Yom Kippur War: Background and History at glance

OV Digital Desk

People look for names of fallen soldiers before a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur war at the Armored Corps memorial site in Latrun, Israel, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.© Maya Alleruzzo, AP

On October 6, 1973, hoping to win back territory lost to Israel during the third Arab-Israeli war, in 1967, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a coordinated attack against Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Taking the Israeli Defense Forces by surprise, Egyptian troops swept deep into the Sinai Peninsula, while Syria struggled to throw occupying Israeli troops out of the Golan Heights. Israel counterattacked and recaptured the Golan Heights. A cease-fire went into effect on October 25, 1973.

Background of Yom Kippur War

Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War of 1967 left the Jewish nation in control of territory four times its previous size. Egypt lost the 23,500-square-mile Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, Jordan lost the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Syria lost the strategic Golan Heights.

The Yom Kippur War, occurring from October 6 to October 25, 1973, emerged against the backdrop of the enduring Arab-Israeli conflict. This conflict had its roots in the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and had already seen several wars and confrontations. Leading up to the Yom Kippur War, Egypt and Syria had engaged in a significant military buildup, with support from the Soviet Union, aiming to regain territories lost to Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. The political landscape was marked by Anwar Sadat‘s presidency in Egypt, who believed that military action was necessary to reclaim the Sinai Peninsula, and by Syria’s Hafez al-Assad, seeking to recover the Golan Heights. The decision to launch the war on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, was a calculated move, as the Arab states believed that Israeli defenses would be at their weakest during this period. This conflict ultimately led to intense battles, international pressure, and a ceasefire, with far-reaching consequences for the Middle East, including a reevaluation of Israel’s security posture and subsequent diplomatic negotiations.

Yom Kippur War: October 1973

When the fourth Arab-Israeli war began on October 6, 1973, many of Israel’s soldiers were away from their posts observing Yom Kippur (or Day of Atonement), and the Arab armies made impressive advances with their up-to-date Soviet weaponry.

Iraqi forces soon joined the war, and Syria received support from Jordan. After several days, Israel was fully mobilized, and the Israel Defense Forces began beating back the Arab gains at a heavy cost to soldiers and equipment. A U.S. airlift of arms aided Israel’s cause, but President Richard Nixon (1913-94) delayed the emergency military aid for a week as a tacit signal of U.S. sympathy for Egypt. On October 25, an Egyptian-Israeli cease-fire was secured by the United Nations.

The Yom Kippur War, also known as the October War, unfolded with a series of significant events:

  • Surprise Attack: On October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a coordinated surprise attack against Israeli positions in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. The Arab forces aimed to recapture territories lost to Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. Their initial advances caught the Israeli military off guard, leading to intense battles on both fronts.
  • Israeli Response: Despite being initially taken by surprise, Israel managed to regroup and mount a determined defense. With substantial support from the United States, which conducted a massive airlift of military supplies to Israel, the Israeli military began to push back against the Arab offensives. The conflict resulted in brutal battles, especially on the Golan Heights and in the Sinai.
  • International Diplomacy: As the war raged on, international diplomatic efforts intensified. The United Nations Security Council passed resolutions, including Resolution 338, calling for an immediate ceasefire and negotiations. Diplomatic pressure, including threats of intervention by the superpowers, played a significant role in ultimately bringing about a ceasefire on October 25, 1973.
  • Aftermath and Consequences: The Yom Kippur War had far-reaching consequences. It prompted a reevaluation of Israel’s security posture, leading to increased preparedness and a greater willingness to negotiate with its Arab neighbors. The conflict also played a pivotal role in shaping regional geopolitics and energy policies, as the Arab states imposed an oil embargo, resulting in a spike in oil prices and significant economic repercussions worldwide. The war ultimately contributed to the Camp David Accords in 1978, which led to the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and marked a significant step towards peace in the Middle East.

The Yom Kippur War remains a pivotal event in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, highlighting the complexities of regional dynamics, the role of diplomacy in conflict resolution, and the enduring geopolitical significance of the Middle East.

Impact of Yom Kippur War

The consequences of the Yom Kippur War, also known as the October War or 1973 Arab-Israeli War, had profound and lasting impacts on the Middle East and the broader international arena.

  • Diplomatic Shifts: The war marked a significant turning point in Arab-Israeli relations. It compelled both sides to recognize the need for negotiations and led to the eventual signing of the Camp David Accords in 1978. As a result of these accords, Egypt became the first Arab nation to officially recognize Israel, leading to the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egyptian control.
  • Geopolitical Realignment: The superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, became deeply involved in the conflict. The U.S. supported Israel with military aid during the war, while the Soviet Union backed the Arab states. This further intensified the Cold War rivalry in the Middle East.
  • Oil Embargo and Economic Impact: In response to Western support for Israel, Arab oil-producing nations, led by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), implemented an oil embargo. This resulted in a significant increase in oil prices and energy shortages worldwide, leading to economic turmoil and changes in global energy policies.
  • Increased Preparedness: The Yom Kippur War served as a stark reminder to Israel of the need for constant vigilance and military readiness. This led to significant changes in Israel’s defense posture, including increased intelligence efforts and military preparedness, ensuring that Israel would not be caught off guard again.
  • Strengthening of Peace Efforts: The conflict underscored the importance of diplomacy and peaceful negotiations as the means to resolve longstanding conflicts in the Middle East. It paved the way for future peace initiatives, such as the 1993 Oslo Accords and the ongoing pursuit of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.
  • Legacy and Regional Dynamics: The Yom Kippur War continues to influence regional politics and conflicts in the Middle East. It remains a symbol of Arab determination to challenge Israeli dominance and assert their rights in the region.

In summary, the Yom Kippur War had a lasting impact on the Middle East, reshaping diplomatic relations, intensifying superpower rivalries, and highlighting the importance of diplomacy in resolving conflicts. It also left a legacy of increased regional stability efforts and continued to shape the geopolitics of the Middle East for years to come.