The 1973 Arab-Israeli War, also known as Yom Kippur, was the confrontation between the Arab states with Egypt and Syria at the head, and Israel. Jordan remained tacit for approximately two weeks, and only then joined the Arab coalition (Rodman, 2012). The war lasted for 19 days in October 1973. The reason for Egypt and its allies to cross the Suez Canal and enter the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights was the occupation of these regions during the Six-Day War of 1967 (Gerges, 2012). The factual outcome of the war could be considered non-existent since Egypt firstly returned the territories in question as a result of the most successful sudden attack, but those territories were later regained by Israel in the course of the warfare (Beckerman-Boys, 2013). However, the balance of powers in the political arena, and namely, in the Middle East, was believed to be the underlying cause of the warfare. Therefore, despite the fact that the result of the Arab-Israeli War in 1973 is ambiguous and depends on the perspective, the failure of the Egyptian command to benefit from the effective sudden attack can be considered an overall failure in the October 1973 War, and is predetermined by the political balance of powers rather than actual warfare outcomes.

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Egypt Use of Israeli Intelligence Failure

One of the critical factors that prevented Egypt from winning the war was the effectiveness of Israeli intelligence. The majority of researchers underline the failure of the Israeli intelligence to warn about the Arab coalition attack (Penney, 2013). Sindawi and Kahana (2015) emphasize that despite the failure to give a timely warning, Israeli intelligence succeeded in their further actions during the war. However, on the first day of the war Egypt obtained a significant dominance over Israel in terms of men, weapons, and morale. For all that, the further course of the war demonstrated that Egypt failed to utilize that dominance.

The essential advantage of Egypt at the beginning of the war was provided by the fact that Israeli intelligence was caught by surprise. It should be noted that in order to ensure security, Israeli military had to deter, provide air supremacy, and warn about sudden attacks of the enemy (Sindawi & Kahana, 2015). Early warning was the basis for Israeli success since it allowed for fast mobilization of reserve forces and rapid and effective decision-making (Sindawi & Kahana, 2015). Thus, the failure to ensure early warning and rapid mobilization made Israeli vulnerable in the face of the Arab coalition.

To understand the failures of the Egyptian command, it is crucial to consider the instances of their success. Sheffy (2007) underlines the essential attempts made by the Egyptians to investigate the military doctrine of Israel, and then develop and implement a deception plan. The deception plan targeted taking the Egyptian forces at advantage, and eventually succeeded in that. Egypt reconsidered its defensive and offensive strategies to enable the fortification of the western part of the Suez Canal and seizure of the Sinai (Sheffy, 2007). The failure of Egypt in this war was unexpected since the preparation was thorough and all the major tactical and strategic flaws were taken into consideration. To start with, Egyptian command identified the objectives clearly, used corresponding weapons that complied with the doctrine and the level of the troops training (Sheffy, 2007). The national objectives outlined by the command were divided into three major stages: defiance, active defense, and attrition warfare. The fourth stage appeared in the process of war as a result of the cease-fire.

The defiance stage targeted the renovation of the military forces and defense of the western Suez. This stage lasted for approximately a year between 1967 and 1968 (Beckerman-Boys, 2013). The stage of active defense included the development of strategic plans on crossing the Suez Canal and penetration of Israeli military defense works. The third stage of the attrition warfare started four years before the 1973 war and consisted in the raids into the Sinai and artillery fights between the Egyptian and Israeli forces. The port of Eilat was constantly losing transport as a result of frogmen activities as part of the harassment tactical approach to warfare. Throughout three years prior to war outbreak in October 1973 the fourth stage of the Egyptian plan took place (Beckerman-Boys, 2013). It was referred to as the no war, no peace period that originated from ceasefire. While the ceasefire was an evident part of the Egyptian performance, the military continued the preparation phase for the offensive campaign that would be started in the case of failure of Arab-Israeli negotiations on the status of Sinai (Beckerman-Boys, 2013). A year before the 1973 war, Anwar Sadat, the then Egyptian President officially decided to resort to war.

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The Egyptian deployments and exercises that took place years before the 1973 war had prevented the Israeli command from making right conclusions regarding the real threat. The quite deception warfare was massive and concerned morale of the Israeli forces. Thus, the deception concerning the mentality of the Egyptians and their representation as silly people with sleazy appearance contributed to the overall perception of the Egyptians as a weak enemy (Sheffy, 2007). Moreover, besides the actual efforts of the Egyptian command to weaken and attire the enemy, Israeli intelligence was distracted by numerous political activities and terrorist attacks, which hindered Israeli intelligence specialists from detecting the challenge (Sindawi & Kahana, 2015). The numerous attempts or threats from Egypt to ostensibly attack Israel during the years preceding the 1973 October War remained just threats, and did not turn into warfare until October 1973. Bar-Josef and McDermott (2017) and Wirtz (2017) referred to these threats as cry-wolf syndrome and adverse signal-to-noise ratio, respectively. Bureaucracy and excessive politicization of the intelligence processes were blamed for the initial failure of the Israeli intelligence (Sindawi & Kahana, 2015). Moreover, these were the primary reasons for the Egyptian success and later the Egyptian failures. Because of the constant futile threats from Egypt and the Israeli response to these threats, in October 1973, during one of the major Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur, Israel did not expect the attack (Beckerman-Boys, 2013). More than 2,500 soldiers died in the first days of the warfare (Beckerman-Boys, 2013). The global political powers, namely the Soviet Union and the United States, got involved in the war a few days after the war outbreak mostly for political reasons (Yom Kippur War, 2017). However, despite the immediate tactical victory at the beginning of the war, Egypt failed to implement an effective strategy in the course of the war, and thus was unable to oppose the Israeli forces.

Egyptian Complacence and Non-adherence to the Well-Developed Strategy

The primary failure of the Egyptian command was to give an opportunity to Israel to mobilize their forces. While the Israeli military lost a huge amount of tanks and military equipment, and even had to plead the United States to provide support through the immediate airlift, the Egyptian forces ceased their advance. This was an unnatural decision that contradicted the previous strictly followed scheme. The Egyptians stopped advancing further to the areas of Giddi and Mitla Passes (Beckerman-Boys, 2013). As a result, the Israelis were granted an opportunity to mobilize and initiate a successful counterattack. The Israeli army surrounded the Egyptian Third Army, and this became a critical point in the 1973 warfare (Beckerman-Boys, 2013). The mistake of the Egyptian command was the neglecting attitude to the actions of the enemy after the success of their sudden attack. While there was a detailed and well-developed plan, the Egyptians seemed to rest on laurels after the initial effective attack on Israel. The Egyptian military did not have a contingency plan for the recovered forces of Israel after recuperation (Beckerman-Boys, 2013). The underlying reason for that could be the complacence of the Egyptian command who believed that the war had been won. However, they failed to take into consideration the ability of the Israeli forces to rapidly recover rapidly and ask the United States for support.

The failure of Egypt to properly react to the circumstances of their advance predetermined their further defeat in the war. Egyptians lost more than 30 hours of advantage since the shortest warning that the Israeli defense force could manage was 48 hours, while the attack was undertaken with a 10-hour warning (Beckerman-Boys, 2013). Consequently, while the Israeli army was defeated in the sudden attack of Egypt partially due to its complacency over quality intelligence, the Egyptian forces seem to have encountered the same problem after the first success in the 1973 war with Israel.

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Egyptian Continued Advance without Air Cover

Egyptian military advance allowed the Arabs to move significantly to the areas of concern at the beginning of the war. The Egyptians succeeded in shifting the defense lines of Israel (Al-Atraqchi, 2017). The outstanding level of training and military dominance during the first half of the war allowed infantry of Egypt to cause damage to the tanks of Israel (Al-Atraqchi, 2017). The concern of the Israelis was so high that the command even considered the option of nuclear weapon implementation. Nevertheless, all considerable gains were outperformed by the then president Anwar Sadat who decided to advance further to the disputed territories without air cover (Al-Atraqchi, 2017). This decision could arguably be considered the reason for Egypt's defeat in Yom Kippur war since it allowed the Israelis to launch a counteroffensive and enter the Egyptian territory. The poor tactics involved in this decision predetermined the failure of Egypt. The Egyptian army advanced without waiting for the support from the air, and this led to the infamous outcomes for the Egyptians. Almost two weeks after the outbreak of war, Israel crossed the Suez (Al-Atraqchi, 2017). The Third Army of Egypt was surrounded and agreed to cease fire. However, the Israelis continued military activity such as shelling and conducting air raids (Al-Atraqchi, 2017). In order to save the Third Army despite it being in a desperate position of the absence of supplies, the Egyptians started direct negotiations with Israel. At that time the Arab coalition demonstrated their unity and power in the Middle East. However, the encirclement of the Third Army and the consequential defeat in the war made Egypt an outcast and damaged the unity in the Arab world (Al-Atraqchi, 2017). Therefore, the initial aims of the Egyptian presidents to make Egypt the leading power among other strong Arab countries in the Middle East were not achieved.

Political Reasons Preventing Egypt from Success

Although the cause of the 1973 war was supposed to be the returning of the territories occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, the actual reason for the Egyptian President to resort to military actions is believed to be different. Anwar Sadat targeted the transformation of political situation in the Middle East (Meek, 2016). However, the interests of other states in this war seemed to be disrupted. Thus, Saudi Arabia invested essential funds to support the Arab coalition, and the decision of the Egyptian President to cease fire was considered as a betrayal of the common goal (Beckerman-Boys, 2013). The disassociation within the Arab world moved Egypt closer to Israel and prepared the grounds for the future peace agreement between the two states.

The involvement of two major political players in the global politics of those times also contributed to the defeat of Egypt in the 1973 war. The two global powers were the United States and the Soviet Union, both of which attempted to weaken the enemy's allies. They were also essentially interested in the balance of powers in the Middle East, which influenced the alignment of forces globally. The countries with authoritarian rule, like Egypt, are generally more likely to change their policies in favor of their own gains. Lippman (2016) emphasizes that the decision of Anwar Sadat to take part in the war, and even more to initiate it, essentially contributed to the outstanding role of the United States as a referee in the Middle East conflict settlement. The impact of the Soviet Union on the political affairs in the Middle East region essentially declined as the country had to cease the active actions in the political battlefield. Even though the Soviet Union invested considerable funds and military equipment to support Egypt, the environment shaped by the warfare and the placement of political forces weakened the influence of the Soviets (Lippman, 2016). Furthermore, the understanding of Israel's vulnerability became the turning point for the Middle East countries that put their hopes on various patterns of the balance of powers in the region (Lippman, 2016). Since Egypt managed to reach the major target and challenge the existing balance of powers, the outcome of war was not crucial, and was left to the mercy of chance.

The role of the United States was significant, since Henry Kissinger considered the entrapped Egyptian forces as a lever to influence the situation in the Middle East. The United States could negotiate regarding the release of the Egyptian army from Israel, and thus influence not only the outcome of the warfare, but also the balance of powers in the region (Stocker, 2017). Therefore, the involvement of the United States in the war as a mediator allowed influencing the outcomes of the war and release Egypt from the influence of the Soviet Union. This decision could not be made in advance or planned, since the whole situation with the Egyptian Third Army being entrapped was unpredictable. On the other hand, the United States took advantage of the situation and turned the Egyptian failure to their benefit (Siniver, 2013). The United States applied all the possible power to make Israel release the encircled troops (Siniver, 2013). At the same time, despite its hopeless position, the Third Army managed to succeed in keeping its defense to the east of the Canal (Siniver, 2013). As a result of their success, the Israeli command indicated that the effectiveness of the Third Army prevented them from proclaiming the victory over Egypt (Siniver, 2013). Before the decision of Egypt to cease fire, Israeli troops advanced further to Egypt, took more than 1,000 prisoners, and established control over the outskirts of Suez (Beckerman-Boys, 2013). Although the countries agreed to cease fire, the actual peace was still long awaited because the fighting continued for several months (Beckerman-Boys, 2013). Therefore, the position of the Third Army at the end of the war predetermined the outcomes of the warfare. The involvement of the United States was the major reason why Israeli army did not destroy the Third Army. However, this potential outcome was clear to all parties of this conflict. Consequently, it was the political power that had an impact on the outcomes of the war, and not the military actions.

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The influence of complex interrelations in the political field is evident in case of the Third Army encirclement and release. Prior to the war outbreak, the Egyptian President expelled Soviet advisers from the country, thus, reducing the possibility of the active involvement of the Soviet Union in the potential conflict that could arise at that time (Yom Kippur, 2017). However, Sadat attempted to establish new associations. With this in mind, he started negotiations with the United States to develop diplomatic relationships with Egypt (Siniver, 2013). Sadat understood that the United States was the major ally of Israel in any conflict, and the role of this country as a mediator in the future warfare would be invaluable. When the Israeli forces started recovering after the sudden attack on the greatest Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur, the Arab forces received essential gains in terms of the territories. The reason for that consisted in the provision of modern weapons by the Soviet Union in the times of collaboration with Egypt (Yom Kippur, 2017). Following the mobilization of Israeli reserve forces, the United States provided the extremely needed airlift of weapons to Israel (Yom Kippur, 2017). However, the political influence can be clearly seen from this example: the provision of the supplies of armor was not immediate since President Nixon took into consideration the newly established diplomatic relationships with Egypt. For this reason, the airlift had been delayed for approximately a week (Yom Kippur, 2017). The United Nations marked the agreement on ceasefire accepted by both parties of Egypt and Israel on October 25 (Yom Kippur, 2017). Consequently, the political will of the leading states played an essential role in the warfare of October 1973, and the implications of the war should be considered mostly within the framework of the political balance of powers. The failure of Egypt to win the October 1973 War with Israel is, therefore, explained by the failure of the Egyptian leadership to find support among global political powers. The expulsion of the Soviet Union was the reason for a weaker support, which was nevertheless provided by the Soviet Union specialists in Syria (Golan, 2013). However, the support could have been presumably greater and earlier if it had not been for the Egyptian shift in external politics. The nominal support from the United States, on the other hand, played a significant role in the outcomes of the warfare. Consequently, the involvement of the global political powers could be considered as an essential influential factor, which predetermined the defeat of Egypt in the October 1973 War.


Consequently, the 1973 Arab-Israeli war provided the possibilities for Egypt and its political allies to win the war. However, numerous factors led to the actual defeat of the state and showed the Arab world that Israel was not unconquerable even in the case of the war outbreak which it was not warned of by the Israeli intelligence. The numerous instances of success in military tactics and strategy were outweighed by the failure to take an advantage of Israelis inability to rapidly mobilize forces. Moreover, the balance of powers in the Middle East that changed after the 1973 war was also an influential factor that affected the outcomes of the warfare. The involvement of the two global political powers contributed to the war outcomes as well. The withdrawal of the Soviet Union from the region, and the involvement of the United States that supported Israel, led to the factual defeat of the Arab coalition. Egypt lacked support from its ally, the Soviet Union, while the unexpected support from the United States was still insufficient. Although the outcomes of the October 1973 remain controversial and are subject to different interpretations, the Egyptian failure to take advantage over its initial success allows referring to the outcomes of the warfare as the defeat for Egypt. Moreover, the involvement of the global political powers into the war influenced its outcomes as well.

Apr 12, 2021 in History

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