(ISRAEL and the MIDDLE EAST to 1979 – continued)

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ISRAEL and the MIDDLE EAST to 1979 (4 of 7)

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Yom Kippur War

Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt following Nasser's death in late September 1970, had begun his rule by following Nasser's policies. But he was working his way toward policies of his own. As vice president following the failure of the 1967 war he had swung with public opinion toward more devotion for Islam. So too did President Jafaar Muhammad al-Nimeiry of Sudan, who is credited with a book titled Why the Islamic Way. Muammar Gaddafi, ruler of Libya beginning in 1969, was also a champion of Islam with his Green Book.

Sadat tried enhancing his support with Koranic references in his speeches and became known as "the believer president." He released Islamist activists from prison. Sadat left the Muslim Brotherhood as illegal but tolerated, and in some cases the Brotherhood was encouraged as a counter-balance against secular forces to the left of Sadat. Sadat encouraged the growth of Islamic organizations on university campuses to counter Nasserites and leftists. He had several rivals and leftists arrested, and he appeared to be moving away from what had been Nasser's ties with the Soviet Union, but not really. The Soviet Union remained Egypt's source of good weaponry.

Sadat was deadlocked in his negotiations with Israel, and he wanted to restore Arab honor. He has been described as wanting to shift Egypt away from the Soviet Union and toward greater friendship with the United States. He wanted to be taken more seriously in his negotiations with Israel, and he has been described as wanting to reopen the Suez Canal. Syria's President Hafez al-Assad wanted to regain the Golan Heights. Sadat decided to join Syria in attacking Israel, neither expecting to wipe Israel off the map – a limitation not expressed publicly. Saudi Arabia was expected to contribute money rather than soldiers. There was a coordinated surprise attack against the Israelis on 6 October 1973, a holy day, Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement for Jews. Egyptian forces crossed a bridge and drove into the Sinai Peninsula. Syrian forces moved against the Israelis on the Golan Heights. Sadat labeled the war a jihad, but, it is said, he wanted only a little of the Sinai for the sake of negotiations.

The Israelis had been aware of the coming attack hours before the so-called surprise attacks were launched. But for appearance sake there was to be no pre-emptive strike. Kissinger said if Israel struck first it would not get one nail from the US. The US had become Israel's only supplier of weaponry.

Israel was outnumbered twelve to one against the Syrians. The Syrians had 1,100 tanks to 157 for the Israelis. President Richard Nixon asked the US Congress for 2.2 billion dollars in order to help Israel with military aid. King Faisal of Saudi Arabia felt betrayed. He had warned that he would be forced to use oil as political leverage to offset support that Israel received, and, the day after Nixon's request to Congress, Faisal launched an oil embargo against the US and the Netherlands.

The Arab League pressured King Faisal, who ordered Saudi oil off the market as part of an oil embargo by Arab producers. World oil prices quadrupled. The oil embargo created a gasoline shortage in the United States, with long lines at gasoline stations. Kissinger announced that oil was a national security priority and that the US if necessary, would intervene militarily. The Saudi oil embargo was having an impact on the US waging war in Vietnam. Tensions between the Saudis and the US dissipated when King Faisal agreed to supply oil in secret to the US navy

King Hussein could hardly resist public pressure to join his old allies from the Six-Day war. He sent his troops into the conflict on the night of October 12-13, to the Jordan-Syrian frontier to buttress Syrian troops. His forces joined in assaults on Israeli positions on 16 and 19 October, and he sent a brigade to the Golan front on 21st. According to historian Assaf David, declassified US documents show that king Hussein's intention was to preserve his status in the Arab World. and the documents reveal that Israel and Jordan had an understanding that Jordanian units would try to stay out of the fighting and Israel would try not to attack them militarily (Haaretz, 12 September 2013, Ofer Aderet).

Iraq was involved alongside Syria, with an armored division and over 100 aircraft. Tunisia sent between one and two thousand soldiers. Morocco sent over 5,000 troops and 30 tanks. Kuwait sent 3.000. Saudi Arabia sent around the same number. The Soviet Union was playing its game of supporting the Arabs. Its up-to-date weaponry was used against the Israelis. The Soviet Union's communist ally, North Korea, contributed 20 pilots, and Cuba has been described as contributing 1,500 troops, including tank and helicopter crews.

The US was airlifting supplies to Israel. Detente between the US and the Soviet Union was threatened. US military forces went to a Stage 3 alert (Stage 5 being a nuclear-missiles launch). Secretary of State Kissinger has been described as working furiously in what came to be known as "shuttle diplomacy," flying from nation to nation, and Moscow, trying to hammer out the details of a peace accord.

In the first few days of the war the Egyptians had overrun Israeli fortifications in the Sinai Desert and had pushed the Israelis back. Following 12 kilometer advance the Egyptian force stopped – as Sadat had planned. The Syrians pushed across Israeli positions in the eastern Golan Heights. And with a lack of tanks and manpower, Israeli troops had to withdraw from many positions in the southern sector of the Golan Heights. The Syrians and Egyptians were trying their hand at blitzkrieg warfare, and Israel was caught off guard "by new antitank and antiaircraft missiles supplied by the Soviet Union" (War Made New, by Max Boot, p 455). But soon elation in the Arab states with gains against Israel dissipated, as Israel gathered its strength and military competence and drove the Arabs back, the Syrians back from the Golan Heights and the Egyptians back across the Suez Canal. On October 21, Israeli forces managed to surround Egypt's Third Army. Sadat wanted to end the war to prevent further disaster. On 25 August, Israel agreed with the US and declared a cease fire. The war had lasted nineteen days. Around 8,500 soldiers had been lost by Egypt and Syria. And the Israelis had lost nearly 3,000 dead or missing.

The oil embargo by Arab producers officially ended soon after the war, but the steep rise in oil prices had launched a worldwide inflation and recession into the year 1975. But soon the desire of the Arab states to sell their oil brought the price of oil down again.

In Israel, the war did little to help the growth of the leftist politics of reconciliation and kindness.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.