Arab-Israeli War (Yom Kippur War, Ramadan War)
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Israel (with U.S. matériel aid) vs.
Egypt and Syria (with Soviet matériel aid)
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Israel, Egypt, and Syria
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Egypt and Syria sought
recovery of territory lost to Israel in the Arab-Israeli War
OUTCOME: The war ended with a cease-fire; the Arab
allies failed to regain the territory they sought; both sides
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
Israel, 300,000; Arab forces, 539,000
CASUALTIES: Arab allies, 8,500 killed; Israel, 6,000 killed
TREATIES: U.N. Resolution 338 on October 22, 1973, and
cease-fire of October 25, 1973; Peace agreement of 1974
The conflict is known alternatively as the Yom Kippur
War and, less familiarly, as the Ramadan War. The fourth
major military confrontation between Israel and the Arab
states since the establishment of Israel in 1948, the 1973
conflict pitted Israel against Egypt and Syria.
At issue was the failure to resolve territorial disputes
arising from the ARAB-ISRAELI WAR (1967), including the
return of the Sinai to Egypt and the return of the Golan
Heights to Syria. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat
(1918–81) offered a peace initiative in the form of his proposal
to sign an agreement with Israel provided that the
Israelis returned all occupied territories. Israel adamantly
refused to withdraw to the pre-1967 armistice lines. Frustrated
and anxious to retain his credibility at home, Sadat
became persuaded that the issues would be resolved only
by initiating a war with defined and limited objectives.
Another cause of war was the overconfidence of the
Israeli general staff. The military persuaded the Israeli
government that the nation was safe from Arab attack and
that, therefore, no pressing reason existed for trading territory
to obtain a guarantee of peace. This confidence
became Israeli military and political doctrine and, as a
result, the Israelis were uncharacteristically ill prepared
for the October attack by Egypt and Syria. Israeli commanders
even allowed themselves to misinterpret the
buildup of Arab forces along the Suez Canal as merely a
On October 6, 1973—Yom Kippur, the holiest day of
the Jewish year—a surprise attack came on two fronts.
Egypt rapidly crossed the Suez Canal and overran the Bar-
Lev defensive line. Simultaneously, Syrian forces advanced
into the Golan Heights and very nearly reached the 1967
border with Israel.
The situation looked desperate for Israel, which, in
the north, was outnumbered by nearly 12 to one. On this
front Israeli counterattacks during the first few days of the
war repeatedly failed, and at a high cost, especially in aircraft
(the Israelis lost 150 planes). However, on October
10 Israeli forces began to make significant headway
against the Syrians, who were pushed back. Israeli troops
kept advancing, invading Syria itself. This prompted the
Soviet Union to airlift matériel to Damascus and Cairo. To
counter this, the United States airlifted supplies to Israel
on October 12 and 13. On October 21 the Israeli forces
broke out to cross the Suez Canal. They then surrounded
the Egyptian Third Army.
The peril of the Egyptian Third Army brought a plea
from Sadat to the Soviet Union. The USSR responded by
threatening to send troops to assist Egypt. In order to
avoid a major international crisis, U.S. secretary of state
Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) was dispatched to Moscow to
negotiate a cease-fire. This came in the form of UN Resolution
338, which established an immediate cease-fire and
reinstated UN Resolution 242, “aimed at establishing a
just and durable peace in the Middle East.” When Israel
violated the cease-fire, the Soviets again threatened to
send troops, but the United States applied diplomatic
pressure on Israel, which agreed to a second cease-fire on
October 25, 1973. Both Israel and Egypt claimed victory
A more formal peace agreement was concluded in 1974,
which mandated a UN-controlled buffer zone between
Syria and Israel.
The war cost Egypt and Syria some 8,500 soldiers
killed. The economic loss to the two Arab nations was
devastating: the equivalent of a year’s gross national product.
Perhaps even worse, the war compromised Arab
autonomy by increasing dependence on the USSR. As for
Israel, some 6,000 soldiers were killed or wounded. In
economic terms Israel had suffered similarly to Egypt and
Syria—roughly the equivalent of the annual gross national
product (GNP). Moreover, the image of Israeli military
invincibility was shattered, and Israel became increasingly
dependent on U.S. military, diplomatic, and economic aid.
For the United States there were also consequences.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries
(OPEC) doubled its oil prices, creating a severe gasoline
shortage in the United States and contributing to U.S.
(and worldwide) stagflation, a combination of inflation
and recession during 1974–75.
Further reading: Trevor Nevitt Dupuy, Elusive Victory:
The Arab-Israeli Wars, 1947–1974 (New York: Harper-
Collins, 1978); Trevor Nevitt Dupuy, Land of Darkness,
Shadow of Death: A Military History of the Arab-Israeli
Wars, 1947–1973 (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1976);
Insight Team of the London Sunday Times, The Yom Kippur
War (New York: iBooks, 2002).