The Fourth Round -
A Critical Review of 1973 Arab-Israeli War

Columnist Hamid Hussain does an exhaustive overview of the 1973 war.

‘We live in a world of facts and we can’t build on hopes and fantasy. The fact is that you have been defeated so don’t ask for a victor’s spoil’. Dr. Henry Kissinger’s advice to Anwar Sadat, 1973.

October 2002 is the twenty ninth anniversary of the Arab-Israeli war fought in 1973. Like any other war, this war also had its highs and lows. Each party tried to give its side of the story. Many myths were created depending on who was narrating the story. Some minor events were exaggerated while the major ones ignored depending on the perspective of the evaluator. ‘In battle, as in so many areas of life, the slightest element may appear in retrospect to have had major importance. The magnification is real, not accidental’.1 Some with the hindsight, tried to make sweeping judgements which were also not fair. Like any war, it has its own lessons, both positive and negative.
This article will evaluate the events of 1973 war, looking at various aspects. I will discuss the three main combatants (Israel, Egypt and Syria), looking at the immediate background to hostilities, war and its aftermath. In addition, the regional Arab and international scene especially the role of two super-powers will be discussed under a separate heading and in the end a summary of the war will be presented.

Ramadan War
‘If matters are conducted in this way and evaluated on this kind of a basis, with no responsibility for the words spoken and the actions undertaken, then we deserve what has happened to us’. Remarks of the presiding judge of the court of inquiry at the trial of Egyptian Minister of War Shams Badran, February 1968.

Gathering of the Storm
From Egyptian point of view, the cause of October offensive was the humiliating defeat in 1967. The words of Abdul Ghani El-Gamasy (he was Chief of Operations of Egyptian Armed Forces in 1973 and later became Chief of Staff) correctly represent the general Egyptian mood. He stated, “The battle was a battle of honour for Egypt. We had to go through with it both to liberate our land and to erase the shame of the 1967 defeat”.2 Even with all the hindsight, Egyptians could not admit that they have been routed by the Israelis. In the aftermath of 1967, Egyptians were unable to critically evaluate their organization and performance. Just a cursory look at the life of the commanders of their forces will give some insight into the problems of high command and dilemmas of a highly politicized army. In 1967 Field Marshal Abdul Hakim Amer was the commander of the forces. At the time of July 1952 coup, Amer was a Major. In less than a year he was a Major General. In June 1953, he became commander-in-chief. In February 1958, he was a Field Marshal and deputy supreme commander of the armed forces. His only qualification was that he was the most trusted ally of Egyptian President Gemal Abdul Nasser. It is no wonder that when real war came, Amer who had climbed the promotion ladder with a dizzying speed (From Major to Field Marshal in less than six years, probably a world record), got a rude awakening when he suffered defeat literally in hours. He later committed suicide. Lieutenant General Sidqi Mahmud is the only head of the air force in world history under whose command, his air force was almost completely wiped out on the ground twice by the enemy, in 1956 and again in 1967.
Egyptians tried to explain their defeat in elaborate web of conspiracies hatched by Americans, Soviets, Europeans, Israelis and fellow Arabs. Luckily, for Egypt, at least at the higher policy level, this denial did not last for long. Once they decided that next round was inevitable, they got to the business of re-arranging the whole deck for the coming clash. Egyptians very well knew their limitations. Though rhetoric and public statements were for big clash with Israel, practically it worked for a plan to cross the Suez canal, hold some territory and then involve the super powers to bring peace and return of Sinai through negotiations. This was the reason that operation was code named ‘Spark’. The spark was to ignite the fire of an international crisis in which super powers are involved and hopefully Egypt would gain something out of this crisis. (Later the name was changed to Operation Badar, referring to the first battle of Prophet Muhammad). El-Gamasy has described this plan in detail in his memoirs. He states that, “The Egyptian general command now developed an offensive plan in cooperation with the Syrian forces in which Egypt would storm the Suez canal, defeat the main concentrations of enemy forces in Sinai, reach mountain passes, and hold this position in preparation for other combat missions’.3 In the initial phase, the air forces of Egypt and Syria will attack simultaneously Israeli targets in Sinai and Golan. Then under the cover of artillery barrage, Egyptian forces will storm the Suez Canal using Second and Third Armies, supported by air force. Five Divisions will set up bridgeheads and in coordination with forces in Port Said sector will try to penetrate 15 to 20 kilometers in Sinai. With or without a tactical halt, in second stage, Egypt will try to capture mountain passes and hold the line there.4 There was no plan for any further goals. The strategic directive which was issued by Sadat on October 5, 1973 was also vague stating that, “liberate the occupied territory in progressive stages according to developments and the abilities and potential of the armed forces”.5 Lieutenant General Sad El Shazly (he was Chief of Staff of Egyptian Armed Forces in 1973) gives a different picture of the actual plan. He was convinced that Egypt didn’t had the capacity to reach the passes. He states that there were two plans. The real Egyptian plan knowing their limitations was code named ‘The High Minarets’. According to this plan after the successful crossing, Egyptian forces will penetrate only five to six miles and dig in for defense which will ensure the safety umbrella of fixed Surface to Air (SAM) batteries against Israeli air force. A second plan which was forwarded was only to deceive Syrians. Egyptians had no desire to implement it. Syrian President Hafiz el Asad would neither forget nor forgive this. He later sarcastically told US National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger about this Egyptian ‘treachery’ and ‘duplicity’.6 This was code named ‘Operation 41’. According to this plan, only on paper, after crossing he canal, Egyptians will go for the key Sinai passes which were about 30-40 miles east of the canal.7 Operation 41 was discussed with Syrians, so that they agree for the offensive because if Asad knew that Egyptians had no desire to go more than five miles east of canal, he would never had agreed to the attack. In addition, Operation 41 was discussed with Soviets because being a more ambitious one, it will help to get more military hardware. The level of any coordination between Egypt and Syria can be judged from the fact that Supreme Joint Council with members from armed forces of both countries was formed in August 1973, less than sixty days before the war started. Both countries did not have ‘the unified communications that would allow them to exploit their early gains to the fullest advantage’.8 The result was that when hostilities started none of them knew what other party was doing or planning.
In 1972, the detente between US and Soviet Union was viewed apprehensively by President Anwar Sadat. In that year, he invited himself three times to Moscow to push for more weapons and Soviet re-assurances about his attack on Israel. Sadat had made the decision of going to war in a high level meeting on October 24, 1972. Egypt had received a large amount of weaponry from Soviets. Sadat confided to Egyptian journalist Muhammad Husnain Haikal that, “They are drowning me in new arms. Between December 1972 and June 1973 we received more arms from them than in the whole of the two preceding years’.9 Sadat made changes in the armed forces at highest level for preparation of war, some of which were odd and may have put strain on relationship between senior officers. The most significant one was the re-instatement of two senior officers (Major General Ahmad Ismail and Vice Admiral Mahmud Fahmi) who have been retired in 1969 and placing them at the highest level in chain of command. Major General Ahmad Ismail had been retired in September 1969. In 1971, he was heading General Intelligence. He was re-instated, promoted to General and made Minister of War, replacing General Muhammad Sadeq. The Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Sad el Shazly had long standing differences with Ismail. This didn’t affect the preparation phase but during war, the opposing tactical and strategic views of these two high officials had a significant impact on the operations.10 Vice Admiral Abu Zikri, who had been retired in 1969 was also re-instated and replaced Vice Admiral Mahmud Fahmi as commander of naval forces. Deputy Minister of War, Lieutenant General Abdul Qadir Hassan was also relieved. The appointments and dismissals of some of the highest offices of Egypt were done by one man in such a casual and erratic manner that an ordinary person would not do to his personal servants but then in an autocratic regime, all others are considered as personal servants of the pharaoh.11
At the political level, a more general and vague line was followed. The Kuwait Conference held on November 15, 1972 stated the goal of removing the effects of the June 1967 aggression without prejudicing the Palestinian cause and the national rights of the Palestinian people. The fact is that planning on both Syrian and Egyptian front had nothing to do with Palestinian issue. The operations were designed to recover lands which both countries had lost to Israelis in 1967. Palestinian leadership was neither consulted nor had any significant role in these operations. In March 1973, Sadat reshuffled his cabinet and made himself Prime Minister. He was now ready for the showdown.

Egypt put up an impressive and enormous arsenal for the showdown. On Sinai front Egyptian army was divided into two corps called armies. Third army in the south consisted of two infantry divisions (19th & 7th) with 4th and 25th Armoured Division standing in ready reserve. Third Army was commanded by Major General Abdul Munim Wassel. Second Army in north had three infantry divisions (16th, 2nd & 18th) with two divisions (21st & 14th Armoured and 23rd Mechanized Infantry) in ready reserve. Second Army was headed by Major General Saaduddin Mamun. In the reserve was the First Army (6th and 3rd Mechanized Divisions), deployed near Cairo and controlled by General Headquarters (GHQ). The infantry divisions were not organized on ordinary lines. Each infantry division was reinforced with a brigade (three battalions) of tanks; one battalion of self-propelled SU-100 anti-tank guns; and an anti-tank guided weapon (ATGW) battalion. In addition infantry had its own anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.12 Egypt deployed about 1,700 tanks, 2,500 armoured vehicles, 2,000 artillery pieces, 1,500 anti-tank guns and 700 anti-tank guided weapons. Air Force had 400 combat aircraft, 70 transport aircrafts and 140 helicopters (about 220 MIG-21s, 200 MIG-17s & 19s, 120 Sukhoi-7 fighter-bombers, 18 Yupolov bombers, 10 Ilyushin-28s and over 100 Mi-1, Mi-4, Mi-6 and Mi-8 helicopters). Navy had 12 submarines, 5 destroyers, 3 frigates, 12 submarine chasers, 17 missile boats and 14 landing craft. Air Defense consisted of 150 SAM battalions and 2,500 anti-aircraft guns.13
On October 6 at 2:00pm, Egyptian air crafts attacked various Israeli military targets in Sinai starting the hostilities. Egyptians threw a tremendous amount of fire at Israelis. According to El-Gamasy about 200 aircrafts participated in initial attacks. More than two thousand guns of various calibers supported by surface to surface missiles bombarded the Bar-Lev line. In the first minute 10,500 rounds were fired at an average rate of 175 per second.14 After this initial softening, Egyptian infantry and commandos crossed the canal at various points. Five bridgeheads were constructed and by the end of the day Egyptians were about three to four kilometers east of the canal. In 24 hours, Egypt had poured 100,000 men, 1,020 tanks and 13,500 vehicles across the canal.15 Two bridges for each division were built. In the next few days, the gains were consolidated. Egyptians got full control of the 102 miles long east bank. The deepest penetration was about ten miles in the Mitla Pass region. Crossing of the canal was the high time for Egyptians, skyrocketing their morale. Once on the east bank of the canal, Egyptians set themselves well for the Israeli counter attack. Israeli counter attacks were piecemeal which were successfully stopped by Egyptians. Israeli Defense Forces (I.D.F.) 190th Armoured Battalion (led by Colonel Assaf Yagouri) charged headlong and was decimated. Once Israeli tanks crossed the camouflaged infantry trenches, Egyptian ‘infantry jumped out of trenches like devils’ and all tank and anti-tank fire was concentrated on the ill fated battalion destroying it within minutes with its commander taken prisoner.16
In view of the priority given by Israeli high command to Golan front, the tactics on Egyptian front was more of a holding operation in early phases of war. By October 11, Israelis were back in business on Syrian front putting severe pressure on Syrians. Asad was asking Sadat to intensify attacks in Sinai to relieve pressure on Syrian front. The idea of pressing towards passes in Sinai beyond the air cover provided by air defense batteries made Egyptians uncomfortable. Shazly opposed the idea, stating that Israeli air force was strong and posed a dangerous threat to his forces if they moved in open terrain without air cover.17 Shazly was correct in his assessment and a proof of that was that on October 10, Ist Infantry Brigade (attached to 19th Division) moved beyond the air defense umbrella and was severely mauled by Israeli air force. Commander-in-Chief and Minister of War, Ahmad Ismail was a bit ambiguous but frantic calls from Syria had also got Soviets worried. Soviet ambassador in Cairo, Vladimir Vinogradov in a conversation with Heikal on October 10 gave the general thought of Soviet leadership. He stated that Leonard Brezhnev (President) and Marshal Grechko (Minister of Defense) had told him that Israel wanted to first knock Syria out of the game and then turn all their forces on Egypt which may be disastrous. He proded Heikal that ‘why haven’t you consolidated your gains and begun to push on to the passes? This is not only the sensible thing for your army to do, but it would help take pressure off the Syrians’.18 Neither Heikal nor Vinogradov knew that Egypt had no plan for the advance towards passes. The changed situation had forced Egypt to take a decision for which they were not prepared. The result was a rift between the military high command. Shazly was totally against any forward push while Ismail was for the go while acknowledging that it was a political decision. Shazly called it the ‘first catastrophic blunder by GHQ’. When on October 14, Egypt re-started the offensive, Israelis were waiting for them. As expected, Israeli air force severely mauled Egyptian ground forces, once they left the safety umbrella of their air defense. Israelis paid back Egyptians that day by effectively using their SS-11 anti-tank guided missiles and causing significant damage to armour. All four Egyptian thrusts were halted within ten miles and they withdrew to their bridgeheads. On that fateful day, Egypt lost 250 tanks.19 The Second Army commander General Mamun collapsed, unable to function, when his men were fighting the most important battle. Whether this was from a genuine medical problem (heart trouble) or nervous breakdown, both ways it shows the serious flaw in selection of officers for highest posts in Egypt. Shazly has objectively evaluated Egyptian weaknesses and mistakes and I.D.F. strengths of this battle but El-Gamasy rather than objectively evaluating the situation delves into conspiracies. He states, “Enemy defenses and resistance were so conspicuously strong that it was evident that they had been expecting the confrontation. The immediate thought was that details from the US air reconnaissance of the previous day had reached Israel, allowing it to take steps to block our advance”.20 He didn’t venture to describe how Israelis should have reacted? By October 14, Israel had been able to assemble about fifteen brigades (about five divisions) with 60,000 men and between 500 to 600 tanks on Sinai opposing Egyptians.21 If Egyptian high command didn’t know what they were up against, it was their fault. When Egyptians were mauled on October 14, the usual rhetoric was used. The commander of air defense forces, Lt. General Muhammad Ali Fahmi said, “From these events we can deduce that the Egyptian Forces were now facing the United States of America and not Israel on its own”.22 The fact remains that Western Europe refused to deliver supplies to Israel despite contractual obligations.23 It was extremely naive on part of Egyptian leadership to think that while they can summon Soviet pilots to fly combat missions and man their air defenses and expect that US would sit idle and do nothing.
First Army was deployed on west bank of the canal as part of general reserve and was the main defense against any enemy breakthrough towards Cairo. High command had made a grave error by committing elements of two tank divisions - the core of First Army in an offensive across the canal. (General Shazly states that he vehemently opposed this move). Ariel Sharon (he was recalled and was serving as a division commander on Sinai Front) was straining at the leash and was asking the permission for the crossing of canal right from day one. Once Israeli high command knew that Egypt had committed its strategic reserve, they gave permission to Sharon to cross. Sharon and his men did a great job in turning the tables on Egyptians. Egyptians were not fully aware of the strength of Israeli penetration on the west bank nor its implications. On October 16, Soviet Premier Kosygin arrived on a secret visit to Cairo (He stayed for three days).24 Soviets had the correct information from their reconnaissance. Sadat was still not convinced but Soviet photographic evidence along with expert interpretation showed that Israel had about 270 armoured vehicles in the gap. Israelis pushed on the west bank until they were about six miles from Ismailiya. On 19, Sadat sent Shazly to the front to assess the situation. When Sadat visited the Command Headquarters with General Ismail, he found Shazly collapsed. Sadat used the words, ‘nervous wreck’.25 Shazly said that the disaster had struck and that Egypt have to withdraw from Sinai. Sadat immediately relieved Shazli and appointed El Gamasy for fear of panic among the high command (Dismissal was not made public).26 Shazly did not commented about this in his memoirs. By October 20, Israelis had one paratroop and two armoured brigades (about 10,000 men and 300 tanks) on the west bank of the canal. Ismail (C-in-C) and Shazly (COS) were at loggerheads about the issue of withdrawing some troops to the west bank of the canal to strengthen the defenses and counter Israeli penetration. Shazly wanted to withdraw some troops and armour to reinforce the defense on the west in view of the successful Israeli crossing of the canal. Ismail rejected it for the fear that it may cause panic among the troops. Egyptian assault (116th & 25th Infantry Brigade and 21st Division) to close the Israeli breach near Deversoir on October 17 was unsuccessful. Sadat concurred with Ismail and on October 19 said in a high level meeting of military high command that, ‘We will not withdraw a single soldier from the east to the west’.27 Sadat gives a conflicting account of the events in his memoirs. He states that in a high level meeting (attended by Sadat, C-in-C Ismail, Chief of Operations Gamasy, Commander of air defense Fahmi and air force chief Husni Mubarak) on October 19, he and all others were of the opinion that ‘there was nothing to worry about’ and he gave the order that ‘there should be no withdrawal at all (not a soldier, not a rifle, nothing) from the East Bank of the canal to the West’. At the same time, he writes that on the same day with all this bravado, he decided to accept ceasefire.28 Sadat informed Asad on October 19 that he was going to accept ceasefire. The reason he gave was that, ‘I would not confront United States. I would not allow the Egyptian Forces or Egypt’s strategical targets to be destroyed again’.29 After the first cease fire on October 22, Israelis broke it to encircle Third Army (about 20,000 men and 250 tanks. Shazly gives the number of about 45,000 men and 250 tanks and admits that by October 24, the Third Army was completely encircled and cut off).30 As expected, Sadat in his memoirs cried wolf. He stated that, “If the United States hadn’t intervened in the war and fully supported Israel, the situation could have been far different’.31 He is mute about what would have been the outcome if Soviet Union had not given the massive military and diplomatic support to Egypt. After an intense diplomatic activity, threats and counter threats, another ceasefire was implemented on October 24.

Balance Sheet
On Egyptian part the strong points of their operations included successful deception about the initiation of attacks thus taking the initiative. This relatively high degree of tactical surprise owed much to Israeli arrogance and misreadings. Close attention to technical matters especially engineering including bridgehead equipment, use of water hoses attached with pumps to bore through sand embarkements paid dividends in battle. Many officers of Corps of Engineer died including Brigadier Ahmad Hamdi but their sacrifices and courage made the Egyptian breakthrough possible. Good operational planning, successful use of commandos in the enemy’s rear and more importantly the successful use of anti-tank weapons (Egyptians used Sagger, Snapper & RPG-7 against tanks) helped to blunt Israel’s best offensive weapon - tanks. Sharon acknowledged this fact and stated that on October 8 ‘the Egyptians did not simply melt away in front of the Israeli tank attack. On the contrary, the soldiers who faced us that day were the first truly modern infantry - equipped and trained to fight and even hunt tanks with their own organic weapons’.32 Adopting some novel ideas like building dummy bridges to draw Israeli aircrafts into missile killing zones were impressive. One factor which has not been widely known and which had a significant impact on qualitative improvement of Egyptian officer corps was the study of the enemy. Nasser had banned any study of Israeli strategy and methods, indeed an absurd decision. This policy was reversed and officers were encouraged to study the Israeli defense establishment, its doctrines and policies, even to learn and speak Hebrew.
In real terms, the huge human and material resources which Egypt geared for the October war did not produce the desired results. Egypt’s armed forces on the eve of war stood at 1.2 million men. This also meant a top heavy army. GHQ had 20,000 men and 5,000 officers including 40 generals. A top heavy army can be a handicap. It is like an elephant, able to carry a lot of weight but not good for quick movement. In battle, they were able to stop Israeli counter-attacks but were not mobile enough to outmanouver Israelis. In addition, there had been a rapid expansion of Egyptian armed forces from 1971 to 1973 which has its own drawbacks especially the loss of quality. In May 1971, Egypt had 36,000 officers and 764,000 soldiers. By October 1973, there were 66,000 officers and 134,000 soldiers. This meant that in two and a half years, 30,000 officers and 370,000 men had been added.33 Despite that, Egyptian soldiers overall fought good and regained some of the respect from their own people and the world. In the first three days of war after crossing the canal, Egyptians successfully repulsed about twenty three armoured attacks of battalion size or larger. Egyptians also used the combination of air force and air defense to their advantage. Knowing the technical superiority of Israeli air force, they avoided dog fights. Egyptian air crafts would attack Israeli targets and return quickly. The air defense barrier was then switched on. When furious Israeli pilots will come head long for retribution, they were brought down in alarming numbers. In fact on October 6, the unexpected and staggering losses forced Lietenant General David Elazar (I.D.F. Chief of Staff in 1973) to suspend temporarily all aerial operations just after 1600 hours.34 Egyptians showed greater proficiency of using sophisticated air defense systems without Soviet crew.
The rout of 1967 had a deep psychological impact on Egyptian high command and no amount of hardware could erase it completely. Egyptian COS, Shazly was not willing to even consider any other option than to follow his original plan of sticking only to five mile area after the crossing. He thought that even an additional 100 MIG-21s and a brigade of mobile SAM-6s would be insufficient to protect his forces if they dared to leave the safety umbrella of static SAMs.35 When Sadat got rid of Soviet advisors in 1972, the high command was apprehensive about the abilities of their men. Egypt turned to North Korea in 1973 for help which sent 20 pilots and some ancillary staff to fly Egyptian fighter aircrafts.36 Similarly, when on October 24, Israelis effectively encircled Third Army, Sadat panicked and asked Brezhnev to send a special force to help the Third Army. Another example of such panicky decision is rushing of a Morroccan brigade based in Cairo to join Third Army on October 16 when Third Army was in mortal danger of being cut off from rear.37
Highly centralized strong control of operations on ground by high command far behind the front had its negative impact. Egyptians also suffered from inflexibility and were unable to adjust themselves to changing events on ground. The initial operation of crossing the canal was different in nature and a meticulous planning by a handful people and strong central control of all details of crossing was a main contributory factor to its success and prevented any chaos. After the crossing, in attacks and counter attacks, the fluidity of battle demanded more independence of local commanders who could take decisions on spot depending on their assessment of the rapidly changing situation on ground. This aspect was the weakest in Egyptian army. One example will suffice the importance of this aspect. On the critical day of October 16, when Sharon’s forces had crossed over to west bank of canal, immediate Egyptian action could have herald disaster for I.D.F. ‘To coordinate an operation involving both Second and Third Armies, it was necessary to circulate orders bearing signatures from four different staff officers’.38 In addition to many factors, this inflexibility of Egyptian command and control was the single most contributor to Sharon’s success.
Hyperbole and rhetoric, a common trait among most Muslim leaders and nations were also abound in Egypt. In 1972, on the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, Sadat bragged, “When we celebrate the birthday of Mohammad next, not only Sinai but Jerusalem too will be liberated, and the Israelis reduced to the abasement and submissiveness decreed for them”.39 Humility was a rare commodity. Sadat worried about increasing Israeli pressure on Syrian front when decided to address the nation said, “Let’s go to the people and tell them that we are going to fight even alone. I can talk to them as Churchill talked to the British in 1940”.40 Sadat was sadly mistaken as neither he was Churchill nor Egypt was Britain. When Third Army was encircled, and Sadat had to face the bitter reality, he now lamented that, “I cannot fight the United States or accept the responsibility before history for the destruction of our armed forces for a second time”.41 Israeli defenses at Bar-Lev line were exaggerated to inflate the performance of Egyptian forces. Shazly labeled the strong points as ‘forts’ which were a ‘formidable barrier’, although he admits that all these ‘forts’ were manned by only one Israeli brigade.42 On the political front, there was lot of ambiguity about Soviet Union. Despite being heavily dependent on Soviets both for military and diplomatic support, Sadat didn’t informed them of his strategy. This created a lot of misgivings among Soviet leadership which affected overall operation. Haphazard course adopted by Sadat, first having a large number of Soviets in Egyptian army at every level (Soviet Military mission was headed by General Vasilii Okunev), then abruptly asking them to leave, then somersaulting to sign a friendship treaty and so on greatly confused not only the enemies but also allies and Egyptians themselves.
In any politicized army, the negative impact on operations due to personal clashes and most important question of loyalty to the regime is a universal phenomenon and Egypt was no exception. The allocation of most advanced T-62 tanks was partly based on the loyalty of the commander. At least in one case, about 100 T-62 tanks were not given to an armoured division against militarily sound judgment because the loyalty of the commanding Brigadier was suspect.43 This Brigadier was soon sent to a diplomatic exile as defense attache to a European country. Even opinion on professional matters, if it was not in line with the official set line aroused suspicion. In late 1970, Sadat told the eight member Supreme Executive Committee of the Arab Socialist Union that he had signed an agreement of unity with Libya and then asked them to vote. When five out of eight voted against it, Sadat saw it both as a personal insult and a conspiracy. Later, all five were unceremoniously removed from corridors of power.44 Lt. General Abul Qadir Hassan (Deputy Minister of War) and General Abdul Khabir (Commander of Central District) during a high level meeting had expressed their frank opinion about the war operations which upset Sadat. After a heated debate at the Armed Forces Supreme Council in October 1972, Sadat decided to sack all those senior officers who had disagreed with parts of the plan on professional grounds. The list included Sadiq (Minister of War), Hassan (Deputy Minister of War), Abdel Khadir (Commander of Central District), General Mahmud Fahmy (Navy Commander) and General Mehrez (Director of Defense Intelligence Service). He also wanted to fire Abdul Muneem Wasel (Commander of Third Army) but was persuaded not to do so by others. Sadat openly accused his former War Minister Sadiq as agent of Saudi Arabia who was bribed by King Faisal. Sadat accused his other former colleagues (Vice President Ali Sabri, Minister of Interior Sharawi Gomah, Sami Sharif) as Soviet agents.45 Personal loyalties and being on the right side were main consideration for promotion to higher posts rather than professional competence. In 1972, Sadat made Ahmad Ismail Ali Minister of War and Commander-in-Chief. Ismail had an interesting career. In 1967, he was chief of staff in Sinai which was lost to Israel. Few days after the war, he was summarily dismissed from army by Nasser. Ismail had connections with some officers close to Nasser. Few days later he was re-instated. In March 1969, Nasser made him Chief of Staff. In September 1969, in a daredevil operation, Israelis landed in Red Sea district. Egyptian high command had no clue about this operation which lasted whole day. This humiliation and utter incompetence forced Nasser to fire Ismail second time. When Sadat took power, he made Ismail head of National Intelligence Service in May 1971. When he was made C-in-C in 1972, he was suffering from cancer and this fact was known to Sadat (Ismail died in December 1974 from advanced cancer). Such was the method of picking up officers for the highest posts and serious business of war. In November 1972, a coup plot in the armed forces was discovered which resulted in arrest of a large number of officers including General Abdul Khadir and many important officers (The list included a division commander, chief of staff of a division and commander of a Ranger group). The huge army was not only getting ready for the showdown with Israel but was preparing to take out their own leadership. The result was that most of the intelligence was now diverted for internal surveillance of Egyptian rather than Israeli army. The sad testimony to the level of trust is quite evident from the fact that the man who served as COS of Egyptian army in 1973 and was serving as Egypt’s ambassador to London have to acquire a Libyan passport in false name (and one for his wife) as he was worried that his own government (which he was representing in London) may dispatch assasins to eliminate him.46 These were the real reasons for Egyptian failure to achieve its objectives through war and not what Sadat wanted people to believe. As not uncommon among the dictators who can’t see beyond their boots, Sadat also was unable to face the facts and delved into his fantasies. About accepting ceasefire, he stated that, “For the previous ten days I had been fighting - entirely alone - against the Americans with their modern weapons, most of which had not ever been used before’.47 About the presence of Israelis on the West Bank of canal, he boasted that, ‘In December 1973 I was ready to liquidate the Deversoir pocket’. He then dismissed Israeli presence as insignificant and stated, “I didn’t bother about the Israeli pocket because I knew that they were my prisoners on the West Bank and that their presence there meant their death”. All this he was doing because, ‘I didn’t want more than to maintain the real magnitude of my victory on the ground’.48 Truly he was suffering from delusions but alas this is the most common ailment of all dictators.

In November 1973, rewards and punishments were given on the basis of personal inclinations of Sadat rather than the result of any thorough investigation. Ismail was promoted to Field Marshal (a rank very liberally used by Muslim nations). Gamasy became Lieutenant General and Chief of Staff (he later became C-in-C and Minister of Defense). Air Force Chief Husni Mubarak became Vice President. Commander of air defense Fahmi later became Chief of Staff. The commanders of Second (General Abdul Munem Khalil who had replaced Mamun) and Third Armies (Wassel) were fired. Mamun was also later dismissed. After the war, no serious analysis of the operations was carried out. The Israeli breach, a serious setback was never thoroughly investigated. The higher command simply passed the buck to others and absolve themselves of any responsibility. Those who were blamed took the defense of accusing others. Shazli stated that, “instead, to explain away this disaster, the President and his acolytes tried to heap all the blame upon me - and, by swift extension, upon the gallant men whom I had the honour to lead’.49 As happens in a politicized army, even those who are removed for their professional blunders have to be rewarded in other ways to prevent any possibility of a coup. An angry soldier can be a very dangerous one, especially to his own bosses. Shazli served as Egyptian ambassador to London and then Portugal in 1974-75 with a rank of minister. Shazly despite being humiliated by Sadat didn’t had the moral courage to refuse his ambassadorial assignment and went along. He gives the bizarre reason in his memoirs that he accepted the job because Sadat told him that as ambassador to London, he will somehow work to get weapons from Germany.50 Indeed, a very flimsy ground and hard to accept on its face value. Similarly, Khalil and Mamun were offered civilian governorships. Arab leaders had neither the moral courage to hold their military leadership accountable for the mistakes nor the clue on how to reward their soldiers. Some of the actions are so bizarre and mind boggling that one has to wonder about the level of leadership material in these countries but at least this explains why these leaders have become the laughing stock of the world. Sadat fired his COS Shazly for presumably failures in war. At the same time he promoted him to the rank of full general and sent him as ambassador with a rank of minister. Several months later, Shazly was awarded Military Star of Honour supposedly for his good work in war but government didn’t want to announce it. In London, Shazly’s embarrassed Defense Attache presented to him his award and citation which Shazly quietly put in his pocket.

Syrian Front
‘You are selling out Vietnam; you will abandon Taiwan. And we will be here when you grow tired of Israel’. Hafiz al Asad to Henry Kissinger 1973.

Gathering of the Storm
Just like Egyptians, Syrians have been humbled in 1967 losing strategic Golan Heights. Since then, Syria had been busy re-building it’s armed forces for the next round. Soviet Union pumped all types of military gadgets to resurrect Syrian armed forces. By 1972, SAM-2 and SAM-3, state of the art mobile SAMs, several hundred T-34 and about one thousand T-54s and T-55 tanks and many self-propelled guns were delivered to Syria. Syrian air force received about three hundred MIG-17s, MIG-21s, IL-28 bombers and SU-7 fighter bombers.51 In May 1973, Asad visited Moscow for more hardware and received 40 MIG-21s, 40-50 batteries of SAM-3s and SAM-6s, new T-62 tanks and ten missile boats. The Syrian arsenal included three mechanized divisions and two armoured divisions with about 1,300 tanks. There were about 600 artillery pieces. Air Force consisted of 300 combat aircrafts and air defense forces included 400 anti-aircraft guns and 200 batteries of anti-aircraft missiles.52 Syrian Chief of Staff was Major General Yusuf Shakkour. The combat troops consisted of three mechanized infantry divisions, two armoured divisions, seven artillery regiments, a paratroop and a Special Forces brigade.53
As a prelude to war, on September 13, Syrians sent MIGs to intercept Israeli reconnaissance missions. The dog fight which followed ended in downing of thirteen Syrian and one Israeli plane.54 On October 4, Asad told Soviet ambassador, Nuritdin Mukhitdinov that war will start on October 6 and requested that Soviet Union should work towards a ceasefire forty eight hours at the most from the beginning of operations.55 When Sadat asked Syria to confirm this, Asad denied that.56 Israelyan states that in this meeting, Asad frankly discussed his strategy with Soviet ambassador. Asad was of the view that a massive surprise attack executed in a short period of time will wake Israel up to the reality. After this blow, he was of the view that war should stop and second part should be achieved by political means. In his view, the military part should take only one or two days. Asad admitted that Syrian forces were not ready for a protracted campaign. For this reason, he believed that ‘it was of utmost importance for Syria that there be a ceasefire immediately after the initial stage of the war’.57

The Golan plateau is about thirty five miles long and about twenty miles wide. Israelis had built about fifteen strongholds. Syrian objective was to recover Golan and reach the Jordan valley. On October 6 about 100 Syrians fighters fired the opening shots of the war followed by artillery barrages at the Golan Heights. The Syrian offensive was divided in three sectors on Golan. 7th Mechanized Division (led by Brigadier Omar Abrash) in north, 9th Mechanized Division (led by Colonel Hassan Tourkamani) in centre and 5th Mechanized (led by Brigadier Ali Aslan) in south. First Armoured Division (led by Colonel Taufique Jehne) and 3rd Armoured Division (led by Brigadier Mustapha Sharba) were standing in ready reserve. The Syrian initiative and boldness took Israelis by surprise. Syrians commandos landed by helicopter and took the most important stronghold at Mount Chermon (Jabal-el-Shaikh) which had a variety of surveillance equipment. By October 7, I.D.F’s famous ‘Barak Brigade’ was annihilated and among the list of dead included it’s commander Colonel Shoham.58 Syrians made headway in south and threw in their armoured reserve which forced General Raphael Eytan to evacuate his headquarter. Syrians appeared to be on offensive and Israelis on defensive. Israelis were offering a brave resistance and were involved in small scale ambushes to slow Syrian advance while waiting for their reserves to reach the frontline. On the eve of October 7, the fateful decision to halt the Syrian assault was made by the Syrian high command (At the Syrian field HQ at Katana, General Shakkour, Minister of Defense Mustapha Talas and commander of air force Naji Jamil with other senior officers made that decision). Suddenly, first the Syrian forces in the rear and then tanks turned around and retreated. The cause of this turnaround is still not known. Later when General Talas was asked about this decision, he replied, “The time is not yet ready to discuss the reasons for this decision”.59 This allowed Israelis to re-group, bring their reserves and supplies and start the counter attack. The main Israeli thrust was on Kuneitra-Damascus axis. The three headlong armour attacks of Israel against Tel Shams were unsuccessful. Israelis changed their tactics and used 131st Paratroop Brigade which moved in from the rear and took Tel Shams very easily. On October 9, at the battle of Red Ridge, Syrians were severely mauled. By October 8, due to setbacks, Asad got worried and sent his deputy premier to Baghdad for help. Israelis planned to advance about twelve miles, so that Damascus could be in the range of their guns. Syrians defense lines were well organized and well manned. Syria had three defense lines. The first one was few miles behind the armistice line and was to provide protection for advancing armoured divisions. The second line (also called Saasa Line) was 10-12 miles behind the first one with heavy fortifications and artillery revetments. The third line was eight to ten miles from Damascus. The Israeli counter attack and break of first defense line greatly alarmed Syrian high command. The horrible memories of 1967 and the possibility of a total rout was always on the back of their mind, although ground situation was different than 1967. The withdrawal from first defense line was well organized and planned. Two armoured divisions controlled the line and held it sufficiently well for the retreating mechanized divisions to pass through in good order. The armoured divisions covered the retreat and then withdrew to the second defense line. Saasa line was never breached by Israelis throughout the war.60 The sagging morale at the high command and impression that they have lost took away all steam. On October 21, Syrian commandos were ordered to evacuate Mount Hermon (the small special forces contingent of Syria was the most well trained unit and had secured and held Mount Hermon) and Israelis took control without any fight. The reason given is that Syria didn’t want to lose its best elite unit. There is another account of Mount Hermon by Aker who states that just before the ceasefire, this position was taken after a heavy fight in which Israeli losses were substantial. In fact he is of the view that this was one of the most expensive operations of the war.61 There was no shortage of men or equipment but the will to continue to fight had gone and no amount of weaponry could replace it. In fact, by October 22, most of Syrian armour losses had been replaced (about 600 tanks from Soviet Union, seventy from Yugoslavia and 90 from Iraq had arrived).62 In the early part of the battle, Syrians didn’t pay attention to Soviet military advisors. When in Moscow, some one asked question about why the Soviets were not correcting Syrian mistakes, Victor Kulikov (Soviet Chief of General Staff) replied that, “They do not listen to us. They pretend to be their own military strategists”.63 When Israeli counter attack started, only then at the suggestion of Soviet advisors, Syrians decided to abandon vehicles and equipment and withdraw to Saasa Ridge and make a strong defense line there to prevent Israeli breakthrough. When Israeli planes hit Damascus airport, Syrians cried wolf alleging that American pilots with Vietnam experience were flying these missions which of course was not true. The real fear was that if Israelis were able to breakthrough the Saasa line, they will be parked in the outskirts of Damascus which may result in the total military and political collapse.

Balance Sheet
The initial Syrian success was due to overwhelming numerical and equipment superiority of the Syrians on the front. They had taken the initiative and if they had continued the thrust for a day or two, they may have achieved the breakthrough forcing an Israeli retreat. The major plus point was their ability to fight at night. By evening of 7, Israelis were sending all supplies to the Golan front and a reserve division (led by Major General Moshe Peled) intended to be used in canal zone was diverted to northern sector. After a visit to the front on 7, Dayan recommended to the Prime Minister that I.D.F. should be withdrawn from the plateau and a strong defense line be formed at the Jordan River itself.64 Once Israelis recovered from the shock, they went on offensive resulting in panic in Syria. The major drawback of Syrian offensive was that like Israelis they heavily depended on armour. The Golan plateau was not an ideal ground for a large tank assault. In leading assaults, Syria used over 500 tanks. Despite these negative points, the heavy weight of Syrian armour had achieved the breakthrough but Syrian infantry was a dismal failure. In fact, many a times, it was in open mutiny not willing to move. A Syrian infantry brigade when ordered to move forward, refused to move. A Druz infantry formation (led by Lt. Colonel Omah Abu Shalash) and a Moroccan infantry brigade (about 1,800 strong) also refused to move forward.65 Inflexibility of the command and running operations from a highly centralized high command far behind the front resulted in a kind of predictability of the Syrians and Israelis took full advantage of that. Despite successful ambushes by Israeli tanks, Syrians didn’t change their strategy. They stayed on roads and attempted to constantly move westward in a set pattern. This allowed Israeli combat teams to move in and out of Syrian formations at times and places that were most advantageous to them.66
Some decisions about operations were made without thought of the consequences. Risk and benefit analysis of the use of a given weapon was not done. On October 7, Syria launched sixteen Frog-7 missiles (Russian surface to surface missiles with the range of 37 miles) hitting a large Kibbutz with significant damage but no casualties. The act had no military value but gave Israel excuse to retaliate. Israeli jets came over Damascus hitting buildings of Air Force and Ministry of Defense. A residential street in diplomatic enclave was also hit resulting in civilian casualties. This just showed the Syrian vulnerability to Israeli Air Force and affected the morale.

When ceasefire occurred, Syria had lost about 300 square miles of area to Israelis.
Asad executed a senior Druz Brigadier General during the war. Brigadier Omah Abrash, GOC of 7th Infantry Division, who had entered the battle with 230 tanks returned with only four tanks. He later committed suicide. As expected in a highly politicized army, there was no serious investigation of the Syrian war operations. Asad kept ruling the country with iron hand for decades thus there was no hope for meaningful study of the war. Who was to say that ‘Emperor is naked’?

Yom Kippur War
There is so much evidence of the Arab military preparations that only a stone-blind person could miss it. Vasilii Kuznetsov, Soviet Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1973.

Gathering of the Storm
‘The Israeli high command had been aware for a long time that in any war it had to force a decision before the powers could intervene and prevent a military decision, imposing a ceasefire. This was, in fact, one of the basic tenets in Israeli strategic thinking’.67 This thinking was complicated by the fact that Israel had to fight at more than one front. This meant that Israel had to take the initiative to prevent any gains for the enemy. Israel had no ‘strategic depth’, hence no room for tactical withdrawal. The action plan which evolved from these considerations meant that right from the first shots are fired, Israel had to take the battle into the enemy’s territory. ‘An enemy attack resulting in penetration into Israel, its containment on Israeli soil, and a subsequent counterattack were contrary to the spirit of this doctrine’.68 The success of 1967 resulted in firm belief in this concept with no periodic evaluation as time passed. In addition, in the years 1970-73, the main attacks on Israeli interests especially civilian ones were from extremist Palestinian groups. Israeli high command saw the major danger of these attacks on civilians and was planning to counter it. The military threat from any Arab nation was considered a low possibility.
Israeli military strategy which was essentially ‘Tankomania’ ran supreme. After the 1967 war and acquisition of new territories, there have been a debate in I.D.F. about the defense strategy. One school led by General Yisrael Tal (he was incharge of development of Israeli tank) and General Ariel Sharon (tested battle commander who was now in charge of training and doctrine) promoted ‘mailed fists’ strategy. They argued that the forward area should be held lightly by patrols with no heavy static defense establishment. The tanks should be concentrated in the rear out of Egyptian artillery range and used for a massive counteroffensive. The other school, led by Chief of Staff Chayim Bar Lev agreed with armoured reserves but argued for a system of permanent strongholds constructed along the water line of canal.69 For political and military reasons, the later school won. Total of thirty one strongholds called Meozim were built along the canal. Each stronghold had nearby earthen ramps to cover tanks and provided cover for 15 to 60 soldiers. In 1971 when David Elazar replaced Bar Lev as Chief of Staff, the defense strategy debate was re-started. In a compromise, about half of meozims were closed. A second line of defense about ten miles in rear called taozim were constructed and connected by roads. A mobile armoured division of three brigades was for main offensive. The Israeli plan of repelling any invasion (code named ‘Dovecoat’) was based mainly on the assumption that there will be a forty-eight hour warning for any Arab attack. This was the time essential for grouping of the forces in rear to take up forward positions.70 On October 6, 1973, the Bar Lev line was manned by about 600 men from a reserve Brigade from Jerusalem (116th Infantry Brigade). Total of about 8,000 men, 300 tanks and 70 self propelled guns were in Sinai peninsula which could be rushed forward in 30 minutes to two hours.71 Israeli defense line in Sinai was in three layers. The first was the fortifications on canal, the principal function of which was to channel any major incursion into desirable areas for I.D.F. counter attacks. The second line was few miles behind. The main function was to pin down the incursion with artillery fire while armoured units will maneuver for flanking attacks. The third line near the passes had battalion sized fortresses.

On the eve of October 6 1973, Israel had about 1,750 tanks, 1,000 APCs, 175mm, 155mm and 120 mm guns and howitzers. I.D.F. chief of staff was Lt. General David Elazar. Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Operations was Major General Israel Tal. The General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Northern Command was General Yitzhak Choffi and GOC of Southern Command was Major General Shmuel Gonen. Major General Avraham Adan commanded armoured corps. On the Golan Front, on the eve of war, Israel had about 200 tanks divided between two brigades (Barak Brigade commanded by Colonel Benyamin Shoham and 7th Armoured Brigade commanded by Major General Raphael Eytan).72 On Bar Lev line there were about 300 tanks.
There was no shortage of information about Arab military build up prior to war. All early warnings of an impending attack were dismissed by Israeli high command. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Director of Intelligence Major General Eliahu Zeira were convinced that Arabs would never dare to attack Israel and brushed aside many obvious signs of military build up. On October 3, the cabinet meeting discussed the Arab military build up but the general consensus was that there was no imminent danger of an Egyptian attack and Syrians would not attack alone. An emergency meeting on October 5 didn’t change the previous assessment. In view of the coming weekend holiday, the cabinet gave Prime Minister and defense minister authority to call full-scale mobilization. On October 6, between 06:00 and 08:00 am, there was a flurry of activity at the highest level in Israel as by now everybody had sensed the coming of the earthquake. Elazar in his meeting with Prime Minister Golda Meir and Dayan recommended full mobilization and a pre-emptive strike but he was over-ruled.
The successful canal crossing by Egyptians threw Israelis off balance. There was total confusion and shock on the canal front. In a meeting held on October 6 at 10:00 pm, Dayan advocated withdrawing to a second line about twelve miles from canal. He gave three reasons for his conclusion. First, the large size of Egyptian and Syrian forces, in addition, they were not the armies he had known in 1967; second, strong Egyptian air defense system near canal which was preventing full use of Israeli air force and third, the time needed by Israeli reservists to reach the fronts. Israeli cabinet rejected this proposal and ordered army to drive the enemy back across the canal. On October 7, Dayan visited the canal front again and when he came back, he again recommended pulling back to the second line of defense. Elazar disagreed with him and flew to the frontlines to assess the situation himself. He was accompanied by former army chief Yitzhak Rabin. There was 100 miles of desert between Israeli border and canal. I.D.F. could easily allowed Egyptians to advance until they were out of the range of their anti-aircraft missile range but this was not considered. The cabinet approved the counter attack to be launched on October 8.
24 hours after the attack, Israel had lost more than 150 tanks. All strongholds along the canal had either fallen or surrounded by Egyptians. The Israeli counter attack started on October 8. The two main objectives were to destroy bridgeheads and neutralize Egyptian Air Defense System.
El-Gamasy falling pray to usual conspiracy theory mind of Arab states that it was an American Plan.73 He doesn’t give any argument of what Israel should have done in the face of the attack? This was the obvious choice for Israelis, which should be clear to even a person on the street with no military knowledge. If El-Gamasy expected that Israelis will simply run away (just like his fellows had done in 1956 and 1967) then he was totally off the mark. In Sinai, two armoured divisions were now in position. In the northern axis in the direction of al-Qantara, General Avraham Adan’s division was positioned while in the central axis towards Ismailiya, General Ariel Sharon headed the division. The counter-attack was carried piecemeal due to lack of reservists, therefore, it didn’t achieve its objectives. In addition, Israeli tanks charged head long in their usual brash manner thus falling prey to Egyptian tank hunting teams. Egyptians annihilated the first two battalions, which attacked. This was the first time that I.D.F. high command had the reality check and were convinced that victory this time will not be that easy. Israeli soldiers were surprised at the tenacity of Egyptian soldiers. This was in total contrast to their previous experiences with Arab soldiers. The surprise was natural as ‘the commanding idea seemed to be that the business of the Israeli tanks was to charge and the business of the Arab infantry was to run away in horror’.74 Instead, Egyptian soldiers had put their foot hard and were nailing down Israeli tanks. The October 9 attack of I.D.F. was also repulsed with significant losses. On October 10, Elazar sent Bar Lev (former I.D.F. Chief of Staff who was recalled during the war) to take charge of southern front from Gonen.75
Sharon was the lonely voice for crossing the canal and unbalance the Egyptians who were on offensive. The more cautious high command rejected that. In addition, in the early phase, the priority was Golan Front. When Egyptian attack was blunted and Israelis regained their balance, on 12th, a general decision was reached that if coming counter attack of Egyptians is blunted then crossing can be undertaken. The October 14 attack of Egyptian armour was effectively blunted resulting in loss of more than 250 Egyptian tanks in a single day. The final go ahead was given on October 15. The plan was the brainchild of Sharon and named Operation Gazelle (Sharon has planned this operation when he was commander of the Southern Command). Sharon had three brigades (his three brigade commanders were - Amnon Reshef, Haim Erez and Tuvia Raviv) of his own division and a paratroop brigade (led by Colonel Danny Matt). In the early phases, 2,000 men and thirty tanks crossed over to the western bank of the canal in Deversoir area. The most important task, which this crossing accomplished, was knocking out the SAM radars thus putting them out of action. Egyptians had to move some SAMs to alternative position and even withdraw some to prevent the capture. This made a hole in the sky in Egyptian air defense barrier thus allowing Israeli air force to come into action. Israeli plan was to split this force, one going north towards Ismaiylia and other south towards Suez and fold Egyptian defenses on the western bank and cut off Egyptian forces on East Side. Sharon had captured the three most important cross-roads - Ahmad Osman crossroad at the back of Fayid and two 101 km cross roads west of Suez.76 Napoleon had said long time ago that ‘he who controls the cross-roads of the battlefield will be master of the ground’. Sharon split his small force, which has crossed into raiding parties and turned them loose. They attacked SAM sites, convoys and fuel dumps.77 Sharon took full advantage of his surprise before Egyptians could launch their counter attack. Later, Adan and Magan’s forces crossed to the west bank of canal. Israelis failed to cut off Isamiliya-Cairo road (Sharon’s forces) while Adan and Magan’s forces were successful in south blocking the Suez-Cairo road. After the first ceasefire, Israelis broke it to completely encircle Third Army to gain an upper hand at negotiations. On October 23, Sharon’s troops showed up at the surprised Egyptian naval base of Adabiyah and occupied it. Israelis achieved effective encirclement and blocked Cairo-Suez road by October 24. It was only after strong pressure from US that Israeli breach of ceasefire was stopped.
On Syrian front, Israelis were mauled in the first three days. The arrival of reservists from Major General Moshe Peled’s division (Peled’s division was facing Jordanians. Once Israel was sure that King Hussain will not repeat his 1967 blunder, they moved some of these forces to Syrian front) stabilized the situation. Also the reserve division headed by Major General Dan Lanner had advanced in the centre of the Golan.78 Dayan advocated withdrawal from Golan but Meir sent Bar Lev to assess the situation. Bar Lev met commanders, officers and men and infused confidence. He came back on October 7 and gave his report to Meir. He was of the view that ratio of forces was dangerous but not hopeless and suggested a counter attack which should start next day.79 The urgency of counter attack was due to the fact that Israelis wanted to hit back before Syria could replace its losses from Soviets. Second, Israelis were in no position in view of a two front war for a prolonged conflict tying up its forces on one field. They wanted to knock Syria out of contest by threatening Damascus so that they can concentrate on Sinai front. In Dayan’s words, “We have to teach the Syrians that the same road that leads from Damascus to Tel Aviv also leads from Tel Aviv to Damascus”.80 I.D.F. successfully rolled back the initial advance of Syrian armour. However, it was unable to breach the second defense line at Saasa which was firmly held by Syrians till the end of hostilities. I.D.F’s main disadvantage was that it was fighting a two front war and could not put all its weight on one front without seriously jeopardizing the other.

Balance Sheet
Overall, Israeli soldiers and officers fought bravely and showed their ability to maneuver according to changing battle situation. Some at the Bar Lev line fought to death when completely surrounded by Egyptians. Similarly, when on October 17 Egyptians found about the Israeli bridge on the canal, they shifted a huge amount of firepower to the area. Artillery of both Second and Third Army, mortars, katushyas, air attacks and helicopters dropping barrels of napalm converted the area into a hell hole but Israelis stubbornly and bravely stuck to their positions. Senior officers stayed close to the men. Sharon crossed over to the western bank with the first wave of his troops. Within twenty-four hours of crossing, Dayan flew by helicopter and visited troops there. Brigadier Amnon commanded a small section of his tanks from the front in a dare devil rescue operation and brought back thirty three soldiers from a strong point engulfed by Egyptian forces. General Albert Mandler was killed when his mobile command APC was hit directly by Egyptian artillery shell very close to his fighting men. On October 24, when two I.D.F. parachute units were isolated and trapped in Suez city, General Gonen established himself outside the city and guided the survivors out of the city.81 The presence of some commanders near the front lines helped Israelis tremendously not only for reasons of morale of the troops but due to the nature of the battle, saw changes themselves and acted immediately. The engagement of large number of troops and armour, enormous fire power, swiftness of changes on
battlefield meant that the usual methods of transmitting these changes to commanders far in rear to devise a plan meant delaying of action. The commanders on the spot saw the changes firsthand and responded quickly and effectively. ‘Mobile warfare demands a level of initiative among junior officers, a level of confidence in senior ones, and the willingness of both to communicate’.82 In this aspect, I.D.F. was much superior to it’s foes. The independence of local commanders paid dividends. On Syrian front, despite heavy odds, Eytan and Colonel Janos Avigdor used their maneuverability against a large number of Syrian armour and performed a good task for the holding action until reserves were consolidated for a counter attack. They fought a kind of guerrilla war but with tanks full with ambushes, flanking hit and run and enticing Syrians into traps. This strategy was unplanned and was an ‘on-spot improvisation’ by local commanders.83 On October 15, when Egyptian were pulling back their armour after the failed offensive of the previous day, Israelis were able to make great use of a company of captured T-62 tanks with Egyptian markings. These tanks driven by Israelis mixed with the retreating Egyptian columns and were waved across the bridge by Egyptian Military Police to the west of the canal . This Israeli company immediately established a defensive perimeter. Egyptians realizing their error, rather than eliminating the company, blew up the bridge to prevent reinforcements.84 On battleground, I.D.F. was much more efficient than the Arabs. The maintenance units of I.D.F. had a significant role in the success of Israeli counterattacks keeping in mind the numerical superiority of the Arabs. ‘Of Israel’s total of 900 tank losses, over one-third had been returned to service before the ceasefire’.85 Same was true for Israeli Air Force. In addition, Israelis were very quick to integrate and effectively use new weapons. Many captured vehicles and tanks (all were Soviet made) were integrated into I.D.F. service within few days. Israel had earlier rejected American TOW anti-tank missiles (I.D.F.s philosophy was that ideal anti-tank weapon is only another tank). During the war, a large number of TOWs were airlifted urgently and were effectively used by Israelis despite being not familiar with the weapon.
The dare devil operation of Sharon crossing the canal in Deversoir region was the most astonishing feat. It was truly the ‘single, spectacular tactical coup of the war’.86 On October 9, his reconnaissance battalion found a gap between 2nd and 3rd Armies. Sharon asked Tal (Elazar’s deputy) for permission to cross but he was told to wait. He was allowed to cross on October 14 which he did brilliantly. Sharon accomplished it with his own three brigades and a paratroop brigade.
The single most important factor which was responsible for laxed attitude of Israeli high command was psychological. In a high level meeting held on October 4 and 5, David Elazar was ambiguous. The Chief of Intelligence played down all signs of military build up along Israeli frontiers. There was increased level of preparation but clear cut decision was lacking. At 04:30 on October 6, Israeli intelligence informed Golda Meir’s military secretary, Yisrael Lior that Egypt and Syria will attack this evening. At 08:00, in a high level meeting (Attended by Meir, Elazar, Dayan, Allon and Galili), Elazar advocated for full mobilization and suggested pre-emptive strike by air force. Meir agreed to mobilization of four divisions but rejected the Elazar’s demand of pre-emptive strike against Arab airfields and antiaircraft defenses.87 The sense of superiority and despise of Arabs due to the 1967 victory was a single most important factor for Israeli attitude. The Egyptian infantry was ridiculed as ‘chiri biri’ (rotten infantry). Some have said that in case of an Egyptian attack, Israelis will ‘wave’ them across the canal. General Ariel Sharon had bragged that, ‘Israel is now a military superpower...... We can conquer in one week the area from Khartoum to Baghdad and Algiers’.88 Sharon later admitted that October 8 was a ‘black day’ for IDF and a major contributing factor was ‘an attitude of overconfidence that since the Six Day War had hardened into arrogance’.89 Moshe Dayan would often talk humorously about his ‘Bird Theory’. Dayan was of the view that Arab armies come in like a large flock of birds but at the first shot they disperse in minutes.
The Israeli higher command had too many talented generals. Many senior officers were recalled and put in command of troops. There were many personality clashes which impacted on the operations. Elazar was concerned about many of his ‘wild’ subordinates (especially Gonen and Sharon) and he forbade a canal crossing without his prior permission. This affected the operations on the field. Ordered not to cross without permission, commanders like Gonen, Adan, Colonel Natan Nir (commander of Adan’s leading brigade) stayed in the rear so they can stay in contact with superiors.90 On the canal front, Gonen had problems with his two subordinates, Sharon and Adan. ‘Sharon presented an extreme example of a recalled retired officer who had nothing to lose by disagreeing with the high command, and he never missed an opportunity to do so’.91 At many times, Sharon disobeyed his orders. On October 9, Sharon attacked opposite to Ismailiya without orders. Gonen flew by helicopter to Sharon’s HQ and asked him to stop the attack. When Gonen left, Sharon continued with his offensive. When Gonen found that he sent a request to Elazar to remove Sharon.92 Elazar sent Bar Lev as overall commander of the Southern Zone. Sharon recalled his differences with other senior officers and compared it to ‘Spanish Republic’ where infighting and backstabbing resulted in its destruction.93 These clashes at higher command level clearly affected operations on the ground.
Israeli main strategy was based on tank warfare. Israelis failed to recognize the changing scenario where effective guided anti-tank weapons used by infantry can significantly damage the armour. Israelis paid a heavy price in men and tanks for this costly oversight. Sharon (a paratrooper) later admitted that, “the Army had ceased to be brilliant and had substituted for military thought, initiative, and intelligence, a blind belief in the qualities of steel”.94 In the early part of the battle on Sinai front, against their own doctrine of ‘armoured fists’, Israelis used their armour piecemeal rather than in a large force resulting in gradual destruction of their main offensive weapon. These ‘uncoordinated and piecemeal Israeli counterattacks, especially in the Sinai, were indicative of poor planning and excessive confidence in I.D.F. proficiency’.95

Israeli President was right when during the war, he told Israeli military command in the Operations Room, “You will have to pay the price of your arrogance and I do not know how you will face the people of Israel after what has happened”. Immediately after the war, there was an outcry in Israel for investigation of the operations. The reason was not that Israel had lost any territory but the issue was un preparedness of I.D.F. and high casualties. After criticizing the conduct of war, minister of Justice, Yacov Shapiro resigned. In November 1973, Gonen requested Chief of Staff to appoint an officer for court martial of Sharon. He resubmitted his request few days later. Two days Dayan removed Gonen. On November 18, Israeli government appointed a judicial commission (it was a five-man commission headed by president of Israeli Supreme Court, Shimon Agranat). The commission issued its first interim report on April 2, 1974 blaming Elazar and Zeira for mistakes and misjudgment. It also recommended suspension of General Gonen. In July, the commission issued its second report (only part of it was made public). This report recommended dismissal of Elazar. General Hofi became COS. General Tal resigned. Sharon’s reserve appointment of command of a division was changed to a non-combatant one. There were demonstrations against Dayan which finally resulted in the fall of Golda Meir government in June 1974. In the final analysis, it is not the Israel’s military strength but its inherent more stable political structure which may look chaotic outwardly which makes it a much stronger country in the middle east. The contrast is quite obvious. Israel didn’t loose. It just suffered higher casualties and the nation asked for the accountability of its high command as a result of which the army chief had to go (although his personal fault may be less). In contrast, despite numerical and material superiority and initial success, the Arab high command was never brought to accountability. Instead they saw some more Field Marshals appearing on national scene.
International Scene
Cold War between United States and Soviet Union was at its peak in 1960s and 70s. 1972 was the year of detente between two super powers. In May the two powers signed SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks). While both powers were willing to support their allies in Middle East to maintain a balance, they were not going to actively support a new war in the region which could spin out of control. The increasing military activity in the region alerted both powers. US launched a satellite on September 27 while Soviets launched their reconnaissance satellite on October 3 for the area surveillance. The 1967 rout of Arabs, supported by Soviets and victory of Israel supported by US had hurt Soviet international position. Support of a superpower is one thing but inviting them to defend one’s country is an altogether different matter. In January 1970, Nasser made a secret trip to Moscow and requested them to take the responsibility of the air defense of Egypt. The background of this request rests on the utter incompetence of Egyptians to defend themselves against Israeli raids despite getting state of the art equipment. Few examples will be suffice to show Egyptian vulnerability. Israeli paratroopers destroyed Nag Hamadi power station in Upper Egypt. In July 1969, Israeli air force destroyed the air defenses in northern sector, creating a breach between Ismailia and Port Said. In September 1969, a sea-borne force landed near port of Zafarana and in an operation lasting whole day destroyed all defense installations. The most humiliating show was when in December 1969, Israelis landed on the Red Sea coast, raided a radar station, dismantled the equipment and carried it off to Israel in a helicopter. These events showed the helplessness of Egyptians in preventing Israeli raids deep into their territory.
Soviets re-armed Egypt with all kinds of weapons. As a general rule, every party tries to portray itself as underdog and enemy as all strong and omnipotent, so that any success in battlefield can exaggerated to boost the morale. No one can proudly brag about beating up a weak fellow. El-Gamasy in his memoirs tried to play down the soviet help stating that Soviet Union was ‘providing the kind of military support to Egypt and Syria which precluded any advantage over Israel’.96 From 1967 to 1973, Egypt received state of the art equipment from Soviets. It included SMALTA and TAKAN electronic jamming devices. In addition, a large number of military advisors also arrived. By 1970, Soviets were manning antiaircraft batteries and were flying not only reconnaissance but also combat missions. El Shazly gives the specific details of Soviet involvement. In February-March 1970, 80 MIG-21 fighters, four MIG-25 high-altitude reconnaissance aircrafts, 27 battalions of surface to air missiles batteries and electronic equipment and crew to man all this equipment had arrived in Egypt. The total Soviet force consisted of two air force brigades and an air defense division. Soviets were flying about 30 percent of MIG-21s, an electronic reconnaissance and jamming squadron and operating 20 percent of SAMs.97 International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) estimated that in 1971, Egypt received 100 MIG-21s, 25 SU-7s, 55MIG-17s and MIG-15s, 70 Mi-8 helicopters and unspecified numbers of SAM-2s and SAM-3s.98
El Shazly has summarized the role of Soviet weaponry in these words, “ Thanks to the Soviet Union, whatever else the Arabs may lack, it is not weaponry”.99 Despite all this Sadiq was still complaining about not getting enough. In January 1972, addressing several thousand officers, he stated that Soviets were not giving them required weapons and were deliberately blocking Egypt’s offensive. Such measures irritated Soviets. Sadat later adopted the same line of denouncing the Soviets for not giving enough. Years after the war, Sadat, after dumping Soviets and befriending US tried to re-write the history. The massive Soviet air and naval bridge which brought several thousand tons of military supplies to Egypt during war, Sadat considered it as ‘overdue equipment’ which should have been delivered before the war. In Sadat’s expert opinion, the equipment which Soviets supplied was not ‘up to date’.100
Israel and US has a long standing understanding about many issues affecting the region but the relationship is a bit complex. Contrary to popular belief and myths in Arab world, US role in 1973 was not blatantly biased towards Israel especially in the early phase (Military supplies to Israel were an undeniable fact and if this was taken in account by Arab military planners, this was their oversight). On the morning of October 6, Israelis were pretty sure about the imminent attack and General Elazar had recommended a pre-emptive strike. At 10:00 am, US ambassador Kenneth Keating met with Prime Minister Meir and warned her against a pre-emptive strike against Arabs. He pointedly told her that if such a course of action was taken by Israel, it will be very difficult for US to send military aid.101 On the basis of this US threat to Israelis to not to open fire, Kissinger called Anatolii Dobrynin (Soviet ambassador in Washington) and told him to urgently inform Soviet leadership that war is imminent and on behalf of Israeli leadership, Kissinger assured Moscow that Israel would not strike first against the Arabs but that Israel’s response would be very strong if attacked.102 The urgency of the message is evident from the fact that Dobrynin used White House telephone system to send it to Moscow. In the early phase of war US response was very cautious. US refrained from accusing Arabs of provoking the war. Israeli request of military supplies on October 7 was rejected by Kissinger. When Britain stopped arms supplies to Middle East, it only affected Israel as it had Centurion tanks. Arab countries had no British military hardware (with the exception of Jordan).
Sadat in justification of his acceptance of ceasefire cites three evidences of US involvement. First, he gives the bizarre argument that US military supplies were landing at Al-Arish, which he calls an Egyptian city. Al-Arish was the capital city of Sinai and occupied by Israelis. Second reason he gives that ‘every time I destroyed a dozen tanks, more tanks were to be seen in the battlefield. The United States was taking part in the war to save Israel’. The Third reason he gives is that two American rockets were fired at two Egyptian missile batteries and put them out of action completely’.103 US would supply Israel with all necessary military supplies as it would not let its ally defeated by Soviet arms by Soviet allies. US had already been humbled in Vietnam and there was no way that they would let Israel squarely defeated by Arabs (although that possibility was very low). Sadat’s second argument of huge supplies to Israel has to be balanced by the Soviet supply of lost equipment to Egypt and Syria which also helped them to continue the war that long. The fact is that both powers supplied their proxies well, who supplied more will always be debated. Sadat is not clear about what he meant by destruction of his missile batteries by American rockets. Does he mean American pilots fired or an American weapon was used. Everybody knows that main weapons of I.D.F. were US made. To date there has been no evidence that US forces in any way participated directly in combat. The fact is that Egyptian SAM radars were knocked out by I.D.F. forces which have crossed the canal and were operating behind the Egyptian lines.
Soviet leadership became aware of the date and time of attack on October 4. Sadat suggests that Asad informed Soviets about date but Israelyan states that it was from the inner circle of Arab leadership and not through government channels that Soviets came to know about the plan.104 Despite heavy military and political dependence on Soviets and obligation under the friendship treaty of 1971, Egypt didn’t inform Soviets about the start of a war. It was the Soviet Union which started a heavy airlift of military equipment to its allies during the war (Soviet airplanes started to arrive on October 9 and within three days about three thousand tons of Soviet war material had arrived in Syria and Egypt.). Soviets made this decision after reviewing the reconnaissance photos which had showed heavy material losses. Soviet aircraft (Anatov-12 & 22) were given permission by Yugoslavia and Turkey and brought hardware from Warsaw Pact stockpiles in Kiev and Budapest.105 In addition, Soviet ships from Odessa started delivering heavy equipment. The Arabs didn’t have the far sightedness to see the consequences of this. In addition, Sadat admits that President Tito of Yugoslavia sent 140 tanks with fuel and ammunition and delivered them directly to the battlefield.106 Despite the reports of Soviet supplies, US played down this factor in the beginning. A Pentagon spokesperson stated that, ‘The Arabs have gotten some of their honour back, and we don’t want the Israelis to take it away. It’s time to settle’.107 The opinions at different branches of US government were different. The State Department, a small faction at Pentagon and some legislatures (Senator Fulbright and Senate Majority leader, Mansfield) were of the view that if a stand off occurs in Sinai with no clear winner, there will be room for diplomatic maneuvering as no victor was going to relinquish its gains thus making any negotiations very difficult. This approach didn’t mean that US would allow Israel to be defeated decisively (the chances of which were almost nil) by Arabs supported by Soviet arms. Since October 10, limited supplies to Israel had started (an Israeli 707 loading at Oceana Naval Air Station was photographed).108 On October 13, the films of US reconnaissance of the Sinai were reviewed. The analysts were of the view that Egyptians were about to pour many hundreds of tanks into the battle which may be the decisive factor. The decision of Nixon to start supplying Israelis on large scale was based on increasing Soviet supplies to Arabs, refusal of Soviets to coordinate with US to bring a ceasefire and report of this reconnaissance. The first US supplies arrived at Lod airport on October 14. By October 17, twenty Phantoms had arrived in Israel followed by an air bridge which brought a large amount of military supplies (it included laser-guided smart bombs, cluster bombs, A-4E Skyhawk fighters, CH-53 helicopters, tanks, TOW anti tank missiles and ammunition) to Israel. None of the NATO allies allowed facilities for this airlift which caused friction of their relations with US. The downed Israeli aircrafts were quickly replaced, some even taken from the US active air force units (F-4s from Air Force Base in North Carolina and Sixth Fleet in Mediterranean and Skyhawk A-4s from Navy Fighter Weapons School at Miramar, California).109 as US was fully aware of the importance of air operations. US supplies continued to arrive till November 14.
The diplomatic activity started to defuse the tensions and find a middle ground where all parties would have some face saving. ‘Both great powers saw a military stalemate as the most realistic approach to a durable political settlement’.110 Despite this underlying understanding, various actions of one power were evaluated by the other and appropriate counter measures instituted to keep balance. When Soviets started large-scale supplies to it’s allies, US got concerned about the outcome on the ground. Soviet reason for the supplies was to make sure that Egyptians hold on to their gains on the east of canal. Similarly, when Syrians were mauled and Israel began shifting the centre of gravity to Sinai and later encirclement of Third Army made Soviets apprehensive and they read it as no change in US position of guaranteeing Israeli military superiority rather than favouring a military stalemate.111
The issue of ceasefire is also not a straightforward pre-determined decision but there was a lot of maneuvering by both super-powers depending on how the operations on the battlefield were going on. At the outbreak of war on October 6, Moscow instructed its representative at United Nations (Yakov Malik) to veto any ceasefire resolution if asked by Egypt and Syria. In case of difference between the two countries (Egypt & Syria), he should act in accordance with the position of Egypt.112 In the early phase of war, when Arabs were on the offensive, the surprised Soviets decided to wait and see, rather than push for early ceasefire. On October 7, Asad met Soviet ambassador and told him that the situation at Israeli-Syrian front was critical and asked for a ceasefire. Asad admitted that Syrian offensive has come to a halt and now he expected the much-dreaded Israeli counter attack. On October 11, due to deteriorating situation on Syrian front, Moscow wanted some concrete steps towards a possible ceasefire. Dobrynin talked to Kissinger several times but US didn’t show any great interest at that time as Israel had recovered from the initial shock. Kosygin visited Cairo on October 16. Brezhnev urgently requested that Kissinger be sent to Moscow to negotiate the terms for a ceasefire and sent a letter to Nixon on October 16. By October 21, Sadat was now aware of the real and present danger to Egyptian forces. Sadat met with Vinogradov along with his National Security Advisor, Hafiz Ismail. Ismail acknowledged a serious threat to Cairo in view of Israeli breakthrough through the canal. Sadat pleaded to ‘make use of all Soviet contacts with Washington and New York to bring about a ceasefire in the Middle East’.113 Kissinger flew to Moscow on October 21. After the first ceasefire on October 22, Israel broke it to complete the encirclement of Third Army. By October 24, the attempt by Third Army to breakthrough had failed and Israel had cut off all supply routes to this army. Soviets saw it as unwillingness or inability of US to restrain Israel which could alter military balance on ground. Soviets alerted their airborne divisions and diverted transport aircraft to the staging bases of seven airborne divisions. This in view of already heavy naval presence of both super powers in the Mediterranean raised the tensions. Brezhnev sent a letter to Nixon on October 25 morning. One sentence in the letter would result in sudden rise in temperature between the two powers. It stated, “I will say it straight that if you find it impossible to act jointly with us in this matter, we should be faced with the necessity of urgently to consider taking appropriate steps unilaterally. We cannot allow arbitrariness on the part of Israel”.114 Soviet leadership probably didn’t expected a strong US response. US was in a difficult position. It has to take bold action against both Soviet Union (to show that US will not be intimidated by the threat of force) and Israel (to force it to accept and observe ceasefire to prevent escalation of tensions between super powers). On Israeli front, US slowed the airlift and told Israeli leadership in low tones that US had to reconsider the entire issue of arms deliveries. In Security Council, US voted for a resolution calling for a restitution of the October 22 ceasefire line. After a blunt rebuke from US, Israeli cabinet met in an extraordinary session on October 25, and Israeli military activity stopped immediately. On the Soviet front, Nixon called a phase three alert (Defense Condition 3 known as DefCon-3 or Red Alert) of all American armed forces on October 25.115 Another account suggests that National Security Council took this decision at 11:30 p.m. in a meeting in which neither the President nor Vice President was present.116 On October 26, Dobrynin met Kissinger and conveyed Soviet concerns about the fate of Third Army. Kissinger was fully aware of the risks and US put pressure on Israelis to open supplies to Third Army. Henry Kissinger in his usual diplomatic maneuvers walked a tight rope. To Egyptians he told that a renewed war would mean destruction of Third Army and Egypt may loose all war gains. To Israelis, he stressed the point that destruction of Third Army would gain nothing for them but result in their total international isolation and oil pressure would turn the whole world against them.117 In fact, when Israelis hesitated, US threatened to supply Third Army by helicopters if Israelis didn’t agree. (This was disclosed by Moshe Dayan in December 1974)

Arab World
As expected, there was no meaningful cooperation or general consensus about the overall strategy among Arab nations. The fault lines between various countries were too deep to be patched by the anti-Israel rhetoric. Many countries gave support to Egypt and Syria but most of it was lofty, rhetorical statements. The military help was too little, too confused and too late to have any impact on the events on ground. It was mainly for political and domestic consumption.118 Saudi Arabia promised two squadrons of Lightnings but didn’t want to send their pilots. No body thought of the complexity and utter stupidity of these decisions. Egypt had plenty of aircrafts, they were short of pilots. At a time when many of their fighters were flown by Soviets, they sent seven pilots and 33 mechanics to learn about a totally different aircraft in Saudi Arabia. After wasting a year in Saudi Arabia, they came back empty handed. The instructions, support services and other issues about Lightnings were too complex to be easily sorted out. Algeria sent three squadrons (one squadron each of MIG-21, MIG-17 and SU-7) to Egypt. Iraq sent a Hawker Hunter squadron to Egypt. It is not clear if they played any role in operations. Asad was confidant in the beginning and didn’t want anybody else to share the glory. When going got tough, he asked for Iraqi help. Iraq sent four squadrons of aircraft (3 MIG-21 & one MIG-17) to Syria. In addition, Iraq sent 6th Armoured Brigade, 8th Mechanized Infantry Brigade and 3rd Armoured Division piecemeal in the heat of the battle. 12th Armoured Brigade arrived on 15 along with a Special Forces Brigade (3 Battalions). This just added to the confusion. There was no planning of how to use these troops and no coordination. Iraqis were simply told to ‘go forward and fight’.119 The total Iraqi contribution to Syrian front was about 20,000 men and 250 tanks. Jordan sent 40th Armoured Brigade (led by Brigadier Haled Hajhoui) on October 14 to Syria (later 90th Armoured Brigade was also dispatched). Jordanian contribution was about 8,000 men and 150 tanks. The same day, Saudi Arabia airlifted a lorried infantry brigade (about 2,000 men). Kuwait sent an artillery battery to Syria. The outcome of such hotchpotch amateurish efforts against all military norms and rules should not surprise anybody. The Jordanians tanks with their tank commanders riding with their heads out of their turrets walked into an Israeli ambush (17th Brigade was waiting for them) and mauled. Iraqis artillery opened fire on advancing Jordanians. To Jordanians luck, the fire was not accurate and fell short of actual target. When Syrian aircrafts were called for ground support, they strafed Iraqi armour. On October 19, poor Jordanian tanks came under fire not only from Israelis but also Syrians and Iraqis. Jordan had Centurion tanks which Israel also had. Arab countries had Soviet tanks so Jordanian Centurions were mistaken for Israeli tanks. In this battle Jordanian armoured brigade was shelled by Syrian artillery that was itself under attack from Iraqi soldiers.120 Iraqi Special Forces got caught in front of advancing Israeli tanks and a number of them were crushed by tanks. Iraqi brigade got into an accidental firefight with Saudi contingent. Similarly, the two Iraqi squadrons of Mig-21s which arrived in Syria went into action immediately. Four of them were shot down by Syrian air defense because neither the pilots had been briefed nor friend or foe identity had been properly implemented. The Moroccan soldiers in Syria (one tank regiment) quarreled with Syrians and after the second week of war, several hundred disaffected troops deserted to Lebanon.121 Gaddafi of Libya gave $500 million to the Egyptian war chest and sent two Mirage III squadrons. He kept openly criticizing Egyptian plans. He called King Hussain of Jordan coward because he was not joining the fight. In the middle of raging battle, Gaddafi sent a telegrame to Sadat complaining that, ‘our people take it somewhat amiss that their political contribution to the battle is being ignored in all broadcasts from Cairo while Feisal’s contribution is magnified’.122 Tunisia sent an Armoured unit of 900 men on a 1,800 mile journey on October 10 (It participated in the defense of Port Said). Egyptian war minister Ismail correctly called this ‘more of a military nuisance than of any value’.123 Morocco had an infantry brigade in Syria. A Kuwaiti infantry detachment and a brigade of Palestinians was in Egypt (They were stationed in the area of Israeli breach on canal front). There were few late shows. An Algerian Armoured brigade (200 tanks) after a ten day road journey reached on October 24, the day of ceasefire. The Sudanese infantry battalion arrived on 28 and a Moroccan detachment (one brigade of 2,000 men) after the firing had stopped completely. Almost all of these military units (except Iraqi) arrived without any logistic support expecting their hosts to feed them and provide them with fuel and supplies.124 Pakistan sent a field ambulance unit to Syria and one to Egypt and asked its citizens to pray for the victory of Arabs (a practical and realistic gesture as 90,000 of their soldiers were POWs in India after the 1971 war). Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rahman of Bangladesh announced that fifty thousand guerrillas were ready to be sent to Egypt on minutes notice. After few days of contemplation, he changed his mind and instead sent fifty thousand tons of Bengal tea to Egypt. In early 1973, King Hassan of Morocco had promised Egypt a squadron of F-5s and an independent armoured brigade for war effort. In late September 1973, when Shazly went to Morocco to collect the promised help, he found out that the pilots of F-5 squadron were under arrest as they had attempted a coup against their King. The king told that he will send the armoured brigade to Egypt in November. Shaikh Zaid Bin Sultan Al Nayyan of Abu Dhabi who was relaxing in London sent a check of $100 million to Egypt on October 11, so that he is not left out of the blessings of this adventure. The only positive contribution was that of the 12th Armoured Brigade of Iraq and 40th Armoured Brigade of Jordan. These two brigades helped to strengthen the Syrian defense lines in south and prevented Israeli flanking. The reason for their success was that both these brigades had taken part in exercises conducted by Unified Arab Command in past and were familiar with the terrain of the battlefield.

October 1973 war was between foes with different philosophies of war. Arabs were more tuned to a ‘meat grinding’ conduct of war (which was in line with Soviet military thought process) while Israelis were going for a ‘blitzkrieg’.125 The material and human loss of this three week conflict was enormous. There is a wide margin of difference between rival claims of the combatants. The rough figures are: Israel: dead: 2,355; wounded: about nine thousand; tank loss: about 500; airplanes: 115. On Arab side no official figures have been released but rough estimates are: Dead: 5,000; wounded: ten thousand; tank losses: 1,200; airplanes: 370. The carnage touched even die hard nationalists like Sharon. After one of fierce close tank battle, he had a large number of dead in front of him and he later recalled, “Somebody had to determine who was an Egyptian, who an Israeli among those boys lying there, almost in each other’s arms”.126 Overall, the war can be best described as a stalemate. Each side had gained something and lost something. These gains and losses can be explained in various ways and depends on the perspective and bias of the person evaluating the events. The ironies were also there. It was the fasting month of Ramadan for Muslims. When operations started, Egyptian high command had told soldiers not to fast (based on expert opinion in Islamic law). Yom Kippur (the day of atonement is a holy day for Jews and many Israeli soldiers were also fasting. Many broke their fast (based on expert opinion in Jewish law).
On Egypt’s part, it was Sadat who perceived that if rapprochement between US and Soviet Union occurs, this may result in freezing of status quo and permanent loss of Egyptian territories. This prompted him to speed up the process of preparation for war. There was no meeting of minds between Egypt and Syria. Mutual suspicions and different objectives of the two countries seriously hampered their war efforts. Sadat and Asad ‘tried to put the blame for their differences in military and political strategy and perceptions on the Soviet ambassadors’.127
On the Israeli part, some of their leaders (Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon and Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir) had been advocating for a while that status quo was dangerous for Israel and should not be continued and steps should be taken on diplomatic front to address the basic issues concerning its Arab neighbours. But then when had a victor taken a major decision of giving up what it has achieved by force of arms. The October War proved Israeli strategy of putting Arabs in ‘a political straightjacket’ with no room for maneuvering while maintaining their own overwhelming military superiority wrong.128 It was on the basis of this strategy that Israel had thwarted the efforts of both powers for a political settlement. The argument of safe and defensible borders in Israel was complex due to silence on part of Arabs about their war plans. If Arabs were for the annihilation of Israel then it made sense to have as much buffer between the enemy and Israel proper, so that land could be traded for time and give I.D.F more maneuverability. On the other hand, if Arabs were fighting only to recover their lost land (Sinai and Golan) and honour, then Isarel was fighting merely for land it had been attempting to exchange for security. ‘In this case Israel fought the wrong war, at the wrong time, for the wrong aims’.129 The October War convinced Israel that it has to accept a settlement where security is achieved through more stress on political stability rather than overwhelming military dominance. Even after signing peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, the problem of Palestinians has not disappeared. At the end of the day, Israelis have to deal directly with Palestinians for a political settlement in a give and take manner. Time has proven again and again that the solution is political which can’t be solved only with military means regardless of how overwhelming that power is.
Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular had no strategic vision or plan. No serious study of the problems, changing regional and international environment and a well thought out plan for fulfillment of their goals was taken. When they were not sure about their own destiny, how could one expect from them to plan for negotiating with Israelis. In the early phase, Palestinians mainly banking on other Arab states had an inflexible stand in total disregard of ground realities. ‘When they talked about a “democratic secular Palestinian state” to replace Israel, they meant an Arab state, in which the Jews would have the right to be buried in their own cemeteries’.130 ‘The Arab posture of implacable hostility had given Israel no incentive to engage in diplomacy; with their country’s existence permanently on the line, Israeli leaders clung to strategic positions of strength’.131
A very important aspect which has been neglected by almost all Arab policy makers and intellectuals is the vital question of aims of any military operation or political initiative. In 1973, ‘Syria never formally voiced its war aims or confirmed that it sought only the recovery of Golan Heights’. Egypt publicly proclaimed its position on October 16. Sadat insisted that ‘the Arabs were seeking not the extermination of Israel but only the restoration of national honour and the recovery of Arab lands lost in the June War’.132 The problem was that this proclamation was made on October 16, when Egyptians had already failed in their October 14 offensive. Same was true for Palestinians. They were forced by Israelis to come to negotiating table when Jordan and Egypt made peace with Israel but this also meant that they will be asked to give up more and more of their rights. Just as in 1973, even today, Arab and Palestinian citizens don’t know what are their objectives. The result is that they were unable to achieve their objectives with war and if current behaviour is any indicator, it is unlikely that they will achieve it by peace. Arabs have to go a long way both in terms of military and political re-structuring of their own societies before they can be in a position to prepare for an effective response to Israel both on military and diplomatic fronts.
Arab-Israeli conflict is not only military and political but also psychological. Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an important factor in destabilization of the region but by no means it is the only one. The crisis of body politic of Arab societies is multifactorial and deep. The fact that Sadat, man who planned and executed a fairly good military operation against Israel to break the dead lock, was assassinated by his own soldiers ironically on the ceremonial occasion commemorating that war on October 6, 1981, demands a much introspection by Arabs. The bogey of Israel has overshadowed all other factors in Arab political consciousness. An astute observer had predicted long time ago in 1974 that the rich oil producing Arabs ‘have to defend themselves and their riches against far more immediate and real dangers than Israel’.133 Iran-Iraq war in 80s, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia is a grim testimony to that prophecy.

1Aker, Frank. October 1973:
The Arab-Israeli War (Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1985), p. 36
2El-Gamasy, Mohamed Abdel-Ghani. Field Marshal. The October War - Memoirs of Field Marshal El-Gamasy of Egypt (Translated by Gillian Potter, Nadra Morcos & Rosette Frances (Cairo: The American University Press, 1993), p. 167
3El-Gamasy. The October War, p. 131
4El-Gamasy. The October War, p. 139
5El-Gamasy. The October War, p. 191
6Kissinger, Henry. Years of Renewal (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), p. 411
7El Shazly, Saad. Lieutenant General. The Crossing of the Suez (San Francisco: American Mideast Research, 1980), p. 28-29
8Aker. October 1973, p. 84
9Heikal, Mohamed. The Road To Ramadan (New York: Quadrangle/New York Times Book Co., 1975), p. 181
10El-Gamasy. The October War, p. 154
11For details of some of these deci- sions, see Sadat, Anwar. In Search of Identity (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1978), p. 224-25, 236
12El-Shazly. The Crossing, p. 225-26
13El-Shazly. The Crossing, p. 271-72
14El-Gamasy. The October War, p. 206-207
15El-Shazly. The Crossing, p. 234
16Aker. October 1973, p. 95
17El-Gamasy. October War, p. 266
18Heikal. Road To Ramadan, p. 218
19El-Gamasy. October War, p. 277 & Shazly. The Crossing, p. 248
20El-Gamasy. The October War, p. 277-78
21Whetten L. Lawrence. The Canal War: Four-Power Conflict in the Middle East (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1974), p. 266
22quoted in El-Gamasy. The October War, p. 278
23Laqueur, Walter. Confrontation: The Middle East and World Politics (New York: Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co. 1974), p. 169
24O,Balance, Edgar. No Victor, No Vanquished: The Yom Kippur War (San Rafael, California & London: Presidio Press, 1978), p. 241
25Sadat. In Search, p. 262
26O,Balance. No Victor, p. 245 and Sadat. In Search, p. 263
27El-Sahzly. The Crossing, p. 266
28Sadat. In Search of Identity, p. 260-61
29Sadat. In Search of Identity, p. 261
30Shazly. The Crossing, p. 270
31Sadat. In Search, p. 256
32Sharon, Ariel and Chanoff, David. Warrior: The Autobiography of Ariel Sharon (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989), p. 304
33El Shazly. The Crossing, p. 48
34O,Balance. No Victor, p. 290
35El Shazly. The Crossing, p. 29
36El Shazly. The Crossing, p. 83
37Aker. October 1973, p. 111
38Aker. October 1973, p. 110
39Laqueur. Confrontation, p. 17
40Heikal. Road to Ramadan, p. 217
41Sadat’s message to Asad on accep- tance of ceasefire sent on October 20, 1973 cited in Heikal. Road to Ramadan, p. 239
42El-Shazly. The Crossing, p. 8
43El Shazly. The Crossing, p. 141
44Sadat. In Search, p. 218
45Sadat. In Search, p. 216
46Shazly. The Crossing, p. 303
47Sadat. In Search, p. 263
48Sadat. In Search, p. 268 & 270
49El-Shazly. The Crossing, p. 3
50El-Shazly. The Crossing, p. 301
51Laqueur. Confrontation, p. 24
52Creveld, Martin van. The Sword and the Olive: A Critical History of the Israeli Defense Forces (New York: Public Affairs, 2002), p. 222
53O,Balance. No Victor, p. 35
54Creveld. The Sword, p. 223
55El-Gamasy. The October War,
p. 229 and Heikal. Road to Ramadan, p. 208-209
56Sadat. In Search of Destiny, p. 253
57Israelyan, Victor. Inside The Kremlin During The Yom Kippur War (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995), p. 14
58Creveld. The Sword, p. 229
59 O,Balance. No Victor, p. 136
60Whetten. The Canal War, p. 279
61Aker. October 1973, p. 92
62 O,Balance. No Victor , p. 215
63Israelyan. Inside the Kremlin, p. 55
64O,Balance. No Victor, p. 136
65 O’Balance. No Victor, p. 133
66 Aker. October 1973, p. 75
67Laqueur. Confrontation, p. 92
68Laqueur. Confrontation, p. 93
69Creveld. The Sword, p. 211-212
70Creveld. The Sword, p. 225
71O,Balance. No Victor, p. 67-68
72Creveld. The Sword, p. 223
73El-Gamasy. The October War, p. 232
74 Sharon. Warrior, p. 304
75 Creveld. The Sword, p. 229
76Heikal. Road to Ramadan, p. 229
77Aker. October 1973, p. 108
78Creveld. The Sword, p. 231-32
79Aker. October 1973, p. 86-87
80 Newsweek, October 22, 1973
81 Aker. October 1973, p. 122
82 Aker. October 1973, p. 82-83
83 Aker. October 1973, p. 83
84Whetten. The Canal War, p. 267-68
85Whetten. The Canal War, p. 281
86Aker. October 1973, p. 101
87Creveld. The Sword, p. 224
88O’Balance. No Victor, p. 34
89Sharon. Warrior, p. 303
90Creveld. The Sword, p. 228
91Aker. October 1973, p. 77
92 O,Balance. No Victor, p. 108
93 Sharon. Warrior, p. 305
94cited in O,Balance. No Victor, p. 117
95Whetten. The Canal War, p. 280
96El-Gamasy. The October War, p. 129
97El-Shazly. The Crosssing, p. 13 & 83
98IISS estimates cited in O,Balance. No Victor, p. 14
99El Shazly, Saad. General. The Arab Military Option (San Francisco: American Mideast Research, 1986), p. 114
100Sadat. In Search of Identity, p. 258-59
101O,Balance. No Victor, p. 61
102Israelyan. Inside the Kremlin, p. 22
103Sadat. In Search of Identity, p. 260-61
104Israelyan. Inside the Kremlin, p. 2
105O,Balance. No Victor, p. 275
106Sadat. In Search of Identity, p. 255
107New York Times, October 15, 1973 cited in Laqueur. Confrontation, p. 167
108Whetten. The Canal War, p. 285
109Aker. October 1973, p. 57
110Whetten. The Canal War, p. 286
111Whetten. The Canal War, p. 287
112Israelyan. Inside the Kremlin, p. 38
113Israelyan. Inside the Kremlin, p. 129
114Israelyan. Inside the Kremlin, p. 169-70
115Whetten. The Canal War, p. 292-93
116Israelyan. Inside the Kremlin, p. 174
117Laqueur. Confrontation, p. 216-17
118For details of Arab military contribu- tion towards war, see Shazly. The Crossing, p. 277
119O,Balance. No Victor, p. 195
120Aker. October 1973, p. 88
121Whetten. The Canal War, p. 271-72
122Gaddafi’s telegram to Sadat on October 11, 1973 quoted in Heikal. Road to Ramadan, p. 222
123O,Balance. No Victor, p. 173
124O,Balance. No Victor, p. 270-71
125Aker. October 1973, p. 97
126Sharon. Warrior, p. 320
127Israelyan. Inside the Kremlin, p. 47
128Whetten. The Canal War, p. 273
129Whetten. The Canal War, p. 278
130Laqueur. Confrontation, p. 285
131Kissinger. Years of Renewal, p. 354
132Whetten. The Canal War, p. 288
133Laqueur. Confrontation, p. 293

Selected Readings
The October War by Abdel Ghani el Gamasy. Gamasy was Chief of Operations of Egyptian armed forces during 1973 and was instrumental in detailed planning of various aspects of the operations. Very good and detailed account of the Egyptian side of the story especially the preparatory phase of the war.
The Crossing of the Suez by Lt. General Saad el Shazly. Shazly was Chief of Staff of Egyptian army during 1973. This work is a good account of the Egyptian preparations for war by a person close to operations. It gives details about battles from Egyptian point of view. Shazly has given more objective analysis of Egyptian weaknesses. Shazly fell from favour of Sadat, therefore, the work also gives a good insight of the dynamics of a politicized army.
The Arab Military Option by Saad al Shazly. This work is a kind of surprise from an Egyptian commander who has very good reputation. Shazly is respected as a good commander. In 1967, he successfully outmaneuvered Sharon and brought back his troops intact. His contribution to 1973 preparation on sound professional and practical grounds cannot be disputed. With this background, it is a surprise to see this hotchpotch collection of confusing thoughts. He gives elaborate details of military strengths of everybody in the world which has no relevance to Arab problems. He then builds up his thoughts about imaginary military unified power totally oblivious to the ground realities and extreme schism among various Arab countries. This account displays the mediocry of Arab high level officers and gives some insight into why they were repeatedly defeated. It is also comic to read the virtues of ‘freedom of expression, ‘democracy’, and ‘human rights’ from the pen of a general who had faithfully served two most repressive and absolute rulers (Nasser & Sadat) without any qualms. Indeed, a common trait among this lot, these virtues are suddenly revealed to these generals when they fell out of favour.
In Search of Identity by Anwar el Sadat. Sadat makes a history by being the only head of the state who published his memoirs while in office. As expected, the account is full of megalomaniac ideas, giving all credit to himself and blaming others for all mistakes. Good insight into the dynamics of an autocratic ruler.
October 1973: The Arab Israeli War by Frank Aker. Good account of the details of operations on all fronts.
The Canal War by Lawrence Whetten. This is the account of the 1973 war looking at international perspective especially super power rivalry and maneuvering in Middle East. The section on military lessons of the war is a good synopsis.
The Road to Ramadan by Muhamad Husnain Heikal. Heikal was the most influential Arab journalist who had personal relationship with many Arab leaders. This account gives some insight into happenings at the highest level in Egypt as he had close relationships with Sadat and senior military high command. As it was written when Sadat was still President, therefore, the account suffers from any objective analysis of policy decisions of the government which had an impact on operations. As usual, the account denounces the dead and those condemned by the ruling regime but absolves those still wielding power.
No Victor, No Vanquished: The Yom Kippur War by Edgar O’Balance. A well balanced account of the events of 1973 war, not biased towards any party. O’Balance visited the battlefield three years after the war and met many officers on both sides who participated in war.
The Sword and the Olive by Creveld. Excellent work on detailed history of I.D.F. from early days to today. Must read for anybody interested in I.D.F. Author has done a remarkable job by giving a detailed and critical account of I.D.F. despite the fact that four of his own children are serving in I.D.F.
Inside The Kremlin During The Yom Kippur War by Victor Israelyan. A good account of the diplomatic efforts of Soviet Union during war. Israelyan was Director of Department of International Organizations in Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During war, he was member of a four man task force which was set up to provide data to Politburo. In this position, he attended many high level meetings of Soviet leadership during the war. Must read for anybody interested in the role of super powers in regional conflicts. Gives a good insight into working of a complex equation where several balls of different aims are juggled by the diplomats of a super power.