1973: The Yom Kippur War

Key Facts

  • Syria and Egypt launched a surprise attack against Israel on Yom Kippur in 1973.
  • Israel suffered many casualties but ultimately repelled the invading armies.
  • The resulting ceasefire spurred the first attempt to broker peace between Egypt and Israel.
More information

On October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise offensive against Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar (on which Jews traditionally fast). Israeli troops in fortifications along the Suez Canal and in the Golan Heights were vastly outnumbered by Soviet-trained and -armed Egyptian and Syrian forces. In the lead-up to war, Egypt had demanded Israel cede all territory captured during the Six Day War and had threatened to attack if Israel did not accede to their demands.

After costly attacks in the first days of the War, Israel regained control of the Golan Heights and pushed toward Damascus in order to compel the Syrian leadership to seek a ceasefire. In a daring move, Israeli forces in the Sinai crossed the Suez Canal – cutting off the Egyptian Third Army still operating in the Sinai. As a result, and in addition to the passage of UN Resolution 338 (which called on “all parties to the present fighting to cease all firing and terminate all military activity immediately”), the war ended.

While Israel successfully warded off the Arab invasion, it sustained heavy losses: almost 2,700 Israelis were killed in the Yom Kippur War.

Despite Egypt having launched a successful surprise attack, the subsequent Israeli victory in the Sinai led Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to adopt a more diplomatic approach toward the Jewish state. In 1975, Egypt and Israel agreed to settle their differences peacefully, rather than through military means, with an interim agreement. This ultimately paved the way for a subsequent peace treaty, upheld to this day, between the two former enemy states.

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