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The Yom Kippur War

Updated on May 31, 2017

Yom Kippur 1973: A War of Retribution

The Yom Kippur War of 1973 has been known also as the Ramadan War, the October War, and the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Occurring from October 6 to October 26, 1973; it was waged between Israel, the initial victim, and a coalition of Arab nations led by Egypt and Syria.

In an attempt to force Israel unilaterally to surrender her previously captured Arab lands, Egypt and Syria jointly attacked Israel on October 6, 1973. This day was Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. On this day alone, Israel comes to a standstill and may be vulnerable to attack, as she was initially in 1973.

Egyptian soldiers at the crossing of the Suez Canal.
Egyptian soldiers at the crossing of the Suez Canal. | Source

The attack was an outrage to Judaism, a blindsiding invasion perpetrated while Israel was deep in worship and reflection. On Yom Kippur, not only the religious observant, but also secular Jews fast, abstain from any use of fire, electricity, engines, communications, etc.; road traffic comes to a stop. Many soldiers leave military facilities for home during this holiday and Israel is vulnerable, much of its army demobilized.

Historically and scripturally, some authorities consider Israel and the Arab world half-brothers - Sons of Abraham, an Old Testament founding father. Israel represents the son Isaac, while the half-brother is Ishmael, who was born to Abraham through a woman who was not his wife. Israel is said to have descended from Isaac and the Arab nations from Ishmael [in fact, the DNA configurations of the two ethnic groups actually match]. While they are brothers, they have been fighting over the scriptural and cultural birthright of the firstborn for centuries. Both deserve it, according to their own culture and heritage. Legend and scriptures have it that the battle will not end until Armageddon.

The Yom Kippur War exploded with is initial invasion to the Sinai Desert and Golan Heights, both having been captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, also known as Yom Kippur 1 (YP1). This 1973 war, also known as Yom Kippur 2 (YP2), was another in a string of efforts put forth by the Arabs against Israel historically, since 1948. This was the year in which the United Nations drew boundaries and declared Israel a sovereign nation, separate and independent from Palestine. However, Palestine wanted to regain lands lost to Israel.

The Middle East

1973 Sinai War maps
1973 Sinai War maps

Retibution for the Six-Day War of 1967

YP2 as a war of retribution, because the Arabs felt humiliation and defeat in the Six-Day War of 1967. This escalated the current hostile relations between the Arabs and the Jews dating as far back as 1922 in the modern era, when the League of Nations granted the Mandate to Britain (Herzog, Prologue). The Arab world was psychologically vindicated, however, by its string of early victories in the YP2 conflict.

The related Camp David Accords several years later led to increasingly normalized relations between Egypt and Israel, but the 1973 peace was the first instance of any Arab country recognizing the Israeli state. However, tensions in the Middle East remain today, escalating in 2006 toward a final confrontation we do not wish to imagine.

In addition to Egypt and Syria, other Arab states sent troops and financial aid to the war effort. Jordan, Iraq and others were involved, providing additional weapons and financing. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait gave financial aid and sent armed forces. Morocco sent three brigades and Palestine sent troops. Pakistan sent sixteen pilots. Libya sent Mirage fighters and gave Egypt around $1 billion in war aid. Algeria sent fighters, bombers, armored brigades, and tanks. Tunisia sent 1,000+ soldiers. Sudan sent 3,500 troops. Idi Amin set Ugandan soldiers against Israel. Finally, Cuba sent 1,500 soldiers, along with tanks and helicopters for war.

Surprised on October 6, Israel suffered severe losses in life, property and equipment, all during the High Holy Day. A cease-fire was sought without success. Egyptian leaders refused to accept a cease-fire or a Soviet airlift to the Arab states. Therefore, the US mounted an airlift to Israel to help her to recover. Saudi Arabia then led the Arab alliances in an oil embargo against the US and other westernerss in retribution. Overall, the war lasted less than three weeks:

Although Egyptians and Syrians had advanced during the first 24-48 hours of the war, momentum quickly swung the other way, in Israel's favor.

By the second week of the war, the Syrians had been pushed entirely out of the Golan Heights.

In the Sinai Desert to the south, the Israelis split the Egyptian armies, crossed the Suez Canal and cut off an entire Egyptian army just as a United Nations cease-fire came into effect.

Though attacked on a High Holy Day and unprepared for combat on that day, Israel won, with US help.

USA was a constant friend to the Israeli state since 1948, and a friend to Jews as America fought WWII against the mistreatment of Jews and several minorities.

Henry Kissinger
Henry Kissinger | Source

Henry Kissinger's Role in Peace

Henry Kissinger was a US political scientist that was adviser for national security affairs and secretary of state from 1969 - 1976.

In 1973 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace together with Le Duc Tho of North Vietnam for negotiating a peace in the Vietnam Conflict. Kissinger's family had immigrated to the US in 1938 to escape the Nazi persecution of Jews, so he was familiar with Middle East turmoil.

Kissinger developed a policy of cordial U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, which led to the strategic arms limitation talks (SALT, 1969). He established the pro-Pakistan policy in the India-Pakistan war (1971), helped negotiate the SALT I arms agreement with the Soviets (1972), and developed relations between the US and China (1972)

In the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, Kissinger used what came to be called shuttle diplomacy -- disengaging the opposing armies and promoting a truce by going between the leaders. Kissinger shuttled back and forth between warring nations and the USA to draft a comprehensive disengagement agreement.

The 1973 peace discussions at the end of the war comprised the first time that Arab and Israeli officials met for direct public discussions since the aftermath of the 1948 war. Kissinger became largely responsible for the restoration of diplomatic relations between Egypt and the United States, a first since 1967.

Prayer before Yom Kippur at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City.
Prayer before Yom Kippur at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City. | Source

Commemorations on Both Sides

October 6th is the Egyptian "Armed Forces Day." To commemorate the 1973 war, sites in Egypt are named after the October 6th date or for Ramadan 10, its equivalent on the Islamic calendar. Such places are named "6th of October City" and "10th of Ramadan City".

Israel and Jews around the globe - and now even in outer space - observe Yom Kippur as is traditional for 6,000 years. They commemorate the many wars they have waged back and forth with their brother, the Arab world. They employee ceremonies and prayers at the Wailing Wall or in ceremonies in New York City synagogues, or in private honors done during weekly the family Shabbat, but they will also commemorate the wars of retribution.

The 1973 war caused many countries to retreat. Terrified by the Arab oil boycott, France, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, and Spain turned their backs on Israel and the United States, refusing permission for USAF crews to land on or fly over their territories.

If Portugal had not assented to the use of the Azores as a staging base, Israel would have lost both the war and negotiations that followed. However, the United States of America did, and continues, to defend Israel, but now strives also to support Palestine as well, toward peaceful coexistence and cooperation in the future.

America continues to intercede and attempt to prevent further wars of retribution between the Middle East brothers: Judaica and Islam, Isaac and Ishmael, Israel and the Arab world.


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