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1973 October War (Yom Kippur War) - Egyptian Front

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1973 October War (Yom Kippur War) - Egyptian Front

In October 1973, Egypt and Syria launched another war against Israel, after the Israeli government headed by Golda Meir rebuffed Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's offers to negotiate a settlement. The Egyptians crossed the Suez Canal on the afternoon of October 6, Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish religious calendar. The Israeli government had ignored repeated intelligence warnings. They were convinced that Israeli arms were a sufficient deterrent to any aggressor. Sadat had twice announced his intention to go to war, but nothing had happened. When the intelligence reports were finally believed, on the morning of the attack, PM Meir and Defense Minister Dayan decided not to mobilize reserves.

The Israelis were caught by surprise in more ways than one. Egyptians poured huge numbers of troops across the canal unopposed and began setting up beachhead. The Israel Army had neglected basic maintenance tasks and drill. As troops mustered, it became apparent that equipment was missing and tanks were out of commission. The line of outposts built as watch posts along the Suez canal - the Bar Lev line, was used instead as a line of fortifications intended to hold off the Egyptians as long as possible. A tiny number of soldiers faced the Egyptian onslaught and were wiped out after stubborn resistance. The Soviets had sold the Egyptians new technology - better surface to air missiles (SAM) and hand held Sager anti-tank weapons. Israel had counted on air power to tip the balance on the battlefield, and had neglected artillery. But the air-force was initially neutralized because of the effectiveness of SAM missiles, until Israel could destroy the radar stations controlling them. Futile counterattacks continued in Sinai for several days as Israeli divisions coped with traffic jams that prevented concentration of forces, and with effective Egyptian resistance.

Egyptians crossed the Suez canal and retook a strip of the Sinai peninsula. Initial Israeli attempts to oppose the Egyptians without artillery support were fruitless. SAMs took a heavy toll of Israeli air power. After sustaining heavy losses, Israeli forces rallied and, with artillery support in place and the radar controlling the SAMs neutralized, Israeli troops crossed the canal. General Ariel Sharon, disobeying the orders of cautious superiors,  ran ahead of logistics and support to develop the bridgehead on the Egyptian side of the Suez canal, and to cut off the entire Egyptian third army.  Encouraged by this success, Israeli troops tried to advance and conquer Suez city, an adventure which proved to be disastrous.

The map shows the Egyptian attacks and counter attacks.

Map adapted from Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, 2000.

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