front line, Syrian tanks penetrated Israeli positions and swept across the Golan Heights.

The Israeli losses were heavy, much of the territory had been retrieved, and the course of the war seemed to lay squarely within Arab hands.

Within the first two days, the Israeli army formulated a new strategy and went on the offensive, deciding first to tackle the Syrians in the north. As a result, units from the Iraqi, Saudi and Jordanian armies joined the fight on the Syrian front to face the counterattack.

Both the USSR and the Americans began airlifting arms, including tanks and artillery, to their allies as their stockpiles began to ran out.

On October 16, 10 days after the start of the war, Israeli forces, under the command of Ariel Sharon,managed to penetrate Egyptian and Syrian defence lines and came within a shocking distance from Cairo, the Egyptian capital city.

READ MORE: The 1967 war: How Israel occupied the whole of Palestine

Diplomatic track

Aftermath of the war


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