Yom Kippur War (also Ramadan War, October War or the 1973 Arab–Israeli War)
The Yom Kippur War, Ramadan War, or October War (Arabic: حرب أكتوبر Ḥarb ʾUktōbar, or حرب تشرين Ḥarb Tišrīn; Hebrew: מלחמת יום הכיפורים Milẖemet Yom HaKipurim or מלחמת יום כיפור Milẖemet Yom Kipur), also known as the 1973 Arab–Israeli War, was a war fought by the coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria against Israel from October 6 to 25, 1973. The fighting mostly took place in the Sinai and the Golan Heights, territories that had been occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat wanted also to reopen the Suez Canal. Neither specifically planned to destroy Israel, although the Israeli leaders could not be sure of that.
The war began when the Arab coalition launched a joint surprise attack on Israeli positions in the Israeli-occupied territories on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, which also occurred that year during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Egyptian and Syrian forces crossed ceasefire lines to enter the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights respectively. Both the United States and the Soviet Union initiated massive resupply efforts to their respective allies during the war, and this led to a near-confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers.
The war began with a massive and successful Egyptian crossing of the Suez Canal. After crossing the cease-fire lines, Egyptian forces advanced virtually unopposed into the Sinai Peninsula. After three days, Israel had mobilized most of its forces and halted the Egyptian offensive, resulting in a military stalemate. The Syrians coordinated their attack on the Golan Heights to coincide with the Egyptian offensive and initially made threatening gains into Israeli-held territory. Within three days, however, Israeli forces had pushed the Syrians back to the pre-war ceasefire lines. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) then launched a four-day counter-offensive deep into Syria. Within a week, Israeli artillery began to shell the outskirts of Damascus. As Egyptian President Sadat began to worry about the integrity of his major ally, he believed that capturing two strategic passes located deeper in the Sinai would make his position stronger during post-war negotiations. He therefore ordered the Egyptians to go back on the offensive, but their attack was quickly repulsed. The Israelis then counter-attacked at the seam between the two Egyptian armies, crossed the Suez Canal into Egypt, and began slowly advancing southward and westward towards the city of Suez in over a week of heavy fighting that resulted in heavy casualties on both sides.
On October 22 a United Nations–brokered ceasefire quickly unraveled, with each side blaming the other for the breach. By October 24, the Israelis had improved their positions considerably and completed their encirclement of Egypt's Third Army and the city of Suez. This development led to tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. As a result, a second ceasefire was imposed cooperatively on October 25 to end the war.
The war had far-reaching implications. The Arab World, which had experienced humiliation in the lopsided rout of the Egyptian–Syrian–Jordanian alliance in the Six-Day War, felt psychologically vindicated by early successes in the conflict. In Israel, despite impressive operational and tactical achievements on the battlefield, the war led to recognition that there was no guarantee that Israel would always dominate the Arab states militarily. These changes paved the way for the subsequent peace process. The 1978 Camp David Accords that followed led to the return of the Sinai to Egypt and normalized relations—the first peaceful recognition of Israel by an Arab country. Egypt continued its drift away from the Soviet Union and left the Soviet sphere of influence entirely.
The war was part of the Arab–Israeli conflict, an ongoing dispute that included many battles and wars since 1948, when the state of Israel was formed. During the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel had captured Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, roughly half of Syria's Golan Heights, and the territories of the West Bank which had been held by Jordan since 1948.
On June 19, 1967, shortly after the Six-Day War, the Israeli government voted to return the Sinai to Egypt and the Golan Heights to Syria in return for peace agreements. This decision was not made public or conveyed to the Arab states; the public position of the Israeli government was that they were willing to return both Sinai and the Golan Heights, with exception of some strategically important points, in exchange for a permanent peace settlement and a demilitarization of the returned territories. They rejected a full return to the boundaries and the situation before the war and also insisted on direct negotiations with the Arab governments as opposed to accepting negotiation through a third party.
The Arab position, as it emerged in September 1967 at the Khartoum Arab Summit, was to reject any peaceful settlement with the state of Israel. The eight participating states – Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, and Sudan - passed a resolution that would later become known as the "three no's": there would be no peace, no recognition and no negotiation with Israel. Prior to that, King Hussein of Jordan had stated that he could not rule out a possibility of a "real, permanent peace" between Israel and the Arab states.
Armed hostilities continued on a limited scale after the Six-Day War and escalated into the War of Attrition, an attempt to wear down the Israeli position through long-term pressure. A ceasefire was signed in August 1970.
President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt died in September 1970 and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat. A peace initiative led by UN intermediary Gunnar Jarring failed to produce a lasting peace agreement. While both parties reaffirmed their desire for a peace agreement, the Israelis refused any preconditions to negotiations; the Egyptians, on the other hand, refused to enter into negotiations before Israel withdrew their troops from the Sinai peninsula to the 1967 ceasefire lines. In one instance, in response to a letter sent by Jarring to governments of Israel and Egypt, Sadat wrote that Egypt would be "ready to enter into a peace agreement with Israel" if Israel committed itself to "withdrawal of its armed forces from Sinai and the Gaza Strip", to "achievement of a just settlement for the refugee problem", and to implementation of other provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 242. In addition, the Egyptian response included a statement that the lasting peace could not be achieved without "withdrawal of the Israeli armed forces from all the territories occupied since 5 June 1967" (emphasis added). The UNSC resolution called for "withdrawal from territories occupied" intentionally omitting "all", and "the"; the Israeli response included a statement that they were not willing to "withdraw to the pre–June 5, 1967 lines."
Sadat hoped that by inflicting even a limited defeat on the Israelis, the status quo could be altered. Hafez al-Assad, the leader of Syria, had a different view. He had little interest in negotiation and felt the retaking of the Golan Heights would be a purely military option. After the Six-Day War, Assad had launched a massive military buildup and hoped to make Syria the dominant military power of the Arab states. With the aid of Egypt, Assad felt that his new army could win convincingly against Israel and thus secure Syria's role in the region. Assad only saw negotiations beginning once the Golan Heights had been retaken by force, which would induce Israel to give up the West Bank and Gaza, and make other concessions.
Sadat also had important domestic concerns in wanting war. "The three years since Sadat had taken office ... were the most demoralized in Egyptian history.... A desiccated economy added to the nation's despondency. War was a desperate option." In his biography of Sadat, Raphael Israeli argued that Sadat felt the root of the problem was the great shame over the Six-Day War, and before any reforms could be introduced, he believed that that shame had to be overcome. Egypt's economy was in shambles, but Sadat knew that the deep reforms that he felt were needed would be deeply unpopular among parts of the population. A military victory would give him the popularity he needed to make changes. A portion of the Egyptian population, most prominently university students who launched wide protests, strongly desired a war to reclaim the Sinai and was highly upset that Sadat had not launched one in his first three years in office.
The other Arab states showed much more reluctance to fully commit to a new war. Jordanian King Hussein feared another major loss of territory, as had occurred in the Six-Day War, in which Jordan lost all of the West Bank, territory it had conquered and annexed in 1948–49, which had doubled its population. Sadat also backed the claim of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to the West Bank and Gaza and, in the event of a victory, promised Yasser Arafat that he would be given control of them. Hussein still saw the West Bank as part of Jordan and wanted it restored to his kingdom. Moreover, during the Black September crisis of 1970, a near civil war had broken out between the PLO and the Jordanian government. In that war, Syria had intervened militarily on the side of the PLO, estranging Hussein.
Iraq and Syria also had strained relations, and the Iraqis refused to join the initial offensive. Lebanon, which shared a border with Israel, was not expected to join the Arab war effort because of its small army and already evident instability. The months before the war saw Sadat engage in a diplomatic offensive to try to win support for the war. By the fall of 1973, he claimed the backing of more than a hundred states. These were most of the countries of the Arab League, Non-Aligned Movement, and Organization of African Unity. Sadat had also worked to curry favour in Europe and had some success before the war. Britain and France for the first time sided with the Arab powers against Israel on the United Nations Security Council.
Events leading up to the war
Four months before the war broke out, Henry Kissinger made an offer to Ismail, Sadat's emissary. Kissinger proposed returning the Sinai Peninsula to Egyptian control and an Israeli withdrawal from all of Sinai, except for some strategic points. Ismail said he would return with Sadat's reply, but never did. Sadat was already determined to go to war. Only an American guarantee that the United States would fulfill the entire Arab program in a brief time could have dissuaded Sadat.
Sadat declared that Egypt was prepared to "sacrifice a million Egyptian soldiers" to recover its lost territory. From the end of 1972, Egypt began a concentrated effort to build up its forces, receiving MiG-21 jet fighters, SA-2, SA-3, SA-6 and SA-7 antiaircraft missiles, T-55 and T-62 tanks, RPG-7 antitank weapons, and the AT-3 Sagger anti-tank guided missile from the Soviet Union and improving its military tactics, based on Soviet battlefield doctrines. Political generals, who had in large part been responsible for the rout in 1967, were replaced with competent ones.
The role of the superpowers, too, was a major factor in the outcome of the two wars. The policy of the Soviet Union was one of the causes of Egypt's military weakness. President Nasser was only able to obtain the materiel for an anti-aircraft missile defense wall after visiting Moscow and pleading with Kremlin leaders. He said that if supplies were not given, he would have to return to Egypt and tell the Egyptian people Moscow had abandoned them, and then relinquish power to one of his peers who would be able to deal with the Americans. The Americans would then have the upper hand in the region, which Moscow could not permit.
One of Egypt's undeclared objectives in the War of Attrition was to force the Soviet Union to supply Egypt with more advanced arms and materiel. Egypt felt the only way to convince the Soviet leaders of the deficiencies of most of the aircraft and air defense weaponry supplied to Egypt following 1967 was to put the Soviet weapons to the test against the advanced weaponry the United States had supplied to Israel.
Nasser's policy following the 1967 defeat conflicted with that of the Soviet Union. The Soviets sought to avoid a new conflagration between the Arabs and Israelis so as not to be drawn into a confrontation with the United States. The reality of the situation became apparent when the superpowers met in Oslo and agreed to maintain the status quo. This was unacceptable to Egyptian leaders, and when it was discovered that the Egyptian preparations for crossing the canal were being leaked, it became imperative to expel the Soviets from Egypt. In July 1972, Sadat expelled almost all of the 20,000 Soviet military advisers in the country and reoriented the country's foreign policy to be more favourable to the United States. The Syrians remained close to the Soviet Union.
The Soviets thought little of Sadat's chances in any war. They warned that any attempt to cross the heavily fortified Suez Canal would incur massive losses. Both the Soviets and Americans were then pursuing détente and had no interest in seeing the Middle East destabilized. In a June 1973 meeting with American President Richard Nixon, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had proposed Israel pull back to its 1967 border. Brezhnev said that if Israel did not, "we will have difficulty keeping the military situation from flaring up"—an indication that the Soviet Union had been unable to restrain Sadat's plans.
In an interview published in Newsweek (April 9, 1973), Sadat again threatened war with Israel. Several times during 1973, Arab forces conducted large-scale exercises that put the Israeli military on the highest level of alert, only to be recalled a few days later. The Israeli leadership already believed that if an attack took place, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) could repel it.
Almost a full year before the war, in an October 24, 1972, meeting with his Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Sadat declared his intention to go to war with Israel even without proper Soviet support. Planning had begun in 1971 and was conducted in absolute secrecy—even the upper-echelon commanders were not told of the war plans until less than a week prior to the attack, and the soldiers were not told until a few hours beforehand. The plan to attack Israel in concert with Syria was code-named Operation Badr (Arabic for "full moon"), after the Battle of Badr, in which Muslims under Muhammad defeated the Quraish tribe of Mecca.
Lead-up to the surprise attack
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Directorate of Military Intelligence's (abbreviated as "Aman") Research Department was responsible for formulating Israel's intelligence estimate. Their assessments on the likelihood of war were based on several assumptions. First, it was assumed correctly that Syria would not go to war with Israel unless Egypt did so as well. Second, the department learned from Ashraf Marwan, former President Nasser's son-in-law and also a senior Mossad agent, that Egypt wanted to regain all of the Sinai, but would not go to war until they were supplied MiG-23 fighter-bombers to neutralize the Israeli Air Force and Scud missiles to be used against Israeli cities as a deterrent against Israeli attacks on Egyptian infrastructure.
Since they had not received MiG-23s and Scud missiles had only arrived in Egypt from Bulgaria in late August and it would take four months to train the Egyptian ground crews, Aman predicted war with Egypt was not imminent. This assumption about Egypt's strategic plans, known as "the concept", strongly prejudiced the department's thinking and led it to dismiss other war warnings.
By mid-1973, Aman was almost completely aware of the Arab war plans. It knew that the Egyptian Second and Third Armies would attempt to cross the Suez Canal and advance ten kilometres into the Sinai, followed by armored divisions that would advance towards the Mitla and Gidi Passes, and that naval units and paratroopers would then attempt to capture Sharm el-Sheikh. Aman was also aware of many details of the Syrian war plan. However, Israeli analysts, following "the concept", did not believe the Arabs were serious about going to war.
The Egyptians did much to further this misconception. Both the Israelis and the Americans felt that the expulsion of the Soviet military observers had severely reduced the effectiveness of the Egyptian army. The Egyptians ensured that there was a continual stream of false information regarding maintenance problems and a lack of personnel to operate the most advanced equipment. The Egyptians made repeated misleading reports about lack of spare parts that made their way to the Israelis. Sadat had so long engaged in brinkmanship that his frequent war threats were being ignored by the world.
In April and May 1973, Israeli intelligence began picking up clear signals of Egypt's intentions for war, recognizing that it had the necessary divisions and bridging equipment to cross the Suez Canal and a missile umbrella to protect any crossing operation from air attack. However, Aman Chief Eli Zeira was still confident that the probability of war was low.
In May and August 1973, the Egyptian Army conducted military exercises near the border, and Ashraf Marwan inaccurately warned that Egypt and Syria would launch a surprise attack on May 15. The Israeli Army mobilized in response to both exercises at considerable cost. These exercises were to ensure that the Israelis would dismiss the actual war preparations right before the attack was launched as another exercise.
Egyptian and Syrian military exercises
For the week leading up to Yom Kippur, the Egyptian army staged a week-long training exercise adjacent to the Suez Canal. Israeli intelligence, detecting large troop movements towards the canal, dismissed them as mere training exercises. Movements of Syrian troops towards the border were also detected, as were the cancellation of leaves and a call-up of reserves in the Syrian army. These activities were considered puzzling, but not a threat because, Aman believed, they would not attack without Egypt and Egypt would not attack until the weaponry they wanted arrived. Despite this belief, Israel sent reinforcements to the Golan Heights. These forces were to prove critical during the early days of the war.
On September 27 and 30, two batches of reservists were called up by the Egyptian army to participate in these exercises. Two days before the outbreak of the war, on October 4, the Egyptian command publicly announced the demobilization of part of the reservists called up during September 27 to lull Israeli suspicions. Around 20,000 troops were demobilized, and subsequently some of these men were given leave to perform the Umrah (pilgrimage) to Mecca. Reports were also given instructing cadets in military colleges to resume their courses on October 9.
On October 1, an Aman researcher, Lieutenant Binyamin Siman-Tov, submitted an assessment arguing that the Egyptian deployments and exercises along the Suez Canal seemed to be a camouflage for an actual crossing of the canal. Siman-Tov sent a more comprehensive assessment on October 3. Both were ignored by his superior.
According to Egyptian General El-Gamasy, "On the initiative of the operations staff, we reviewed the situation on the ground and developed a framework for the planned offensive operation. We studied the technical characteristics of the Suez Canal, the ebb and the flow of the tides, the speed of the currents and their direction, hours of darkness and of moonlight, weather conditions, and related conditions in the Mediterranean and Red sea." He explained further by saying: "Saturday 6 October 1973 (10 Ramadan 1393) was the day chosen for the September–October option. Conditions for a crossing were good, it was a fast day in Israel, and the moon on that day, 10 Ramadan, shone from sunset until midnight." The war coincided that year with the Muslim month of Ramadan, when many Arab Muslim soldiers fast. On the other hand, the fact that the attack was launched on Yom Kippur may have helped Israel to more easily marshal reserves from their homes and synagogues because roads and communication lines were largely open, easing the mobilization and transportation of the military.
Despite refusing to participate, King Hussein of Jordan "had met with Sadat and Assad in Alexandria two weeks before. Given the mutual suspicions prevailing among the Arab leaders, it was unlikely that he had been told any specific war plans. But it was probable that Sadat and Assad had raised the prospect of war against Israel in more general terms to feel out the likelihood of Jordan joining in."
On the night of September 25, Hussein secretly flew to Tel Aviv to warn Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir of an impending Syrian attack. "Are they going to war without the Egyptians, asked Mrs. Meir. The king said he didn't think so. 'I think they [Egypt] would cooperate.'" This warning was ignored, and Aman concluded that the king had not told anything that was not already known. Throughout September, Israel received eleven warnings of war from well-placed sources. However, Mossad Director-General Zvi Zamir continued to insist that war was not an Arab option, even after Hussein's warning. Zamir would later remark that "We simply didn't feel them capable [of war]."
On the day before the war, General Ariel Sharon was shown aerial photographs and other intelligence by Yehoshua Saguy, his divisional intelligence officer. General Sharon noticed that the concentration of Egyptian forces along the canal was far beyond anything observed during the training exercises, and that the Egyptians had amassed all of their crossing equipment along the canal. He then called General Shmuel Gonen, who had replaced him as head of Southern Command, and expressed his certainty that war was imminent.
On October 4–5, Zamir's concern grew, as additional signs of an impending attack were detected. Soviet advisers and their families left Egypt and Syria, transport aircraft thought to be laden with military equipment landed in Cairo and Damascus, and aerial photographs revealed that Egyptian and Syrian concentrations of tanks, infantry, and surface-to-air (SAM) missiles were at an unprecedented high. According to declassified documents from the Agranat Commission, Brigadier General Yisrael Lior, Prime Minister Golda Meir's military secretary/attaché, claimed that Mossad knew from Ashraf Marwan that an attack was going to occur under the guise of a military drill a week before it occurred, but the process of passing along the information to the Prime Minister's office failed. The information ended up with Mossad head Zvi Zamir's aide, who passed it along to Zamir at 12:30 am on 5 October. According to the claim, an unfocused and groggy Zamir thanked the aide for the information and said he would pass it along to the Prime Minister's office in the morning. On the night of October 5/6, Zamir personally went to Europe to meet with Marwan at midnight. Marwan informed him that a joint Syrian-Egyptian attack was imminent. However, Marwan incorrectly told Zamir that the attack would take place at sunset.
It was this warning in particular, combined with the large number of other warnings, that finally goaded the Israeli High Command into action. Just hours before the attack began, orders went out for a partial call-up of the Israeli reserves.
The attack by the Egyptian and Syrian forces caught the United States by surprise. According to future CIA Director and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he was briefing an American arms negotiator on the improbability of armed conflict in the region when he heard the news of the outbreak of war on the radio. On the other hand, the KGB learned about the attack in advance, probably from its intelligence sources in Egypt.
Lack of Israeli pre-emptive attack
The Israeli strategy was, for the most part, based on the precept that if war was imminent, Israel would launch a pre-emptive strike. It was assumed that Israel's intelligence services would give, in the worst case, about 48 hours notice prior to an Arab attack.
Prime Minister Golda Meir, Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, and Chief of General Staff David Elazar met at 8:05 am the morning of Yom Kippur, six hours before the war began. Dayan opened the meeting by arguing that war was not a certainty. Elazar then presented his argument in favor of a pre-emptive attack against Syrian airfields at noon, Syrian missiles at 3:00 pm, and Syrian ground forces at 5:00 pm "When the presentations were done, the prime minister hemmed uncertainly for a few moments but then came to a clear decision. There would be no preemptive strike. Israel might be needing American assistance soon and it was imperative that it would not be blamed for starting the war. 'If we strike first, we won't get help from anybody', she said." Prior to the war, Kissinger and Nixon consistently warned Meir that she must not be responsible for initiating a Middle east war. On October 6, 1973, the war opening date, Kissinger told Israel not to go for a preemptive strike, and Meir confirmed to him that Israel would not.
Other developed nations, being more dependent on OPEC oil, took more seriously the threat of an Arab oil embargo and trade boycott, and had stopped supplying Israel with munitions. As a result, Israel was totally dependent on the United States for military resupply, and particularly sensitive to anything that might endanger that relationship. After Meir had made her decision, at 10:15 am, she met with American ambassador Kenneth Keating in order to inform the United States that Israel did not intend to preemptively start a war, and asked that American efforts be directed at preventing war. An electronic telegram with Keating's report on the meeting was sent to the United States at 16:33 GMT (6:33 pm local time).
A message arrived later from United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger saying, "Don't preempt." At the same time, Kissinger also urged the Soviets to use their influence to prevent war, contacted Egypt with Israel's message of non-preemption, and sent messages to other Arab governments to enlist their help on the side of moderation. These late efforts were futile. According to Henry Kissinger, had Israel struck first, it would not have received "so much as a nail".
David Elazar proposed a mobilization of the entire air force and four armored divisions, a total of 100,000 to 120,000 troops, while Dayan favored a mobilization of the air force and two armored divisions, totaling around 70,000 troops. Meir chose Elazar's proposal.
In the Sinai
The Sinai was once again the arena of conflict between the Israelis and the Egyptians, the fifth such occasion. The Egyptians had prepared for an assault across the canal and deployed five divisions totaling 100,000 soldiers, 1,350 tanks and 2,000 guns and heavy mortars for the onslaught. Facing them were 450 soldiers of the Jerusalem Brigade, spread out in 16 forts along the length of the Canal. There were 290 Israeli tanks in all of Sinai divided into three armored brigades, and only one of these was deployed near the Canal when hostilities commenced.
Large bridgeheads were established on the east bank on October 6. Israeli armoured forces launched counterattacks from October 6 to 8, but they were often piecemeal and inadequately supported and were beaten back principally by Egyptians using portable anti-tank missiles. Between October 9 and October 12 the American response was a call for cease-fire in place. Arms for Israel began to flow in modest quantities. The Egyptian units generally would not advance beyond a shallow strip for fear of losing the protection of their surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries, which were situated on the west bank of the canal. In the Six-Day War, the Israeli Air Force had pummeled the defenseless Arab armies. Egypt (and Syria) had heavily fortified their side of the ceasefire lines with SAM batteries provided by the Soviet Union, against which the Israeli Air Force had no time to execute a Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) operation due to the element of surprise. Israel, which had invested much of its defense budget building the region's strongest air force, would see the effectiveness of its air force curtailed in the initial phases of the conflict by the SAM presence.
On October 9, the IDF chose to concentrate its reserves and build up its supplies while the Egyptians remained on the strategic defensive. Nixon and Kissinger held back on a full-scale resupply of arms to Israel. Short of supplies, the Israeli government reluctantly accepted a cease-fire in place on October 12 but Sadat refused. The Soviets started an airlift of arms to Syria and Egypt. The American global interest was to prove that Soviet arms could not dictate the outcome of the fighting, by supplying Israel. With an airlift in full swing, Washington was prepared to wait until Israeli success on the battlefield might persuade the Arabs and the Soviets to bring the fighting to an end. It was decided to counterattack once Egyptian armour attempted to expand the bridgehead beyond the protective SAM umbrella. The riposte, codenamed Operation Gazelle, was launched on October 15. IDF forces spearheaded by Ariel Sharon's division broke through the Tasa corridor and crossed the Suez Canal to the north of the Great Bitter Lake.
After intense fighting, the IDF progressed towards Cairo and advanced southwards on the east bank of the Great Bitter Lake and in the southern extent of the canal right up to Port Suez. It was important for the Americans that the fighting should be ended, when all parties could still emerge from the conflict with their vital interests and self-esteem intact. Hence they indicated an acceptance of Israeli advance while violating the ceasefire, but the U.S. did not permit the destruction of the Egyptian 3rd army corps. Israeli progress towards Cairo was brought to a halt when the ceasefire was declared on October 24.
Anticipating a swift Israeli armored counterattack by three armored divisions, the Egyptians had armed their assault force with large numbers of man-portable anti-tank weapons—rocket-propelled grenades and the less numerous but more advanced Sagger guided missiles, which proved devastating to the first Israeli armored counterattacks. Each of the five infantry divisions that was to cross the canal had been equipped with RPG-7 rockets and RPG-43 grenades, and reinforced with an anti-tank guided missile battalion, as they would not have any armor support for nearly 12 hours.
In addition, the Egyptians had built separate ramps at the crossing points, reaching as high as 21 metres (69 ft) to counter the Israeli sand wall, provide covering fire for the assaulting infantry and to counter the first Israeli armored counterattacks. The scale and effectiveness of the Egyptian strategy of deploying these anti-tank weapons coupled with the Israelis' inability to disrupt their use with close air support (due to the SAM shield) greatly contributed to Israeli setbacks early in the war.
The Egyptian Army put great effort into finding a quick and effective way of breaching the Israeli defenses. The Israelis had built large 18 metre (59 foot) high sand walls with a 60 degree slope and reinforced with concrete at the water line. Egyptian engineers initially experimented with explosive charges and bulldozers to clear the obstacles, before a junior officer proposed using high pressure water cannons. The idea was tested and found to be a sound one, and several high pressure water cannons were imported from Britain and East Germany. The water cannons effectively breached the sand walls using water from the canal.
At 2:00 pm on October 6, Operation Badr began with a large airstrike. More than 200 Egyptian aircraft conducted simultaneous strikes against three airbases, Hawk missile batteries, three command centers, artillery positions, and several radar installations. Airfields at Refidim and Bir Tamada were temporarily put out of service, and damage was inflicted on a Hawk battery at Ophir. The aerial assault was coupled with a barrage from more than 2,000 artillery pieces for a period of 53 minutes against the Bar Lev Line and rear area command posts and concentration bases.
Author Andrew McGregor claimed that the success of the first strike negated the need for a second planned strike. Egypt acknowledged the loss of 5 aircraft during the attack. Kenneth Pollack wrote that 18 Egyptian aircraft were shot down, and that these losses prompted the cancellation of the second planned wave. In one notable engagement during this period, a pair of Israeli F-4E Phantoms challenged 28 Egyptian MiGs over Sharm el-Sheikh and within half an hour, shot down seven or eight MiGs with no losses. One of the Egyptian pilots killed was Captain Atif Sadat, President Sadat's half-brother.
Simultaneously, 14 Egyptian Tupolev Tu-16 bombers attacked Israeli targets in the Sinai with Kelt missiles, while another two Egyptian Tupolevs fired two Kelt missiles at a radar station in central Israel. One missile was shot down by a patrolling Israeli Mirage fighter, and the second fell into the sea. The attack was an attempt to warn Israel that Egypt could retaliate if it bombed targets deep in Egyptian territory.
Under cover of the initial artillery barrage, the Egyptian assault force of 32,000 infantry began crossing the canal in twelve waves at five separate crossing areas, from 14:05 to 17:30, in what became known as The Crossing. The Egyptians prevented Israeli forces from reinforcing the Bar Lev Line and proceeded to attack the Israeli fortifications. Meanwhile engineers crossed over to breach the sand wall. The Israeli Air Force conducted air interdiction operations to try to prevent the bridges from being erected, but took losses from Egyptian SAM batteries. The air attacks were ineffective overall, as the sectional design of the bridges enabled quick repairs when hit.
Despite fierce resistance, the Israeli reserve brigade garrisoning the Bar-Lev forts was overwhelmed. According to Shazly, within six hours, fifteen strongpoints had been captured as Egyptian forces advanced several kilometres into the Sinai. Shazly's account was disputed by Kenneth Pollack, who noted that for the most part, the forts only fell to repeated assaults by superior forces or prolonged sieges over many days. The northernmost fortification of the Bar Lev Line, code-named 'Fort Budapest', withstood repeated assaults and remained in Israeli hands throughout the war. Once the bridges were laid, additional infantry with the remaining portable and recoilless anti-tank weapons began to cross the canal, while the first Egyptian tanks started to cross at 20:30.
The Egyptians also attempted to land several heli-borne commando units in various areas in the Sinai to hamper the arrival of Israeli reserves. This attempt met with disaster as the Israelis shot down up to twenty helicopters, inflicting heavy casualties. Israeli Major General (res.) Chaim Herzog placed Egyptian helicopter losses at fourteen. Other sources claim that "several" helicopters were downed with "total loss of life" and that the few commandos that did filter through were ineffectual and presented nothing more than a "nuisance". Kenneth Pollack asserted that despite their heavy losses, the Egyptian commandos fought exceptionally hard and created considerable panic, prompting the Israelis to take precautions that hindered their ability to concentrate on stopping the assault across the canal.
Egyptian forces advanced approximately 4 to 5 km into the Sinai Desert with two armies (both corps-sized by western standards, included the 2nd Infantry Division in the northern Second Army). By the following morning, some 850 tanks had crossed the canal. In his account of the war, Saad El Shazly noted that by the morning of October 7, the Egyptians had lost 280 soldiers and 20 tanks, though this account is disputed.
Most Israeli soldiers defending the Bar Lev Line were casualties, and some 200 were taken prisoner. In the subsequent days, some defenders of the Bar Lev Line managed to break through Egyptian encirclement and return to their lines, or were extracted during Israeli counterattacks that came later on. For the next several days, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) played a minimal role in the fighting largely because it was needed to deal with the simultaneous, and ultimately more threatening, Syrian invasion of the Golan Heights.
Egyptian forces then consolidated their initial positions. On October 7, the bridgeheads were enlarged an additional 4 km, at the same time repulsing Israeli counterattacks. In the north, the Egyptian 18th Division attacked the town of El-Qantarah el-Sharqiyya, engaging Israeli forces in and around the town. The fighting there was conducted at close quarters, and was sometimes hand-to-hand. The Egyptians were forced to clear the town building by building. By evening, most of the town was in Egyptian hands. El-Qantarah was completely cleared by the next morning.
Meanwhile the Egyptian commandos airdropped on October 6 began encountering Israeli reserves the following morning. Both sides suffered heavy losses, but the commandos were at times successful in delaying the movement of Israeli reserves to the front. These special operations often led to confusion and anxiety among Israeli commanders, who commended the Egyptian commandos. This view was contradicted by another source that stated that few commandos made it to their objectives, and were usually nothing more than a nuisance. According to Abraham Rabinovich, only the commandos near Baluza and those blocking the road to Fort Budapest had measurable successes. Of the 1,700 Egyptian commandos inserted behind Israeli lines during the war, 740 were killed—many in downed helicopters—and 330 taken prisoner.
Failed Israeli counter-attack
On October 7, David Elazar visited Shmuel Gonen, commander of the Israeli Southern front—who had only taken the position three months before at the retirement of Ariel Sharon—and met with Israeli commanders. The Israelis planned a cautious counterattack for the following day by Abraham Adan's 162nd Armored Division. The same day, the Israeli Air Force carried out Operation Tagar, aiming to neutralize Egyptian Air Force bases and its missile defense shield.
Seven Egyptian airbases were damaged with the loss of two A-4 Skyhawks and their pilots. Two more planned attacks were called off because of the increasing need for air power on the Syrian front. The IAF carried out additional air attacks against Egyptian forces on the east bank of the canal, reportedly inflicting heavy losses. Israeli jets had carried out hundreds of sorties against Egyptian targets by the following day, but the Egyptian SAM shield inflicted heavy losses. IAF aircraft losses mounted to three aircraft for every 200 sorties, an unsustainable rate. The Israelis responded by rapidly devising new tactics to thwart Egyptian air defenses.
On October 8, after Elazar had left, Gonen changed the plans on the basis of unduly optimistic field reports. Adan's division was composed of three brigades totaling 183 tanks. One of the brigades was still en route to the area, and would participate in the attack by noon, along with a supporting mechanized infantry brigade with an additional 44 tanks. The Israeli counterattack was in the direction of the Bar Lev strongpoints opposite the city of Ismailia, against entrenched Egyptian infantry. In a series of ill-coordinated attacks, which were met by stiff resistance, the Israelis suffered heavy losses.
That afternoon, Egyptian forces advanced once more to deepen their bridgeheads, and as a result the Israelis lost several strategic positions. Further Israeli attacks to regain the lost ground proved futile. Towards nightfall, an Egyptian counterattack was repulsed with the loss of 50 Egyptian tanks by the Israeli 143rd Armoured Division, which was led by General Ariel Sharon, who had been reinstated as a division commander at the outset of the war. Garwych, citing Egyptian sources, documented Egyptian tank losses up to October 13 at 240.
According to Herzog, by October 9 the front lines had stabilized. The Egyptians were unable to advance further, and Egyptian armored attacks on October 9 and 10 were repulsed with heavy losses. However, this claim was disputed by Shazly, who claimed that the Egyptians continued to advance and improve their positions well into October 10. He pointed to one engagement, which involved elements of the 1st Infantry Brigade, attached to the 19th Division, which captured Ayoun Mousa, south of Suez.
The Egyptian 1st Mechanized Brigade launched a failed attack southward along the Gulf of Suez in the direction of Ras Sudar. Leaving the safety of the SAM umbrella, the force was attacked by Israeli aircraft and suffered heavy losses. Shazly cited this experience as a basis to resist pressure by Minister of War, General Ahmad Ismail Ali to attack eastward toward the Mitla and Gidi Passes.
Between October 10 and 13, both sides refrained from any large-scale actions, and the situation was relatively stable. Both sides launched small-scale attacks, and the Egyptians used helicopters to land commandos behind Israeli lines. Some Egyptian helicopters were shot down, and those commando forces that managed to land were quickly destroyed by Koah Patzi, a twelve-man squad consisting of officers from the Sayeret Shaked unit. In one key engagement on October 13, Koah Patzi destroyed a particularly large incursion and killed close to a hundred Egyptian commandos.
The Egyptian failed attack
General Shazly strongly opposed any eastward advance that would leave his armor without adequate air cover. He was overruled by General Ismail and Sadat, whose aims were to seize the strategic Mitla and Gidi Passes and the Israeli nerve centre at Refidim, which they hoped would relieve pressure on the Syrians (who were by now on the defensive) by forcing Israel to shift divisions from the Golan to the Sinai.
The 2nd and 3rd Armies were ordered to attack eastward in six simultaneous thrusts over a broad front, leaving behind five infantry divisions to hold the bridgeheads. The attacking forces, consisting of 800–1,000 tanks would not have SAM cover, so the Egyptian Air Force (EAF) was tasked with the defense of these forces from Israeli air attacks. Armored and mechanized units began the attack on October 14 with artillery support. They were up against 700–750 Israeli tanks.
Preparatory to the tank attack, Egyptian helicopters set down 100 commandos near the Lateral Road to disrupt the Israeli rear. An Israeli reconnaissance unit quickly subdued them, killing 60 and taking numerous prisoners. Still bruised by the extensive losses their commandos had suffered on the opening day of the war, the Egyptians were unable or unwilling to implement further commando operations that had been planned in conjunction with the armored attack. The Egyptian armored thrust suffered heavy losses. Instead of concentrating forces of maneuvering, except for the wadi thrust, Egyptian units launched head-on-attacks against the waiting Israeli defenses.
The Egyptian attack was decisively repelled. At least 250 Egyptian tanks and some 200 armored vehicles were destroyed. Egyptian casualties exceeded 1,000. Fewer than 40 Israeli tanks were hit and all but six of them were repaired by Israeli maintenance crews and returned to service, while Israeli casualties numbered 665.
Kenneth Pollack credited a successful Israeli commando raid early on October 14 against an Egyptian signals-intercept site at Jebel Ataqah with seriously disrupting Egyptian command and control and contributing to its breakdown during the engagement.
Israel planned attack considerations
With the situation on the Syrian front stabilizing, the Israeli High Command agreed that the time was ripe for an Israeli counterattack and strike across the canal.
General Sharon advocated an immediate crossing at Deversoir at the northern edge of Great Bitter Lake. On October 9, a reconnaissance force attached to Colonel Amnon Reshef's Brigade detected a gap between the Egyptian Second and Third armies in this sector. According to General Gamasy, the gap had been detected by an American SR-71 spy plane. Chief of Staff Elazar and General Chaim Bar-Lev, who had by now replaced Gonen as Chief of Southern Command, agreed that this was the ideal spot for a crossing. However, given the size of the Egyptian armoured reserves, the Israelis chose to wait for an opportunity that would allow them to reduce Egyptian armored strength before initiating any crossing.
The opportunity arrived on October 12, when Israeli intelligence detected signs that the Egyptians were gearing up for a major armored thrust. This was precisely the moment the Israelis were waiting for. They could finally utilize their advantages in speed, maneuver and tank gunnery, areas in which they excelled. Once Egyptian armored strength was sufficiently degraded, the Israelis would commence their own canal crossing.
Israeli breakthrough – Crossing the canal
The Israelis immediately followed the Egyptian failed attack of October 14 with a multidivisional counterattack through the gap between the Egyptian 2nd and 3rd Armies. Sharon's 143rd Division, now reinforced with a paratroop brigade commanded by Colonel Danny Matt, was tasked with establishing bridgeheads on the east and west banks of the canal. The 162nd and 252nd Armored Divisions, commanded by Generals Avraham Adan and Kalman Magen respectively, would then cross through the breach to the west bank of the canal and swing southward, encircling the 3rd Army. The offensive was code-named Operation Stouthearted Men or alternatively, Operation Valiant.
On the night of October 15, 750 of Colonel Matt's paratroopers crossed the canal in rubber dinghies. They were soon joined by tanks ferried on motorized rafts and additional infantry. The force encountered no resistance initially and fanned out in raiding parties, attacking supply convoys, SAM sites, logistic centers and anything of military value, with priority given to the SAMs. Attacks on SAM sites punched a hole in the Egyptian anti-aircraft screen and enabled the Israeli Air Force to strike Egyptian ground targets more aggressively.
On the night of October 15, 20 Israeli tanks and 7 APCs under the command of Colonel Haim Erez crossed the canal and penetrated 12 kilometres into mainland Egypt, taking the Egyptians by surprise. For the first 24 hours, Erez's force attacked SAM sites and military columns with impunity. On the morning of October 17, it was attacked by the 23rd Egyptian Armored Brigade, but managed to repulse the attack. By this time, the Syrians no longer posed a credible threat and the Israelis were able to shift their air power to the south in support of the offensive. The combination of a weakened Egyptian SAM umbrella and a greater concentration of Israeli fighter-bombers meant that the IAF was capable of greatly increasing sorties against Egyptian military targets, including convoys, armor and airfields. The Egyptian bridges across the canal were damaged in Israeli air and artillery attacks.
Israeli jets began attacking Egyptian SAM sites and radars, prompting General Ismail to withdraw much of the Egyptians' air defense equipment. This in turn gave the IAF still greater freedom to operate in Egyptian airspace. Israeli jets also attacked and destroyed underground communication cables at Banha in the Nile Delta, forcing the Egyptians to transmit selective messages by radio, which could be intercepted. Aside from the cables at Banha, Israel refrained from attacking economic and strategic infrastructure following an Egyptian threat to retaliate against Israeli cities with Scud missiles. Israeli aircraft bombed Egyptian Scud batteries at Port Said several times. The Egyptian Air Force attempted to interdict IAF sorties and attack Israeli ground forces, but suffered heavy losses in dogfights and from Israeli air defenses, while inflicting light aircraft losses on the Israelis. The heaviest air battles took place over the northern Nile Delta, where the Israelis repeatedly attempted to destroy Egyptian airbases.
Securing the bridgehead
Despite the success the Israelis were having on the west bank, Generals Bar-Lev and Elazar ordered Sharon to concentrate on securing the bridgehead on the east bank. He was ordered to clear the roads leading to the canal as well as a position known as the Chinese Farm, just north of Deversoir, the Israeli crossing point. Sharon objected and requested permission to expand and breakout of the bridgehead on the west bank, arguing that such a maneuver would cause the collapse of Egyptian forces on the east bank. But the Israeli high command was insistent, believing that until the east bank was secure, forces on the west bank could be cut off. Sharon was overruled by his superiors and relented.
On October 16, he dispatched Amnon Reshef's Brigade to attack the Chinese Farm. Other IDF forces attacked entrenched Egyptian forces overlooking the roads to the canal. After three days of bitter and close-quarters fighting, the Israelis succeeded in dislodging the numerically superior Egyptian forces. The Israelis lost about 300 dead, 1,000 wounded, and 56 tanks. The Egyptians suffered heavier casualties, including 118 tanks destroyed and 15 captured.
Egyptian response to the Israeli crossing
The Egyptians meanwhile failed to grasp the extent and magnitude of the Israeli crossing, nor did they appreciate its intent and purpose. This was partly due to attempts by Egyptian field commanders to obfuscate reports concerning the Israeli crossing and partly due to a false assumption that the canal crossing was merely a diversion for a major IDF offensive targeting the right flank of the Second Army. Consequently, on October 16, General Shazly ordered the 21st Armored Division to attack southward and the T-62-equipped 25th Independent Armored Brigade to attack northward in a pincer action to eliminate the perceived threat to the Second Army.
The Egyptians failed to scout the area and were unaware that by now, Adan's 162nd Armored Division was in the vicinity. Moreover, the 21st and 25th failed to coordinate their attacks, allowing General Adan's Division to meet each force individually. Adan first concentrated his attack on the 21st Armored Division, destroying 50–60 Egyptian tanks and forcing the remainder to retreat. He then turned southward and ambushed the 25th Independent Armored Brigade, destroying 86 of its 96 tanks and all of its APCs while losing three tanks.
Egyptian artillery shelled the Israeli bridge over the canal on the morning of October 17, scoring several hits. The Egyptian Air Force launched repeated raids, some with up to twenty aircraft, to take out the bridge and rafts, damaging the bridge. The Egyptians had to shut down their SAM sites during these raids, allowing Israeli fighters to intercept the Egyptians. The Egyptians lost 16 planes and 7 helicopters, while the Israelis lost 6 planes.
The bridge was damaged, and the Israeli Paratroop Headquarters, which was near the bridge, was also hit, wounding the commander and his deputy. During the night, the bridge was repaired, but only a trickle of Israeli forces crossed. According to Chaim Herzog, the Egyptians continued attacking the bridgehead until the cease-fire, using artillery and mortars to fire tens of thousands of shells into the area of the crossing. Egyptian aircraft attempted to bomb the bridge every day, and helicopters launched suicide missions, making attempts to drop barrels of napalm on the bridge and bridgehead. The bridges were damaged multiple times, and had to be repaired at night. The attacks caused heavy casualties, and many tanks were sunk when their rafts were hit. Egyptian commandos and frogmen with armored support launched a ground attack against the bridgehead, which was repulsed with the loss of 10 tanks. Two subsequent Egyptian counterattacks were also beaten back.
After the failure of the October 17 counterattacks, the Egyptian General Staff slowly began to realize the magnitude of the Israeli offensive. Early on October 18, the Soviets showed Sadat satellite imagery of Israeli forces operating on the west bank. Alarmed, Sadat dispatched Shazly to the front to assess the situation first hand. He no longer trusted his field commanders to provide accurate reports. Shazly confirmed that the Israelis had at least one division on the west bank and were widening their bridgehead. He advocated withdrawing most of Egypt's armor from the east bank to confront the growing Israeli threat on the west bank. Sadat rejected this recommendation outright and even threatened Shazly with a court martial. Ahmad Ismail Ali recommended that Sadat push for a cease-fire so as to prevent the Israelis from exploiting their successes.
Israeli forces across the Suez
Israeli forces were by now pouring across the canal on two bridges, including one of indigenous design, and motorized rafts. Israeli engineers under Brigadier-General Dan Even had worked under heavy Egyptian fire to set up the bridges, and over 100 were killed and hundreds more wounded. The crossing was difficult because of Egyptian artillery fire, though by 4:00 am, two of Adan's brigades were on the west bank of the canal. On the morning of October 18, Sharon's forces on the west bank launched an offensive toward Ismailia, slowly pushing back the Egyptian paratroop brigade occupying the sand rampart northward to enlarge the bridgehead. Some of his units attempted to move west, but were stopped at the crossroads in Nefalia. Adan's division rolled south toward Suez City while Magen's division pushed west toward Cairo and south toward Adabiya. On October 19, one of Sharon's brigades continued to push the Egyptian paratroopers north towards Ismailia until the Israelis were within 8 or 10 km (5 or 6 mi) of the city. Sharon hoped to seize the city and thereby sever the logistical and supply lines for most of the Egyptian Second Army. Sharon's second brigade began to cross the canal. The brigade's forward elements moved to the Abu Sultan Camp, from where they moved north to take Orcha, an Egyptian logistics base defended by a commando battalion. Israeli infantrymen cleared the trenches and bunkers, often engaging in hand-to-hand combat, as tanks moved alongside them and fired into the trench sections to their front. The position was secured before nightfall. More than 300 Egyptians were killed and 50 taken prisoner, while the Israelis lost 18 dead. The fall of Orcha caused the collapse of the Egyptian defensive line, allowing more Israeli troops to get onto the sand rampart. There, they were able to fire in support of Israeli troops facing Missouri Ridge, an Egyptian-occupied position on the Bar-Lev Line that could pose a threat to the Israeli crossing. On the same day, Israeli paratroopers participating in Sharon's drive pushed the Egyptians back far enough for the Israeli bridges to be out of sight of Egyptian artillery observers, though the Egyptians continued shelling the area.
As the Israelis pushed towards Ismailia, the Egyptians fought a delaying battle, falling into defensive positions further north as they came under increasing pressure from the Israeli ground offensive, coupled with airstrikes. On October 21, one of Sharon's brigades was occupying the city's outskirts, but facing fierce resistance from Egyptian paratroopers and commandos. The same day, Sharon's last remaining unit on the east bank attacked Missouri Ridge. Shmuel Gonen had demanded Sharon capture the position, and Sharon had reluctantly ordered the attack. The assault was preceded by an air attack that caused hundreds of Egyptian soldiers to flee and thousands of others to dig in. One battalion then attacked from the south, destroying 20 tanks and overrunning infantry positions before being halted by Sagger rockets and minefields. Another battalion attacked from southwest, and was stopped by fortified infantry. The Israelis managed to occupy one-third of Missouri Ridge. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan countermanded orders from Sharon's superiors to continue the attack. However, the Israelis continued to expand their holdings on the east bank. According to the Israelis, the IDF bridgehead was 40 km (25 mi) wide and 32 km (20 mi) deep by the end of October 21.
On October 22, Ismailia's Egyptian defenders were occupying their last line of defense, but managed to repel an Israeli attempt to get behind Ismailia and encircle the city, then push some of Sharon's forward troops back to the Sweetwater Canal. The Israeli advance on Ismailia had been stopped 10 km south of the city. Both sides had suffered heavy losses.
On the northern front, the Israelis also attacked Port Said, facing Egyptian troops and a 900-strong Tunisian unit, who fought a defensive battle. The Egyptian government claimed that the city was repeatedly bombed by Israeli jets, and that hundreds of civilians were killed or wounded.
Adan and Magen moved south, decisively defeating the Egyptians in a series of engagements, though they often encountered determined Egyptian resistance, and both sides suffered heavy casualties. Adan advanced towards the Sweetwater Canal area, planning to break out into the surrounding desert and hit the Geneifa Hills, where many SAM sites were located. Adan's three armored brigades fanned out, with one advancing through the Geneifa Hills, another along a parallel road south of them, and the third advancing towards Mina. Adan's brigades met resistance from dug-in Egyptian forces in the Sweetwater Canal area's greenbelt. Adan's other brigades were also held by a line of Egyptian military camps and installations. Adan was also harassed by the Egyptian Air Force. The Israelis slowly advanced, bypassing Egyptian positions whenever possible. After being denied air support due to the presence of two SAM batteries that had been brought forward, Adan sent two brigades to attack them. The brigades slipped past the dug-in Egyptian infantry, moving out from the greenbelt for more than eight kilometres, and fought off multiple Egyptian counterattacks. From a distance of four kilometres, they shelled and destroyed the SAMs, allowing the IAF to provide Adan with close air support. Adan's troops advanced through the greenbelt and fought their way to the Geneifa Hills, clashing with scattered Egyptian, Kuwaiti, and Palestinian troops. The Israelis clashed with an Egyptian armored unit at Mitzeneft, as well as destroying multiple SAM sites. Adan also captured Fayid Airport, which was subsequently prepared by Israeli crews to serve as a supply base and to fly out wounded soldiers.
16 kilometres (10 mi) west of the Bitter Lake, Colonel Natke Nir's brigade overran an Egyptian artillery brigade that had been participating in the shelling of the Israeli bridgehead. Scores of Egyptian artillerymen were killed and many more taken prisoner. Two Israeli soldiers were also killed, including the son of General Moshe Gidron. Meanwhile, Magen's division moved west and then south, covering Adan's flank and eventually moving south of Suez City to the Gulf of Suez. The Israeli advance southward reached Port Suez, on the southern boundary of the Suez Canal.
The ceasefire and further battles
The United Nations Security Council passed (14–0) Resolution 338 calling for a ceasefire, largely negotiated between the U.S. and Soviet Union, on October 22. It called upon the belligerents to immediately cease all military activity. The cease-fire was to come into effect 12 hours later at 6:52 pm Israeli time. Because this was after dark, it was impossible for satellite surveillance to determine where the front lines were when the fighting was supposed to stop. U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger intimated to Prime Minister Meir that he would not object to offensive action during the night before the ceasefire was to come into effect.
Several minutes before the ceasefire came into effect, three Scud missiles were fired at Israeli targets by either Egyptian forces or Soviet personnel in Egypt. This was the first combat use of Scud missiles. One Scud targeted the port of Arish and two targeted the Israeli bridgehead on the Suez Canal. One hit an Israeli supply convoy and killed seven soldiers. When the time for the ceasefire arrived, Sharon's division had failed to capture Ismailia and cut off the Second Army's supply lines, but Israeli forces were just a few hundred metres short of their southern goal—the last road linking Cairo and Suez.
Adan's drive south had left Israeli and Egyptian units scattered throughout the battlefield, with no clear lines between them. As Egyptian and Israeli units tried to regroup, regular firefights broke out. During the night, Elazar reported that the Egyptians were attacking in an attempt to regain land at various locations, and that nine Israeli tanks had been destroyed. He asked permission from Dayan to respond to the attacks and Dayan agreed. Israel then resumed its drive south.
It is unclear which side fired first but Israeli field commanders used the skirmishes as justification to resume the attacks. When Sadat protested alleged Israeli truce violations, Israel said that Egyptian troops had fired first. William B. Quandt noted that regardless of who fired the first post-ceasefire shot, it was the Israeli Army that was advancing beyond the October 22 ceasefire lines.
Adan resumed his attack on October 23. Israeli troops finished the drive south, captured the last ancillary road south of the port of Suez, and encircled the Egyptian Third Army east of the Suez Canal. The Israelis then transported enormous amounts of military equipment across the canal, which Egypt claimed was in violation of the ceasefire. Egyptian aircraft launched repeated attacks in support of the Third Army, sometimes in groups of up to 30 planes, but took severe losses.
Israeli armor and paratroopers also entered Suez in an attempt to capture the city, but they were confronted by Egyptian soldiers and hastily raised local militia forces. They were surrounded, but towards night the Israeli forces managed to extricate themselves. The Israelis had lost 80 dead and 120 wounded, with an unknown number of Egyptian casualties, for no tactical gain.
The next morning, October 23, a flurry of diplomatic activity occurred. Soviet reconnaissance flights had confirmed that Israeli forces were moving south, and the Soviets accused the Israelis of treachery. Kissinger called Meir in an effort to persuade her to withdraw a few hundred metres and she indicated that Israel's tactical position on the ground had improved.
Egypt's trapped Third Army
Kissinger found out about the Third Army's encirclement shortly thereafter. Kissinger considered that the situation presented the United States with a tremendous opportunity and that Egypt was dependent on the United States to prevent Israel from destroying its trapped army. The position could be parlayed later into allowing the United States to mediate the dispute and wean Egypt from Soviet influence. As a result, the United States exerted tremendous pressure on the Israelis to refrain from destroying the trapped army, even threatening to support a UN resolution demanding that the Israelis withdraw to their October 22 positions if they did not allow non-military supplies to reach the army. In a phone call with Israeli ambassador Simcha Dinitz, Kissinger told the ambassador that the destruction of the Egyptian Third Army "is an option that does not exist."
Despite being surrounded, the Third Army managed to maintain its combat integrity east of the canal and keep up its defensive positions, to the surprise of many. According to Trevor N. Dupuy, the Isr